To me, traditional jazz encompasses the music of New Orleans, Ragtime, Dixieland, Stride Piano, Boogie Woogie and Swing. In terms of time, the period of its development was roughly 1899 to 1945. New Orleans Jazz and Dixieland had a revival in the '40s which led to the Trad Boom in the UK in the '50s. As revivals always are, the music was retrospective and there was nothing new created in terms of style. In fact most European (I include British Trad) is vastly inferior to the American originals. That is not to say that there are no good bands about today, there are, but the music, whilst being new in terms of being improvised, is of its style, many years old.
To play traditional jazz convincingly requires a serious study of recordings going back as far 80 years. It means listening to the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917. Kid Ory's Sunshine Orchestra in 1921. King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in 1923. Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Seven, 1925 -1928. Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers, 1926. Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Country Blues artistes like Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzey. Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Bunk Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Gene Krupa, and countless others.
Many bands playing today have lost the roots of the music or never bothered to find out what they are.
In the early '40s jazz went off at a tangent and ceased to be a music that could be appreciated by the general public. Virtuoso musicians led by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were searching for new sounds. Jazz became a technical music which demanded great facility of its players, yet lost the quality of entertainment. The new music, 'Be-Bop', further fragmented into other styles of 'Modern Jazz'. Traditional jazz, despite the genius of Louis Armstrong, was always music that the man in the street could hear and derive entertainment from. He could also dance to it.
Jazz is African in origin. Its rhythms comprise the beating pulse of that continent mixed with the music of Europe, embracing classical, opera, church and folk forms.
Black slaves transported cruelly from their homelands to the New World used music as a means of finding consolation. Under these conditions were born the Blues, Ragtime and New Orleans Jass or Jazz as it was later to be known. As time passed by different styles evolved, Dixieland, Chicago, Kansas City, Swing…..
Following the American Civil War, many brass instruments were discarded by the military. These were eagerly taken up by black, untrained, would-be musicians, who taught themselves to play. Gradually a new music was created, which came to fruition in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century.
Brass bands were formed to play at all sorts of social occasions, including funerals. On the way to the cemetery slow dirges were played. On the way back to the wake, a stomping swinging beat would be struck up and the band would play When the Saints or Didn't He Ramble.
In the Red Light District, piano players like Jelly Roll Morton played jazz in houses of ill repute. Music could be found on every street corner. There was a hierarchy among the trumpeters. Buddy Bolden was known as 'King' Bolden, a title which was then given to Joe Oliver. Freddie Keppard was a serious challenger for the crown. He was offered the chance to record, but declined, fearing other players would steal his stuff.
In 1917 a young white quintet from New Orleans comprising Nick La Rocca, cornet, Larry Shields, clarinet, Eddie Edwards, trombone, Henry Ragas, piano and Tony Sbarbraro (later Spargo) made the first official jazz records as The Original Dixieland Jass Band. They were such a success that this new Jass music became the musical backdrop of the Roaring '20s. Other white bands followed them into the studios, including the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in 1923.
The first jazz recordings by a black band were made in 1921 by Kid Ory's Sunshine Band, but it is not until 1923 that the first sessions of real influence were cut. Joe 'King' Oliver, who had migrated to Chicago before 1920, held court at the Lincoln Gardens, a popular night spot in the Windy City. His band had a considerable reputation as a hard driving ensemble that played the blues. It was a strong team, which included Johnny Dodds, clarinet and his younger brother, Warren, known as Baby on drums. In 1922, Oliver sent for a young cornet player from his home town, New Orleans, to come and join the band. His name? Louis Armstrong. Louis & Joe became a formidable team. Musicians flocked to see them. At the instigation of his wife, Lil, the pianist in the Creole Jazz Band, Louis left Oliver to join Fletcher Henderson's dance orchestra in New York.
As well as making recordings with Henderson, he played on countless dates with Blues singers such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith as well as some sides with Sidney Bechet. Jelly Roll Morton started to make solo recordings of his piano pieces, followed in 1926 by a series of classic sides by his Red Hot Peppers.
Back in New Orleans, Papa Celestin's Tuxedo Jass Orchestra, Armand J Piron's New Orleans Orchestra and Sam Morgan's Band were recorded.
Young white players, influenced by the ODJB and the black bands, appeared on the scene. Bix Beiderbecke, the first white jazz musician graced with genius, stated making records with the Wolverine Orchestra.
The New Orleans Rhythm Kings influenced a group of young kids who made some records in 1927 as McKenzie & Condon’s Chicagoans. This line-up include Eddie Condon, banjo, Gene Krupa, drums, Frank Teschmacher clarinet and Joe Sullivan, piano. The music came out differently. Chicago style was born.
Meanwhile, every jazz musician was being influenced by the meteoric rise of Louis Armstrong’s genius, evidenced by his wonderful Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings.
As the '20s drew to a close, the jazz bands were becoming bigger and more arranged. Eventually the music evolved into Swing. Usually played by Big Bands, this became the pop music of the day in the latter half of the 1930s. Benny Goodman was crowned King of Swing. His big band boasted of the talents of Harry James, Jess Stacey and Bunny Berigan but was crowned by the glorious explosive drumming of Gene Krupa. Such was the popularity of the music, Goodman was able to take his band to Carnegie Hall in 1938 and sell out.
Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Bob Crosby and Tommy Dorsey were some of the most popular swing orchestras. Many of these outfits had small group spin-offs which produced some of the hottest jazz in the '30s.
The Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet featuring, Krupa on drums, Teddy Wilson at the piano and Lionel Hampton on vibes, played an exciting driving, cohesive music, often taken at breakneck tempi.
Tommy Dorsey's Clambake Seven and Bob Crosby's Bob Cats played an updated version of Dixieland, whilst Shaw used an unconventional line-up which included a harpsichord with a slinter group called the Gramarcy Five.
The Ellington small groups, led by such sideman as Johnny Hodges and Rex Stewart, could not avoid the Duke's influence and produced music which swung hard but contained many colours from Ellington's rich tonal palette.
Chick Webb made a few sides with his Little Chicks which featured Wayman Carver's flute.
The Basie units went under the names of the Kansas City Five or Seven and featured the peerless rhythm section of Walter Page, bass, Jo Jones, drums, Freddie Green, guitar and the Count himself at the piano. With the totally original Lester Young on tenor sax, Buck Clayton, trumpet and Dickie Wells, trombone, the recordings made for the Commodore label, a small independent company set up to record hot jazz, were some of the highest points of jazz in the '30s.
Louis Armstrong spent the decade fronting big bands but did appear on a broadcast with Fats Waller and Jack Teagarden.
Waller, born in Harlem in 1904 was the most famous member of the Harlem Stride piano school, which included such fine players as Willie The Lion Smith and James P Johnson. Waller was taught by Johnson. He was a serious musician who loved the organ masterpieces of Bach. He made the first jazz recordings on pipe organ in 1926 proving that he could swing on this great instrument.
Classical music was not an option for black performers in the 1920s. There were two places they could go, Vaudeville or Jazz. Waller ended up blending the two forms, becoming a superb entertainer and a household name on both sides of the Atlantic.
Landing a recording contract with Victor Records, he made countless sides with a small band comprising trumpet, clarinet / saxophone, piano, guitar, bass and drums. The 'Fats Waller & His Rhythm' sides had a freewheeling quality about them. Nothing was over arranged. Superior ensemble jazz with creative solos was the norm.
Waller, one of the great song composers of the 20th century, recorded definitive versions of his own material, such as, 'Honeysuckle Rose' and Ain't Misbehavin'.
At the height of the Swing Era, hot music fans started to delve back to the roots of the music. The Original Dixieland Jazz band was re-assembled in 1936 and made some wonderful recordings. Jelly Roll Morton was joined by Sidney Bechet in an all star session in 1939. Bechet went on to record prolifically for Victor and the new Blue Note label, the latter sessions organised by blues pianist Art Hodes. Bechet was also involved in the King Jazz recordings with clarinettist, Mezz Mezzrow.
Eddie Condon made some first class recordings for Commodore. Johnny Dodds, out of the studio since 1929, made a handful of sides in 1938 and again in 1940. Kid Ory, also out of music for many years due to the Depression, formed a band for Orson Welles radio show in 1944, which led him back to full time success playing New Orleans Jazz.
Jazz enthusiast Bill Russell tracked down pioneer trumpeter Bunk Johnson and launched a series of important sessions on his American Music label which launched the international career of both Johnson and clarinettist George Lewis.
Eddie Condon produced a series of concerts at New York's Town Hall which were recorded and broadcast to American forces overseas. These shows featured Muggsy Spanier, George Wettling, Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminski, Gene Krupa and whoever else was in town at the time. Spanier recorded his Ragtime Band for Victor in 1939.
Rudi Blesch launched his Circle label in the mid '40s and presented a series of concerts titled This Is Jazz which featured a mixed race band including, Wild Bill Davison, Albert Nicholas, Pops Foster and Baby Dodds.
On the West Coast of America, Lu Watters Yerba Buena Band attempted to recreate the early style of King Oliver, yet lacked the rhythmic elasticity of the Creole Jazz Band.
In the UK, pianist George Webb formed his Dixielanders in 1943. His source material, like the Yerba Buena's were the early recordings of Oliver, Morton and Armstrong. The Dixielanders made some recordings for Decca as well as sessions for the small Jazz label. Trumpeter, Humphrey Lyttelton joined the band and assumed leadership. In 1949, the band made some historical recordings with Sidney Bechet. The Lyttelton band went on to record many sessions for the Parlophone label, eventually landing a top twenty hit with Bad Penny Blues.
Meanwhile, trumpeter Ken Colyer was absorbing New Orleans music first hand, by jumping ship and staying in the city to play with George Lewis and others.
He returned to the UK to spread the gospel. He formed a band which included Chris Barber, Monty Sunshine and Lonnie Donegan. Rhythmically the band did not sound like a New Orleans band. Barber and Colyer split and Barber kept the band going. He achieved considerable success and is still touring today.
Colyer formed another band which included drummer Colin Bowden. This got as close to the New Orleans sound as any band in the '50s. Using Mutt Carey, Bunk Johnson and George Lewis as his models, Colyer led a band that played good swinging ensemble jazz.
Clarinettist, Cy Laurie, followed the classic bands of the '20s. In particular he attempted to assimilate the sound of Johnny Dodds. Cy made many records in the '50s and led one of the most popular bands of the time. Cornetist Ken Sims and the late pianist Ronn Weatherburn recalled spending many hours at Cy's Essex farm listening to scratchy 78rpm discs in order to try to understand the music.
Sims later joined the band led by another clarinet star, Acker Bilk. Bilk's band had a wonderful drummer, Ron McKay, who drove the rhythm section hard. The Bilk band became major hit parade stars in the late '50s.
Trumpeter Kenny Ball led another hit making band in 1960. His Dixieland chart success was to lead to TV and concert appearan
Trumpeters, Alex Welsh and Freddy Randall led bands that were based on the Chicago style of Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison.
The Trad Boom died with the rise of the Beatles and Merseybeat. Major stars like Ball, Barber and Bilk still commanded a following in concerts and on TV.
Colyer had become a cult figure, yet failed to achieve the commercial success of the three B's.
The music stayed alive in pubs, where musicians were paid a pittance and in clubs, where the rates of pay were better but not enough to sustain a mortgage and a family. Many professional players had to take day jobs to support their families.
That was the state of affairs when I stated playing in 1976. By the '80s, jazz package shows had started. Trumpeter Keith Smith was one of the first to present themed concerts on the theatre stage, along with Max Collie, who's New Orleans Mardigras show was a box office success.
My own shows, starting with Queen's of the Blues in 1986 followed by Swinging Down Memory Lane, with George Chisholm and Maxine Daniels, The Legends of American Dixieland with Wild Bill Davison and Art Hodes in 1989 right through to the present day have elevated jazz out of the bars and onto the concert stage in the UK.
Since the mid '90s our Jazz Festival Breaks have enabled fans to enjoy a structured programme of the highest quality in congenial surroundings.
My 'Walkin' With The King' gospel concerts in churches have enabled us to present real jazz to audiences who would otherwise not have come to a jazz concert.
The music will not die. There are some fine young players who will in turn contribute to the music. It may or may not become hit parade material again. The media certainly do the music no favours. There are many bands all over the UK playing regular gigs, some are good, some are bad. The future, I believe, lies in high quality presentations, which are entertaining and attractive to the audience,
Updated - 7th December 2010
This wonderful new book is an essential read for anyone with an interest in traditional jazz, skiffle or popular music of the 1950s.
Both authors are musicians who worked and recorded with Colyer over the years. Mike Pointon is a gifted trombonist, writer and broadcaster and Ray Smith a dazzlingly, brilliant piano professor in the the tradition laid down by such luminaries as Jelly Roll Morton.
This is not a biography as such, more a life story told in the words of Ken himself and a multitude of musicians who knew and worked with him. There are contributions from Chris Barber, the late Monty Sunshire, the great Colin Bowden, Max Collie and a t couple from myself.
Of great interest to me were Ken's own observances of some great recordings, such as the Bunk Johnson Brunswick's, the George Lewis Climax session, the Jones - Collins astoria Hot 8 etc. The book is illustrated with some wonderful photographs, including a super shot of the Guv'nor with Sr Rosetta Tharpe.
If that were not enough there is a 19 track CD containing many rare recordings by Ken with the Crane river jazz Band, The Christie Brother Stompers, the bands with, at various times, Chris Barber, Lonnie Donegan and Acker Bilk, the famous mid 50s line-up with Ian Wheeler and Mac Duncan, with the amazing Colin Bowden. Of particular interest will be tracks with George Lewis. Others feature Sammy Rimington and some Skiffle group sides. An extra special track for me was Mile's Blues with Emile Barnes, recorded while Ken was in New Orleans. Make no mistake about it, this is the real thing.
Listen to some snippets from the CD. Click on the image below:
Above, Ken Colyer with my band at the Square in Harlow, 1985, during the redcording of the CDs 'Too Busy' & 'New Orleans Revisited'
Hear a couple of samples:
Yes Yes in Your Eyes
Order now before it's too late:
Annie Hawkins, Max Collie & Colin Bowden
Ray Smith & Annie Hawkins
Sammy & Louise Rimington
Tim Phillips, Roger Horton & Max Collie
© John Petters. 2010