21 November 2017


Today I would like to bring to your attention another early classic from our heritage - one I haven't heard played much in the last couple of years. I think it deserves a revival.

I am speaking about New Orleans Wiggle. This was one of the tunes given to us by the violinist, composer and bandleader Armand J. Piron. 
Between 1923 and 1925, his orchestra made about fifteen influential recordings. The tunes included Bouncing Around, Red Man Blues, Kiss Me Sweet, Bright Star Blues and Mama's Gone, Goodbye - all of which were originals that Piron himself helped to compose.

But there was also New Orleans Wiggle, jointly written by Piron and his trumpet player Peter Bocage.

You can hear the recording they made of this tune BY CLICKING HERE.

What makes it such a good tune for our bands to master?

First, it provides a contrast with the many war-horses that most bands play. It offers the musicians more of a challenge and more interest than many tunes in our repertoire, because it has a structure that you need to study, and includes a key change. It offers plenty of syncopation and plenty of breaks - both of them essential elements in classic New Orleans jazz.

Despite what I have just said, the tune is easy to learn, without being too easy. This is because all three of its themes are underpinned by pleasant, straightforward chord progressions.

There is a four-bar introduction. Then comes Theme A, 16 bars in length. The melody takes us up through a series of syncopated arpeggios. This is great fun. The Piron Orchestra plays it twice.

Then Theme B begins with a sequence reminiscent of I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate (which Piron also wrote, a few years earlier). But at the second round of this chord priogression, it is extended beyond the 'Sister Kate' structure to 20 bars, with a series of breaks that occupy six bars. The Piron Orchestra also plays this theme twice, with the clarinet taking the breaks both times.

We then go straight into Theme C, with the key change. (Usually it means going from Bb into Eb.) This final theme consists of 32 bars and lends itself to breaks at several points. The melody is merry enough. And you will find the chord familiar from dozens of other tunes. It even ends with that simplest of progressions - The Sunshine Chord Sequence. Piron plays Theme C twice, doing some clever things with the breaks.

Finally, there is a neat 4-bar Coda, well worth learning and playing.

Piron's recording lasts only two and a half minutes, partly, no doubt, because of the restraints of recording processes at the time. But of course today's bands could extend it by playing Theme C more than twice.

However, as I have mentioned in earlier articles, there is much to be said for brevity.

I noticed that when Michael McQuaid's Piron's New Orleans Orchestra played the piece at the Whitley Bay Festival in 2015 (CLICK HERE to view), they paid due homage to Piron, strictly retained his structure, and finished the piece in an even shorter time.

18 November 2017


It seems to be the case that humans (in the Western world at least) like their popular music to be served in digestible phrases containing four bars, or multiples of four bars. This was almost invariably the case in the popular music written between 1850 and 1950 and still played by traditional jazz bands. There is something in the DNA of composers and audiences that makes them expect little statements of music to fit perfectly into 4-bar or 8-bar shapes. Maybe it has something to do with the natural rhythms of walking (left-right-left-right) and our capacity to sing up to four bars with one intake of breath.

It's amazing to think that about 80% of all the popular songs were written with precisely 32-bar choruses (i.e. 8 batches of four bars). The tune could take the form of a 16-bar statement followed by another similar 16-bar statement with a conclusive resolution. Think of Indiana or Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey? or Moonlight and Roses or From Monday On or It's a Sin to Tell a Lie or Marie.

The very common alternative was to write 4 batches of 8-bars in which the first, second and fourth more or less used the same musical phrase, but with a 'middle eight' providing a contrast. This structure became known as A - A - B - A. The 'middle eight' bars (B) are often referred to as the 'bridge' or 'release'.

To get the feel of this type of tune, think of Making Whoopee or Smoke Gets in Your Eyes or I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby or Lonesome Road or That's My Weakness Now.

But what about other possible multiples of 4?

I don't know of any tunes consisting of ONLY four bars. Skid Dat De Dat might be considered as one: it seems to require nothing but four bars plus improvised two-bar breaks. But there are quite a few in the jazz repertoire that comprise only eight bars. Sallee Dame and Ice Man are good ones using only two chords. Old-Time Religion uses an eight-bar theme with a very simple chord structure. So does Don't Worry, Be Happy. Leroy Carr's How Long, How Long Blues has the feel of a 12-bar blues but in fact it comprises just eight bars. Similarly, The Girls Go Crazy is an eight-bar tune, using the harmonies of the final eight bars of a standard 12-bar blues structure. Crow Jane is playable as a striking and unusual 8-bar blues, though it sometimes has a tag - repeating the final two bars. Postman's Lament and 'Taint Nobody's Business If I Do and Vine Street Drag comprise a basic 8-bar block and chord progression that can be developed ad infinitum. The same is true of Too Tight BluesMississippi River Blues and I'll See You in the Spring. Spicy Advice, made famous by Bunk Johnson, has a very simple 8-bar structure. These are all very effective tunes for traditional jazz bands.

[By the way, there are two tunes called Vine Street Drag. I am referring to the one by W. Howard Armstrong. The other (by J. Brown) is essentially the 32-bar main theme of Tiger Rag.]

The next multiple of 4 brings us to tunes of 12 bars. I need hardly write here about the massive topic of the 12-bar blues format (obviously using three batches of four bars). There are simply hundreds of these 12-bar tunes - and no traditional jazz programme is complete without one or two of them.

There's a large repertoire of really good 16-bar tunes that bands don't play often enough, in my opinion. Some are particularly good for jazz effects, as they allow for 'breaks'. Think of Do What Ory Say or Up Jumped the Devil or If It Don't Fit, Don't Force It or Don't Go Away, Nobody or How Come You Do Me Like You Do or Hot Nuts, Get 'Em from the Peanut Man or Walkin' The Dog or Winin' Boy Blues or You've Got To See Mamma Ev'ry Night or Oh Miss Hannah, or Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down or Rip 'Em Up Joe or Jamaica March or Walking With The King or I'm Watchin' The Clock.
These are all terrific numbers to play and (because of their simple chord progressions) not too difficult to make sound exciting. And there are some more gentle 16-bar numbers - Careless Love and Royal Telephone and Faraway Blues and Bye and Bye and My Life Will be Sweeter Some Day with lovely but simple harmonies to be milked. The Ellington tune Saturday Night Function is something special. And Of All The Wrongs You've Done to Me is another good one from the 1920s. Early Hours, composed in 1953 by Monty Sunshine and Lonnie Donegan for the Ken Colyer Jazzmen, is a touching 16-bar tune, lovely in its simplicity.

Some of the 16-bar tunes are given an additional two-bar tag at the end (virtually repeating the final two bars). This can happen on the final chorus only or (as in My Sweet Lovin' Man and It's Right Here For You and I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate) on every chorus.

During the years 1912-1928 (and less frequently later), some popular composers experimented with 20-bar tunes (yes - the next multiple of four). Think of After You've Gone, New Orleans Stomp (second theme)Oh You Beautiful DollThe Darktown Strutters Ball, Drop That SackHard-Hearted Hannah, Take Me To The Land of JazzI Guess I'll Have To Change My PlanKeeping Out of Mischief NowYou've Got the Right Key but the Wrong Keyhole, Life is Just a Bowl of CherriesYou Got Me Crying AgainWhat-Cha Gonna Do When There Ain't No Jazz? and Papa De Da Da. Here too there was usually an opportunity for 'breaks'. In Papa Dip, for example, the breaks come in bars 13, 14 and 15.

In a later stage of traditional jazz development, we find Chris Barber in 1959 producing Hush-a-Bye - a delightful minor key tune of 20 bars.

There's a lovely 24-bar song by Georgia White and Richard M. Jones. It's called I'm Blue and Lonesome (Nobody Cares for Me). You can find it performed exquisitely on YouTube by Tuba Skinny. The Chorus of Over in the Gloryland also comprises 24 bars. So does the Chorus of Sing On - and the Chorus of Tailgate Ramble. And I'm Coming, Virginia. And there are plenty of 24-bar blues (essentially a 'doubling up' of the 12-bar blues chord progression). Also there was a fashion in the first two decades of the Twentieth Century for songs that had VERSES of 24 bars, even though the better-known CHORUS had a conventional 32 bar-structure. Examples are San and I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles.

Oh Daddy is an example of a 28-bar tune (next up in the multiples of 4). Way Down Yonder in New Orleans allows for the inclusion of some hiccuping breaks starting at Bar 13; and the 1928 composition I'll Get By As Long As I Have You, with music by the prolific Fred Ahlert, cleverly uses two similar statements of 14 bars each to make up the full 28, and leaves you feeling that you have been listening to a 32-bar tune.

I have already mentioned the 32-bar structures. About 80% of all the songs traditional jazz musicians play have 32-bar themes. They constitute the bulk of our material. So there is no need for me to give examples here.

An interesting curiosity is the haunting Goodnight My Love, which could have sounded fine as a 32-bar tune (16 + 16) but which has an extra four bars inserted (starting at bar number 25), making it an even more emotional 36-bar tune.

There once was even a fashion for 40-bar tunes (essentially 10 batches of four bars). Think of Somebody Stole My Girl, If You Were the Only Girl in the World, Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye, Sailing Down the Chesapeake Bay, and Cakewalking Babies from Home.

The lovely French tune La Mer (though rarely attempted by traditional jazz bands) uses the conventional a - a - b - a structure but substitutes 12 bars for the usual 8 in each section, with the result that it runs out at a very unusual 48 bars instead of the usual 32. And Cole Porter's Samantha uses 48 bars in an interesting way: essentially there is what could be a complete 32-bar tune [16 + 16] but Cole Porter then adds a further 16-bar theme.

15 November 2017


2017 has been another busy year for The Stamford Stompers. They have played at wedding drinks receptions, birthday parties, rural events and summer bandstand concerts in the parks. They also continued their outreach work, taking our music to the people in shopping centres, as in this video, filmed in November 2017: CLICK HERE TO VIEW.

That performance was in the county town of Lincoln, but they also greatly enjoy entertaining the shoppers and tourists visiting their architecturally-beautiful home town of Stamford.
The band was formed in July 2014. As you can see, it normally has four players, though their singer Helen also performs when a vocalist is required.

You can hear The Stamford Stompers playing Yes, Sir, That's My Baby  by clicking here. For a video of them playing at an event in September 2017, CLICK HERE.

And for the band's website, click here.

13 November 2017


If, like me, you spend many hours watching YouTube videos of traditional jazz bands playing in the USA - and particularly in New Orleans, you must have noticed that dozens of the videos have been put up by two video-making enthusiasts who use the code-names digitalalexa and RaoulDuke504And more recently James Sterling has also come on to the scene. And there others - such as Wild Bill and jazzbo43, who have captured many good New Orleans performances for us. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude; and I think the bands too must be grateful to these people for spreading their fame to many thousands throughout the world. 

A great experience I had in New Orleans during April 2015 was meeting two of these video-makers. They were enthusiastically filming at the French Quarter Festival.

RaoulDuke504 has the advantage of living near New Orleans. I met him while he was filming the Tuba Skinny performance at the Festival. Here he is:

I had the great privilege of shaking his hand and thanking him for the pleasure he has given me (and so many thousands of people) with his wonderful videos.

Digitalalexa is actually two people - husband Al and his wife Judy from New Jersey. They travelled down frequently to New Orleans and had a grand time filming their favourite bands. Al and Judy film the same performance from different angles and when they return home Al edits the two videos into one, trying to make the most of the best shots they have obtained between them. It was a great honour to meet Al and Judy several times at various events. Al told me his videos by 2015 had over three million 'hits'. It was through their videos that I (and hundreds of other fans) first discovered Tuba Skinny and some of the other great bands. So I am deeply grateful.

Here is Judy at The Louisiana Music Factory, where they were about to film a Tuba Skinny Concert.

And here at the same event is Al.

These wonderful modest people enjoy their relative anonymity. But I hope they won't mind my featuring them on this Blog and saying a Big Thank You to them on behalf of us all for bringing us such pleasure.

By the way, Al and Judy also founded The 2015 French Quarter Festival and Tuba Skinny Appreciation Society. Al and Judy designed and then Judy embroidered a batch of these lovely souvenir bannerettes. They distributed them to several fans to wave during the Parade and they also gave some to the members of Tuba Skinny.
What terrific souvenirs. I treasure mine!

James Sterling lives in Florida and can get to New Orleans in five hours by car. In January 2015, he came upon a YouTube video of Tuba Skinny (probably one of digitalalexa's). He told me it changed his life for ever. (Exactly the same experience had happened to me a year or two earlier.) He said: 'I watched Tuba Skinny videos for 6 hours straight, finally stopping at 1am'. Since then, James has made the journey three or four times each year. In 2016, I had the pleasure of meeting James and his wife, too. Here he is in Frenchmen Street. Thank you, too, for all the good work, James!