17 August 2017

Post 538: 'SAN' - FROM LOOSE MARBLES TO TUBA SKINNY

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

Post 537: SHAKE 'EM UP'S FIRST ALBUM

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:
https://shakeemup.bandcamp.com/releases

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). I guess it is Molly whose voice we hear singing it so entertainingly, with trumpet and trombone riffing along in the background.

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.

11 August 2017

Post 536: HARUKA KIKUCHI BACK IN TOKYO

What a summer Haruka Kikuchi has been enjoying! She was in Italy with The Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band for the Umbria Jazz Festival, where they played a series of performances. Several very good videos from those have appeared on YouTube.

And then she spent some time on a trip back home to Japan, where she met up again with her old friends - that very fine band The New Orleans Jazz Hounds.

The generous video-maker codenamed ragtimecave seems to have filmed almost an entire gig. Yes, there's a whole batch of glorious videos. They play storming versions of standards such as Clarinet Marmalade, Somebody Else Is Taking My PlaceSavoy Blues, and Down in Honky Tonk Town. One of my favourites is an eight-minute version of Marie, in which Haruka is joined by two other excellent trombonists, making a 'front line' entirely of trombones. Each takes a couple of solo choruses, with the other two providing a tasteful riffing backing to the second chorus. They also play an exciting 'front line only' chorus. Watch it by clicking here.


So we get to see Haruka, with the brilliant clarinet star Tamura Makiko, both in their kimonos. Wonderful! Watch them on Buddy Bolden's Blues by clicking here.

I hear that Tamura Makiko is likely to be visiting New Orleans for a holiday in October. Haruka intends to make some recordings with her.

As regular readers will know, Haruka is my unofficial adopted grand-daughter! I have so much enjoyed meeting her in New Orleans. Here we are earlier this year.

8 August 2017

Post 535: HENRY'S FIDGETY FEETWARMERS

I have never met Henry Kiel, the banjo-playing band-leader of Hamburg, Germany. But Henry has sent me several emails over the years in response to articles in this Blog, so we have become friends.

Henry runs a band called Henry’s Fidgety Feetwarmers and I have been watching some of their videos on YouTube. These videos have been well filmed, using more than one camera, though the sound balance could be just a little better in places: there’s sometimes a predominance of drums and trumpet.
I have often complained that there are many bands in the U.K. made up of musicians in their 70s and 80s who were probably very good forty years ago but who today sound dreary and uninspired. The pleasure of listening to them is nowhere near as great as the pleasure that comes from the exciting traditional jazz being currently played by the young generation of bands working in New Orleans.

Well, Henry’s Hamburg band is also made up largely of silver-haired gentlemen but their music is not at all bad. Henry himself and his bass player Peter Dettenborn play in the best New Orleans tradition. In fact, the rhythm section, comprising Günter Lehnig on drums, Peter and Henry, is a very fine unit. John Rosolowski is on trumpet in the videos; and there is no trombonist, but rather two reed players: Burte Kimbrough on alto sax and Klaus Winkelmann on clarinet and soprano sax.

I understand from Henry that there have since been changes of personnel. They now have recruited Dieter Meyser on trombone and Joachim Gebauer on sousaphone. John Rosolowski has left, Peter has switched to piano, and occasionally a guest trumpet-player is used. I hope there will be videos soon of this current line-up.

If you haven’t yet tried this band for yourself, let me link you to their rendering of I Ain’t Got Nobody:
There are times when you could close your eyes and imagine yourself at one of the clubs in New Orleans.