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27 November 2017


To appreciate the finer points of traditional jazz and the genius of great players, it sometimes pays to concentrate on exactly what is happening in just a few seconds of music.

That is what I am inviting you to do today.

I would like you to click on a YouTube video and then focus on just EIGHT seconds of the performance. I will give you the link in a moment. But first let me set it in context.

The musicians (Tuba Skinny) are playing a tune called Crumpled Papers. This was composed just a few years ago by Michael Magro. It is a relatively simple tune - a 12-bar in the key of D minor. But it has amazing energy and gives plenty of opportunities for exciting improvisation.

In this video, the band plays straight through the tune 15 times. So in total we have 15 x 12 = 180 bars (measures) of music.

For the first couple of choruses, the tune is played by the ensemble, led by the cornet, in a straightforward manner. Then we have a similar two choruses, again ensemble, but led by the cornet producing some variations in the form of chromatic runs.

But now comes the fifth chorus; and this is the one on which I'm inviting you to focus. Shaye on cornet passes the lead to Barnabus on trombone.

Note exactly what Shaye is doing in this chorus during the eight seconds running from 1 minute 44 until 1 minute 52. Barnabus has taken on the melody but she is decorating it by running around (on the D minor chord) in her own subtle, energetic and tasteful way. The two phrases for you to note occur from 1 minute 44 seconds to 1 minute 46 seconds, and from 1 minute 49 seconds until 1 minute 52 seconds. I put it to you that those few notes demonstrate traditional jazz playing and teamwork at its very best. (In most other bands, the trumpet player or cornet player would have dropped out at that point, taking  a breather.)

Now here's the link, with thanks to James Sterling for being there to video the performance for us:

Shaye is always like this - modestly creative, and energetic, instinctively playing notes that are just right and make the band as a whole sound wonderful. She is not one of those self-important players who like to show off their technique by playing pointless screaming high notes. Also, as you see in this and hundreds of other videos, she cleverly directs the musical traffic, so that even a short and simple tune such as Crumpled Papers is developed in a way that is full of variety and excitement.


The book 'Enjoying Traditional Jazz' by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.