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4 September 2015


Many musicians dislike playing At The Jazz Band Ball. When the band-leader announces it, they think, 'Oh, no. Not that. It's boringly repetitive and so simple that it presents nothing of interest - no challenges'.
It is indeed a very simple tune, consisting of just 32 bars, and it is usually played in the key of Bb. It breaks down into two 16-bar parts. All that can be said for Part A is that it is in the related key of G minor and that bars 1 to 4 and bars 9 to 12 are actually on the chord of G minor, so that at least gives it a certain flavour.

But Part B (16 bars entirely in Bb) is the section on which bands tend to stick and on which improvisations develop. Part B's chord progression uses The Circle of Fifths, which makes it so easy to create variations that it is all a bit too easy. Musicians can be tempted to play on automatic pilot.

The reason I'm making these points is that at last I have come across a YouTube video that shows how musicians playing this tune can be creative and turn it into an exciting experience.

It's our old friends Tuba Skinny under the direction of Shaye Cohn who have worked the trick, in a performance kindly filmed for us recently by James Sterling: CLICK HERE.

Establishing a sensible tempo, they play Part A (the minor key section) only twice (at the start and again at 1 minute 1 second - notice Shaye signalling this with the hand on the head); but Part B is played no fewer than 13 times.

In particular, you have to admire Shaye on the cornet for participating in at least 9 of those 13 choruses - sometimes taking the lead but often putting in decoration while Craig or Barnabus take their turn to lead. Just listen to the notes and variations she plays. Observe her fingers and admire the energy she puts into her contribution. (This is in spite of the fact that, according to a correspondent,  she was suffering from a cold at the time.)

By the way, if you have trouble sorting out those thirteen Part B choruses, it may help to look out for the 5th - Jason's banjo 'solo'. Then you will find Todd leads on the 9th and Robin on the 10th.

At The Jazz Band Ball was created by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917 - so it's more than 100 years old. You can listen to them in 1918 playing it at break-neck speed. In just two and a half minutes, they get through Part A four times and Part B six times! CLICK HERE.