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20 January 2018


May I draw to your attention two recent and magnificent performances of Savoy Blues? They are both available for you to watch and hear on YouTube.

Savoy Blues is one of the best-known tunes in the traditional jazz repertoire. It is played by almost all of our bands. Created by the great pioneering trombonist Edward 'Kid' Ory (1886 - 1973), it is played throughout in the key of F and has opportunities for 12-bar blues improvisations at its centre. But it also has popular riffing patterns at the beginning and end. These have become conventional parts of the structure. The exciting riffs are old friends to anybody who listens regularly to traditional jazz. Because the trombone usually has such a prominent part, the tune is often regarded as a trombone feature. Most bands playing Savoy Blues stick closely to the original Ory structure.

The first performance on YouTube, by the Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band, adheres to these conventions. The video may be enjoyed BY CLICKING HERE.

The ladies begin with the famous 16-bar introduction with its striking notes at the end (30 seconds to 32 seconds). This is followed by the famous riff of 12 bars where once again the final two bars are usually accentuated (52 seconds to 54 seconds). After this comes a four-bar 'bridge' (two bars played twice) acting as a lead-in to the series of 12-bar blues solos. 

In this Shake 'Em Up performance, the first solo is taken by Chloe Feoranzo on the clarinet. Chloe by the way plays a Buffet E11 clarinet with a Vandoren M13 Lyre mouthpiece. She begins with a laid-back chorus and then plays two more in which her improvisations become increasingly fiery. Chloe is followed by Marla on the trumpet. She also takes three choruses, demonstrating some very fine work with the plunger mute. Note how Haruka Kikuchi and Chloe back her up with a gentle riff in the third chorus (2 minutes 56 seconds to 3 minutes 12). 

It is usual in Savoy Blues for the final solo to be taken by the trombone. That is what happens here. The great Haruka Kikuchi, who has told us it was Kid Ory who inspired her to become a traditional jazz trombonist, plays very much in his manner. She takes just two choruses, with Marla and Chloe backing her up prettily in the second. As is the convention in Savoy Blues, the trombone solo ends with a glissando rising over two bars (3 minutes 57 seconds to 4 minutes 01 in this video). This glissando is one of the most treasured and exciting moments for traditional jazz audiences (as indeed it obviously is for the cheering audience here!).

The glissando takes us into the final two 12-bar riffing choruses. The Shake 'Em Up ladies then finish with a neat two-bar trombone-led coda. 

Throughout this performance, notice the superbly metronomic, empathetic and gentle rhythmic footfall provided in the background by Albanie, Molly and Dizzy. 

What a magnificent performance of Savoy Blues this is! Here we have six of our greatest musicians each individually demonstrating wonderful skills and yet playing brilliantly as a team. It is hard to imagine a better performance of Savoy Blues in its conventional form.

Now let us turn to the slightly more recent performance by Tuba Skinny. You can watch the video BY CLICKING HERE.

This is equally magnificent and yet the tune is reinterpreted in Tuba Skinny's distinctive way. Editing of the usual rituals has taken place and the tune is given a new delicacy. There is no question of its being a 'trombone feature'; and the 12-bar riffs that usually bring the tune to an end are replaced by a repeat of the riffs from the beginning.
Sure enough, Tuba Skinny begin with the usual 16-bar riffing introduction but with less accentuation on the famous final two bars than we normally hear (from 32 seconds to 35 seconds). Then, sticking for the moment to the usual pattern, they follow with the 12-bar riff but again quite deliberately tone down the final two bars (54 seconds to 55 seconds). 

This is followed by the usual four-bar link to the solo choruses. It is played gently by Barnabus. 

As with the Shake 'Em Up version, soloing now begins. First we have Craig playing two choruses on the clarinet, in the second of which he is very neatly and gently backed up by Shaye and Barnabus (1 minute 26 seconds to 1 minute 42).

We then have an extraordinary conversational two choruses in which Barnabus on trombone and Shaye on cornet 'trade twos' in a most exquisite manner (1 minute 47 seconds to 2 minutes 30). For me, this is the highlight of the performance and it demonstrates so well why thousands of us all over the world consider the musical partnership and mutual understanding of Shaye and Barnabus to be among the best in traditional jazz anywhere. 

After this we have a single 12-bar chorus from the strings. 

Now, in a total break from the Savoy Blues conventions we do not have a final chorus from the trombone and we do not have the famous glissando up to the 12-bar riffs that normally bring the tune to an end. In contrast, the trombone solo and those riffs are dropped altogether and we have Todd (at 2 minutes 52 seconds) taking the lead just for 12 bars while the others repeat the 12-bar riff that had been played before the solo choruses. 

Finally, Tuba Skinny choose to go right back to the beginning (with Shaye tapping her hand on the head at 3 minutes 13 to remind them to do this). So they end by playing the 16-bar introduction and the 12-bar riff that always follows it yet again, giving us an unusual and surprising ending, which incidentally they finish in a gentle manner with a little rallentando.

In addition to the musicians I have named, note the usual brilliance and solidity of the Tuba Skinny rhythm section and the subtleties of Robin's playing on his percussion instruments.

So this too is a magnificent performance, cleverly thought out, with superb teamwork and some lovely touches demonstrating traditional jazz at its best. 

I hope you will enjoy these videos as much as I have. And I must add that both were uploaded by RaoulDuke504. I think we owe this generous gentleman a major international award for all the pleasure he has spread over the world with his videos in the last few years. Thank you, RaoulDuke504!


My book Enjoying Traditional Jazz is available from Amazon.