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21 November 2017


Today I would like to bring to your attention another early classic from our heritage - one I haven't heard played much in the last couple of years. I think it deserves a revival.

I am speaking about New Orleans Wiggle. This was one of the tunes given to us by the violinist, composer and bandleader Armand J. Piron. 
Between 1923 and 1925, his orchestra made about fifteen influential recordings. The tunes included Bouncing Around, Red Man Blues, Kiss Me Sweet, Bright Star Blues and Mama's Gone, Goodbye - all of which were originals that Piron himself helped to compose.

But there was also New Orleans Wiggle, jointly written by Piron and his trumpet player Peter Bocage.

You can hear the recording they made of this tune BY CLICKING HERE.

What makes it such a good tune for our bands to master?

First, it provides a contrast with the many war-horses that most bands play. It offers the musicians more of a challenge and more interest than many tunes in our repertoire, because it has a structure that you need to study, and includes a key change. It offers plenty of syncopation and plenty of breaks - both of them essential elements in classic New Orleans jazz.

Despite what I have just said, the tune is easy to learn, without being too easy. This is because all three of its themes are underpinned by pleasant, straightforward chord progressions.

There is a four-bar introduction. Then comes Theme A, 16 bars in length. The melody takes us up through a series of syncopated arpeggios. This is great fun. The Piron Orchestra plays it twice.

Then Theme B begins with a sequence reminiscent of I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate (which Piron also wrote, a few years earlier). But at the second round of this chord priogression, it is extended beyond the 'Sister Kate' structure to 20 bars, with a series of breaks that occupy six bars. The Piron Orchestra also plays this theme twice, with the clarinet taking the breaks both times.

We then go straight into Theme C, with the key change. (Usually it means going from Bb into Eb.) This final theme consists of 32 bars and lends itself to breaks at several points. The melody is merry enough. And you will find the chord familiar from dozens of other tunes. It even ends with that simplest of progressions - The Sunshine Chord Sequence. Piron plays Theme C twice, doing some clever things with the breaks.

Finally, there is a neat 4-bar Coda, well worth learning and playing.

Piron's recording lasts only two and a half minutes, partly, no doubt, because of the restraints of recording processes at the time. But of course today's bands could extend it by playing Theme C more than twice.

However, as I have mentioned in earlier articles, there is much to be said for brevity.

I noticed that when Michael McQuaid's Piron's New Orleans Orchestra played the piece at the Whitley Bay Festival in 2015 (CLICK HERE to view), they paid due homage to Piron, strictly retained his structure, and finished the piece in an even shorter time.