19 January 2017

Post 468: ALL-LADIES' BAND AT ABITA SPRINGS

In the summer of 2016, Shaye Cohn put together in New Orleans a traditional jazz band comprising only ladies. We are lucky to live at a time when so many of the greatest traditional jazz musicians are ladies and when so many of them happen to have settled in that city.

And in this band, you find SIX of them making up what may well be one of the greatest all-female bands ever.

Another interesting feature of this band is that Shaye Cohn is playing trombone - something I've never seen her do before. Is there nothing that young lady can't master? Even before this, she had become established as one of the finest trad jazz piano and cornet players of all time, as well as being very good on violin, string bass and accordion. The other ladies are of course Chloe Feoranzo, Marla Dixon, Dizzy, Julie Schexnayder, and Molly Chaffin Reeves - every one a heroine of our musical times.

Shaye's original purpose was to give a demonstration of traditional jazz at the Girls' Summer Band Camp in New Orleans. But the all-ladies band - once formed - was too good to waste and fans pleaded for them to play elsewhere.
At first, the band had no name but somebody (John Dixon, I believe) had the idea of calling it The EQP Jazz Band (EQual Pay). However, by November, Shaye seems to have decided to call it The Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band.

Whatever the band's name, the Good News is that they were invited to play at the famous Abita Springs Opry on 19 November. 

The concert they gave was traditional jazz of the finest kind - tasteful and yet always exciting and full of intelligent ideas. They opened with Some Day Sweetheart and then continued with Root, Hog; or Die!, Sugar Blues, When You Wore A Tulip, Make Me A Pallet on the Floor, and - to finish - Hindustan.

Having done the good work behind the scenes, Shaye gave herself a secondary role in performance, leaving Marla to play the trumpet, lead the band and do the announcing.

Everyone was interested to see how Shaye would fare playing her newest instrument, the trombone.
What she did was exactly what we might expect of her: she played a perfect and accurate though simple and basic line, fully conscious of the harmonising and rhythmic responsibilities of the trombone in our music. On Sugar Blues (played in the rarely-used key of G) she took a complete solo chorus and the audience loved it.

Root, Hog; Or Die! - played in C minor - romped along, with plenty of mini-solos and Marla providing the vocal.

Among the highlights of the concert were a beautiful two-chorus solo by Chloe on Make Me a Pallet (which they played in F) and an exquisite vocal duet at the end of When You Wore A Tulip (played in Ab) with Chloe singing the melody and Marla perfectly harmonising on lower notes. Chloe was also the vocalist on Sugar Blues, which she sang with great passion.

(I am mentioning keys because they differ from those sometimes used for the tunes in question.)

Pumping the band along, Molly on guitar and Julie on string bass provided the chords very solidly, four to the bar; and Dizzy as ever maintained metronomic gentle percussion on the washboard, and took very neat solos, including a full chorus on When You Wore a Tulip.

Molly is, of course, also a fine singer and gave a lovely rendition of Make Me a Pallet.

In fact, I am coming round to the opinion that Make Me a Pallet is my favourite performance in this video. Molly reminds me of Carol Leigh singing with Kid Thomas; and every member of the band plays it beautifully, with terrific teamwork.

Chloe's clarinet was stunningly eloquent throughout and Marla was her usual exuberant self – passionately singing and also playing some wonderful stuff on the trumpet. On this occasion she did not use her famous Derby mute but her playing with the plunger mute on Sugar Blues and Pallet on the Floor was outstanding.

What a treat for us all! Let's hope this band will continue to get together from time to time and that there will be many more videos for us to enjoy all over the world.

You can watch the Abita Spring's video of the performance by going to this site and then sliding the button along to 1 hour 27 minutes 45 seconds (they followed three other bands):
https://vimeo.com/199846804

I am deeply indebted to my blog-reading friend and Louisiana resident Michael Brooks for supplying me with information.
===
Here are extracts from two emails I received shortly after the above was published:

(1) As you and I have said before, we are living in a new golden age for traditional jazz.  These aren't just the best female musicians that our music has to offer but among the best no matter the gender.  I wonder what the old timers from the early days of New Orleans jazz would say?  Women were relegated to piano back then.

(2) Well, I read your blog over breakfast, and then watched the band ...
... and I just had to have another breakfast.
WHAT A WAY TO START MY DAY ... SIX VERY LOVELY AND TALENTED LADIES, TWO CUPS OF COFFEE AND A PLATE FULL OF CROISSANTS.
Life doesn't get any better!
====
By the way, you might like to have my Book:

For more information, go to the Amazon website and type 'Enjoying Traditional Jazz' into the Search Bar. The book is the price of a cup of coffee; it contains over 60,000 words and you can free-sample a few pages before deciding whether to download it.

16 January 2017

Post 467: TRIOS

Have you ever wondered why so many classic jazz pieces run through two or three themes - perhaps including some links or bridges - and then finally settle into a chunky 32-bar theme on a straightforward chord progression - a theme that may be repeated with variations and improvisations for as long as the band wishes? I'm thinking of such tunes as At a Georgia Camp Meeting, Buddy's Habit, Blame It On The Blues, Bugle Boy March, Fidgety Feet, Frogimore Rag, Hiawatha Rag, Original Dixieland One-Step, Mabel's Dream, and Tiger Rag.

I believe it is all part of a tradition passed down to us from the days of Haydn. It is the 'Trio'.

Yes, I know a 'trio' usually means a group of three - three musicians, for example.

But there is another use of the word 'Trio' in connection with music and it dates from the way pieces were structured by the classical composers of the mid-Eighteenth Century.

Symphonies and string quartets by the likes of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were made up of several units of music, spread over a number of movements.

The 'Trio', which often came within a 'Minuet' movement, was often provided as a contrast to another theme that was played before and after it.

Why it was called a 'Trio' is somewhat obscure, but it seems likely that, originally at least, it really did involve some kind of three-part harmonizing. (You can certainly find that in Haydn string quartets.)

Move forward to the late Nineteenth Century and we find that composers of light or semi-classical music still considered it proper to create pieces that included four or five separate themes, or parts. By analogy, they thought they too should have a section called the Trio; and often it appeared as a somewhat grand but simple melody (usually 16 or 32 bars). Just as the classical composers had done, they often switched to a different key for the Trio. And, just as in classical music, they sometimes indicated that the musicians were expected to go back to the opening theme and play that again AFTER the Trio.

This idea of including Trios was immensely popular in Brass Band music of the Nineteenth Century. Think of those great marches, in many of which there is a theme called the 'Trio'. Sometimes it is quite grandiose.

So it's hardly surprising that the Trio found its way into early jazz - and that it's still there today, though I doubt whether any of our current musicians ever consciously think about it.

Look at the original sheet music of some of our jazz classics. This is the final section of Deep Henderson. I have highlighted where the Trio begins.


And here is the point in Panama where the Trio begins:


It switches from the key of F to the key of Bb at the start of the Trio - the most common switch of all, in which early themes are played in the key that is the Dominant of the Final Theme.

The same happens in Maple Leaf Rag. Here the switch is from the key of Ab (for the earlier themes) to Db for the Trio.


And here's the Trio from Charles Cooke's 1914 piano rag Blame It On The Blues. When our jazz bands play it today, it sounds very unlike this, because it has been re-interpreted with a much more simple melodic line, easier for trumpet players to cope with.
A few more examples:

The Cactus Rag (1916) is written in Eb - until the Trio, which is in Ab.

Chimes (by Homer Denny, 1910 - not to be confused with Chimes Blues) is a rag in F with a Trio in Bb.

The rag Cole Smoak (1906) is in Eb, with the Trio in Ab.
James Scott's Evergreen Rag (1915) goes from G to C for the Trio.

So, whenever we play one of those multi-part tunes that ends with a steady theme on which we all love to improvise, perhaps we should spare a thought for the likes of Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809), who so long ago showed how pieces of music may be constructed by putting together various parts - or themes - and how interesting it is to have such an impressive contrasting theme (perhaps in a related key) that, for want of a better term, we may call 'The Trio'.

13 January 2017

Post 466: SAM MORGAN

Some very important recordings were made in 1927 by Sam Morgan. His Band played not only in New Orleans, but also in other towns, such as Galveston, along the Gulf Coast.

While Armand Piron's Orchestra was at the same time playing sophisticated, genteel jazz, Morgan's style was just a little more gutzy, pulsating and robust, though still melodic. The band took great care with establishing and maintaining the right tempos - notably for dancing.
That's Sam seated behind the cymbal; with big Jim Robinson and his trombone.
Sam Morgan, born in 1895, was the trumpeter/leader; and his brothers Isaiah (also on trumpet) and Andrew (tenor sax and clarinet) played in his band. On trombone he had the great Jim Robinson, whose fame spread further when he played in bands well after Sam Morgan had died at the age of only 41 (poor Sam suffered a stroke in 1925 and another in 1932). Earle Fouché played clarinet and alto sax. Robinson's cousin Sidney Brown was on bass. Tinke Baptiste and Walter Decou were at various times on piano. Johnny Dave was on banjo. The drummers over the years were Roy Evans and Nolan Williams.

Today Sam Morgan is best remembered for the eight tunes his band recorded in New Orleans over two sessions in 1927. Three of these were spirituals (Over in the Gloryland, Down By The Riverside and Sing On); but the credited composer for all the other five was Sam himself:

Bogalusa Strut
Everybody's Talking About Sammy
Mobile Stomp
Short Dress Gal
Steppin' On The Gas

Have a listen to Morgan's band playing Mobile Stomp:
CLICK HERE.
And now hear it played by one of today's best jazz bands:
Bogalusa Strut, by the way, is said to be a re-interpretation of the first two themes of Scott Joplin's Rose Leaf Rag. If you listen to that rag, you will hear at once that the harmonic progressions are indeed the same.

Mobile Stomp, though in 4/4 time, is said to use the melody of  The Waltz You Saved For Me; and indeed the two melodies are almost identical. But according to my researches so far, it seems The Waltz You Saved for Me was composed in 1930 - after Mobile Stomp, so it is probably unfair to suggest that Morgan 'lifted' his tune from the song.

Most traditional jazz bands in the 21st Century not only show influences of the Sam Morgan Band in their playing and musical arrangements but also still have at least a couple of Morgan's tunes in their repertoire.

And the fact that the Morgan Band recorded the three spirituals seems to have set the precedent that traditional jazz bands must now include spirituals in their programmes. (It is believed the band would never have played spirituals for dances but recorded some only because the recording engineer requested them.) Similarly, the band demonstrated (as in Mobile Stomp) - I think for one of the first times on record - the excitement generated when you play stop-time choruses.

So we all owe a great deal to Sam Morgan. And we are also indebted to Jim Robinson who, in later years, revived and perpetuated his music, and also made us aware of other tunes Morgan's band liked to play. (See the comments from John Dixon below). 

Sam Morgan's House in New Orleans
---------------

John Dixon (of The Shotgun Jazz Band in New Orleans) has kindly sent me the following information:
It’s worth noting that more can be learned from the interview with Andrew Morgan from the book ‘The End of the Beginning’ (by Barry Martyn [Jazzology Books, 1998]). Morgan speaks at length about the recording of those cuts (most of the tunes were not in their regular repertoire prior to the recording).

Also, Jim Robinson’s Riverside Living Legends LP ‘Jim Robinson’s New Orleans Band’ is an important record because it was the re-recording of Mobile Stomp and Bogalusa Strut that brought those tunes out of retirement and made them traditional New Orleans jazz standards. When they recorded that album, Jim didn’t even remember how they went. The producers went to Tulane to the archives, got the old SMJB records and played them for the band. The takes you hear recorded on Jim’s record were done just moments after they learned the songs. That record is also chock full of other Sam Morgan band tunes that they regularly played but didn’t record; Apple Tree, Yearning, Whenever You’re Lonely. Also featured on that Riverside LP are George Guesnon and Alfred Williams - both Sam Morgan Jazz Band alumni (though not in the lineup that was recorded). Guesnon is especially well-recorded on Jim’s record. It’s one of my favorite records. 

I’ve attached an image of the backside of the LP I took with my phone, perhaps you can read the album notes.

Thanks!

John


It is possible to read the liner notes. Click on and enlarge.

10 January 2017

Post 465: DAVID JELLEMA'S CORNETS


I have written before about the pleasure I had in meeting that fine cornet player David Jellema in New Orleans one evening in October 2016. At the time, he was playing a cornet manufactured in 1893! It is the cornet you see in the photo above. The manufacturer was the English Besson Company. The model is a 'Prototype' and its serial number 48XXX. When it was made, the Besson Company operated from 198 Euston Road in London; and the instruments were distributed in the United States by Carl Fischer in New York. David bought this instrument from an antique shop in Annapolis, Maryland, which is where the US Naval Academy is. So he surmises that it might long ago have been played by someone in the Navy band there.

But David also has other remarkable cornets. He owns a Conn Wonder, manufactured in 1891. He tells me this is also in pristine condition! And David has two Conn Victors, dating from 1929 and 1934. The 1929 is immaculate, with original case, tools, slide grease, lyre, and even the original care instructions (and the serial number stamped on it!).

The 1934 model was owned by David years ago. He sold it - but bought it back in about 2013. 

'But,' said David, 'my main horn is a 1965 Getzen Eterna, medium bore, originally bought and owned by Chicago's Jazz Limited trumpet player, Don Ingle (a son of Red Ingle; took lessons from Red Nichols). It was sold to the Bixian cornetist Tom Pletcher in about 1971 or 1972 so he could play it in the bands The Jackpine Savages and The Sons of Bix. When he decided to switch to a large bore, Pletcher sold it to me in 1992. I have many recordings and pictures of Pletcher playing this horn. In fact it was hearing Tom (son of trumpeter Stewart "Stu" or "Stew" Pletcher) live that turned me on to playing this music. (I had heard Bix Beiderbecke's Since My Best Gal only the summer before.) Manufactured shortly after I was born, it was originally bought at Getzen a day before Doc Severinson bought one as well.'

There are plenty of YouTube videos in which you can hear David performing. I think his cornet-playing is particularly tasteful in this one:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y10fMUIRd2s