29 March 2017

POST 491: BELLAMINA - THE CARIBBEAN INFLUENCE ON TRADITIONAL JAZZ

A long time ago (in the 1920s) there was a white ship named Bellamina, based at Nassau in the Bahamas. It was used for smuggling spirits 200 miles across the sea to Florida. But the American Coast Guards intercepted it.

After the boat's release, it was taken to dry dock in Nassau - this time to be painted BLACK!

The Bahamians loved inventing songs about anything in the news; and so a great 16-bar simple rhythmic song soon appeared.

Bellamina, Bellamina!
Bellamina's in the harbour.
Bellamina, Bellamina!
Bellamina's in the harbour.
So put the Bellamina on the dock
And paint the Bellamina black, black!
Oh put the Bellamina on the dock
And paint the Bellamina black!

In fact, there were at least three more ships that had to be repainted in this way. They are all mentioned in the version of the song that you can listen to BY CLICKING HERE. At 2 minutes 47 seconds, Blind Blake (who was recording this in 1952) sings several verses, mentioning other ships too; and you can pick out the words very clearly.

That great benefactor of all jazz musicians - Lasse Collin - has provided us with the music. See:
Put simply, the chord sequence is:

  I   |   I   |   I    |  V7


 V7 | V7 |  V7  |  I


  I   |  IV |  V7  |  I


  I   |  IV |  V7  |  I


Lasse was doubtless inspired to do this by Tuba Skinny, who in 2017 revived this fine old song, with Greg Sherman singing the vocal and the whole band showing what great jazz musicians can do with a simple theme: their performance of Bellamina lasts five and a half minutes.

As you can see, Lasse has put it in the key of Eb (as played by Tuba Skinny) and he has provided a lead-sheet in F for the benefit of Bb instrument players.

James Sterling kindly videoed the Tuba Skinny performance for us:

James has pointed out to me that there is also a recording of this song by The Nassau String Band made on a field trip by John Lomax as long ago as 1935: CLICK TO HEAR IT.

There! With so much to help us we have no excuse for leaving this number out of our repertoire. It's a good one to play. It's catchy, extremely easy to improvise on; and it offers some rhythmic variety to our programme.

This is one of the many excellent 16-bar tunes available to traditional jazz bands. We should always have two or three of them in our programmes. Others include Up Jumped the Devil, Winin' Boy Blues, Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down and Rip 'Em Up Joe.

Let's hear more bands playing Bellamina!