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:

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