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30 June 2017


I must thank blog reader Phil Lynch for recently advising me to watch a particular YouTube video. It has given me huge pleasure.

I am referring to a video of The Loose Marbles playing at Abita Springs in 2016. It runs for over 50 minutes and I will give you the link to it later.
Craig and the Bass Sax
The band on this occasion comprised no fewer than ten musicians. Normally, such a number could be a recipé for disaster. I dread to think what a horrible din would result if three guitarists, a banjo player, a drummer and a double bass all got together in the rhythm section of some of the English pub bands I have seen.

And yet, such a combination in The Loose Marbles is so disciplined and restrained that it underpins the music with a gentle foot-tapping pulse. Here, because the musicians are all virtuosos, all conforming to the house-style set by the leader Michael Magro, the music throughout is beautifully melodic and played with a loving delicacy. There is no mere exhibitionism, no attempt by any of the players to show off their own technical prowess. Instead, there is huge respect for melody, balance and for each other.

The reeds set the tone. Such tunes as Song of the Islands, A Flower Lei, Postage Stomp, Last Night on the Back Porch, The Isle of Capri (played briskly) and Home on the Range are all led by the clarinet. And in Take Me Out to the Ball Game, the first chorus is played on the bass saxophone by the versatile Craig Flory.

Yes, the tunes feature the bass saxophone; and Craig has an important rôle in this line-up, especially as - despite having ten musicians - there is no trombone.

Multi-instrumentalist Tyler Thomson is seen here among the guitarists; and he even gets to take a neat little solo in Isle of Capri. And that fine and sartorially-elegant musician Matt Bell plays slide guitar - with the instrument on his lap, producing some lovely Hawaiian effects. (Friend James Sterling has told me Matt is playing a resonator all-steel guitar and that the correct terminology for what he is playing is 'lap steel'.)

You have only to catch the happy look on Matt's face at certain points in this video to see that he knows the music this band is making is something really special.

The great Marla Dixon provides some very sweet vocals, for example in 'A Flower Lei' and 'Last Night, on the Back Porch'. And in her trumpet-playing, she adapts brilliantly to the requirements of the Magro style. We find her often playing deft, muted phrases in support of the melodies of the three reed players in this unusual 'front line'.

I must mention that the programme includes the song The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi. It is a lovely waltz tune. It is very rarely played and I guess many of my readers will never have heard of it. I can tell you Sigma Chi was a college fraternity founded in the mid-19th Century at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The song was composed in 1911 by Byron D. Stokes (words) and F. Dudleigh Vernor (music).

The final tune in the programme is Tight Like This - a catchy minor-key number composed by trumpeter Langston Curl in 1928 and made famous by Louis Armstrong.

The musicians I have not yet mentioned are Julie, Tomas, Max, Robin, and John - all of them superb and on absolutely cracking form.

I have written before about The Loose Marbles and the importance of this band in 21st-Century traditional jazz. To read my article, CLICK HERE.

To enjoy the video for yourself: