23 August 2017

Post 540: LOOSE MARBLES IN 2008

I have written before about the band Loose Marbles.

argued then, and I still believe, that this group has been the most important and most influential traditional jazz band to emerge in the Twenty-First Century. To read that article, CLICK HERE.

But how on earth did I miss, during all these years, some wonderful videos of the band that appeared on YouTube as long ago as 2008? I am thrilled to tell you that I have recently discovered them.

A generous video-maker whose name is given as Wayne G. Harvey attended a concert by the band at the Delaware County Institute of Science, which is situated in the Borough of Media, Pennsylvania. The Loose Marbles played on a stage in front of glass cases exhibiting mounted birds.

Mr. Harvey uploaded videos of twelve tunes from the concert. He could not have known at the time that these videos would become precious historical documents.

Why are they so important? For the following reasons.

They show the state of evolution of the Loose Marbles at that time. Ben Polcer on first trumpet and Michael Magro on clarinet were firmly in control (and how well they played together!). The repertoire was mainly very familiar tunes, but played in a thrilling way. Tuba Skinny had not yet formed; but we get to see three musicians who were to become founder members (Shaye, Barnabus and Kiowa) honing their skills in the company of Ben and Michael.

They show how the band liked to produce music without any electronic assistance. That's the way they still like it, whenever possible, and so do I. Even vocals were clearly delivered without amplification.

It is hard to believe that Barnabus and Shaye had taken up the trombone and cornet respectively only a year or two earlier, having previously played other instruments. Barnabus, in the trombone chair, is brimful of confidence. And Shaye - here playing second trumpet to Ben - is already showing great technique and harmonic creativity. She has spoken in an interview of how important this stage of her career was: playing second trumpet to Ben taught her to keep things simple and to complement his playing harmoniously.

It is interesting to see how Ben gave the illusion of adding a percussion player to the band with his devices operated by foot and hand. I believe he still does this occasionally.

The music always sounds exciting, mainly because of the energy and talent of the players, and partly because - with a 'front line' of four and Ben's percussive additions - it sounds almost like a 'big band', especially with the assistance of the Museum's acoustics, as the sound bounces off those glass cases!

The videos are also historically interesting because they show us those great dancers - Chance Bushman and Amy Johnson - sharing the little stage and contributing hugely to the audience's enjoyment. As we now know, the migration of dancers as well as of instrumentalists to New Orleans in the years after Katrina was a very important factor in the revival of traditional jazz in the streets of that City and has remained so.

You can find and enjoy all twelve of these videos easily enough on YouTube. But if you would like me to get you started, may I offer these contrasting tunes?

For Tiger RagCLICK HERE. (There's fine dancing in this; and listen carefully to Shaye supporting Ben in the opening minutes of full ensemble.)

For Some Day, SweetheartCLICK HERE.

For Whenever You're LonesomeCLICK HERE. (You may be surprised to hear Barnabus providing the vocal, and Shaye confidently taking a lovely and unpretentious solo chorus.)

Among the other fine videos from the concert are Over in The Gloryland, Isle of Capri, Willie the Weeper, 'Taint Nobody's Business If I Do and Ice Cream.

20 August 2017


Frequent correspondent Phil Lynch in the USA is a fan of the Los Angeles-based band called The California Feetwarmers. He has written to me about them in the past.

Now, Phil has alerted me to a concert they gave at The Red Room, Cookstown, in Northern Ireland when they were on tour there in July 2017.
Fortunately for us, a generous video-maker called John Watson put several videos from the concert on YouTube. The sound and visual qualities of these videos are exceptionally good, so this concert is something available for us all to enjoy.

And what we find is that this band is seriously good! Not only are they fine musicians; they are also brilliant at putting together a truly entertaining programme, holding an audience spellbound throughout.

The seven musicians arrange themselves in a straight line across the stage - just the way I like - so that the audience can see all of them and they can see each other. These young men play high-energy music, underpinned by a sensitive, accurate sousaphone, guitar and banjo and minimalist unobtrusive percussion. The clarinet, trumpet and trombone players are technically brilliant and great team-workers. On top of all that, the members of the band can sing; and there are times when the whole band joins in with vocals, in fine close harmony.

They obviously prepared well. There are some first-rate head arrangements, so there is no need for signalling on the hoof.

Take Clarinet Marmalade. They leap about among the various themes and bridges. And there is even a vocal - something I've never heard with this tune before:

The same kind of slickness is evident in their performance of That's a Plenty:

Then, for a contrasting example of their ability to entertain - and involve an audience - try I'm Feeling Good. You can't help wanting to join in on the Chorus, which is based on one of our most familiar 16-bar [plus two-bar tag] chord sequences. The use of stop chords against the cornet solo, and the Chorus in double-time (but with rallentando ending) illustrate how well the band has prepared. 

There is even a storming 14-minute Medley of Sing On, Down By The Riverside, I'll Fly Away, Oh Mary, Don't You Weep, and Over in the Gloryland, which showcases well how brilliant each of the musicians is, both individually and in collective improvisation:

I hope I have whetted your appetite. Explore the rest of the concert for yourself. I am sure you will be impressed by the way these musicians have absorbed the influences of the early ragtime, string and jug bands and given them a new life in the Twenty-First Century. I rate The California Feetwarmers as one of the top bands playing anywhere in the world today and wish I could get to hear them some time.

According to their web page, the members of the band are:
Brandon Armstrong - sousaphone/Bass
Charles De Castro - cornet/Accordion/vocals
Josh Kaufman - clarinet/accordion/piano/vocals
Carlos Reynoso - washboard/Guitar/vocals
Dominique Rodriguez - snare drum/bass drum
Justin Rubenstein - trombone/vocals
Patrick Morrison - Banjo/Guitar.

17 August 2017


I recently came across an interesting video that had been put up on YouTube at the end of 2013. The generous video-maker was a person codenamed twobarbreak and the video was of Loose Marbles playing that popular song from 1920 - San.

By the way, my friend Bob Andersen in San Diego has emailed me to say that twobarbreak is in fact Peter Loggins, the well-known jazz trombone player, dance teacher and jazz researcher.
You can watch his video BY CLICKING HERE.

It appeals to me because it provides a glimpse at what was going on behind the scenes in those days when Loose Marbles was still evolving and Tuba Skinny was in its early stage of development.

There is no audienceThe band seems to be rehearsing in an otherwise deserted New Orleans bar. Chord books lie around on the floor; and Shaye is directing proceedings: for example, she sets up a washboard Chorus by the hugely energetic Robin. This is accompanied by stop chords - a device that was to occur very often in later Tuba Skinny performances. 

San has a 24-bar Verse in a minor key but Loose Marbles choose not to play this at all. Instead, they simply romp through the Chorus seven times in the key of F in a pretty exciting manner. The distinctive clarinet sound of Michael Magro is much in evidence. There is the usual Loose Marbles emphasis on ensemble playing, and they ensure that the tune is not always led by the cornet. Note how Barnabus on trombone leads in the second and fifth Choruses. 

Already in 2013, Shaye's wonderful gift for intuitive improvisation and harmonisation during ensembles was much in evidence. The actual notes she plays in the fourth Chorus (that runs from 1 minute 45 seconds to 2 minutes 20 seconds) repay close attention. They are so much more inspired and original than what we hear from so many players. It is amazing to think she had taken up cornet-playing only three or four years earlier.

The musicians are all familiar faces, though a couple of them seem to have since departed from the New Orleans scene.

In more recent times, Tuba Skinny have been playing San frequently. You can easily find videos of them doing so on YouTube. Watch an example filmed by my friend James Sterling BY CLICKING HERE.

But Tuba Skinny are now including the Verse - usually playing it at the start and again later. They are also pitching the tune three semi-tones higher, having switched to the key of Ab, in which it works very well. However, I don't think these later performances are necessarily more exciting than that original Loose Marbles rehearsal!

14 August 2017


Good news is that the all-ladies New Orleans-based band called The Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band has released its first Digital Album. It contains ten songs. You can buy the Album (or individual songs from it) by downloading from:

The first thing that strikes you about this Album is the clean quality of the recording. All the instruments can be clearly heard and the balance is fine. Molly Reeves has every right to be proud, as she was responsible for the recording and mixing.
Molly Reeves

The title of the Album – Le Donne Mangiano Succhero – which I would very freely translate as The Ladies Like Eating Sugary Things – seems to have been confirmed by their Summer 2017 visit to The Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, where I hear they enjoyed visiting the pastry and sweet shops!

What will you discover in the Album?

I think you will discover that this band has developed a very pleasant house style. Using simple but well-judged head arrangements, they aim at clarity and accuracy, with full respect to melody and harmonious decoration. You will not find the deliberate rough edges and rawness that some traditional jazz bands go for. But you will hear inspired improvisation, both in the solos and ensembles. And there's some good singing too.

There is a short and snappy version of Les Oignons – with the breaks left silent. So you can all shout ‘Onions’ in the privacy of your home!

Shake ‘Em Up, which has become the band’s unofficial signature tune, is a merry up-tempo 16-bar number, based on a familiar chord sequence. They play it cheerily.

Hearing Molly singing Make Me a Pallet on the Floor was for me one of the pleasures of 2017. She sang the song at my request one night in New Orleans and I put the performance on YouTube. You can see it BY CLICKING HERE.

I’m pleased to say Molly sings the song on this Album, with great support from the rest of the band.

In fact Molly and Julie, together with Dizzy, make a superb and metronomic rhythm team and provide perfect background colouring. Molly and Julie may be heard taking occasional 8-bar or 16-bar solos; and Washboard Wiggles – a standard 32-bar aaba structure – gives Dizzy a chance to shine. But also note a lovely fluent chorus in this tune from Chloe.

The Kid Ory standard Savoy Blues is included. It is a trombonist's speciality and I know Haruka enjoys playing it. She and the band give a good solid performance.

There is the calypso number called Shame and Scandal in the Family. It is a fun song composed in 1943 by the Trinidadian Lancelot Pinard (who used the stage name Sir Lancelot). It appears to be Marla whose voice we hear singing it so entertainingly, but this must have been by over-dubbing, because at the same time as she is singing, we hear her with trumpet riffing along in the background, together with Haruka.

The C minor Root, Hog, or Die has become a popular standard in the band’s repertoire. Marla sings it and there is some super soloing, including Chloe’s clarinet backed by washboard only.

Molly sings My Silent Love (composed in 1932) very sweetly and then Chloe plays the first of a series of lovely half-choruses taken by herself, Marla, Haruka and Molly.

In total contrast, Chloe lustily sings the many verses of Empty Bed Blues. I don’t know whether the innuendoes enjoyed by Bessie Smith’s audiences back in 1928 are still appreciated in this more sophisticated age; but the song gives great opportunities to Haruka and Marla to show how well they can provide background colouring in a 12-bar blues.

The CD ends with Chloe singing the medium-tempo There’s a New Moon Over My Shoulder, complete with Verse. It is a Jimmie Davis song from 1944.

All in all, this is a delightful Album and well worth acquiring if you have enjoyed the band’s live performances and YouTube appearances since it was formed (originally by Shaye Cohn) in the summer of 2016.