Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Johnny Dodds * Indigo Stomp *1929

Johnny Dodds is a foundational figure by any estimation, not only in the history of the clarinet, but for jazz in general. His recordings with King Oliver's Creole Orchestra and the Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens cemented his place as one of the rare soloists strong enough to play alongside Armstrong without giving up musical ground during his choruses. Most often remembered as part of the early New Orleans clarinet triumvirate along with Sidney Bechet and Jimmie Noone, his unique contribution can sometimes seem obscured by those two giants. Bechet had a explosive soloing creativity and overpowering musical personality: in many ways forming a sort of "primary epic" for the jazz clarinet. By contrast, Jimmie Noone was the first great virtuoso, with a perfectly balanced sound, articulation, and facility: universally admired by clarinetists and so intimidating he was rarely copied, except by the likes of Goodman, whose technique could bear comparison. Dodds is generally considered the gritty, bluesy member of the triumvirate, and while he has his devoted followers, he also had his detractors (among them Barney Bigard, who was sometimes acerbic in his criticism).

Yet Dodds is certainly worthy of his equal place in the triumvirate, for the unique contribution he brought: his range of timbre, power, and blues figurations arranged with precise rhythmic structure and meaning. Benny Goodman called him the clarinetist with the greatest sound in the Chicago of his youth, which is saying a lot, considering Jimmie Noone, Leon Roppolo, Omer Simeon, and many others were active on that scene. We can only imagine what he sounded like in person, especially as he was known to distrust microphones and try to stay away from them in recording studios. Still, the documents he left us over the course of his relatively brief career (like Noone and Irving Fazola, he died in his 40s), shows an unprecedented range of timbre. One moment is he full, rich, smooth in tone, the next he sounds as though the intensity of his core sound will rip the clarinet in half. He commanded the extremes and all points in between. And that's not the sum total of his contribution: his technique was far more polished and fluid than most noticed (and by 'most', I include Artie Shaw, Buddy DeFranco and, somewhat embarrassingly, myself as a young man). His soloing style was baroque, but not mere noodling, and his rhythmic understanding was as influential and subtle as any in jazz history. To listen carefully to Johnny Dodds, and to truly understand what he's doing, is in some ways such a thorough education in the facets of jazz that one will be prepared for almost any future development (up through Monk and Miles). To my more mature ears, it seems that with Dodds, it's all there in embryonic form.

Like Bechet he was a prolific composer of his own tunes, which are idiomatic for our instrument and worthy of study. One great example is Indigo Stomp from 1929...at a time when he was also pioneering the clarinet lead trio. Enjoy.      

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

More About Pete Fountain

Gregory A. Harrison, the longtime friend and mouthpiece adjuster for Pete Fountain, has published an informative article on the late New Orleans master in The Clarinet this month.  

Included are a couple of transcriptions jazz clarinetists will want to look at (the choruses on Tiger Rag and China Boy are among the most important in Pete's career) and a lot of great information on Pete's equipment.

Dr. Harrison has long been a friend of this blog as well: I'm grateful that he has read some of my articles over the years and it was through him that I was able to get back in touch with Pete before his passing. Many thanks Greg, for your continued interest in Pete's work, and willingness to share.  

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Hot Club @ the Cleveland Museum of Art

It was great to play for the Winter Lantern Fest at the Cleveland Museum of Art yesterday. We had Kevin Richards on guitar, Gene Epstein on bass, and Bill Fuller on drums.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Cleveland Renaissance

I'm honored to be part of what is becoming a roots music renaissance in Cleveland. Musically speaking, this city has long been known for the Cleveland Orchestra and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but in the national eye, little has been made of the significant jazz and roots scene here. That seems about to change. The breadth of talent and style that is part of the living tradition here in Cleveland is now becoming a cultural focal point for the city, thanks to the work of the Cleveland Foundation and Roots of American music. My band, Eric Seddon's Hot Club, has been asked to take part in this renaissance, playing for the Uptown Saturday Night series, and in Cleveland's beautifully renovated Public Square.

Cleveland audiences are unlike any others I've played for in my career. They are highly educated, musically speaking, and know their history. Recently, for instance, a young man at a nightclub gig of mine asked me if I knew any tunes by Sidney Bechet, because my playing reminded him in some ways of the great New Orleans master. On other occasions people have mentioned Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Barney Bigard, Pete Fountain, and Edmond Hall to me. It is rare to find audiences outside of New Orleans who can comment so comprehensively about roots jazz. If you're in town, I hope you can catch one of these gigs:


    

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Prayer for Pete Fountain & His Family

From my studio in Cleveland. Thank you for everything, Pete.


R.I.P., Pete Fountain

Pete Fountain, New Orleans clarinet legend, has passed away at the age of 86. He was a towering influence on me as a player, and I was blessed to have met him when I was still 18 years old, scuffling around for gigs in the French Quarter. His encouragement and inspiration have kept me going, and will keep me going for a lifetime.

Towards the end of his life, thanks to the encouragement of Greg Harrison, I corresponded with Pete for the first time since I'd met him two and a half decades ago, sharing how much I appreciated his work over the course of his long career--what his playing meant to me, and what his encouragement had meant to me as a young man. Of all players, he's the one I'm compared to most often, as much for our physical appearance as our playing, I imagine.
At least once a month or so, someone in an audience will come up to me and say "You remind of Pete Fountain." It's always a great honor, for me, as I've always felt he was one of the last of the real jazz clarinet greats--those with a big booming sound, and virtuosic, liquid technique. Along with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Jimmie Noone, and very few others, he truly mastered our extremely difficult instruments...and not a gig goes by that I don't show my lineage in one way or another, using language that I picked up from albums of his. Anyone who has ever heard me play "Tin Roof Blues", "The Sheik of Araby", or "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" has undoubtedly heard Pete's influence. No matter how much I make those tunes my own, there's no way I could unlearn what Pete showed me about them (and no way I'd want to unlearn it). 
Here are some things Pete sent me...some of them are now on display in my studio, some of them I take out now and again and wear for gigs. On Mardi Gras I always wear Pete Fountain "Half Fast Walking Club" Mardi Gras beads in honor of him, and people have sometimes mistaken the figures on the beads for me. It is a great honor to carry on the tradition he was such an important part of. My love and prayers go to Pete and his family today. God Bless Pete Fountain. One of the greatest has gone home. 




Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Roots Jazz Fusion

As early as the 1950's, magazines such as DownBeat and Time began asking the question "What happened to the jazz clarinet?" Despite the proficient modern jazz styles of Buddy DeFranco, Tony Scott, and later, Eddie Daniels, the question lingered, and indeed lingers still. Once a dominant jazz voice, the clarinet became a novelty instrument of sorts, or an instrument trying to prove its suitability to the continuing tide of jazz creativity. An important part of the original New Orleans front line instruments, the clarinet, according to many readings of history, reached its jazz zenith between the years of 1928 (when Jimmie Noone lead Chicago's Apex Club Orchestra) and Artie Shaw's last Gramercy 5 of 1954 (by which point the instrument's popularity and influence was already in decline). In between was the Swing Era, when Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw in many ways dominated the jazz landscape.

Those histories which assert the decline of the clarinet, however, tend to ignore the various revivals of New Orleans style, beginning with the recordings of Sidney Bechet in the 1940s and extending through many global revivals, sometimes called "New Orleans style", "Traditional Jazz" or just "Trad." Because of the monikers "Traditional" and "Revival" and admittedly because of some of the attitudes surrounding the more fundamentalist traditionalist in the field, what was often missed in each of these movements was the expanding, creative contribution of each successive generation. Sidney Bechet's style continued to grow, for instance, not remaining with a traditional New Orleans instrumentation, but branching out into a creative fusion of Gypsy and New Orleans jazz. One could argue that his session with Mugsy Spanier in March of 1940 was an early example of jazz fusion at its finest. Beyond that, the influence of French chanson in Bechet's work increased throughout his career, making him not only the first soloist to develop a fully unique solo style, but also the first international style.

The 1950's likewise saw the emergence of the British Trad Jazz scene, in many ways a misnomer with unfortunate consequences. That they emulated New Orleans polyphony, instrumentation, timbral language, and harmonic clarity is true, but the term "Trad" too often lead listeners to wrongly assume they were hearing a reproduction or Historically Informed Performance practice of 'original' New Orleans jazz. It wasn't. In fact, the British Trad Jazz scene produced some of the most interesting, creative, even forward looking fusion in jazz history--from introducing elements of British light theatre music to precursors of a clear, popular style of jazz that would eventually become British Invasion pop rock. Albums such as Terry Lightfoot's Tradition in Colour (1958)  and Acker Bilk's The Seven Ages of Acker (1959)  were actually forward looking, blazing new ground, while simultaneously preserving an inheritance. Perhaps it was because they didn't seek the self-consciously intellectual jazz audience of the day, or their main interests were not expanding jazz vocabulary through increasingly difficult applications of European classical modernist chord structures, but nonetheless they brought about a tuneful music that was quite new.

Almost simultaneously with those advances, Pete Fountain was engaging in a different type of fusion--what might best be described as fusing West Coast cool jazz with traditional New Orleans style. He has never really gotten credit for how smoothly and seamlessly he made the two styles fit together.

These days, players such as Evan Christopher and Dr. Michael White continue the fusion process, from a strong New Orleans background.

Over the history of this blog, I have tried not to take sides on contemporary players. I've written reviews of most styles, and given due praise to Buddy DeFranco's albums, Eddie Daniels', and others who fit best in the bebop or straight ahead modern jazz that came out of New York in the late '40s and early '50s. But now I find it's time to say that I've never really believed that was the best path for the clarinet, and while the reasons this incredible instrument seemed to decline in jazz were manifold, a large part of it was that bebop was developed largely through the saxophone, and the saxophone is a very different instrument with different challenges.

The ranges and timbres of the two instruments are radically different. The 'normal' range of a saxophone is really only about two octaves and change. The 'normal' range of a clarinet is over three. This alone can change the dramatic structure of solos, and how a clarinetist can use arpeggios to their advantage. Saxophonists, on the other hand, benefit from knotty phrases which snake and double back on themselves, replete with added note scales. One type of 'coloring' on a saxophone is more readily obtained, in a sense, by harmony than by register. There are exceptions to these observations, but it's my contention that the clarinet can be more expressive than a saxophone when dealing with triadic harmonies (such as we find in the Mozart Clarinet Concerto) than a saxophone can, for precisely the reasons mentioned. Studying historic orchestration treatises (such as Berlioz's and the revision by Rimsky-Korsakov) we also find that triadic arpeggiation and exploitation of the clarinet's range are primary suggestions, in contrast to instruments like the oboe (which has a more similar normal range to the saxophone).

Harmonic analysis and expansion are easily studied and quantifiable. Combine that with the dominance of the New York scene and tastes on the history of jazz criticism and scholarship, and we see how the creative work of clarinetists, moving the art forward, has been somewhat routinely missed. And some of this was missed simply because there was no decent name for the music clarinetists were making, that didn't somehow seem to suggest stagnation or reproduction.

I'm not sure if my current label will ultimately win the day, but at a recent gig I was asked by an enthusiastic listener what style my band played. For the past year and a half, since starting Eric Seddon's Hot Club, I labeled us "New Orleans Style Jazz", for lack of a better term. But despite the partial truth, I've never felt the label quite accurate enough. So this time I blurted out "Roots Jazz." Everyone in the band liked that term better, so I've actually changed my advertising to reflect it. Beyond that I would say, even more accurately, that we are Roots Jazz Fusion: a creative combination of New Orleans, Blues, Gypsy, Swing, and other styles: forward looking, with a common denominator that our harmonies tend to be more clear and less extended, our timbral language more American than European classical, and our general conception more polyphonic. It's my hope that this explanation will help listeners and fans understand the dynamic, contemporary significance of our music: that we aren't academics seeking period performances, but progressive artists contributing
to the culture of today. We are, in fact, another important facet of contemporary, modern jazz.



 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Some Thoughts on Musical Worthiness

A friend of mine on Facebook, who is a classical style composer, posted a thoughtful question about musical worthiness and self-doubt. I commented from the perspective of a jazz musician, and found what was drawn out by the discussion to be of potential interest to readers of The Jazz Clarinet. Here's an edited version of my response:

The fear of worthiness is crippling and arguably the least useful emotion for any creative artist. Aspiration to excellence is commendable, and even essential, but it should be exercised without the worrisome glance in the mirror, so to speak. The mirror doesn't really matter, and anyhow, the mirror always lies.. 

All creative artists have to trust two very basic things. They have to Trust the Gift, and they have to Trust the Process. Of the two, the process is the bigger challenge. Trusting the gift is pretty obvious, once you accept it: you really have nothing to do with it. You're either capable of being a musician or not. You either have the talent to be able to work hard enough to convincingly play a Mozart Concerto, or a 12 bar blues, or a sing a Puccini aria, or write a fugue, or you don't. If you don't, chances are you're doing something else with your life and not worrying about it. 


Trusting the process is much harder, because everyone's process is different--we have to FIND it first-- and we can get sidelined in life following processes that don't fit us. Trusting the process demands that we sincerely evaluate who we are as musicians and live it honestly, to the best of our ability. So here's the proper use of self-criticism--not the narcissistic glance in the mirror with the worries about worthiness, but the serious look into the musical self; the examination of the musical conscience, so to speak, to see where the true strengths and weaknesses are, accepting them, and putting in place the proper process to bring the best of you out. Oftentimes people need teachers for that...oftentimes, you just need to work with the right people to draw those qualities out. 


It is not necessary or even possible to understand how the "Elysian Spark" you mentioned works. I would suggest it's a theoretical distraction if the actual artist tries to decipher it. It's like this: I believe God created the heavens and the earth. How he did it, I dunno. Worrying about that is some scientist's job. I can be interested in the question, but I can't let it consume me. I've got music to make. Likewise I believe the musical gift was given to me to play this miraculous musical system called jazz...and I believe this mysterious thing called music is out there, is real, is between musicians and an audience and the angels and the stars...but I don't know how it works. We scratch at it with things called chords and scales and meters...but who knows what it really is? Bechet said that the music feeling in us must reach out and join the music outside of ourselves, and that's when it's right. That's about as close as I've ever heard anyone get to it...unless is was Elgar saying that he felt the music was out there, and he was just taking it down. Wynton Marsalis has said some similar things. 


To BE who you ARE. That's the answer. Are you a Beethoven? Not many are. It takes hundreds of Stamitzes and Wagenseil's to make a Haydn, let alone a Beethoven. Satie was a musical cripple, combined with bizarre musical genius. He turned his weaknesses into strengths. He knew who he was. Bruckner patiently outlasted the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to realize his musical vision...or at least enough of it, despite his crippling self-doubt...Acker Bilk had teeth knocked out on the playground as a kid, and was missing part of his finger, but he wrote his songs and played his own bizarre, powerful, soulful clarinet and touched peoples' lives. 

Play your thing. Sing your song. Find what you do and do it, whether in in rags or tuxedos. Find the true music feeling in you and reach out to the music outside of you and give it away. Peace, friend. You're the real thing as a musician. I've known that since I was kid sitting in Youth Symphony with you conducting us...and at the time I was admittedly more concerned with the pretty blonde girl next to me than Dvorak. Call me a multi-tasker, though, cuz I noticed the real music in you then. Keep Swinging. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Cleveland Jazz on the Street

I'm grateful to have been asked by Roots of American Music to lead a trio during each of the four days the Republican National Convention is here in Cleveland. We're taking part in a non-partisan cultural exposition called Arts Intervention, where select groups have been chosen to represent the diversity and vitality of the Cleveland arts scene.

My trio will perform as street musicians uptown (today and tomorrow), then on Wednesday we'll relocate downtown, where most of the action is.

Here's a clip of us playing my tune "Blue Mardi Gras" earlier today at the corner of Mayfield Road & Euclid Avenue, in uptown Cleveland.

Eric Seddon, clarinet
Kevin Richards, guitar
Ray DeForest, bass



Monday, July 11, 2016

George Lewis * Trios and Bands * 1943-45 * American Music AMCD-4

St Philip Street Breakdown *
Over the Waves *
La Marseillaise *
New Orleans Hula *
Hindustan *
Ciribiribin *
San Jacinto Stomp *
Gloryland **
High Society **
San Jacinto Blues
Ice Cream *
Life Will Be Sweeter *
Old Rugged Cross *
Lead Me Savior *
This Love of Mine *
Over the Waves *
Careless Love ***
Just a Little While to Stay Here ***
Just a Closer Walk With Thee ***

(*)The George Lewis Trio:

George Lewis * clarinet
Lawrence Marrero * banjo
Alcide Pavageau * bass

(**)With Kid Shots:

Louis 'Kid Shots' Madison * trumpet
George Lewis * clarinet
Jim Robinson * trombone
Lawrence Marrero * banjo
Alcide Pavageau * bass
Baby Dodds * drums

(***) N. O. Stompers:

Avery "Kid" Howard * trumpet
George Lewis * clarinet
Jim Robinson * trombone
Lawrence Marrero * banjo
Chester Zardis * bass
Edgar Moseley * drums


Like George Lewis Plays Hymns, recorded thirty years later, this CD, George Lewis: Trios & Bands from American Music (AMCD-4) is remarkable for the amount of solo clarinet, outside of the usual New Orleans ensemble tradition. According to the liner notes, many of the trio numbers on this disc were the result of Lewis's dissatisfaction with a full band recording he'd made just prior to them. He asked to be given more studio time, with just a banjo and bass--even saying he'd work for free. Lawrence Marrero and Alcide Pavageau brought their instruments over to Lewis's St Phillip Street kitchen the next Monday evening, and were paid to record seven of their favorite dance tunes and hymns. Because of the spare instrumentation, we get a very clear look, so to speak, of Lewis's playing from this era.

Also included on this disc are some very important historical documents. The 1944 session that produced "Ice Cream" and "Life Will Be Sweeter" were recorded right after Lewis returned from the hospital, where he had been treated after a life altering accident: his chest had been crushed in an accident on the banana docks. The joy and verve of Lewis's playing is still there--perhaps even enhanced.

Perhaps most remarkably, from a repertoire sense, the New Orleans Stompers 1943 recordings at the end of this disc, of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and "Just a Little While to Stay Here", staples of the trad jazz repertoire, are here presented for the first time on record by a jazz band.

For those wanting an introduction to mid-career George Lewis, this disc serves as a great primer. As an historical document, it's essential.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Terry Lightfoot's Jazzmen * Tradition in Colour * EMI (Encore! ENC 124) * 1958

Green for Danger
Blue Turning Grey Over You
Orange Blossom (really "St Philip's Street Breakdown" by George Lewis)
Yellow Dog Blues
Red Wing
The Old Grey Mare
Burgundy Street Blues
Black Diamond Rag
Mood Indigo
My Blue Heaven
Black and Blue

Terry Lightfoot * clarinet
Colin Smith * trumpet
John Bennett * trombone
Wayne Chandler * banjo
Bill Reid * bass
Ginger Baker * drums

The British Trad Jazz movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, when acknowledged by jazz historians at all, is generally footnoted among the various revivals of early New Orleans style, beginning with Bechet’s Blue Note recordings and the various renewals of interest driven by Louis Armstrong’s extended career. While there is certainly truth to this categorization, such a pigeon hole can also be misleading and devaluing when we really consider the achievement of the actual music: “Creative Resurgence” would be my choice as a better way of understanding what actually happened. Of the many masterful, and deceptively innovative, albums to be released in a very short period of time, Terry Lightfoot’s Tradition in Colour remains a strong example.

The title of each tune makes a nod to the visible spectrum, and leading off with “Green for Danger” we’re thrown right into the Trad Jazz aesthetic—more modal and streamlined than most revival jazz, Wayne Chandler’s banjo standing out more prominently as an organizational influence, the drums (played by a young Ginger Baker) taking a less dominant, more timbral role. Lightfoot’s clarinet, from beginning to end of the album, is excellent—rich, powerful in all registers, layered, and shot through with meaning. At moments the influences of Albert Nicholas and Edmond Hall seem evident, but any and all role models have been fully integrated into a new voice in the jazz clarinet world—confident, relaxed, commanding without being overbearing, ruminative (especially George Lewis’s “Burgundy Street Blues”).

While Lightfoot is the focus, taking the spotlight on the majority of solo numbers, he gives Colin Smith a chance to show off his strong trumpet in Fats Waller’s “Blue Turning Grey Over You.” Later in the album, he features John Bennett’s trombone on “My Blue Heaven.” Bennett in particular seems to have a sound indebted to the English Brass Band tradition, unique in windplaying for its mellow, round, shimmering quality. This is one of the great treats of British Trad Jazz, by the way: the British brass tradition is less buzzy and directional than many others, and the warmth that they bring can change the repertoire immediately, offering different angles on each tune.

Terry Lightfoot himself, however, must be singled out for high praise. His soloing style, while owing a debt to American forefathers, is likewise a product of a specifically British style of clarinetistry, fused to the New Orleans tradition. The richness of his chalumeau, which seamlessly glides into the clarion register, is unique. He is less impetuous and more methodical in his soloing ideas, opting to use motivic cells throughout distinct choruses. That type of playing, more emotionally circumspect, would seem to be antithetical to blues playing, but in Lightfoot’s case it is not: he impresses by being ruminative and contemplative rather than disengaged or cerebral. His blues are deep and strong, even in their detached quality. Most gratifying is that he managed to play the full rich New Orleans style chalumeau without falling into the trap of so many revival clarinetists—going flat. Lightfoot’s execution of the music and the clarinet itself are therefore of importance. Unfortunately, “Orange Blossom”, is attributed to Lightfoot himself (at least on the edition of the album I own), yet is unmistakably a George Lewis original, “St. Philip Street Breakdown.”  Unless this is a misprint, it can only be considered embarrassing that the attribution was not acknowledged, marring an otherwise fascinating album.      



George Lewis and His Ragtime Band * Jazz At Vespers * February 21, 1954

Just a Little While to Stay Here
Bye and Bye
The Old Rugged Cross
Sometimes My Burden is Hard to Bear
Down By the Riverside
Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Lord, You've Been Good to Me
When the Saints Go Marching In

George Lewis * clarinet
Avery "Kid" Howard * trumpet
Jim Robinson * trombone
Alton Purnell * piano
Lawrence Marrero * banjo
Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau * bass
Joe Watkins * drums

While DownBeat and Time magazines were wondering what happened to the jazz clarinet in the 1950s, George Lewis was flying under their defective and underdeveloped radars, touring the globe and inspiring generations of imitators in Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada, and even here in the US. The professional jazz press, located mostly in New York and traditionally loathe (even to this day) to look beyond the nightclubs and fashions of that largest of provincial minded cities, simply ignored a vital, and global, trad jazz movement largely spurred by Lewis.

Lewis's story is one of perseverance like few others. He was virtually unnoticed for the first several decades of his musical career, working most of his professional life before his mid-forties as a longshoreman unloading coffee bags in New Orleans. His biggest 'early' break came when he got the call to join Bunk Johnson in NYC in 1945, where he got some notice during one of those rare "revivals" when traditional polyphonic New Orleans style jazz gets noticed in the Big Apple. He was already 45 years old and had been playing professionally since he was a teenager. After Bunk's death in 1949, the band continued under the name of George Lewis and His Ragtime Band.

For a bandleader with as many obstacles to his career as George Lewis, it is remarkable how many landmark, important recordings he made. At a time when jazz was becoming increasingly associated with heroin, anger, and esoteric musical language on the one hand, or tepid commercial sheen on the other, Lewis continued to plow the rough, fertile ground of spirituals, marches, and polyphony developed in his native city. Among those important recordings Jazz At Vespers ranks high.

That the recording happened at all was largely thanks to the Reverend Alvin Kershaw, then rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Oxford, Ohio, whose passion for and dedication to jazz was extraordinary. Around the time of this recording, Rev. Kershaw had gained a bit of national celebrity from appearances on The $64,000 Question (jazz was his chosen category) and on a Sunday religious program, Look Up and Live, where, according to the original album liner notes, he said "To worship properly, we should offer God all of ourselves, our feelings as well as our thoughts. Jazz, which appeals to our emotions, helps us to do this."

The notes to the album go on to say that Kershaw had brought the band to Holy Trinity once before the recording as well, for a Sunday service in 1953. He made it clear to a Cincinnati newspaper at the time that "jazz musicians playing spirituals...are an outgrowth of the suffering of their people [and] have something of universal truth to pass along to his more fortunate congregation." On February 21, 1954, because of a cancellation the band received elsewhere, Kershaw suggested the Lewis band take over the music for Holy Trinity's regular Sunday Vespers service, and this recording was the result.

The recording captures Lewis's ensemble perhaps at zenith. This was the band that had such a powerful impact upon the English trad jazz scene (which in many ways remains more organized and vibrant than the trad jazz community in the US). Monty Sunshine, Acker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot, and countless others imitated and learned from George Lewis, branching out creatively into their own styles afterwards; a young Ringo Starr heard the band and was awed by Joe Watkins's drumming (and once you hear Watkins, you can hear how deeply it impacted the future Beatle). The root of all this music is the spiritual, and the specific depth of uniting human emotion to praise and lamentation, communally. There are few recordings as important as this in jazz history. It does not feature virtuoso playing; it is pure ensemble. It's also something every jazz musician should experience and study.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Sidney Bechet & Mugsy Spanier Big Four * March 28, 1940

The Sidney Bechet/Mugsy Spanier Big Four

Sweet Lorraine
Lazy River 
China Boy
Four or Five Times
That's A Plenty
Squeeze Me
Sweet Sue
If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)


Sidney Bechet * clarinet, soprano sax
Mugsy Spanier * trumpet
Carmen Mastren * guitar
Wellman Braud * bass


In one of those remarkable moments of cross pollination often experienced by musicians, but rarely captured at the precise moment of brilliance in the recording studio, European Gypsy Jazz once had a direct impact upon one of jazz history's founding fathers. The date was March 28, 1940, the idea Stephen Smith's: to pair Bechet and Spanier with a gypsy rhythm section (bass and guitar without drums) and see what happened when they were given the opportunity to swing a la Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club de France (Chilton, 126). The result was some of the most compelling recordings of any era, and certainly among the finest of Bechet's stellar career.

For a clarinetist, one of the great advantages of Gypsy Jazz is the lower overall volume of the group. Because there are no drums or piano, it's easier for the clarinet to project clearly, without forcing, in any register of the instrument, at any dynamic level. Bechet takes advantage of this, on both clarinet and soprano sax, switching back and forth sometimes in the same tune. On "That's A Plenty" for example, he lays down what is certainly one of the finest clarinet solos on the tune, then picks up his sax and gives a definitive saxophonic interpretation.

One of the myths surrounding Bechet was that he more or less abandoned the clarinet unless it was demanded by a trumpet player for a more "legitimate" revivalist purpose. Among other things, these remarkable recordings demonstrate that Bechet used clarinet and saxophone according to his vocal and timbral needs, and that the clarinet wasn't exactly supplanted by the soprano sax. When he wants low chalumeau underlining, for instance, he doesn't hesitate to use the clarinet on "Lazy River." The tunes are dominated by saxophone, but nowhere else in Bechet's catalogue is it more clear that he chose based upon expressive needs of each situation.

The titles I've listed above are, so far as I can tell, the only tunes recorded by the Bechet-Spanier Big Four. The link, however, has a slightly different list, including "Jazz Me Blues" and "Panama". For those wishing to have a more comprehensive view of Bechet's American recording career, I highly recommend picking up Universal Music Classics & Jazz France's 14 CD set: Sidney Bechet: The Complete American Masters 1931-1953. The reason I linked above to the other album is simply that the 14 disc box seems to be, sadly, out of print, and only available for several hundred dollars at present on Amazon. I hope it is reissued soon.  


Work Cited:

Chilton, John. Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz, Oxford University Press, NY, 1987.

George Lewis Plays Hymns * 1964 * Milneburg Records MCD 1


George Lewis Plays Hymns


In the Upper Garden
Does Jesus Care
God Will Take Care of You
His Eye Is On The Sparrow
When I Come To The End Of My Journey
Nearer My God To Thee
Sing On
I Shall Not Be Moved
What A Friend We Have In Jesus
At The Cross
Where He Leads Me
Only A Look
Lily of the Valley
Near the Cross
Rock of Ages

George Lewis * clarinet
Joe Robichaux * piano
Pacide Adams * bass


On March 10th and November 28th of 1964, George Lewis recorded one of his most heartfelt and unusual albums. Backed only by Joe Robichaux's piano and Placide Adams's bass he sang fifteen hymn tunes through his Albert system clarinet, simply, clearly, and sincerely.

We can't know exactly what it must have felt like to be in the room with him, but the recording remains one of the best recorded representations of traditional New Orleans clarinet sound.

Unlike the usual procedure of recording in a studio, Lewis requested these be made in a private residence (the uptown home of trombonist Paul Crawford), to enhance the intimacy of the album. The sound is noticeably different--it's great to have a document of his sound in the type of place musicians often actually play this music, whether practicing or for private gatherings.

Ed Lewis's liner notes are excellent, discussing the sessions themselves and the importance of hymn tunes to the history of jazz, pointing out the natural ecumenism of the New Orleans musical world which saw no contradiction in the Catholic George Lewis known for his interpretations of great Protestant hymns.

Most importantly to the jazz clarinetist (after the spiritual substance and depth of this record, that is) is the chance to hear George Lewis's sound, reflectively, clearly, beautifully reproduced, without anything beyond the most genteel accompaniment. Every nuance of his talking style can be appreciated, and the more one listens, the more the warmth of his particular soul effects your heart. There is something of an emotional and spiritual sharing that Lewis accomplishes through his sound that all jazz musicians, and perhaps all musicians in general, ought to aspire to. Indeed, the spiritual substance of the record is entirely wedded to his sound in a manner rarely matched by any instrumentalist.

George Lewis is in many ways an important and indispensable clarinetist in the history of jazz. For those accustomed to listening only to the more technically advanced or commercially successful players, he is a particularly important touchstone to the spiritual roots of the music and expressive range of clarinet tone. This unique album is an important document and resource, of permanent interest in any jazz clarinet library.

Included on the CD version of this album is a seven minute interview with George Lewis, only adding to it's historical importance.      

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"Tin Roof Blues" * Eric Seddon's Hot Club * 5/21/16

Here's a clip of today's quartet playing "Tin Roof Blues":

Eric Seddon, clarinet
Kevin Richards, guitar
Gene Epstein, bass
Bill Fuller, drums




Friday, May 20, 2016

The Music of Jimmie Noone @ EARLYJAS in Twinsburg!

Eric Seddon's Hot Club is excited to be returning to the EARLYJAS Society at the British American Club in Twinsburg this Sunday from 2-5pm. Last fall we presented a memorial concert dedicated to the original compositions of the great English Trad Jazz clarinetist, Acker Bilk, which was met with considerable enthusiasm, and encouraged us to pursue similarly themed concerts. 
This Sunday we'll continue our series exploring jazz history with a unique program comprised almost exclusively of numbers recorded by Jimmie Noone's Apex Club Orchestra of the 1920s. Noone's Apex Club Orchestra was pivotal in the history of jazz, introducing a chamber jazz approach focused on improvisational counterpoint and clarity, blazing the way for the likes of Benny Goodman (who was profoundly influenced by Noone's playing), Artie Shaw, Nat King Cole, and countless others. 
Noone's unparalleled virtuosity was coupled with a mellowness of tone and depth of phrasing rarely approached in jazz history: we're grateful for this opportunity to showcase his remarkable art.
Eric Seddon * clarinet
John Richmond * saxophone, clarinet
Jim Davis * cornet
George Foley * piano
Gene Epstein * upright bass
Bill Fuller * drums
tickets: $20


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

C'mon down to Christopher's Pub this evening, enjoy some food, drink and camaraderie, while listening to a preview of our upcoming British American Club show dedicated to the music of Jimmie Noone's legendary Apex Club Orchestra! We'll be rehearsing some numbers not often heard since the roaring '20s, speakeasy style--with the added benefit that, in 2016 at Christopher's, it's all legal!


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Residency for Eric Seddon's Hot Club @ Christopher's Pub, Cleveland Hts!

We're happy to announce our new residency at Christopher's Pub in Cleveland Hts, beginning this Wednesday, April 13th. Every second Wednesday, come hear us play New Orleans Style Hot Jazz, in all its manifestations--from the earliest jazz tunes, through the various global revivals, to our own originals--experience the dynamic soul of this constantly growing artform!



Friday, April 1, 2016

Jimmie Noone with Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band, 1944

In the spring of 1944, the great Jimmie Noone joined Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band for a weekly gig on Orson Welles's Radio Show in Los Angeles. After only a few broadcasts, jazz lost one of its pioneers, and jazz clarinet one of its greatest geniuses of all time, when Noone suffered a massive heart attack and passed away just days short of his 49th birthday. I've listened to Noone for years, and have reviewed the comprehensive JSP Records box of his recordings elswehere on this blog
Until today, though, I'd never heard any of his performances with Kid Ory for Orson Welles, and assumed they just didn't exist. But it turns out some recording were preserved...and they're amazing. They're the only recordings we have of Noone playing the New Orleans standards "Muskrat Ramble" and "High Society" (including Noone's version of the famous 'test solo'). Add to that a blues, where Jimmie plays laid back virtuosic figurations behind the vocalist, and we have a real insight into how this master must have played in front of live audiences. On "High Society", Noone's legendary tone and articulation are there...but you hear him perhaps gasping for breaths at inopportune moments--maybe his heart was giving out even as he was playing this? It's a powerful moment in jazz clarinet history to have recorded and to hear. If anyone knows of any commercially available digital transfers of these performances, I'd be grateful to know about them. Enjoy. 


[UPDATE 1/19/17: I've found a CD remaster of some of these performances, reviewed here.]



Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Jimmie Noone at the British American Club

Just Announced:

Eric Seddon's Hot Club returns to the EARLYJAS Society at the British American Club in Twinsburg, Ohio on Sunday May 22nd from 2-5pm, featuring a program dedicated to the music of Jimmie Noone.

Eric Seddon, clarinet
Jim Davis, cornet
George Foley, piano
Bob McGuire, banjo + guitar
Gene Epstein, upright bass
Bill Fuller, drums




Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"The Lonesome Road" live @ BLU Jazz +

My solo from a favorite spiritual, "The Lonesome Road" at last night's Mardi Gras bash.


"Four" at BLU Jazz +

A nice fan caught my solo from Miles's "Four" last night at BLU Jazz + and sent it to me:






Mardi Gras Photos from BLU Jazz +

A big easy THANK YOU to all the great folks who came out in lake effect snow to make BLU the hottest spot north of New Orleans on Mardi Gras! What an audience...dancing tangos to Sidney Bechet's 'Petite Fleur', roaring for two new songs I wrote for the occasion ("BLU Mardi Gras" and "East Market Street Parade"); they even got a second line going through the club at one point! All in all a special night for this club's first Mardi Gras bash!



Eric Seddon at BLU Jazz + (Mardi Gras 2016)



George Foley (piano), Eric Seddon (clarinet), Bill Fuller (drums) at BLU Jazz +, Mardi Gras 2016


Eric Seddon, Bill Fuller (drums), Gene Epstein (bass), Bob McGuire (guitar) at BLU Jazz +, Mardi Gras 2016

Saturday, February 6, 2016

New Tunes for Mardi Gras

Readers of The Jazz Clarinet will already know that my Hot Club is playing the first Mardi Gras bash at DownBeat listed nightclub BLU Jazz + in Akron this Tuesday at 8pm. Our mission as a band has been to deliver top level performances of New Orleans style jazz, encompassing the entire history of the genre, from the earliest spirituals and songs through the various popular revivals, right up to the present day. I'm fortunate to have several songwriters in the band, and we'll be bringing you some of the best new material out there in our upcoming gigs, beginning this Tuesday, when we'll debut two new numbers: "BLU Mardi Gras (Blue Mardis Gras)" and "East Market Street Parade."

Get your beads ready, folks--hope to see you there!





Benny Goodman's Vandoren

A few weeks back, I posted a picture of what was almost certainly the reed used for Artie Shaw's famous 'Stardust' solo, while commenting how rare it is for reeds to survive long after they are used.

Well, yesterday evening I had another rare opportunity to see, of all things, one of Benny Goodman's reeds: one which is part of Cleveland clarinetist, saxophonist, and jazz historian John Richmond's private collection. The reed in question was part of a commemorative booklet put together for friends of Goodman after his death--the reed, attached to a gold string, serving as a type of bookmark.

The tip is quite damaged, but the Vandoren print on the back is as clear as ever. Many thanks to John Richmond for permission to publish pictures of this rarity.

Benny Goodman's Vandoren (John Richmond Collection)


Benny Goodman's Vandoren (John Richmond Collection)


 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Eric Seddon's Hot Club * Mardi Gras 2016 * BLU Jazz +



Eric Seddon * clarinet
Jim Davis * cornet
George Foley * piano
Bob 'Mad Dog' McGuire * banjo + guitar
Gene Epstein * upright bass
Bill Fuller * drums

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Why Play Jazz? Why Listen to Jazz?

FAQ:

Why play jazz?

Because it engages the complete musician: the creative intellect, the body, the emotions, the soul. It demands historical knowledge infused with personal creativity: each musician an historian, interpreter, and actor upon the stage of history, simultaneously. It insists upon mathematical mastery of the twelve tones and their various implications, then adds an infinite number of notes in between. Jazz is an endless system which allows musicians to grow into who they were intended to be, sharing the journey as they do so.

Why listen to jazz?


Because it engages the audience in a similar manner. The audience is present to witness, every night, the continuous growth of an art form that contains the expression of many peoples, countless souls: the musical hopes, dreams, loves, sufferings and prayers of the ages, continuing in front of you on that bandstand. But it goes even deeper for a jazz audience, because they actively participate in that history. The emotion and spirit that the band receives from the audience in return for what they’re throwing out there, that grows between an audience and the musicians as the evening progresses: that is the great driving force of jazz. 



Friday, January 22, 2016

On Sound

You're never done working on your sound. It's in a state of constant flux, because the weather is always changing, and you're always changing, getting older, stronger, weaker; and you're equipment is always changing, aging, being slowly altered each day you play it. I've heard every single one of my musical heroes during a down cycle or a bad day. It's sobering and reassuring. Everybody has them. Most of the jazz greats end up blasting too much at times; many classical players get into a timid zone when they struggle. Even when everybody digs what you're doing, if you don't like it, and if you know something is wrong, you have to keep listening, keep searching, keep refining. It's a dance with perfection. You can't reach it--you are not perfection-- but you can dance with it. The key is to not become antagonistic towards perfection: to not turn it into a boxing match instead of a dance. Because when it becomes a boxing match against perfection, you lose.




Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Hot Club @ BLU Jazz + for Mardis Gras!

Congratulations to BLU Jazz + for being named to DownBeat Magazine's list of 193 Great Jazz Venues around the Globe!

Eric Seddon's Hot Club is honored to be the band asked to host this remarkable nightclub's first ever Mardi Gras bash on Tuesday February 9th! You can order tickets here.

Our line-up at BLU:

Eric Seddon clarinet
Jim Davis cornet
George Foley piano
Bob 'Mad Dog' McGuire banjo + guitar
Gene Epstein upright bass
Bill Fuller drums



Monday, January 11, 2016

Artie Shaw's Enduro Reed and the Classic 1940 "Stardust" Solo

Artie Shaw's chorus on "Star Dust" in 1940 is one of those rare solos people list among the most important ever recorded. His tone, his choice of notes, and his virtuosity all seemed to come together in one lyrical moment, rarely matched by other musicians. Buddy DeFranco called it the greatest jazz solo on record, and countless others have transcribed and studied it.

Year later, Shaw revealed he'd used a plastic reed for the recording session--an Enduro reed designed by the great mouthpiece maker, saxophonist, and Shaw Clarinet Method collaborator, Arnold Brilhart.

Enduro reeds were one of the first commercially viable attempts at a synthetic reed, and enjoyed a short heyday during the second world war, when French cane was difficult to obtain. Developed by Brilhart, they were a precursor to today's Fibracell, Legere, and Forestone reeds (among others).

According to New York based clarinetist, Dan Levinson, who discussed it with Shaw before his death, Artie only played on one Enduro reed, ever. And at the time of his death, there was only one Enduro among his possessions, which subsequently passed into the hands of Mr. Levinson.

It's therefore almost certain that the reed used in one of the finest jazz recordings ever made still exists. Mr. Levinson has kindly permitted me to reproduce a photo of Artie Shaw's #4 Enduro reed, likley the very reed played in that iconic recording. Most cane reeds are discarded as soon as they blow out or crack, so just about every reed ever used in classic records are long gone. Coleman Hawkin's "Body and Soul" reed is certainly long lost, as is the reed from Benny Goodman's Carnegie Hall concert, or John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." But by an interesting quirk of history, that Artie decided to use an Enduro that day, we still have the "Stardust" reed. Amazing.


The Legendary Stardust Reed? Artie Shaw's Enduro
(photo: Dan Levinson/Dan Levinson Collection)
   

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mardi Gras Party at BLU Jazz +

Eric Seddon's Hot Club is headed back to BLU Jazz + on Tuesday February 9th for the hottest Mardi Gras party north of New Orleans!

With the addition of veteran cornet man Jim Davis and Cleveland trad jazz legend George Foley on piano, the Hot Club will take the stage this time as a sextet. We'll be a NOLA stomping, blues wailing, street beating party from 8-11pm--hope to see you there!




Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Book Review: The Book of Bilk * Peter Leslie & Patrick Gwynn-Jones * MacGibbon & Kee, London * 1961

Of all the books written on the subject of jazz clarinet and jazz clarinetists, this one is probably the most absurd, entertaining, and downright ingenious. The full title of this slim, 96 page volume is The Book of Bilk: 41 Characters in Search of an Acker, the front cover featuring a photograph of a dapper Mr. Acker Bilk, in striped waistcoat and bowler hat, raising his glass in a toast to the reader. The back cover delivers blurbs from the Daily Mirror ('A huge success...')  and Francis Newton of The New Statesman, who said the contents of the volume 'Makes most open fun of tradition, of pompousness and history, while simultaneously implying the moral certainties of an older, stabler, epoch.'

I don't know how Newton arrived at such a conclusion from the book itself, or even whether the blurb was an actual quote or a fabricated part of the bizarre, satirical illusion of the book itself, but it does capture something true not only about the sketches inside, but Bilk's music as a whole. There is something ridiculous, but also something stable, unlike any art out there.

Reading the book itself like watching Monty Python, though it predates that Flying Corps by nearly a full decade, which just goes to show that no art is created in a vacuum. The Book of Bilk is comprised of literary and historical parodies from prehistoric man to the present, including (but not limited to):

Pithecanthropus Ackererctus
Ackermemnon
KingAckery VIII
Johann Sebastian Bilk
Edgar Acker Poe
Buffalo Bilk

...and more, all the way to Mr. Acker Bilk himself, descended of these esteemed forefathers (and mothers). The writing is hilarious--filled with satires of Chaucer, Longfellow, Shakespeare, and various historians).

Get one while they're still out there: it's the perfect tonic for an age of solemnified ignorance.