Archive for High Society Jazz Band

That Beat…

Posted in Jazz with tags , on June 23, 2009 by telescoper

I remember when my Dad told me years ago that actually playing Jazz fast was much much easier than playing it slow, I didn’t really believe him. Only gradually did I understand that the problem is that, in order to sound right, Jazz has to sound spontaneous. When you’re going flat out there’s no alternative to that, as you haven’t really got any time to think. At slower tempos, though, it often sounds too conscious of itself. Sounding relaxed is the most difficult thing, especially when you’re not relaxed at all but a bundle of nerves (which is actually what virtually all musicians are like in front of an audience). The worst thing you can do in Jazz (as a rhythm player at any rate) is to speed up, and the temptation is always there if you’re going slow. It’s not an option when you’re at full pelt.

A great example is the version of Twelfth Street Rag recorded by Louis Armstrong and the Hot Seven. This was a hit tune from 1918 and most other bands in the 1920s played it just about as fast as they could. Louis Armstrong decided – quite rightly – that he didn’t have anything to prove by playing it that way so he turned it into a stately slow blues. The result is magical. Another advantage if it is that it is slow enough for would-be musicians to try making a transcription of the solos, which is what I did many years ago with Johnny Dodds’ clarinet solo. I still have the scrawled sheets of music now to remind me of the hours I spent trying to work it out! You can hear it in low-fi on an old gramophone here; the clarinet solo starts around 2.04.

Certainly the yardstick by which traditional Jazz giants were measured was not on the up-tempo tunes – which lots of bands could play – but on slower numbers, especially that very difficult beat that is usually described for the want of a better name as mid-tempo. Too slow and it drags, too fast and it sounds forced. Real New Orleans Jazz has a wonderfully loose feel at such speeds: a cross between a lilt and a strut. It’s totally infectious.

That’s what popped into my head when I found the following track on Youtube by the band I blogged about yesterday. They nail that classic New Orleans beat right from the word go on this number called Royal Garden Blues. It’s driven along by the wonderful but relatively unknown Billie Poole doing the vocal. I really love this.