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...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Revue: Roddy Doyle's Novel "Oh, Play That Thing"

Who actually says it on the recording is not a settled matter, but Jazz people know the expression from a recording of Dipper Mouth Blues:



Strange but true-I came to Oh, Play That Thing through a top-ten-best list of jazz books. It's a "picaresque" novel, a word once used to describe the work of J.P. Dunleavy or Henry Miller. Boiled down, it means there's a lot of screwing-and screwing up-by the main character. Author Roddy Doyle knows what he's doing and the writing is strong, but what particularly interests us here at Brilliant Corners is the relationship between protagonist Henry Strong and Louis Armstrong.

The two meet about halfway through the book, in mid-1920's Chicago. Henry Strong (a name that shows up in a lot of Doyle's writing) is an Irish revolutionary on the lam in the U.S. He's ambitious, handsome, tough and sexually hyper-active.

Strong is introduced to Armstrong by a paramour, Dora, who is passing for white so they can go clubbing on a non-Monday, otherwise the only night that non-whites are allowed in the big clubs. The first thing that Armstrong says when they meet is "That's a mighty fine vine, Pops." Then, half a page later: "An ofay that can carry a coloured suit-We got to talk, Pops."

So, clothes expedite the energy flow between them, but it's Strong's physicality and toughness that Armstrong needs and Strong becomes his gatekeeper--his White Man.

The author has assimilated Louis' writing style and listened carefully to his music and has his voice down pat. He also seems to have Armstrong's psycho-social situation down and expertly shows us Armstrong owning all the power when he's onstage and his relative powerlessness when he's off. Louis knows his own greatness, but understands the labyrinthine game he must play with white owners and management in order to prosper.


Strong is a kind of mirror image of Armstrong. Always at risk of being assassinated by gangsters or gunmen from his revolutionary Irish past, Strong cultivates the capacity to disappear, as Armstrong must cultivate the image of the responsible, obedient negro. At the same time, like Armstrong, Strong wants to be the one who rivets the attention of everyone in the room.

The book adeptly limns a kind of violent ballet between destructive and creative forces. For author Doyle, it's less ballet than high-wire act and, like an ofay that can carry a coloured suit, I think he pulls it off.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hang 'Em High

Don't let the movie "The Sting" fool you. Con artist are dirtbags who should be pulled apart by wild boars.


An elderly person who is quite near and dear to me has just been conned by a pack of these bastards; one of the many wolfpacks that run the mail-in "You Have Already Won" Sweepstakes. It's been both physically and mentally abusive and cost her a lot of money. 


She is the least greedy person I know and thought she could help her family. 

Oh, it was classic. She loves puzzles, so they started her off with an easy puzzle to do, and they kept sending her harder ones, telling her that only "X percent of people" have successfully completed this puzzle!" And, for good measure-"You're guaranteed to win something! To stay in the contest, just send us $$$. Remember, you've already qualified for a big money, but if you want a chance for the jackpot, you must send us $$$$."


THE BASTARDS!!


Then, when the time was right, they gave her a call. A woman, of course, to make her feel reassured. She says she's a "sweepstakes lawyer." The prize is going to be delivered by courier in the next couple of days. and DON"T TELL ANYONE ABOUT THIS UNTIL YOU GET OUR CHECK. The couriers are standing by-Just send cash by Western Union for the taxes (Western Union is complicit in this-they ask no questions about any exchanges. They probably get no information from any US Govt agency telling them who are running scams around the world. If they do, they ignore it. And make no mistake, these operations are frighteningly well-organized, sophisticated and international in scope).


When I found out about all this, and told them I knew it was a scam, they tried to switch the racket to EXTORTION for NOT TAKING THE PRIZE MONEY.


I'm not going to write about this in more detail right now, as my blood pressure is already soaring. I have contacted the Federal Trade Commission, the Postmaster General and the FBI and none of them give me much hope there will be any redress.


If you or your family has also been victimized, I'd be happy to hear from you-by comment or private email-to commiserate and to maybe think of a way to get our g.d. government to not just "take this seriously," but to actually do something to stop it, which they seem unprepared or unwilling to do.