Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Got the Military-Blues Brass Band Blues
Thanks to M. Chalfen for his Wilbur Sweatman, W.C. Handy and Victor Military Band citations (see comments at "Twelve Bars That Died for our Sins." Just for good measure, I'll throw in James Reese Europe's band in 1919. All tunes taken at a stately tempo-Reese pushes a little bit harder... Yea, the Sweatman swings most. Smears, breaks, clarinet obligatos are the order of the day, all happening within the tight arrangements and performances of trained musicians (Victor Military Band: mama, you're just too tight). Much attention is also paid to dynamics.
In style and instrumentation, I hear this music fusing two brass band traditions; representing, once again, our friends "uplift," and the dreaded "devil's music."
Civil War bandsmen who wanted to continue to be musicians post-war could either move into "civilian" gigs-minstrelsy, circuses, medicine shows, informal parade bands, etc. The strain we know best is the New Orleans version-Eureka, Eagle, Bolden Brass bands etc.). Of course, this dangerous direction led to jazz. Find a good overview here.
The other possible direction to take-more 'legit'-was to maintain a relationship with the military, or to move into the disciplined circles of Tuskegee and Hampdon, Gilmore and Sousa; all institutions associated with 'uplift.' A brilliant article concisely summarizes this.
For reasons cited before, these military-blues brass bands served up blues the way America knew them before "Crazy Blues." This hybrid style culminates here and basically ends here as a popular-music form. It is, however, preserved in community bands all over the U.S.; serenading picnickers on summer nights, entertaining in senior citizen homes, or marching down the street in haphazard formation at the Allston-Brighton Day Parade, shifting easily between The Stars and Stripes Forever, medleys from The Sound of Music and arrangements of St. Louis Woman. Oh, don't they ramble...