Archive for Jack Teagarden

Keys, Blues, a House, and an Infirmary

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on November 7, 2021 by telescoper
Scott’s Corner

I’m not finding very much time these days to continue trying to teach myself how to play the piano but I thought I’d share a quick post that probably only demonstrates how little I know about music.

The other day I decided to try to play The House of the Rising Sun without the music, i.e. by ear. Knowing that it is basically an 8-bar blues for which I thought I could easily figure out the chords I looked up what key it should be played in. Google confidently told me this:

So I set about trying to pick out the melody in that key, but I couldn’t get it to sound right at all (even allowing for the fact that my piano is a bit out of tune). Then I realized that it’s not really in F Major at all. It’s actually in D Minor (the relative minor of F Major, so it also has the same B flat but with a scale that starts on A rather than F). Transposing the chords into D Minor makes it sound much more moody. It can also be played in A Minor as demonstrated by the Modern Jazz Quartet whose Blues in A Minor is unmistakably the same tune:

Anyway, fooling around with 8 bar blues in different keys I tried F Minor and it struck me that there was a marked similarity between House of the Rising Sun and another famous 8-bar blues St James Infirmary. In fact you can sing the lyrics to St James Infirmary quite easily to the tune of House of the Rising Sun.

Both of these tunes have very old origins: Jack Teagarden, for example, introduced his classic 1947 live performance of St James Infirmary with the words “the oldest blues I ever heard”. I always assumed both these tunes referred to real places, but that seems wrong too. There was no “House in New Orleans” they called the Rising Sun, nor was there a St James Infirmary. They are not the same song, and neither started off as an 8-bar blues, but they do have elements in common and may be derived from a common ancestor.

The most famous version of The House of the Rising Sun is the 1964 hit by Eric Burdon with the Animals (including Alan Price on keyboards, who did the arrangement):

Interestingly, Eric Burdon and the Animals made a much less famous version of St James Infirmary in 1968 which I think demonstrates the similarity between the two tunes:

Chuck Berry on a Summer’s Day

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on October 19, 2016 by telescoper

I was meaning to post this yesterday about Chuck Berry to mark his 90th Birthday. I’m putting it here as a bit of an oddity but I hope you find it interesting.

Chuck Berry appeared in Bert Stern’s classic film Jazz on Summer’s Day which was filmed at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. He performed on that occasion with a pick-up band called the Newport All-Stars, and the number that made it into the film was Sweet Little Sixteen, a tune that he actually wrote. I find two things fascinating about this performance. One is that the “backing band” is a stellar group of Jazz legends: the drummer is the great Jo Jones (who led the lightly swinging rhythm section of the great Count Basie band of the 1930s); the trumpeter is Buck Clayton, another Basie alumnus; and the trombonist is none other than Jack Teagarden. To a Jazz fan like myself, the talents of these musicians are totally wasted: they seem somewhat bemused by Chuck Berry’s gyrations on stage as well as bored by the material. When the time comes for the improvised solos that a jazz audience demands, only the relatively unknown clarinettist Rudy Rutherford – usually a tenor saxophonist who played with a number of bands, including Count Basie’s – was prepared to stand up and be counted, his strange effort is evidently a source of great amusement to the rest of the band, but at least he got into the spirit!

The other fascinating thing is what a historical document this is. During the 1950s Jazz was beginning to lose out to Rock and Roll in the popularity stakes, hence the plan of booking Chuck Berry to boost the audience figures at the Newport Jazz Festival. The tension on stage is almost palpable and even Chuck Berry occasionally looks a bit embarrassed by the whole thing. But it’s also a wonderfully observed portrayal of the styles of the time, especially through the audience shots. I wonder what happened to the cute couple dancing to this performance?

Anyway, belated best wishes on his 90th Birthday, here’s Chuck Berry recorded live 58 years ago at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, singing and playing Sweet Little Sixteen.


P.S. I forgot to mention the superb photography.