Sunday, December 11, 2011

Climate change scepticism in jazz?

Three very different treatments of a lovely 1920s melody - 'It Was Only a Sun Shower'. If only Bix and Tram had recorded this - I can almost hear their version, in a similar vein to their classic recordings of 'Louise' and 'Three Blind Mice'.

Annette Hanshaw and her Sizzlin' Syncopators (Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti):

Ted Weems and his Orchestra (vocal from Dusty Roades):

The Rangers (vocal from Harold 'Scrappy' Lambert):

Friday, December 9, 2011

Three favourite moments from the Halfway House Orchestra

I've been extremely busy for the past few months, and at such times the majority of my listening occurs while driving. This week the sounds of Abbie Brunies' Halfway House Orchestra have been reverberating around my car (and my brain).

I could go on at great length about the wonders these twenty two recordings contain, but I'll keep such self-indulgence to a minimum and limit myself to just three of my favourite moments.

1. Leon Rappolo and Charlie Cordella's duet on 'Pussy Cat Rag':

This record steams along with remarkable rhythmic energy and aesthetic integrity, but the highlight for me is hearing the tragic genius Leon Rappolo (alto sax) and his protege Charlie Cordella (tenor sax) collaborate on a sax duet that is a true masterpiece of collaborative improvisation.

2. Sidney Arodin's clarinet solo on 'Just Pretending':

The later sessions by the Halfway House Orchestra feature a 'sweeter' sound at times, which makes for a delightful contrast between sugar-coated melodies and sunnily optimistic hot solos. The elusive Sidney Arodin reaches a pinnacle of creativity in his solo here. I marvel at his warm, open tone and relaxed phrasing.

3. Chink Martin and Joe Loyacano on 'Wylie Avenue Blues':

Slap bass and hot alto sax make a dynamic combination, one that occurs frequently throughout recorded music from the late 1920s. Chink Martin (bass) and Joe Loyacano (alto sax) collaborate here with infectious enthusiasm.

I highly recommend Jazz Oracle's CD release of the complete recordings of the Halfway House Orchestra!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Another great territory band

Here's some more territory band goodness from Lloyd Hunter's Serenaders, playing 'Sensational Mood', which was later 'acquired' and recorded by the Earl Hines band.

Interesting to see the record label lists the group as being 'under the direction of Victoria Spivey'. Full-time band vocalists were an oddity in the early twenties, but within a decade they were running the show!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Washboard Rhythm Kings Paradox

How can a band that recorded so prolifically be so shrouded in mystery? That's the paradox of the Washboard Rhythm Kings, a hot aggregation that at times featured trumpeter Taft Jordan and guitarist Teddy Bunn, along with a bizarre assortment of other musicians of mixed ability. Many of the musicians' identities are uncertain, some entirely unknown, yet there are dozens of recordings by the group under various pseudonyms.

What's most pleasing about the Washboard Rhythm Kings is their dual nature - they are wholly entertainers, singing bawdy lyrics and clowning audibly on their records, yet there is no doubt they are playing undiluted hot jazz. If only more musicians, past AND present, could find this balance!

Exhibit A - 'Hummin' to Myself':

Exhibit B - 'Tiger Rag'. To listen to the alto sax breaks and the tenor sax solo is to hear one of the chief inspirations of Australian sax stylist Ade Monsbourgh:

Exhibit C - 'Blue Drag':

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rhapsodic saxophonics

While Coleman Hawkins and Sidney Bechet differ in so many ways, one trait these saxophonists share is their masterful skill at playing a melody. They don't just state the melody though, they declare it. This rhapsodic approach is highly emotive and rhythmically flexible, perhaps showing some of the strengths inherent in the saxophone at its best.

Here's Hawkins' operatic rendition of 'How Deep is the Ocean' from 1943:

And the spine-tingling 'Bechet Creole Blues' from Sidney with Claude Luter's band in 1949:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rediscovering 'My Silent Love'

I've been hearing this song for half my life, but I never really listened to it until today.

One of my musical heroes is the late US/honorary Australian multi-instrumentalist Tom Baker. He recorded 'My Silent Love' on one of his albums years ago, and while I've treasured the album, that particular track has held comparatively little of my time.

So I was astounded when listening to the Washboard Rhythm Kings playing 'My Silent Love' - the muted trumpet sounded just like Tom! This focused my attention on what a gorgeous melody it is. No wonder Tom chose to revive it.

Dig this dance band version - pretty straight, but a good melody doesn't need much improvement:

Albert Wynn's Gut Bucket Five in 1928

Here are two hot records by Chicago trombonist Albert Wynn's Gut Bucket Five in 1928, featuring the great New Orleans trumpeter Punch Miller.

Reedman Lester Boone is on clarinet and alto sax - he belongs to a group of largely forgotten hot sax players who played in a rough and ready but honest style. Listen to the Washboard Rhythm Kings or some of Louis Armstrong's early big band records for more of this infectious style of playing. It had a big impact on Australian reedmen like Ade Monsbourgh and Neville Stribling.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The composer himself

Now we are joined by George Gershwin himself at the piano for his own composition 'Someone to Watch Over Me':

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dicky Wells in Paris

While I have no strong desire to play the trombone myself, I'm a great fan of the best trombonists of the 1920s and 30s. J.C. Higginbotham, Miff Mole, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Harrison are particular favourites. They share a rare combination of agility and creativity, unusual then and now.

Dicky Wells is another such trombonist. One of a handful of notable American musicians to visit Europe prior to World War II, Wells kept good musical company. In fact, the presence of Django Reinhardt on some of Wells' sessions has given them a high profile, due to the continued reverence of Django by successive generations of guitarists. The recording of 'I Found A New Baby' below is rarer, thanks to Django being replaced by Roger Chaput, an excellent if less impressive substitute:

Dig Bill Coleman and Django on this one:

Monday, September 26, 2011

A retrospective look at the future

I especially enjoy these two tracks because they allow us an understanding of where 1930s musicians thought their music was going - both are self-consciously progressive.

In some ways, the predictions of the musicians here are prophetic, but in others these 'futuristic' ideas serve only to anchor the music in its era. Regardless of its modernity, this music is quality material played by quality musicians - surely more important than any discussion of progress in stylistic terms.

Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra playing 'Radio Rhythm':

Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra playing 'Frisco Fog':

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Frank Newton's 'Onyx Hop'

Frank Newton, one of the most creative of the swing trumpeters, recorded under his own name relatively infrequently. Here's one of his best - 'Onyx Hop', with a vocal that is at once musically fascinating and a wry reflection on recreational drug-taking:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Standard-ising 'Stardust'

Our tastes with regard to the 'standards' (tunes commonly known and performed by jazz musicians) are powerfully influenced by our earliest exposure to these tunes. In my case, the first recording of Hoagy Carmichael's 'Stardust' I heard was, incredibly, this obscure track by the composer and 'His Pals' in 1927. Not just my first 'Stardust', but also THE first recorded version.

Since I was 14, the song 'Stardust' has primarily meant the treatment found here. The melody carries a wistful combination of innocence and regret, heavy with emotion yet introverted, lacking the vulgar emoting jazz musicians have inflicted on it so often.

As I discovered other versions of the song (Louis Armstrong valiantly reaching, Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman relaxed, searching), these different treatments moved into my musical consciousness, alongside the original. But I find myself coming back to this one to enjoy the melodic variations from the cornet, alto sax, piano and clarinet. These musicians are not jazz greats, but somehow their efforts - awkward yet full of hopes and dreams - provide a narrative that matches the song so well.

The California Ramblers in sparkling sound

Here are three 1928 Columbia records by the unjustly neglected dance band California Ramblers. While the vocals on these records may not thrill hot jazz aficionados, YouTuber Atticus70 has gleaned astonishingly rich sounds from the grooves of these 78 rpm records. The horns in particular sparkle with a freshness unmatched by many contemporary studio recordings.

Congratulations to Atticus70 for 1,000 marvellous YouTube videos, featuring fantastic vintage music and captivating period photography.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Al Bowlly - a 'hip' spoken vocal

Who says British dance bands didn't swing?!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Hawk with Red Allen

I've been doing my homework for a Coleman Hawkins tribute concert this afternoon. Here's two of my favourites - both feature the Hawk with Henry 'Red' Allen, a great partnership that (intermittently) spanned decades:

And here's priceless film of them in 1957 CBS production 'The Sound of Jazz', along with an all-star lineup including Pee Wee Russell (another notable collaborator with Hawkins):

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ellington, Mingus and Roach - "Fleurette Africaine"

I love early jazz so much that I find comparatively little time to listen to more 'modern' styles, although I enjoy them too. I'm always grateful when musicians with whom I work bring something special to my attention. Thanks to UK pianist Martin Litton for bringing my attention to this evocative rendition of "Fleurette Africaine", by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach in 1962. Ellington's playing here reminds me of Willie 'The Lion' Smith, but with more introspection.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Teddy Wilson & his Orchestra featuring Billie Holiday - "I'll Never Fail You"

Of all the masterpieces recorded by Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday in the 1930s, this one has received relatively little attention. Yet the lineup is stellar, the tune a good one and the performance swinging:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Barney Bigard on tenor sax

Barney Bigard is one of my absolute favourite clarinettists. His warm, woody tone enhances hundreds of recordings by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and others. However, his tenor sax playing was also excellent - he initially made his name on that instrument, increasingly turning away from it in favour of the clarinet during his time with Ellington. Back in April 1937, Metronome magazine reported that he 'hates playing tenor but dotes on clarinet' and 'wants Duke to get a straight tenor man.'

Here are two recordings by Luis Russell's Hot Six in 1926. Plantation Joys in particular 'all but [leaps] off the grooves with energy and powerful, on-the-beat rhythm', to quote Richard Sudhalter in his excellent Lost Chords.

Here Bigard features with a typical 'slap-tongued' solo in King Oliver's band. The group abounds with fellow New Orleanians such as Albert Nicholas, Kid Ory, Paul Barbarin, Bud Scott and Oliver himself.

Ellington's band lacked a specialist tenor soloist before Ben Webster's arrival in the late 1930s. Until then, Bigard was called upon to contribute occasional sax solos. His efforts are first rate:

Thereafter, Bigard seems to have focused exclusively on clarinet. We are blessed and also deprived by his choice.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Spine-tingling moments in jazz

All jazz fans have their favourite moments on record wherein all the inspiration, emotion and skill of the musicians seems to coalesce into a living, breathing reality. Though the thrill of hearing these classic jazz recordings for the first time may be gone, their appeal seems to grow ever stronger through familiarity with these spine-tingling moments.

Here's one such moment for me: King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, playing "Mabel's Dream" back in 1923. As the final chorus of this take begins, Joe 'King' Oliver unleashes some of his most achingly emotive muted playing, not so much leading the band as wailing in the foreground. I can listen over and over again, yet each time I am moved.

Don't miss this moment at 2.14...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lizzie Miles with Jelly Roll Morton

I only just discovered this recording of singer Lizzie Miles, accompanied by Jelly Roll Morton. The song is "I Hate a Man Like You" - it must be masochistic of me to enjoy her accusations so much!

How would this 'text' be interpreted from more recent cultural perspectives? Its relevance today seems undoubtable, whatever we choose to make of it...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra at their spookiest

Of all the masterpieces recorded by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra, "Take Me Away from the River" probably wouldn't feature in many people's top tens, yet it's been a consistent favourite of mine for years now.

What do I find to enjoy here? Well how about the slick reeds section, fantastic tuba playing from John Kirby, the imaginative harmonies and some spooky sound effects for starters? Ikey Robinson is on vocals.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"Here's a number that all the musicians in the world love to play..."

Louis Armstrong claimed that "all the musicians in the world" loved to play Tiger Rag. Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration - many jazz musicians roll their eyes when it is requested! In spite of this, the versions below sound vibrant enough.

Here's the famous boxer Jack Johnson leading his jazz band in 1929. Is that Chick Webb on drums?

Now here are western swing pioneers the Light Crust Doughboys in 1936:

And stringsman Roy Smeck on the ukelele:

But who could top Louis Armstrong himself, live in Copenhagen, 1933:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

King Oliver's underrated twilight years

There's a sad story to be told in the slow but inexorable decline of Joe 'King' Oliver. Hitting his peak in 1923, or even earlier, the once mighty cornettist and bandleader bore the brunt of ill fortune and also made several poor career moves. All of this is discussed elsewhere.

I'm more interested right now in the different story told by Oliver's records. There are some fine moments by King Oliver's later orchestras. True, these high points often reflect the work of star sidemen like Henry 'Red' Allen, Kid Ory, Albert Nicholas, Barney Bigard, Omer Simeon and Paul Barbarin, but occasionally Oliver himself emerges from the ensemble with an inspired chorus of his own.

Moreover, there is a heavy cloud of sweet melancholy permeating these recordings that must be the work of the bandleader himself. Consider 'I Must Have It', 'You're Just My Type' or 'Someday, Sweetheart' (A similar flavour can be heard on selected recordings by Tiny Parham and Clarence Williams).

On many other occasions, the finely-wrought classicism of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band seems to have been replaced with a rawer 'hot jazz' approach, as is the case on 'Wa Wa Wa'. The structured looseness is still present, but the emotional impact is quite different.

Oliver's later recordings occasionally show what would seem to be modern innovations. Take note of the final chorus of 'Sugar Foot Stomp' - the interplay of the trumpets, trombone and saxes shows an understanding of riffs and their cumulative energy rivaling anyone at that time. I can almost hear the 1930s Basie band swinging through 'One O'Clock Jump' in these horn lines.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Johnny Dodds takes charge

Clarinettist Johnny Dodds features on some of the greatest jazz records of the 1920s. His mellow lines snake through the richly textured ensemble sound of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, while he brings a more acerbic flavour to Louis Armstrong's famous Hot Fives and Sevens. And there he is again, wailing along with George Mitchell and the rest of Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers. Dodds was clearly a musician many jazz greats wanted by their sides.

Yet the listener whose experience with Johnny Dodds stops at these recordings, seminal though they undoubtedly are, misses the man at his best. Dodds at his finest, his most creative, confident and comfortable self, can be found on less celebrated recordings - those where he is the dominant (though not dominating) musical force.

Here he is guesting with the Dixieland Jug Blowers, exhibiting some imaginative ensemble improvising. Listen to his low register playing at 2.06!

Next we have "Too Tight", with Dodds at his most movingly blue:

Finally, here he is with fellow clarinettist Junie Cobb on two electrifying performances - "Chicago Buzz" and "East Coast Trot". Dodds is the player further away from the recording horn, and he inspires Cobb (a player of varying quality) and the rhythm section with his blazing runs. He inspires me too!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Great Baby Dodds

I wouldn't usually choose to listen to an extended drums solo, instead skipping the track or going out of the room to make a cup of tea. If you share my occasional disinterest in percussive excursions, listen to the recording below and be converted.

Warren 'Baby' Dodds is featured here on an improvised drums solo. He claimed one of his goals was to play melodies on an instrument many regard as purely rhythmic, and based on this evidence, he achieved it.

And here he is with Mutt Carey's New Yorkers, a true all-star aggregation. Throughout, Dodds' playing is driving yet relaxed - listen especially to his characteristic rims work behind Edmond Hall's clarinet solo.

Another of Dodds' goals was to play 'for the benefit of the band'. Mission accomplished!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fred Gardner's Texas territory band

Some of the hottest recorded jazz from the 1920s and 30s comes from so-called 'territory bands', groups based in areas outside the major centres like New York and Chicago. Territory bands are especially exciting for the jazz fan because they are far less familiar than the 'name' bands like those led by Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington, and therefore offer a range of delightful surprises. Here's a group I've recently enjoyed immensely - Fred Gardner's Texas University Troubadours. The cornet solos are appealingly Bixian.

No Trumps (really Darktown Strutters' Ball):

Daniel's Blues:

Papa's Gone:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Little Ramblers - Crosswords

The California Ramblers recorded with almost obscene frequency during the 1920s, under a baffling array of pseudonyms. I enjoy their small-group records chiefly for the commanding bass sax of Adrian Rollini, however Rollini is regularly joined by other fine hot musicians including Bobby Davis, Chelsea Quealey, the Dorsey Brothers and Red Nichols.

Those still labouring under the once-fashionable idea that this music is somehow not 'real' jazz need only listen to this record. Here the Little Ramblers exhibit hot breaks and solos, a myriad of different ensemble textures, infectious rhythmic momentum and an overall concern for balance in an arrangement - many of the features of Jelly Roll Morton's celebrated Red Hot Peppers records.

While the vocal may not be to modern tastes and the arrangement is almost certainly based upon a stock chart, these are concerns common to much of the jazz of the 1920s.

Here's Crosswords - enjoy it for what it is. I particularly like the high-stepping rhythm and the passages where the bass sax and trombone play in harmony:

Monday, August 1, 2011

'...with orchestral accompaniment.'

Accompanying a vocalist by definition attracts minimal attention, and yet it requires many of the most challenging skills in jazz. One must listen constantly, select notes with great care and work hard to support the mood a singer is creating.

It's an enjoyable endeavour, however. The cooperative aspects of music are often the most rewarding, for musicians and audiences alike, and this is certainly the case with vocal accompaniment.

Here are four examples of superb accompanying, beginning with Cyrus St. Clair (tuba) and Ed Allen (cornet) as they perfectly match Bessie Smith's passionate despair on Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out:

Next up is the lovely Lee Wiley, who is blessed with the remarkable cornettist Bobby Hackett as her helper:

Eddie Lang's guitar accompaniment graces hundreds of records from the 1920s and 30s, and here he is on film with Bing Crosby:

And of course Lester Young on tenor sax, accompanying Billie Holiday. Holiday's mother claimed she couldn't tell the difference between her daughter's voice and Young's sax from the next room, and their collaborations are justifiably famous:

The hot & spiky clarinet of Edward Inge

An almost forgotten man, at least as far as jazz criticism is concerned, Edward Inge played reeds with some of the greatest jazz bands of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. His clarinet playing is especially idiosyncratic, featuring strings of eighth-notes unleashed with piquant fury.

Inge, like William Thornton Blue, Edmond Hall, Omer Simeon and Raymond Burke, imbued his solos with an old-fashioned 'hotness' that really shows where the metaphor 'hot jazz' came from: spice, not temperature. These players also give the impression they could make your ears bleed if they chose - I call this sort of playing 'spiky clarinet'.

Here's Edward Inge with the latter-day McKinney's Cotton Pickers:

And here are two records from his long stay with Don Redman's underrated orchestra of the 1930s:

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The gospel according to Al

Following my post on the lost or neglected Jimmie Noone film footage, I would like to share another of my musical holy grails - Al Bowlly's crooning manual, The Modern Singing Style. I have no consistent desire to be a singer, yet I do have a love of Bowlly's singing and an overriding desire to understand how music works.

Does anyone have a spare copy lying around?

My mate Boris, an even greater Bowlly aficionado than I, forwarded me a link to this excellent YouTube presentation, which features images from the book. Watch for yourself and see if the table of contents doesn't spark your interest...

And here's Al conducting a musical masterclass on the subject:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Where in the world is Jimmie Noone?

In 1944, Jimmie Noone was filmed in a movie called Blockbusters. That same year he died, missing the full bloom of traditional jazz revivals that made George Lewis famous and Acker Bilk a household name.

I've searched all kinds of obscure corners of the internet, but I've been unable to uncover either a digital version of this film or a physical copy on DVD or video. I'm astounded this priceless footage of one of jazz's most important clarinettists isn't available.

If anyone reading this blog can pass on any information on Noone's appearance in this film, I would be very grateful. Of course, it may be that Noone only appears briefly, or that the footage is hardly worth watching, but I so dearly want to see this jazz hero play.

Here's an appropriate record from Noone's colleague King Oliver - I Must Have It:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mainstream giants in 1958

Follow this link to see and hear Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Cozy Cole, Johnny Guarnieri, Milt Hinton and others jamming in 1958.

While this film features a cheesy voiceover and singing that isn't to my taste, the musicians seem genuinely relaxed. Hawkins plays a remarkable version of Lover Man, while Eldridge keeps the lid on his excellent but sometimes histrionic trumpet playing.

I can now say I've watched with awe as Coleman Hawkins arrived at a gig and set up his horn. Is this how Ben Webster, Chu Berry, Prince Robinson and so many other sax players going way back to the early 1920s felt?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Since You Went Away - Irving Mills & his Hotsy Totsy Gang

The delicate cornet playing on this record is the work of Jimmy McPartland, most often remembered for his association with the Austin High Gang. He idolised Bix, replacing him in the Wolverines.

On first hearing, his playing here sounds similar to Bix's, yet McPartland's own musical approach is evident on closer inspection. While there are similarities in tone and articulation, the phrasing is different - McPartland serenades us directly, while Bix's solos often give the impression we are eavesdropping on an altogether more private world.

In the interests of comparison, here's Bix playing Way Down Yonder in New Orleans:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Daddy Won't You Please Come Home - Annette Hanshaw with the New Englanders

Here's my current favourite Annette Hanshaw recording. It's been neglected on my computer for a long time, skipped over because I thought it was an Annettified version of 'Baby Won't You Please Come Home', a song I can live without hearing again. Silly me!

Hanshaw sings here with a breezy innocence and straightforward approach that is at least as hard to achieve as the complex vocal gymnastics of more modern singers. It also features a sweet melody and poised clarinet from Jimmy Dorsey.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bud Freeman and Edmond Hall

Here's a recording that's new to me, matching urbane Bud Freeman on tenor sax with the molten clarinet of Edmond Hall. Two great reed players, and the rest of the band is pretty impressive too!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jazz in a parallel universe

I've been musing on the nature of alternate takes lately. While watching a science documentary explaining string theory (or trying to!), I was struck by how alternate takes in jazz seem to offer us parallel universes for exploration.

It's an illusion and ALL takes actually took place in chronological order, but to a obsessive jazz fan like me, listening to the alternate take of a familiar track - one of Billie Holiday's records with Teddy Wilson, for instance - creates the impression that in a particular moment, Lester chose a different path.

Just this morning I was playing a bunch of 78s I recently acquired. I put on Eddie Condon and his Chicagoans playing 'Friar's Point Shuffle', a record I've known well for years. To my surprise, Max Kaminsky led the band off in an unfamiliar direction! It was as if a favourite novel or film had suddenly changed its plot, without warning.

Of course, a jazz fan can become irritated by the regular inclusion of alternate takes on CDs or vinyl - after all, it's the same song all over again, and the ear quickly tires of such repetition in casual listening. But when I have the energy to pay closer attention, I'm fascinated by the differences in solos, tempos, phrasing, feel etc.

A case in point is the excellent Jazz Oracle CD 'Red Nichols on Edison' (buy it!). It features a whole stack of alternates, often three takes of the one tune. However, the obvious differences between solos by Nichols, Miff Mole and Jimmy Dorsey, coupled with the quality of their playing, makes for absorbing music. Miff Mole's three solos on Hurricane and Red Nichols' three breaks on The Stampede are worth the price on their own.

Next time you hear an alternate take begin, stay away from the skip button and instead enjoy what can feel like the parallel universes of jazz!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Smiling Skies - Benny Meroff with Wild Bill Davison

A fascinating and rare glimpse of Wild Bill Davison early in his career, with Benny Meroff's Orchestra in 1928. It's interesting to hear his characteristically wild phrasing used to express ideas that are so obviously inspired by Bix Beiderbecke.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Max Kaminsky - Melody Maker

Max Kaminsky was probably more highly-regarded amongst peers than jazz fans, lacking as he did the sheer fire of Wild Bill Davison or the romanticism of Bobby Hackett. However, he was an expert at playing an economical yet swinging melody.

Playing a melody well is one of the most difficult things a jazz musician can attempt - it's relatively easy to play an unimaginative improvised solo that will fool casual listeners. Embellishing a melody means one has set material to work with, less room to deviate, and probably other horn players with whom to jostle for space between the barlines.

Kaminsky's no-fuss lead lines did more than state melodies - they inspired his fellow musicians. It's no wonder 'thinking trumpeters' like Tom Baker, Roger Bell and Ade Monsbourgh loved his playing (he visited Australia with Artie Shaw's band during World War II, hence his strong influence on Australian musicians).

Here's a great video clip with an all-star lineup including Herb Hall on clarinet, Stuff Smith on violin and George Wettling on drums:

And here are two records that show Kaminsky at his early peak:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pensive stride piano - Willie 'The Lion' Smith

The flexible piano playing of Willie 'The Lion' Smith evokes a broader range of moods than might generally be expected from a stride pianist. Far from providing mechanical virtuosity, his solos are, in turn, reflective, poignant, witty and jubilant.

I find myself listening to his fourteen 1939 Commodore piano solos as a method of meditation. If you haven't already heard these records, rush out and find them. 'I'll Follow You' and 'What is There to Say' are particularly soothing, while his own compositions build creatively on the stride tradition.

Here's 'I'll Follow You':

And a great band performance from a few years earlier (great tenor sax from Cecil Scott!):

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bubber Miley - hot trumpet in unexpected contexts

Trumpeter Bubber Miley is a well-documented influence on the early Ellington band. He, along with Sidney Bechet, is said to have led Ellington down the path towards hot music. After Miley's departure, various trumpeters filled his chair in the orchestra, playing plunger-muted growl solos in the 'jungle' style.

Miley himself is usually discussed in this context, and it's a source of amazement to me that he crops up in so many other unexpected situations.

Take, for example, this pleasingly sinister version of What Is This Thing Called Love, by Leo Reisman's society orchestra:

How about a duet with Arthur Ray on reed organ?

Then there's a session under Hoagy Carmichael's name, sharing a horn section with Bix Beiderbecke, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Bud Freeman:

Bubber Miley was more than just a catalyst for Ellington's 'jungle' style. He deserves to be heard in all these different environments. Not forgetting, of course, that some of his own records as a bandleader are first class hot jazz in their own right:

Fletcher Henderson talks arranging

Brew Lite's Jazz Tales blog examines a fascinating aircheck of Benny Goodman's band featuring an arranging lesson from Fletcher Henderson. It's worth listening just to hear Fletcher's voice, as well as the different sections of the Goodman band in isolation.

Fletcher Henderson Explains...

Monday, June 27, 2011

William Thornton Blue - maverick reedman

A clarinet and saxophone player of incredible eccentricity, William Thornton Blue (born 1902) played with spiky abandon. His best records are those with the Missourians, Cab Calloway's Orchestra, Henry 'Red' Allen and Dewey Jackson.

Blue's characteristically jagged phrases are formed through aggressive tonguing and a fondness for trills, growls and shakes. He achieves that goal of jazz musicians everywhere - a sound that is immediately identifiable. Furthermore, a clarinettist could spend a lifetime imitating him and never achieve a convincing facsimile of his style (not that I haven't given it a go!). He is unique.

Blue's promising career was cut short by illness in the 1930s. He lived, unbelievably, until 1968. In a world where Artie Shaw churlishly threw down his clarinet because he couldn't tolerate his own commercial success, it is cruel that a passionate voice like William Thornton Blue's was silenced for so long without his consent.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Dorsey Brothers - famous yet underrated

The Dorsey Brothers are generally remembered for leading swing bands that leaned towards sweet and away from hot. It's difficult to deny the jazz authenticity of their earlier playing though, on what must be hundreds of records. Again and again they prove their worth.

Sure, there are weaknesses - Jimmy tends towards a certain formulaic approach, and I'm always slightly worried he'll lose coherence (as he does on the Trumbauer/Bix record of Singin' the Blues). Tommy is probably more consistent, but perhaps more derivative as well.

On Hot Heels, they are in on a little conspiracy to dupe the listener. Pay close attention to the trumpet solo (by Tommy Dorsey, always more rhythmic and hot on that instrument than his usual trombone) - the very highest notes are actually played by Jimmy on clarinet.

Here's a great record featuring Tommy on trumpet once again. What a stomping sound they achieve here! It turns out white jazz bands in the 1920s were not necessarily corny or polite...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jabbo Smith - intensity personified

Cladys 'Jabbo' Smith was a talented trumpeter and singer who recorded about two dozen sides as a bandleader, as well as featuring on classic recordings by Charlie Johnson, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington.

I'm impressed by his daring ideas, rapid execution and flexible tone. He has much in common with the Louis Armstrong of the 1920s, and record companies at the time were keen to make the most of these similarities. However, he is clearly his own man, just as Henry 'Red' Allen was.

In these two examples, he is joined by one of my favourite reedmen - Omer Simeon. Simeon was usually featured on clarinet, but his hot, stomping alto sax is just as impressive:

Jabbo's singing was warm and characterful. Here's an interesting comparison - an audio vocal from 1929 and a video from one of Jabbo's comeback attempts fifty years later.

While Jabbo lived a long life, his musical career seems to have shared both the strengths and the weaknesses of his playing itself - plenty of intensity, yet lacking focus. Perhaps spontaneous the way he lived his life helped form his unique musical approach. I'm grateful for that.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rhythmic energy

Jazz historians often commit a terrible crime - criticising something for what it isn't rather than appreciating it for what it is (to paraphrase my dearly missed friend and mentor Len Barnard). I've read countless jazz history books wherein quality 1920s musicians receive patronising assessments due to their alleged inability to 'swing', usually defined in the sense of 'swung eighth-notes' as played by Basie in the late 1930s.

I think musicians originally used the word swing to describe a powerful rhythmic energy, and that can take many forms. King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band swings in this sense. So too does Louis Armstrong's Hot Seven, romping through Potato Head Blues, or Bechet's recording of Sweetie Dear. In each case, the combined, cumulative effect is what is important, not whether it fits a certain definition.

Here's a powerful example from The Little Ramblers in the mid-twenties - hardly swing a la Basie, I feel Adrian Rollini and Co achieve a combined rhythmic drive here that is awe-inspiring:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Alto sax with guitar accompaniment

The first four tracks below find a young Charlie Parker in 1943 accompanied only by rhythm guitar. It's an interesting mix - bop saxophone at its inception, coupled with a simple, driving beat that bears little resemblance to Parker's later rhythm sections. It's an irresistible combination for me - the cumulative rhythmic energy of 1920s and 30s jazz coupled with quirky 1940s phrasing and a beautiful tone.

Just for comparison, listen to the fifth track below - French saxophonist Andre Ekyan playing Tiger Rag as a duet with Django Reinhardt in 1937. There are more similarities than differences, though most would regard this as a different style of jazz based solely on the particular musicians involved. The labels we give to styles of music influencing the way we perceive the music itself? That seems backwards to me.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Objects of my affection: Bill Coleman and Garnet Clark

I forget Bill Coleman occasionally, in a way I never do fellow swing trumpeters Frank Newton or Henry 'Red' Allen. I don't know why, because I love his long, leaping phrases and witty vibrato. I'm not the only one, however, and I suspect Coleman felt neglected. His reminiscences about his time in the Luis Russell Orchestra reflect a certain bitterness regarding its New Orleans clique. Coleman's stay in Paris must have gone some way to alleviating his sensitivity - there he was a celebrated international star, not simply another trumpeter.

Garnet Clark's experience there is a sadder tale. An enormously promising pianist whose life ended in a mental institution, Clark played with creativity and swing. I've mused before on this blog regarding the number of musicians who experience mental instability - he's certainly in good company!

Here are two classy performances by Garnet Clark and his Hot Club Four, featuring Bill Coleman on trumpet and vocals, George Johnson on reeds, June Cole on bass and the iconic Django Reinhardt on guitar:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Boswell Sisters rehearse

In this short but glorious clip, the Boswell Sisters rehearse a tune before being interrupted by a conceited man played by bandleader Abe Lyman.

Connee, Vet and Martha certainly pack a punch from a marketing perspective! Their charisma goes beyond their obvious talent and good looks.

For just one depressing moment, imagine how the commercial music industry would insist on packaging them today. Now enjoy them as they were/are:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Papa Charlie Jackson

A talented banjo player and singer from the 1920s-30s, Jackson has probably been neglected by just about everyone. I guess this is because jazz fans neglect him because he rarely worked with full bands, blues fans neglect him because he played the banjo instead of guitar, and ragtime fans tend to focus on pianists and orchestras.

Nevertheless, he is a solid performer, as these records show. Richly organic roots music!

Here's 'Drop that Sack', also recorded by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five (under the pseudonym 'Lill's Hot Shots'):

This record of 'I'm Alabama Bound' bears a striking similarity to Jelly Roll Morton's 'Don't You Leave Me Here' - songs like this have a way of popping up all over the place, no doubt adapted from a common pool of folk tunes and storytelling ideas:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Marbles - Herman Waldman & His Orchestra 1929

YouTuber 'Prozoot' has uploaded an admirable collection of rare 1920s and 30s dance band records.

Here is one of my favourites, in gloriously full sound:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A hot jazz alliance...

Philippines-born Spanish pianist Elizalde led bands in the US before moving to Britain. There his band played at the Savoy Hotel in London during the late 1920s, featuring many of the best British jazz musicians of the time.

Three American stars moved temporarily to London to join him: Adrian Rollini on bass sax, Chelsea Quealey on trumpet and Bobby Davis on alto sax and clarinet.

I was listening to a CD of this band's work released on the Retrieval label when one particular personnel listing caught my attention, for Singapore Sorrows. It's a good enough record, but what's fascinating for me is that some great British musicians are joined by no fewer than FIVE of America's best jazz musicians: Rollini, Quealey and Davis plus Fud Livingstone and Rollini's brother Arthur on reeds. It's an astonishing roster for a regular working group in Britain in the 1920s.

But wait, there's more... Strumming away on guitar is Al Bowlly, soon to become one of last century's most admired singers. And playing trombone is Frank Coughlan, from New South Wales, Australia, an almost forgotten but major influence on Australian jazz.

Frank Coughlan's presence on this record serves as another reminder to me that the jazz world of the past is inseparable from the world in which I live now. Coughlan was born on 7 June 1904, in Emmaville. Google Maps tells me it's eighteen hours in the car to Emmaville. Coughlan, Elizalde, Rollini and the others are a lot further away. And yet here is the record:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Miff Mole and Jack Teagarden

1920s trombonist Miff Mole is widely complimented for his technical assurance, and yet I feel critics often damn him with faint praise when they write of his polished performances on so many records with Red Nichols, the Original Memphis Five and others.

Mole wasn't simply a technically-gifted musician, he also had serious 'hot jazz' abilities. I've been listening to the Roger Wolfe Kahn CD available on the Jazz Oracle label. Amidst jaunty dance band arrangements, Miff Mole regularly emerges for a hot chorus, accompanied only by the rhythm section and occasional sparse saxophone backing. Hear the rhythm section 'dig in' behind him, mirroring the rhythmic energy he brings to his solos. They understand that he is playing 'hot'.

Jack Teagarden's debut on record was with the Roger Wolfe Kahn Orchestra, replacing an absent Miff Mole at the last minute. His trombone style is smoother and bluesier than Mole's, which may go some way to explaining why critics are often kinder when judging Teagarden. At the time, Teagarden must have been a revelation - an exciting new trombone sound, without losing technical skill.

I wonder how Mole felt though. Listening to Mole's solos on the Roger Wolfe Kahn album, I imagine I can hear a change in his approach post-Teagarden, a bit rougher and less angular. I imagine Mole trying to get his head around the new sound. It must have been unsettling. Perhaps it contributed to the changes he made to his playing style and his career choices in the ensuing decades.

Teagarden is incredible, but I more often find myself listening to Mole. His creativity, snappy rhythm and sheer consistency live on.

Here's Mole with Roger Wolfe Kahn:

And Teagarden's debut:

Monday, May 23, 2011

The amazing Frank Guarente

Trumpeter Frank Guarente had a fascinating life, and his band The Georgians was one of the best bands of the early 1920s.

A summary of his life:

A couple of records from 1926, recorded in Switzerland:

Three versions of 'How'm I Doin'?'

The song 'How'm I Doin'?' enjoyed some popularity during the early 1930s. It's a fun call-and-response tune I first heard through the excellent Don Redman recording. However, in transcribing that record for my own band, I discovered several other excellent versions.

Here's what I guess is a post-Bing Crosby 'Rhythm Boys' version:

Next is a more urbane rendition from the Mills Brothers:

Finally we have a Betty Boop cartoon featuring Don Redman's band. Betty Boop cartoons regularly include great jazz soundtracks - even when there's no Don Redman, Cab Calloway or Louis Armstrong obviously featured, bands like the Mills Blue Rhythm Band can be heard playing accompaniment that is similar but different to their records.

'How'm I Doin'?' makes its entrance after Don Redman's opening theme tune, 'Chant of the Weed':

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is the medium the message in jazz?

To what extent does the medium through which we listen to jazz affect the way we appreciate/learn/remember it?

I'm a 'CD-generation' jazz listener. I'm used to having complete sets of this or that, with alternate takes included, all accompanied by detailed booklets by verbose jazz scholars. When I was a teenager, I consumed music at an alarming rate - five or more CDs purchased in one go, each with around twenty tracks, would last me a week or two. That's a hundred tracks, or fifty 78 rpm records' worth of music.

My older musician buddies would proudly tell me of the excitement returning from the record store with a new 78. Just two tracks, to be played over and over again. And you'd have to wait for the records you wanted. Completing a set meant a tireless search, rather than a single purchase.

So what does all this do to a developing musician? Have I been helped or hindered by CDs? I don't know. An interesting thing happened to me late last year though; I finally obtained a proper record player, a 1960s valve radiogram, with which to play the collection of LPs and 78s I'd (almost unwillingly) amassed. Going through the process of choosing each 78 after another, I realised how similar this process is to choosing the next YouTube clip. In fact, many of the YouTube clips I watch include video of the actual record spinning!

How strange it is that we use new technology to film old technology, all in the pursuit of music that is decades-old. This aging music sounds fresh and exciting to me, regardless of the medium.

Amazing Louis Armstrong footage

Here's some great footage of Louis Armstrong from the early 1950s. While he is almost certainly miming, the quality and uninterrupted nature of the footage makes it especially valuable.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Earl Hines & His Orchestra - Blue Drag

I haven't devoted much listening time to the Earl Hines band of the early/mid 1930s, and I'm definitely enjoying addressing this oversight. There are several excellent players in the band, including one of my favourite reedmen, Omer Simeon.

Here's a great arrangement of Blue Drag - dancers in the 1930s must have enjoyed this rhythmic groove.

Frank Teschemacher with Eddie Condon's Quartet

Clarinet/saxophone player Frank Teschemacher lived an even shorter life than his idol Bix Beiderbecke, dying in a car accident shortly before his 26th birthday. His phrasing and attack still sound fresh and inspiring to me.

Here are two of my favourite 'Tesch' recordings, with Eddie Condon's Quartet. As well as red hot clarinet and alto sax, we hear stomping piano from Joe Sullivan and the sort of drumming from Gene Krupa that proves he was more than just a showman. Eddie Condon plays the banjo with admirable drive, and does his best in the vocals department!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Another version of 'Treat Me Like a Baby'

Here's another version of 'Treat Me Like a Baby', this time by Ben Selvin's Orchestra under the pseudonym 'Phil Hughes & His High Hatters'. This melody is a real 'ear worm' - it's been wiggling around in my head for days now.

Featured here is the incredibly prolific and polished crooner Harold 'Scrappy' Lambert. While Al Bowlly and Bing Crosby are probably better suited to modern tastes, Lambert deserves much more attention than he receives.

This particular version has been recorded from LP onto cassette, from cassette to my computer, and then been turned into a video, so please forgive the poor sound quality!

Jack Purvis - Rare Trumpet Solos

These two recordings ('Copyin' Louis' and 'Mental Strain at Dawn'), featured back to back in the one YouTube clip, are legendary trumpeter Jack Purvis' best recorded work. In them, Purvis exhibits fascinating phrasing and a glorious 'snappy' sound.

Like so many YouTube clips from Atticus70, the historic photos interact wonderfully with the music to bring back the atmosphere of a past era.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Howard Lanin's Ben Franklin Dance Orchestra

Continuing on my 'hot dance' rave from yesterday, here are two glorious records from Howard Lanin. I've been familiar with 'Melancholy Lou' for years, but 'Don't Wake Me Up, Let Me Dream' was introduced to me by US cornettist Andy Schumm on his recent trip to Australia.

This music is nuanced and infectious (musically speaking!), giving clear evidence of the value of 1920s popular music as opposed to so-called 'true' jazz. Had I been a jazz musician in the 1920s, I believe I would have been very happy playing in a dance band like this, not in the least affected by the musical claustrophobia allegedly suffered by jazz soloists constrained by larger groups (i.e. Bix with Paul Whiteman).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sunny Clapp & His Band O'Sunshine - Treat Me Like A Baby

I rediscovered this pretty melody yesterday. A band I played with years ago used to play it, but it had entirely slipped from my mind until I began clattering through some old cassettes.

Impressive multi-instrumentalist Sunny Clapp (composer of 'Girl of my Dreams') seems to have found the perfect tempo, in my opinion - it's a delicate little melody, but the reasonably jaunty pace makes it sound, well, 'sunny'.

I love the vocal, so typical of its era. What about the lyrics though? Can we stomach a song nowadays that promotes the infantilisation of one's romantic partner? It depends as much on the prospective singer as the audience, I suspect.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Early Bud Freeman

Bud Freeman was much-maligned by his Austin High friends when he first began playing the saxophone, often labelled a 'Johnny One-Note' as he had a habit of finding one note that sounded bearable and playing it over and over. He does sound a little raw on his first recordings!

However, he quickly gained confidence and a more complete approach to his instrument - as this fantastic 1928 recording shows. The band (Bud Freeman & His Orchestra) plays with a style typical of the late 1920s Chicago groups. Bud Jacobson sounds like his idol Frank Teschemacher and Gene Krupa demonstrates how good a driving jazz drummer he was.

The composition itself relies on riffs and fleet-fingered saxophone runs, and in that has much in common with Freeman's other compositions (such as The Eel).

Friday, January 21, 2011

'Who Wouldn't Love' 1920s fashion?

This clip features photos and illustrations of 1925 fashion, accompanied by the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks - an irresistible combination.

Technology often falls well short of making our lives better (as anyone who has sat through an ineffectual PowerPoint presentation will attest), but YouTube videos like this one are especially effective at situating the music we love within its social and historical context. As a musician who knew nothing of the 1920s and 30s when he heard the sounds of early jazz, this is a valuable medium - I can gain an appreciation of 1920s fashion, but also understand a little more about how the world that created 'my' music felt and looked.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Grégorology - inspired by Bix and Tram?

I'm back after an extended absence over Christmas while I moved home. Thanks to Michael Steinman for mentioning my blog during that time. If you haven't already done so, visit his exceptional Jazz Lives blog without delay!

I was recently struck by this 1929 homage to Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer, by a French group led by Armenian bandleader Grégor Kelekian. They capture the nostalgic ambiance of the Bix, Tram and Lang recordings of 1927, but add their own musical ideas and gentle romanticism.

I'm fascinated that musicians all around the world were already understanding Bix and Tram's music, and striving to use it as a foundation for their own. Importantly, they are playing their OWN composition, though - something that could be a goal for more recent Bixophiles. New music inspired by old music needn't be a postmodern disaster!

What became of composer/pianist Lucien Moraweck, surely the guiding figure here? What about the saxophonist Edmond Cohanier, with his delicate tone and touch? Philippe Brun is a more well-known name, thanks to recordings with Django Reinhardt and others.

I feel a strong affinity with these musicians. They fulfilled a goal of mine - creating new music drawing upon the work of their heroes.