19 March 2018


Many musicians dislike playing At The Jazz Band Ball. When the band-leader announces it, they think, 'Oh, no. Not that. It's boringly repetitive and so simple that it presents nothing of interest - no challenges'.
It is indeed a very simple tune, consisting of just 32 bars, and it is usually played in the key of Bb. It breaks down into two 16-bar parts. All that can be said for Part A is that it is in the related key of G minor and that bars 1 to 4 and bars 9 to 12 are actually on the chord of G minor, so that at least gives it a certain flavour.

But Part B (16 bars entirely in Bb) is the section on which bands tend to stick and on which improvisations develop. Part B's chord progression uses The Circle of Fifths, which makes it so easy to create variations that it is all a bit too easy. Musicians can be tempted to play on automatic pilot.

The reason I'm making these points is that at last I have come across a YouTube video that shows how musicians playing this tune can be creative and turn it into an exciting experience.

It's our old friends Tuba Skinny under the direction of Shaye Cohn who have worked the trick, in a performance kindly filmed for us recently by James Sterling: CLICK HERE.

Establishing a sensible tempo, they play Part A (the minor key section) only twice (at the start and again at 1 minute 1 second - notice Shaye signalling this with the hand on the head); but Part B is played no fewer than 13 times.

In particular, you have to admire Shaye on the cornet for participating in at least 9 of those 13 choruses - sometimes taking the lead but often putting in decoration while Craig or Barnabus take their turn to lead. Just listen to the notes and variations she plays. Observe her fingers and admire the energy she puts into her contribution. (This is in spite of the fact that, according to a correspondent,  she was suffering from a cold at the time.)

By the way, if you have trouble sorting out those thirteen Part B choruses, it may help to look out for the 5th - Jason's banjo 'solo'. Then you will find Todd leads on the 9th and Robin on the 10th.

At The Jazz Band Ball was created by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917 - so it's more than 100 years old. You can listen to them in 1918 playing it at break-neck speed. In just two and a half minutes, they get through Part A four times and Part B six times! CLICK HERE.

18 March 2018


Thank goodness the young are keeping our music going.

There is a band called Ragstretch, formed by young people in 2012.
It is impossible for me to work out where this band is based, because its members are Australians and Scandinavians and some of them seem to be living in New York. The musicians also play in other bands and most of them are already well-known on the traditional jazz scene. But when the band Ragstretch comes together, they give brilliant, sparkling, tasteful performances. There are plenty of videos of them for you to explore on YouTube. You could try this version of Panama (played in Copenhagen) for starters: 

In St. Louis, Missouri, The Sidney Street Shakers play exactly the kind of jazz I like best - unpretentious, straightforward, exciting, with good teamwork and just right for dancers.

And note elsewhere The California Feet Warmers - a fairly young band playing slick, well-prepared traditional jazz.

And even in Britain there is hope for the future. Have a look at the videos of The Brownfield/Byrne Hot Six to discover some technically-brilliant swinging jazz being played by chaps who seem to be still in their twenties.

Also from Britain, seek out the videos of Adrian Cox, or Ben Cummings, or The Graham Hughes Sunshine Kings, or Giacomo Smith, or The Basin Street Brawlers. You will have a pleasant surprise.

And in May 2017 a band called The Ten Bells Rag Band was formed in London. The musicians are relatively young and are inspired by such bands as Tuba Skinny in New Orleans. They play some very pleasant traditional jazz.

Elsewhere, you may find such good young bands as Magic Shook Heads and The Hippocampus Jass Gang in the south of France: their videos are worth watching. And in Buenos Aires, you have the Jazz Friends - a terrific, fluent band, whose range of instruments sometimes includes the 'pinkullo' - a South American flute.

In the North-Eastern corner of Italy we find the young Adovabadan Jazz Band of Treviso playing some very tasteful traditional jazz. For example, click here to see them performing Cake Walking Babies From Home.

In Horten (population 27,000), Norway, a group of beginners aged 35 to 55 got together in 2016, modestly called themselves The Sloppy Jazz Newbies, and by the following year were making good progress and starting to attract gigs. You can hear them tackling Big Chief Battleaxe BY CLICKING HERE.

In the Rhine-Neckar area of Germany, a newly-formed band of energetic and enthusiastic young musicians has shown what can be achieved even with a limited range of instruments. They call themselves Die Selbsthilfe-Gruppe (The Self-Help Group) and you can find examples of their work on YouTube.

In Japan, of course, there is a terrific jazz scene around Tokyo. Most of the musicians are still quite young. For an immediate example, have a look at a video of Over The Waves to see what I mean:
Another band formed in recent years is The Stone Arch Jazz Band of Minneapolis, founded by the talented and tasteful clarinet-player Richard Lund. Have a look at their website: Click here to view. And note that the band has already made some stylish videos, such as this one: Click here to view.

The band called The Fat Babies, based in Chicago, are highly respected and I am told they play regularly at The Green Mill Bar in that City. You can find plenty of their videos on YouTube.

And The Dirty River Dixie Band, founded in Texas and playing a very energetic kind of dixieland music, was able to announce towards the end of 2017 that the average age of its members was under 26.

The Dizzy Birds Jazz Band in Berlin is terrific.

And correspondent Michael Meissner has introduced me to Queen Porter Stomp in Sydney, Australia. Here they are, and you can easily find examples of this fine young band's work on YouTube:
Regular correspondent Robert Duis recommends looking at videos of Malo's Hot Five and Attila's Rollini Project; and my friend Anders Winnberg in Sweden has assured me there are plenty of good bands operating in his country, where the Gothenburg Jazz Festival is a major event. And Ray Andrew in Perth, Australia, has told me the traditional jazz scene is very strong in his city and that the young are being attracted to it. Even Finland - a country remote from New Orleans and with a population of well under six million - has the very pleasant Birger's Ragtime BandAlso in Finland there is a band called Doctor Jazz: it seems to me to be bright and recently formed; and several of the players are relatively young.

Regular reader Phil in the USA has recommended the Moscow-based young bands The Kickipickles and The Moscow Ragtime Band. You may find their work on YouTube.

Above all, of course, there is great old-time jazz being played by YOUNG people on the streets of New Orleans. They offer hope for the future, because the Internet and visits from overseas musician-tourists are spreading their influence very rapidly.

In the days before Hurricane Katrina, you would have thought of Bourbon Street as the main hub for jazz in New Orleans. But now it is Frenchmen Street, in the Faubourg Marigny - a road full of jazz bars and clubs. There are over twenty traditional jazz bands playing professionally in New Orleans - more than at any previous time in jazz history.

To see what I mean, even if you can't get to New Orleans, try spending some time visiting the City on YouTube. You will be amazed at the quality of the traditional jazz being produced by instrumentalists mostly under forty years of age; and there are plenty of singers of outstanding ability too.

You may try any of these groups on YouTube. Just type their names in and indulge yourself with some fine music:

Tuba Skinny
Rhythm Wizards Jazz Band (CLICK HERE to sample their tasteful playing)
Loose Marbles
Little Big Horns
The Cottonmouth Kings
The Dapper Dandies
Smoking Time Jazz Band
Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess
Jenavieve Cook and the Royal Street Winding Boys
Yes Ma'am String Band
The Shotgun JazzBand (led by the dynamic Canadian trumpeter and singer Marla Dixon: CLICK HERE for an exciting example of their work)
Stalebread Scottie and His Gang
The Gentilly Stompers
The Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band
Emily Estrella and the Faux Barrio Billionaires (Emily is originally from Cincinatti)
Hokum High Rollers
The Messy Cookers
The Sluetown Strutters
The Palmetto Bug Stompers
John Zarsky and the Trad Stars
The Jazz Vipers
The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys
Orleans 6 (led by the excellent Ben Polcer)
Sour Mash Hug Band
Baby Soda


The book 'Enjoying Traditional Jazz' by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.

15 March 2018


I'm pleased to say there are people (well, three or four!) who regularly turn up to hear the bands in which I play. One of them recently requested that we should include Cheek to Cheek in our next performance.

This caused some consternation. We wondered whether Cheek to Cheek was a suitable tune for a traditional jazz band. It's trickier than standard 32-bar songs, because it runs to 72 bars and the structure is A-A-B-C-A. (Part C is just 8 bars, mainly using minor and diminished chords.)
Our supporter pointed out that the Ken Colyer Band recorded it in 1959. Listen to this by CLICKING HERE.

So we decided to attempt it (in the key of C - as used by Colyer). We adopted Colyer's solution to the challenges. He simply played Cheek to Cheek through three times in a fairly formal manner (total 216 bars [3 x 72]), with ensemble all the way, apart from in a few bars.

We also thought just three choruses would be quite enough. We played two ensemble, with our clarinet player providing a pretty good vocal between them. It turned out reasonably well, but I think it would be foolhardy for anyone (in our band at least) to attempt a full improvised chorus over the 72 bars.


The book Playing Traditional Jazz by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.

12 March 2018


I had an email from a reader in which he complimented me for referring to our music as 'Traditional Jazz' rather than 'Trad'.

This set me wondering. Why do I never use the term 'Trad'? At first I put it down to my education. I was at school during the strict and austere years during and just after The Second World War. Many of my teachers had recently been officers in the Armed Forces (some of them with tell-tale wounds). After being de-mobbed, they did a one-year emergency training course to qualify for the profession. They were punctilious about rules and 'correctness', even in matters of language use.
And yet, thinking further, I remembered that in London in the 1950s the British Revival of Traditional Jazz became a craze with some teenagers. The music was called 'Trad' by my friends and by the media (I think the idea was to distinguish it at the time from the 'Modern Jazz' admired by others) - and I guess I must have used that term myself. To capitalize on the craze, there was even a 1962 film called 'It's Trad, Dad'.

By the way, it seems this use of 'Trad' may have been a peculiarly British phenomenon. I doubt whether the music was ever called 'Trad' in other countries. But perhaps someone will let me know if I am wrong.

Maybe the word has almost gone out of fashion today simply because there are now so many different genres of music that enthusiasts find it necessary to use the full expression 'Traditional Jazz' to make clear that they are showing respect for the history of our music - a history now extending for well over 100 years.

Maybe there is also a sense that the term 'Trad' identifies the particular (mainly British) flourishing of the music in the 1950s.

I checked in my dictionary for the derivation of the word 'traditional'. As so often, we have to thank the Ancient Romans. 'Trans' in Latin meant 'across' and gives us the beginning of 'traditional'. The '-ditional' part comes from the Latin verb meaning 'to give'.

So anything that is traditional is 'given across', which I take to mean 'passed from one person to another, from one generation to another'. And surely that applies to our music. It is passed on both in the form of sheet music and also aurally. Each new performer makes it his own by playing in his own way.

The book Enjoying Traditional Jazz by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.