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: