Thursday, June 9, 2011

"The Trad Jazz Paradox"

I play trumpet in The Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band- a group that plays (mostly) a mix of newer and older styles of New Orleans Brass band music. Call me delusional, but audiences seem to really like the antideluvian stuff we play. It animates people; makes 'em want to move and smile (the Saints) or get serious, if necessary (St James Infirmary).

This music may have a tinge of quaintness, but it is not "retro." It continues to have the core power to move.

OK, there are a few side factors:

-There are specifically funky tunes (Funkin' It Up, our version of Mercy, Mercy, Hurricane Season...)
-There's the oddity factor, as people just don't hear this stuff around here.
-Our reputation is that we play for good causes, not for the money.
-There's usually about 10 of us, so there's the sheer volume and chaos factor.

But that list doesn't really explain it.

Look at other tunes we do:
The Saints and St. James (of course), Bogalusa Strut, That's a Plenty, Just a Little While,  Riverside, Second Line, I'll Fly Away, Just a Closer Walk...


Ok, you can get persnickety about how purely trad it is, but essentially you are talking about old fashioned, analog, un-amplified, street beat/two beat music-with a banjo and no guitar. The harmony is basically blues or other venerable chord changes and the solos are appropriate stylistically.

A live presentation of horns and percussion is always vivid, but the trad style perfectly fits this instrumentation. In New Orleans, they know this and this style and instrumentation is the foundation for a constantly evolving tradition, as personified in so many young N.O. brass bands-Dirty Dozen, Rebirth, Hot 8, Free Agents, Soul Rebels...


And yet, people generally associate the phrase "Traditional Jazz" with cheesy straw hat & garter bands (c.f. Jack Webb in "Pete Kelly's Blues"), paunchy old guys (hey, I'm a skinny old guy), and musty 78's (send those right to me).

Is the problem bad P.R.? Do we need someone to make us hip? OK, but...

14 comments:

Bob Follansbee said...

Steve,

Thanks for your thoughts here. I am working hard with my new band - mostly 20-somethings and a few in 30s - to build a core NOLA repertoire ala SLSAPS, old school and funk alike, but they just don't resonate with it like we/I do. It's frustrating, but many of them come from pep bands in school and I guess didn't play that much, or any, NOLA jazz. [And of course, they didn't play by ear, learn to solo, etc.] They are more oriented to pop music or old rock.

I am working my way through, though, bit by bit - we're about to introduce the 12-bar blues form. A long way to go...

Bob

Steve Provizer said...

Bob,

I can only say that, as far as I'm concerned, you are fighting the good fight and with your energy, I'm sure you will prevail.

Maybe sometime we can have a rehearsal together. I'm sure we'd all benefit by it.

I Witness said...

Hey, Steve, good fun to be had. In fact, if one examines closely the band name as first given up top, it's clear you really are resurrecting trad stuff. It's alive, again!

Steve Provizer said...

Funny, about the name...Sporadically it comes up for criticism as being unwieldly (see "what is hip") and possible alternatives are discussed. But in the end, it grows on everybody and remains unchanged.

I Witness said...

Hmmm... I think I failed to be direct enough regarding the name as posted. Length is fine, but misspelling "Line" as "Live" when discussing NOLA music is not.

Steve Provizer said...

My bad---

Anonymous said...

New Orleans jazz is great live but it rarely translates to great recorded music.

Steve Provizer said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for commenting, although it's such a broad generalization that it's tough to respond meaningfully.

Nhemeter@gmail.com said...

Hello All,

Trad Jazz is not dead in New Orleans, in fact there is a Traditional Jazz Camp for Adults see www.neworleanstradjazzcamp.com for more information. Also, there are great recordings of this music. Check out WWOZ for Traditional New Orleans Jazz. Keep swinging and keep playing the music that was born in New Orleans.

xo nita hemeter

Steve Provizer said...

Nita,

Thanks for checking in. I hope the piece didn't leave the impression that I think that Trad is dead in N.O. I know it is alive and kicking. Best of luck!

Nhemeter@gmail.com said...

Hey Steve, great to hear from you. Thanks for the comment, Trad is much alive in NO and it's great to see so many young folks out there playing. Frenchmen Street is really hopping, Bourbon Street has gotten so awful, loud blaring renditions of "Brick House", so people in the know head right down to Frenchmen, and the good news is the tourists are finding out about Frenchmen St., so all is well, mostly, in New Orleans. Must send a Thank You to all the volunteers and visitors who continue to help in recovery, we appreciate and are very grateful for your love of the city and its music. xo nita

xo nita

Steve Provizer said...

Happy to do what we can... Keep knockin' on the drums and doin' all you do for the music.

Anonymous said...

When I originally commented I clicked the "Notify me when new comments are added" checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails with
the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
Thank you!

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Steve Provizer said...

Sorry for any inconvenience-it's the first I've heard of it. When you sign up, there should be a way to choose whether you want to hear about follow up comments. Steve