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9 June 2017


Here's something we can learn from those 1920s recordings: even tunes with two or three themes can be given a very good performance in under four minutes if they are well presented, with the emphasis on ensemble work.

I have been listening again to recordings made in 1927 by the great Sam Morgan's Jazz Band. Their versions of Bogalousa Strut and Mobile Stomp are both completed in under three minutes.

I also listened to some of the historic recordings made by the Armand Piron Orchestra in the 1920s. Their recording of the tricky 3-parter Bouncing Around runs for less than three minutes. The classic Mamma's Gone Goodbye takes just over three minutes.

And yet these recordings are exemplary - totally enjoyable and satisfying. They do not leave us feeling they are too short or that the tune is incomplete. The arrangements and the ensemble work are exciting and tight. The performances even incorporate clever little introductions and codas, perfectly executed.

Compare this with the playing of so many bands today. Tunes are spun out for seven or more minutes with almost all members of the band taking 32-bar solo choruses (sometimes two choruses). The tune drags on repetitively even though the band has nothing more to 'say'.

Yes, I know those early recordings were limited to about three minutes because that is all the recording processes of the time could cope with. But this discipline made the musicians produce their very best - distilling music of the highest quality within the imposed time limit.

May I suggest we give this matter some thought?

One bandleader friend has recently done so. Within his programme he deliberately includes a number of good tunes that he wants his band to play in about three minutes. This is achieved by omitting solo choruses and putting the emphasis on getting the tunes right, with clever interplay between the instruments.

To hear how it was done - way back in 1927 - click on this video. It's the Sam Morgan Band.
Reader James Buck has sent this comment:

I could not agree more.  No wonder some people are put off jazz by extended solo choruses that do and say nothing to the audience.

Best wishes, regards,