Archive for Johnny Dodds

A Musical Memory: Mabel’s Dream

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2019 by telescoper

So that’s that. The funeral is over. We all said our goodbyes, and there many tears.

My Mam chose the music for her funeral a long time ago, and the piece that was playing as we arrived in the West Chapel of the West Road Crematorium was one that I wrote about about a decade ago, so I thought I’d indulge myself by posting here the version we heard today.

Years ago my Mam told me that she heard the tune Mabel’s Dream played on the piano by a friend of the family by the name of Johnny Handle. Best known as a folk musician (and founder member of a well-known band called The High Level Ranters) he is also a music teacher and musicologist with a wide range of interests in music. I read somewhere that this lovely tune was originally written by Jelly Roll Morton and performed by him on solo piano, but by far the most famous recording of Mabel’s Dream was made by King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1923. This was the band that the young Louis Armstrong belonged to before going on to make the classic Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, one of which I posted a bit ago. It’s interesting how different the earlier band sounds: with two cornets (King Oliver and Louis Armstrong), clarinet (Johnny Dodds), and trombone (Honore Dutrey) playing together virtually all the time except for short improvised solo breaks. King Oliver usually played lead cornet, at least in their earlier recordings, with Louis Armstrong playing a decorative counterpoint around him rather like a clarinettist might. Later on, they swapped leads freely and completely intuitively producing a sound that was entirely unique.

The ensemble playing is intricate, but the band had no written music, preferring to work exclusively from “head” arrangements. Their music is consistently delightful to listen to, with a succession of marchy themes that makes it impossible not to want to tap your feet when you listen to them.

Over time, this classic type of polyphonic Jazz- derived from its New Orleans roots – gradually morphed into musical form dominated by much simpler arrangements and a succession of virtuoso solos. This change was also reflected in the differing fortunes of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. The former went on to become an international celebrity, while the latter lost all his savings when his bank went bust during the Wall Street Crash.

Considering the relatively brief time that they played together, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong made an astonishingly large number of astonishingly beautiful records, including this one which I’m posting here to show that as well as many other things my Mam had great taste in Jazz.

Melancholy – Johnny Dodds

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on April 20, 2018 by telescoper

Well, it’s fine and sunny today and if the weather doesn’t put a spring in your step, hopefully this will. It’s a lovely old tune and something of a jazz standard called Melancholy, but this is very probably the least melancholy version of it you’ll ever hear. On top of that it’s quite an interesting piece of jazz history, as it features legendary clarinet player Johnny Dodds (who played in King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and later in the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s) as did pianist Lil Hardin, but the rest of the band is from a younger generation, especially Charlie Shavers on trumpet and Teddy Bunn (a much underrated guitarist). The rhythm section has a define taste of the Swing Era rather than New Orleans, but the main thing about this is how well the different styles blend together. Enjoy!

Wild Man Blues

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 16, 2018 by telescoper

Time, I think, for some vintage jazz. This one doesn’t really need many words of introduction. It was recorded on May 7th 1927 in the Okeh Studios in Chicago by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven: Louis Armstrong (cornet), John Thomas (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Lil Armstrong (piano), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo), Pete Briggs (tuba), and Warren `Baby’ Dodds (drums). Two things are worth saying, though. One is that this piece is very modern-sounding for its time, in that there’s very little of the ensemble work that one associates with New Orleans jazz, just two extended solos by Louis and Johnny Dodds, and that those solos are both very free. The other is that Armstrong’s solo is so good that there were only a few soloists who could have taken over from him without creating an anti-climax. Fortunately, one of those men (Johnny Dodds) was in the studio and did just that, matching Satchmo in power and invention. Enjoy!

Jazz and Quantum Entanglement

Posted in Jazz, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on May 28, 2015 by telescoper

As regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) will know, among the various things I write about apart from The Universe and Stuff is my love of Jazz. I don’t often get the chance to combine music with physics in a post so I’m indebted to George Ellis for drawing my attention to this fascinating little video showing a visualisation of the effects of quantum entanglement:

The experiment shown involves pairs of entangled photons. Here is an excerpt from the blurb on Youtube:

The video shows images of single photon patterns, recorded with a triggered intensified CCD camera, where the influence of a measurement of one photon on its entangled partner photon is imaged in real time. In our experiment the immediate change of the monitored mode pattern is a result of the polarization measurement on the distant partner photon.

You can find out more by clicking through to the Youtube page.

While most of my colleagues were completely absorbed by the pictures, I was fascinated by the choice of musical accompaniment. It is in fact Blue Piano Stomp, a wonderful example of classic Jazz from the 1920s featuring the great Johnny Dodds on clarinet (who also wrote the tune) and the great Lil Armstrong (née Hardin) on piano, who just happened to be the first wife of a trumpet player by the name of Louis Armstrong.

So at last I’ve found an example of Jazz entangled with Physics!

P.S. We often bemoan the shortage of female physicists, but Jazz is another field in which women are under-represented and insufficiently celebrated. Lil Hardin was a great piano player and deserves to be much more widely appreciated for her contribution to Jazz history.

 

The Wolverines

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on April 27, 2014 by telescoper

Well, after a busy afternoon trying to get some work done in the office at the same time as worrying about whether there would be serious violence at today’s “March for England” I don’t have the energy to post anything other than a bit of music which I’ve been saving up for an occasion where a small pick-me-up was needed.

This lovely old record was made on June 10, 1927. It was issued by the Victor label with the title Wolverine Blues, by which name it’s been known ever since, but in fact it’s  a tune called The Wolverines which was written way back in 1906 by Jelly Roll Morton, who plays the piano on this track.  Anyway, it starts off as if it’s going to be a solo performance by Jelly Roll Morton on piano but then he’s joined by Johnny Dodds and his brother Warren “Baby” Dodds on clarinet and drums respectively. At first, Jelly Roll Morton just comps along quietly behind Johnny Dodds but he was never one to stay in the background for long and at about 1m 58s he springs into life to joyous effect. Listen out too for the absolutely superb work by drummer Baby Dodds who, despite having the crudest kit imaginable, lays down a carpet of infectious rhythms. Deep joy.

 

 

Cornet Chop Suey

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by telescoper

Just time for a short lunchtime post in between loads of end-of-term business and travelling up to London for this afternoon’s meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society. I’m a bit tired, to be honest, largely owing to a late night last night at the Sussex University Mathematics Society Ball, but this is an excellent pick-me-up. You can dip into the classic “Hot Five” recordings at any point and come up with something wonderful, but I think this is one of the very best. Recorded in Chicago on February 26, 1926, Cornet Chop Suey was written by Louis Armstrong and features him on trumpet, at the centre of the amazing front line that also included Kid Ory on trombone and Johnny Dodds on clarinet. Johnny St. Cyr plays banjo and on piano is the superb Lil Armstrong (née Hardin), Louis’ first wife, who plays a very fine solo on this track.  Above all, though, it’s a vehicle for Louis Armstrong himself who is on absolutely superlative form, especially in the stop-time choruses from about 1:47 onwards. The ending’s pretty good too…

Enjoy!

 

Sippie Wallace

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on August 17, 2013 by telescoper

I’ve been meaning to post this fabulous old record for a while but for some reason never got around to it. Until know. This is the great Sippie Wallace  who sings and plays piano in the company of Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Honore Dutrey (trombone) and Natty Dominique (cornet), on a 78rpm disc made in 1929 for the Victor label.

Sippie Wallace was born Beulah Thomas on 1st November 1896; she died on her 88th birthday in 1986. Between 1926 and 1929 she made around 40 records for the Okeh label in Chicago and may have made this record while she was still under contract with them. That reminds me of the famous story about Louis Armstrong who performed on some records for another label while on a supposedly exclusive contract with Okeh; he was hauled up in front of the manager at the Okeh label and accused of playing on these other tracks.  Of course it was him – his playing was instantly recognizable – but Satchmo is always alleged to have said “It wasn’t me, boss, but I won’t do it again”. ..

As was the case with Bessie Smith, most of Sippie Wallace’s repertoire was a bit on the raunchy side and this is no exception, but, boy, could she sing the blues. This wonderful performance is entitled I’m a Mighty Tight Woman….

Lonesome Waterloo Sunset Blues

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , on July 27, 2012 by telescoper

Just saw the song Waterloo Sunset by the popular beat combo The Kinks in a list of the ten best songs about London in this week’s New Statesman. I wonder if anyone else has noticed the remarkable resemblance between that tune and the classic Lonesome Blues recorded by Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five in 1926, with the main theme played by legendary clarinettist Johnny Dodds:

I wonder if, by any chance, they might be related?

My Sweet Lovin’ Man

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2011 by telescoper

A high temperature and raging sore throat have confined me to the house today. I got up as usual at 7.30 but quickly realised I wasn’t going to be of much to anyone; trying to give a lecture when barely able to produce a whisper didn’t seem worth the effort. So off I went back to bed, after feeding the cat, and got up again about an hour ago.

I’ve been trying to cheer myself up by listening to – and transferring to digital using my USB turntable – some lovely old jazz records that I haven’t heard for ages. Not all of them came out well, but fortunately one of my all-time favourite records is actually on youtube anyway so I thought I’d put it up.

This is My Sweet Lovin’ Man recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band on June 22nd 1923, in Chicago. It  is a purely mechanical recording, meaning that the musicians stood shoulder-to-shoulder  blowing into a horn causing a needle to cut the record directly onto a disk;   copies would be pressed using this master which could be played back for the listener by a gramophone, usually amplified by another horn. Obviously the technology was very limited, but it’s good enough to reveal the superb musicianship involved in creating this wonderful piece of music.

I love jazz from all eras of its history, but there can’t have been many  finer collections of musicians than this. It’s led by King Oliver, who plays cornet, with the young Louis Armstrong also playing cornet alongside him. Honoré Dutrey is the trombonist and the unmistakeable clarinet sound is supplied by the great Johnny Dodds. By the way, why is Johnny Dodds’ wikipedia article so brief? He was a colossal figure in the history of jazz! I must do something about that if nobody else does…

The piece was co-written by Lil Hardin, whose lovely piano playing is unusually well recorded on this track; pianos generally proved very difficult to record with the technology available in 1923.  Lil Hardin, incidentally, became Lil Armstrong when she married Louis Armstrong in February 1924. The rhythm men are Bud Scott on banjo and Warren “Baby” Dodds (Johnny’s brother) on drums, who provide an insistent yet fluid pulse underneath the rest of the band.

King Oliver’s band never used written arrangements; the musicians worked out the ensemble segments together and then played them from memory. When Louis Armstrong joined the band,  King Oliver  at first led on cornet, with  Armstrong providing decorative embellishments,  but  later on the two cornettists  developed such an understanding that they were able to swap leads almost telepathically. Their playing together on this track is sublime. The improvised counterpoint provided by Johnny Dodds and Honoré Dutrey is also breathtakingly beautiful. Although it was recorded in Chicago, this is the classic form of New Orleans polyphony sustained throughout at the very highest level.

I think this is one of the greatest jazz records of all time, but it also reminds me that there was  a move some time ago to refer to jazz as black classical music. It never caught on, but in this case the term seems to me to be perfectly apt. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


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Memphis Shake

Posted in Jazz with tags , on November 7, 2009 by telescoper

Today has been a very busy day, so I haven’t had time to put finger to keyboard at all. I always feel I’m letting the side down if I don’t post every day, but I’ve only got a few minutes before going for dinner. Fortunately I’ve got a list of little fillers for such occasions so I thought I’d try this one on you. Experience suggests you will either love it or hate it!

I’ve blogged before about the pioneering clarinettist Johnny Dodds, who appeared on an astonishingly high fraction of the greatest recordings of the era of classic jazz. But although he was a jazz age superstar he remained until his death in 1940 a modest and self-effacing man who never tried to hog the limelight.

One day in December 1926, Johnny Dodds happened to be in the Chicago studios of the Victor record company. The band that happened to be recording at that time was an obscure folk group from Louisville (Kentucky)with the unpromising sounding name of The Dixieland Jug Blowers. After some discussion, Johnny Dodds agreed to sit in with them while they recorded a tune called Memphis Shake. They weren’t really a jazz band and didn’t use the usual jazz instruments. There is what sounds like an alto sax on this record, but there is also a fiddle, banjo and, of course, the “jug”  (an earthenware whisky jar or some such item, played  by blowing across the top to produce a whimsical kind of bass). The idea of a jugband probably sound very hokey now, but were in fact extremely popular in the pre-jazz era and well into the 1920s. Other than the fact that they were led by a chap called Earl Macdonald and the fiddle is played by Clifford Hayes, I really don’t know anything else about the personnel.

As you’ll hear, Johnny Dodds takes quite a back seat, but his presence on this record turned it into a little  piece of jazz history and original 78s of this are much sought after among collectors. It is a bit of an oddity. It’s not really jazz and it’s not really folk, but what it is is one of the most joyously carefree pieces of music you will ever hear in your life. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, I hope it at least brings a smile to your face as it does to mine whenever I hear it.