Another ramble (didn't he...) through the annals... to start with: Johnny Dodds leading the Beale Street Washboard Band playing 'Forty and Tight.' Dodds was one of the great early jazz players, accompanied here by his equally famous brother on washboard, Frank Melrose on piano and Herb Morand on trumpet who takes the first solo – an obscure name but accomplished and in the pocket. After Dodds (way down in the chalameau register) and the piano take a chorus each, Morand returns, brash and brassy, followed by Dodds before the double ride out in New Orleans fashion weaving around each other like a couple of dancers. Buck and wing times two... Invigorating...
From the revival... Bunk Johnson and the boys playing 'Just a little while to stay here.' Opening on Baby Dodd's imperious parade ground snares culminating with three mighty bass drum thumps to wake the dead that leads into the ensemble. A lively recreation of classic New Orleans playing, rooted in the marching bands. George Lewis, another stalwart of the revival, contributes sweet and hot clarinet, trombone ripsnorting along – the track dominated by Baby Dodds' banging resonant bass drum, which really does convey a sense of an outdoors marching band – taking the track out on snare as if disappearing round a corner into the distance...
The blues, Kansas City style – Count Basie with a small group featuring the large roar of Big Joe Turner – 'Honey Hush.' Basie plays one his typically elliptic solos – acres of space to place sparse notes, chords and runs just right... Big Joe tells it like it is, supported by riffing horns...
Earl 'Fatha' Hines recorded 'A Stanley Steamer' in 1966 with Richard Davis and Elvin Jones- proving he could cut it in the most modern company. Hines of course had been around almost from the outset but had moved through as jazz changed so rapidly within his lifetime. This is a blues, solid and swinging. Timeless jazz piano...
Sometimes I forget how good Dizzie Gillespie was... couple him to Sonny Stitt and the mercurial Stan Getz and you have classic modern jazz of the finest order. Sprung on the fluent bass of Ray Brown, Stitt opens the solo festivities – often unkindly regarded as a Bird-copier, he is a player of great originality and fluency, demonstrated here as he winds gracefully at speed through the changes of the old eponymous bebop anthem. (If Hemingway famously defined courage as 'grace under pressure,' this sort of playing could be regarded as technique under pressure - given the fast and unforgiving tempo, one needs plenty of courage to survive). Gillespie comes in slightly off-mike, then unleashes a definitive muted performance, rapid thinking and reflexes that remind of his stature, freely running long phrases across the chorus sections. Getz – that beautiful smoky tone, a ghost of Lester Young wandering through, playing here with a cooler edge than the others. Stitt returns to trade 8's with the drummer (running over him in the first mis-counted exchange) before taking another solo. Gillespie re-enters, sans mute, slightly off-mike again – trades 8 bar chunks with bass and drums before soloing again. Getz returns and trades with Levy, solos some more. Ensemble bops out. Recorded in Los Angeles, 1956, this could stand as a fitting testament to bebop a year after Parker died, 'hard bop' had entered the game and the rumblings of the avant garde were starting to get louder... The album was titled 'For Musicians Only' which hints at the origins of modern jazz as a scary obstacle course devised to keep out all but the best – and most courageous.
Anthony Braxton composes and plays difficult searching music – but he returns to the tradition frequently, as if to draw sustenance from the source(s). Here's a track from his Charlie Parker project – 'Scrapple from the Apple.' His contra-bass clarinet starts way down low, testing the capabilities of my new sub-woofer, as he rambles along to some sporadic string bass accompaniment ending in a cluster of harmonics from Fonda just before he finally hits the theme - in unison with the bass, it eerily mirrors the stringed instrument, with a sawing timbre that is frayed round the edges. Distant comping from Mengelberg, as if in the next room, shadowed by the bass which starts low and rises to insistent high plucking, like a buzzing mosquito -a seesawing slightly off-kilter dance trio. Theme again, doubled with bass, Mengelberg at one point releasing a sudden treble splash before the track just winds down... all scrappled out. What would Bird have thought, I wonder?
To end: the Blue Notes were a South African band who left in the apartheid years post-Sharpeville and the State of Emergency and came to European exile, where they cross-pollenated the scene with their own wild charging brand of jazz – African folk/township/kwela musics and hymns mashed into the wailing freedoms of the new wave and held together by the rock-solid drumming of Louis Moholo. The drummer was the only one to survive the coming years and is still playing - in one of those tragedies of exile, the white McGregor and the black Mongezi Feza, Dudu Pukwhana, Nikele Moyake (who returned to South Africa in 1965 and died a year later) and Johnny Dyani were all to die far too young. I saw McGregor leading a quartet at a gig in Aberystwyth, not long before his death (1990) and he provided a fabulous evening in the company of trumpeter Harry Becket, another lion of the scene still fortunately playing. Here is the 'small big band,' to put it clumsily, with European players swelling the S.A. musicians ranks – Evan Parker and company, assembled and called 'The Brotherhood of Breath.' This track features a sparkling and bubblingly brilliant solo from Feza, a celebration of jazz freedom while rooted in its history . The live recording quality is not great but gives a flavour of a deeply undervalued bunch of musicians who had a massive influence on the British jazz scene especially (although sentimental recall should not disguise the fact that there were resentments on the sometimes over-cliquey London scene...).
Is there any theming to these tracks? There were picked pretty much at random from what was to hand. Yet in many ways they link up- not just from the wider narrative of 'jazz' history but on other levels. Original, revival, revisiting and cross-pollenating. Offering respect to the past, laying down markers for the future... Or maybe I'm imposing some kind of story on a bunch of disparate tracks. Who cares? They are all good... Oddly enough, I was thinking that many constituents of the sixties avant garde, who were often regarded as such a mighty rupture in the holy continuum, continually paid homage to what had gone before... a fact maybe easier to see at a distance...
And in the Videodrome today...
Henry Allen Jam Session here...
Preservation Hall 1971
Sunny Side of the Street...
(Johnny Dodds (clarinet); Herb Morand (trumpet); Frank Melrose (piano); Warren 'Baby' Dodds (washboard) ).
Forty and Tight
(Bunk Johnson (trumpet);George Lewis (clarinet); Jim Robinson (trombone); Larence Marrero (banjo); Alcide (Slow Drag) Pavageau (bass); Jim Little (tube, bass); Warren (Baby) Dodds (drums)).
Just a little while to stay here
Count Basie/Big Joe Turner
(Count Basie (piano, organ); Big Joe Turner (vocals); Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Zoot Sims (tenor saxophone); Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet); J.J. Johnson (trombone); Irving Ashby (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); Louis Bellson (drums).
(Earl Hines (piano); Richard Davis (bass); Elvin Jones (drums) ).
A Stanley Steamer
Dizzie Gillespie/Sonny Stitt/Stan Getz
(Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet); Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Sonny Stitt (alto saxophone); John Lewis (piano); Herb Ellis (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); Stan Levey (drums)).
(Anthony Braxton (contra-bass clarinet); Misha Mengleberg (piano); Joe Fonda (bass)).
Scrapple from the apple
The Brotherhood of Breath
(Chris McGregor (piano);Dudu Pukwana (alto saxophone); Evan Parker, Gary Windo (tenor saxophones); Harry Beckett, Marc Charig, Mongezi Feza (trumpets), Radu Malfatti, Nick Evans (trombone); Harry Miller (bass); Louis Moholo (drums) ).