Cheers to Two Fellow Bloggers

Last Friday I went as usual with a bunch of Cardiff astronomers to the local pub, The Poet’s Corner, for a traditional end-of-the-week drink or two. This is by no means the most upmarket hostelry in the vicinity of the School of Physics & Astronomy, but it’s quite friendly and serves pretty good beer. The older generation have been finding their way there after work each Friday for some time now, but more recently we’ve found quite a few of our postgrads ending up there too, usually playing pool while the oldies indulge in a chinwag.

Last week, I was a bit surprised to bump into a fellow astro-blogger and Cardiff PhD student , Rob Simpson (orbitingfrog), in the pub. I’m one of the regulars, but he’s not usually there.  It turned out it was a special occasion and he was celebrating, as he’d just been offered a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Oxford starting in March.  I mention this partly to offer my congratulations on here – well done Rob! – and partly to demonstrate that despite all the doom and gloom about STFC there are still opportunities for talented people to carve out a career in UK astronomy. As long as they finish writing up their thesis, that is…

It was interesting to chat with Rob about his blog, something I rarely get the chance to do. I don’t know many bloggers personally. His site has been around much longer than mine, he gets way more readers than me, and I also think our audiences are quite different. 

The number of people reading my blog has been growing steadily since I started and  I now  average about 1000 unique hits a day, few compared with many sites, but many more than I would have anticipated when I started. However, on top of this trend there are large fluctuations depending on what I’m posting about. All the recent doom and gloom about STFC  generated a lot of readers, no doubt in the same way that bad news sells newspapers, as did the ongoing story of Mark Brake of which more, perhaps, soon. Moreover, some of my referrals come from very peculiar places. A couple of my jazz and poetry pieces are now linked from wikipedia articles, although who put them there I don’t know. I’m flattered, of course, but just hope that nobody actually thinks I’m some kind of expert. Generally speaking I’m very surprised that people read this sort of post at all, but I guess it’s not the same people that read the more obviously science-based posts.

However, there is at least one astronomer that reads the jazz and poetry posts too, and that’s another blogger called Sarah Kendrew (her blog is here; she’s a postdoc in the Netherlands). We had a little electronic chat a few days ago, during which I discovered that she plays the oboe and was interested to know if there’s any jazz on that instrument. Jazz owes at least part of its origin to the marching bands of New Orleans which typically used army surplus musical instruments – trumpet, trombone, clarinet, etc. When jazz moved off the streets and into the bordellos of Storeyville, pianos were added, the portable brass bass or tuba replaced by a double string bass, and individual bass and snare drums were incorporated in a drum kit. Later on, saxophones became increasingly popular in jazz groups of various sizes, and so on. As the music developed and diversified I think pretty much every instrument there is has been used to play some form of Jazz. For some reason, though, the oboe never caught on as a jazz instrument. I don’t know why. Answers on a postcard.

This got my curiosity going, so I hunted around and found this  video on Youtube of Yusef Lateef playing oboe in 1963 with the Adderley Brothers (Julian, also known as “Cannonball”, and Nat). I’d never seen it before, and although I don’t think Lateef sounds all that fluent, it’s a really interesting sound and I’m very grateful to Sarah for prodding me in it’s direction. The tune is called Brother John.

P.S. If anyone wants to challenge me to find a bit of jazz involving an instrument of their choice, please feel free!

26 Responses to “Cheers to Two Fellow Bloggers”

  1. I used to play the French Horn…I am scared to think that Jazz might have been done with this isntrument by anyone other than Flanders and Swann

  2. telescoper Says:

    Brian,

    The great Humphrey Lyttelton made at least one recording on which he played French Horn. The track I recall – Hornorama it was called, I think – was used as the theme tune on his Radio 2 “Best of Jazz” show for a while.

    However, the most famous exponent of the Jazz French Horn, was undoubtedly Joe Bishop who played with Woody Herman’s Orchestra in the 40s. If you want to hear the French Horn played with real swing, look out for him.

    Peter

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    Is the story true that boogie piano originated because ther were so many duff notes on bordello pianos so the player would feel for 4 notes that worked with his left hand and stick to them, and use a right-hand style of improvisation in which a missing note would scarcely be noticed?

  4. telescoper Says:

    Anton,

    I’m not sure about this but suspect not. The principal style of pianists in New Orleans evolved from ragtime and became called “stride” when practised by people like James P Johnson and, later, Fats Waller and Art Tatum. This involved bouncing left hand patterns usually involving large intervals like tenths which would not be easy to play on a duff piano. Storeyville was closed down in 1917 before boogie-woogie really emerged. However, when prohibition was brought in jazz musicians flocked to Chicago to perform in the many speakeasies there, which is why most of the great jazz records of the 20s were actually recorded in Chicago, not New Orleans. Boogie-woogie emerged during this period and became popular in the 30s. So translate your argument to a dodgy piano in an illegal Chicago drinking establishment rather than a bordello and it makes a lot more historical sense.

    However, that said, Jelly Roll Morton always claimed that he heard pianists playing in a style similar to boogie-woogie in New Orleans before 1910. He wasn’t always very reliable in his claims about Jazz, but I don’t know…

    Peter

  5. On behalf of a well-known colleague, xylophone?

    And thanks for sending us Rob. We’ll take good care of him if you lot over in Cardiff make sure his thesis gets done first.

  6. Anton Garrett Says:

    Chris – Lionel Hampton was a jazz virtuoso on the xylophone.

    • telescoper Says:

      The xylophone is a wooden instrument (named after the greek xylos, meaning wood). It was extremely popular in vaudeville theatres in the 19th century, and that popularity carried on into the jazz of the 1920s. I can think of fine examples of authentic jazz xylophone, particularly by Red Norvo, including some involving the xylophone’s close relative the marimba.

      However, from the 30s onwards the xylophone was gradually replaced by the vibraphone, a more sophisticated metal instrument with built mechanical resonator, usually known as “vibes”.

      I have never heard a record on which Lionel Hampton played the xylophone. His forte was definitely the vibraphone, which is what he played on all the great Benny Goodman records, for example. The Modern Jazz Quartet featured the marvellous vibes of Milt Jackson, who died in 1999. I should also mention the virtuosic vibraphone playing of Gary Burton using four mallets…

  7. Thanks for the hat tip, Peter! I think our blogs are completely different. They have a vague astronomical connection but my widely dispersed, but mostly passive, audience is no match for your more localised, comment-intensive following. Communities are the future of the web and you’re building a lovely one right here. Keep up the good work 🙂

    PS – Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4, are drafted. 5 and 6 are half drafted. Today I’m doing figures. This thesis is my life! It’s depressing.

  8. How about jazz with a triangle? My favourite instrument is the guitar but I don’t think that’ll be much of a challenge.

    Tom

  9. telescoper Says:

    Haven’t you heard the famous Bonzo Dog record, The Intro and the Outro, featuring the Count Basie orchestra on triangle?

    And although I missed it initially, it also features Big John Wayne on xylophone.

  10. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter,

    I stand corrected – although might one regard a vibraphone as basically a metal xylophone, and the latter word as generic?

    Anton

  11. telescoper Says:

    Anton,

    If golfers can have metal woods then I’ll allow you a metal xylophone.

    The main difference, though, between the xylophone and the vibraphone is that the latter has a sort of mechanical amplifier in it while the former doesn’t. The vibraphone also has a sustain pedal like the piano. I think it’s a lovely instrument, actually. I had a go on one once, and loved it, and my dad could play a bit too. Come to think of it, Lionel Hampton was himself originally a drummer although he could also play piano very well.

    Peter

  12. Steve Warren Says:

    I never got to the bottom of why the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band changed their name to the Bonzo Dog band. They claimed it was for health reasons, but I am sceptical.

  13. telescoper Says:

    I don’t know, but they actually started out as a hilariously ramshackle Trad jazz outfit.

  14. Anton Garrett Says:

    “If golfers can have metal woods…”

    Is that Tiger Woods?

  15. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: I was hoping – and I mean hoping – that there were no jazz bagpipers, but Google found me Rufus Harley. What notable has played jazz viola (NB not violin) or jazz crumhorn?

  16. telescoper Says:

    The first I can answer: “Stuff” Smith certainly played viola on at least one old record I’ve heard, I think it was with Duke Ellington, but may be wrong. Svend Asmussen definitely played viola with Ellington too.

    But I think your crumhorn has defeated me.

  17. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’ve seen rock crumhorn, played in a ’70’s band called Gryphon (check them on Wikipedia). They were support act to someone bigger I went to see.

    • telescoper Says:

      If anyone ever played Jazz crumhorn (or Krummhorn) then it would have been Roland Kirk, who played practically every other instrument you can think of (including, to return to the original post, the oboe). But I couldn’t find any specific mention in my discography.

  18. “Is the story true that boogie piano originated because there were so many duff notes on bordello pianos so the player would feel for 4 notes that worked with his left hand and stick to them, and use a right-hand style of improvisation in which a missing note would scarcely be noticed?”

    Noted jazz drummer Pete York told the following story at a concert in Hamburg: The drumming style with brushes, using one to continually caress the snare drum, arose as drummers tried to imitate the sound of old 78 shellac records, not realizing that the sound was due to scratchiness of the record. I was sitting too far back to determine whether his tongue was in his cheek.

    About 25 years ago, I lived just a few houses up the street from noted boogie-woogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger.

    “I should also mention the virtuosic vibraphone playing of Gary Burton using four mallets…” I had the pleasure of seeing Pierre Moerlen a couple of times with the Swedish group Tribute. I was accompanied by a friend of mine who is himself a drummer and percussionist and who was blown away by Moerlen (who was on the drum kit most of the time) when playing vibes, marimba etc with 4 mallets, particularly by the fact that as soon as he picked them up, the distance between the members of each pair was already correct.

    They are difficult to find with a web search engine, since keywords like tribute, sweden and andersson (the surname of 3 of the members, who are actually siblings) turn up mostly ABBA tribute bands. However, I found this on YouTube, split into 4 parts because it is a long piece (one side of a vinyl album—remember those days?). I was actually at this concert; I’ll have a look later and see if I can see myself.

  19. There’s a weirdo folk/rock/psychedelic outfit call Circulus who play crumhorns and other oldie instruments in something that’s mostly rock.

    They’re insane but great fun.

  20. Anton Garrett Says:

    Dave: Sounds much like today’s version of the 1970s band Gryphon. I think it was Steeleye Span they were supporting when I saw Gryphon at the late lamented Free Trade Hall, Manchester. The FTH was the home of the Halle orchestra too, world-class under Sir John Barbirolli. The inner space has now been converted into a hotel. The appalling Peterloo massacre took place nearby in the 19th century.

  21. […] and Transfer Gossip I had to skip the usual trip to the Poet’s Corner last night and go home early because the general state of fatigue […]

  22. […] Cheers to Two Fellow Bloggers « In the Dark […]

  23. […] a month ago, a typically rambling blog post of mine led to a discussion of the use of unusual instruments in jazz. This would have fit nicely into that […]

  24. Hornorama was tenor horn (brass band instrument) not french horn.

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