Archive for the Jazz Category

100 Years of Jazz on Record

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , on February 26, 2017 by telescoper

Today marks a very significant centenary in the history of music, specifically Jazz. Much of the origins and early development of Jazz is lost in the mists of time, but there is one point on which most music historians agree. The first commercial recording session that produced a record that nowadays is recognisable as Jazz happened exactly one hundred years ago today, on 26th February 1917, in the New York studios of the Victor label.

The band was called the ‘Original Dixieland Jass Band‘. A few months later they changed the “Jass” to “Jazz” and the name stuck. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band is usually referred by Jazz buffs as the ODJB.

Led by cornettist Nick LaRocca and clarinettist Larry Shields, the ODJB was a group of white musicians from in and around New Orleans who had picked up their musical ideas from listening to musicians there, including playing for the pioneering mixed-race band led by Papa Laine, before moving to Chicago which is where they were spotted by representatives of the Victor label. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s worth emphasizing that 1917 was also a significant year for New Orleans itself, as that was the year that the red light district Storyville was shut down (as a threat to the health of the US Navy). Since Storyville had provided many of the opportunities for black musicians to work, its closure started  a mass exodus to Chicago. That, and a desire among black musicians to leave the deeply racist South, is why most of the classic “New Orleans” Jazz records were actually made in Chicago.

Although they don’t represent the true origins of jazz, the ODJB were fine musicians who played with a great deal of pizzazz and were highly original and innovative. Audiences also found them great to dance to. The first single to be issued as a result of the historic first session was Livery Stable Blues. It was an instant hit and was followed by dozens more. As well as leading to fame and fortune for the ODJB, it paved the way for a century of Jazz on record.

How Time Passes

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on February 15, 2017 by telescoper

I don’t seem to have had much time recently to post any lengthy pieces about music, and today is no exception, but I couldn’t resist sharing this fascinating title track from the album How Time Passes which was recorded in New York City in October 1960. It features Don Ellis on trumpet and  Jaki Byard on piano (with Ellis doubling on piano sometimes to allow Byard to play saxophones) along with Ron Carter on bass and Charlie Persip on drums. The album is a fascinating collection of modern jazz performances informed by  contemporary classical music, a blend that came to be known as Third Stream. This track is particularly unusual because of its elastic approach to tempo – it is constantly speeding up and slowing down in a way that makes you wonder how the band stays together – but it also features some beautiful work on trumpet by Don Ellis.


P.S. As well as being a superb jazz musician, Don Ellis was also a fine composer. Among other things he wrote the theme music for the film The French Connection. Not a lot of people know that.



Anachronic Anthropology

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on February 7, 2017 by telescoper

I’m struggling a bit with a heavy cold (or at least I hope that’s what it is) and I had a two-hour lecture earlier today so I’m going to go home and crash out. To keep my readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers) amused, I decided to repost this piece which I’ve actually posted before almost eight years ago. It’s an oddity, but quite an interesting one I think.

The Anachronic Jazz Band is, I think, now defunct but they were from Paris originally. The style they played in could probably be described as like the New York style of the late 1920s, with definite touches of Bix Beiderbecke. On the other hand, the tunes they played all came from the bebop era of modern jazz, such as this one which is the Charlie Parker classic Anthropology. 

You might think that an uncompromising bebop number like this would pose unsurmountable challenges for a traditional jazz outfit, but I think they pull it off rather well. I think though that they were probably helped by the fact that this tune, like many modern jazz compositions, is actually based on a chord progression belonging to a much more familiar tune. In this case the harmonies actually derive from George Gershwin’s standard I Got Rhythm….

Anyway, perhaps the efforts of this fine little band go some way to showing that there’s more continuity between traditional and modern jazz than one might suppose…



Boogie Woogie Boogie – Errol Garner

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 3, 2017 by telescoper

I have lately posted a number of classic boogie woogie and blues performances by the great Jimmy Yancey. Here’s a piece that’s related but really very different, recorded in 1944 by a musician not usually associated with boogie woogie at all, Errol Garner, who was 23 when this track was made.  The story I heard about this is that the studio bosses leant on the young and impressionable pianist to do play some things that he wasn’t keen on, including a bit of boogie woogie. Eventually Garner acceded to their request, and produced what I think is a minor masterpiece called Boogie Woogie Boogie. Note the way he doesn’t stick to the same left-hand figures throughout the track which makes this much more varied than most recordings in this genre. I particularly like the transition at about 1:35 where it all goes a bit “Batman”!  It also has a distinctively dark minor-key feel to it, which is rather atmospheric.

Have a good weekend!



Cotton Tail

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on January 16, 2017 by telescoper

It’s been a very busy and rather trying day so I’m in need of a bit of a pick-me-up. This will do nicely! It’s the great Duke Ellington band of 1940 playing Cotton Tail. This tune – yet another constructed on the chord changes to George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm – was written by Ben Webster and arranged by Duke Ellington for his orchestra in a characteristically imaginative and inventive way. Webster’s “heavy” tenor saxophone dominates the first half of the track, but the real star of the show (for me) is the superb brass section of the Ellington Orchestra whose tight discipline allows it to punch out a series of complicated riffs with a power and precision that would terrify most classical orchestras. And no wonder! The Ellington band of this era was jam-packed  with talent, including: Rex Stewart (cornet); Wallace Jones, Ray Nance, and Cootie Williams (trumpet); Juan Tizol,  Joe”Tricky Sam” Nanton, and Lawrence Brown (trombones). Listen particularly to the two sequences from 1.33-1.49 and 2.35-2.59, which are just brilliant! Enjoy!

P.S. The drummer is the great Sonny Greer.

How Long Blues – Jimmy Yancey

Posted in Jazz with tags , on January 13, 2017 by telescoper

Over the past weeks I’ve been posting tracks by the legendary pianist Jimmy Yancey. They seem to have proved quite popular, so here’s another one. This differs from the others (which were in the boogie-woogie style) in being a slow blues rather than an up-tempo boogie-woogie romp. It’s quite an old song, dating back to 1928, of which many versions have been made over the years, but this is an atmospheric masterpiece that shows what a superb interpreter of the blues Jimmy Yancey was. That gently rocking left hand and the beautiful articulation of the right hand seem to underline the sense of loss conveyed in the lyrics to the song, which is about a man whose lover who has left him:

Heard the whistle blowin’, couldn’t see no train
Way down in my heart, I had an achin’ pain
How long, how long, baby how long

You won’t hear many better – or more haunting – performances the blues than this. And who cares if there’s a bit of surface noise on the record?

Peter Coles and Ken Colyer

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on January 5, 2017 by telescoper

My piece just before Christmas about Clem Avery prompted me to do a bit more searching on the internet for jazz-loving family friends and acquaintances. It didn’t take me long to find this (which I got from this website):


The photograph was taken at the Lambton Arms in Chester-le-Street sometime during the 1970s. The gentleman on the left playing cornet is none other than “The Guvnor”, Ken Colyer. Next to him, on trombone, is Peter Coles. No, not me, but my uncle Peter!

Here’s another photo of him, taken from the same website. This also dates back to the 1970s but this one shows him with “Mighty” Joe Young’s band playing at The Honeysuckle in Gateshead. Joe Young is on bass.