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Minor Swing (Django/Grappelli)

Here’s a video playlist I made for the cellists in Knights of Jazz on learning the iconic gypsy jazz tune Minor Swing.

Trivia: Unsung heroes of the famous 1937 Paris recording of Minor Swing. Who played guitar? Who played bass?


Joseph Reinhardt (Django’s brother) and Eugene Vees both played rhythm guitar. Louis Vola played bass.

David W. Niven Early Jazz Collection

Very excited to have come across this collection of 1000 hours of archived tapes with a specific focus on early jazz. There’s some hard to find Venuti and Ellington in here — looking forward to listening!

From the archivist:

This is an extraordinary collection. It has been Mr. Niven’s life’s work. It represents the very finest American music of the twentieth century, and because Mr. Niven took the time and care to record these commentaries, he has produced a library that is accessible to everyone from jazz aficionados to jazz novices. For the Foxborough High School Jazz Program, which has enriched the lives of so many students, this remarkable compendium of jazz recordings should similarly enrich the program itself. This is all made even more remarkable by the fact that, had Mr. Niven not had the foresight to contact Steve Massey in 2010, this entire collection may have disappeared. How many collections of jazz like this get junked after estate sales every year? Thank you, David—your devotion to jazz will enrich the musical education of hundreds of students!

Published a string arrangement with JW Pepper!

Woohoo here’s to an accomplished summer goal!

Somehow I was able to figure out Sibelius Ultimate well enough to get a collection of four of my Knights of Jazz “hot” dance band style jazz arrangements into publishing form. Hopefully when string ensembles go back into session, some other orchestra teachers will be interested!

Early Jazz Classics For String Ensemble is now available for purchase at JW Pepper!

Knights of Jazz Summer Season

The Knights of Jazz wrapped up a great summer. The rhythm section is hittin’. We rehearsed this tune list, building our comfort level with soloing, trading fours, etc:

The Saints, Jericho, Oh Susanna, Honeysuckle Rag, Black And
Tan Fantasy (Ellington), Take Me Out To The Ball Game, From Bethena (Joplin).

I hoped to book a back to school nursing home outdoor gig, but so far nursing home contacts haven’t followed up, perhaps due to concerns with Covid-19.

Journey toward jazz

I guess 38 is as good an age as any to become a jazz cat, and 2020 as good a year. Technically, this journey began last year. Or maybe it began in 2003 when Black Tie Elephant played our take on the Charlie Parker tune A Night In Tunisa; however, I’ve hit such a concentration of jazz-related milestones over the last two years that I decided to make a list. My goal: track progress over the last two years, stay positive, and stay motivated. In particular my most recent milestone, which I achieved last weekend thanks to #stayhome, has me really feeling like a real jazzer. This all said, the main musical takeaway of #stayhome, for me anyway, is the importance of being together in playing music. So, following the list of milestones I’ve listed a couple of goals. Top of that list: putting some real life, in-person jazz jams on the calendar at Soapbox.

20 Milestones:

  1. My brother recommending Duke Ellington when I mentioned being interested in finding some jazz with “great chords and voice-leading.”
  2. Listening to the Okeh Ellington (late twenties) collection non-stop for about three months.
  3. Discovering twenties NYC/Chicago jazz, and New Orleans trad jazz as separate and unique musical styles.
  4. Transcribing (well, starting to transcribe) my favorite two tunes on the Okeh collection.
  5. Transcribing a few solos from those tunes.
  6. Learning to play the solos on cello.
  7. Buying some Ellington piano books.
  8. Reading Ellington’s autobiography Music Is My Mistress.
  9. Jamming on cello on some blues at the open mic at Rosa’s with the remarkable Chicago blues pianist Ariyo.
  10. Arranging an early Ellington tune for my high school string group.
  11. Receiving impromptu jazz theory lessons from the high school jazz band teacher at the school where I teach.
  12. Learning from the jazz band teacher about the importance of the Dominant 7 flat 9 chord to early jazz.
  13. Going deep into diminished chords with Chromawheel and cello.
  14. Discovering Eddie Lang, the king of diminished passing chords.
  15. Discovering Joe Venuti, one of the OGs of jazz violin.
  16. Starting an all strings early jazz group, the Knights of Jazz String Band, and arranging a bunch of tunes for them.
  17. Performing Mack The Knife and Ellington’s It Don’t Mean A Thing in a combo with the jazz band teacher on trumpet, a professional jazz guitarist, and some talented student players.
  18. Starting to actually hear the chord quality of ii-V-I progressions in tunes.
  19. Starting to actually hear diminished chord quality in tunes.
  20. Thanks to #stayhome, ‘shedding a tune for the first time. By this I mean playing It Don’t Mean A Thing in all 12 keys. And even focusing on the “dark side of the moon”: the keys of Db/C#, Gb/F#, and B/Cb.

Some future goals:

  1. Play with more jazz musicians as soon as this quarantine is lifted! Invite Jacob, Trumpet Tom et al to Soapbox jazz jam.
  2. Continue shedding tunes in all 12 keys.
  3. Continue getting comfortable with diminished chords.
  4. Transcribe some trad jazz clarinet ossia lines since some are just incredible. For example
  5. Do another arrangement for string jazz band.
  6. Write some Cello Blues.

The Ink Spots with Hoppy Jones on Cello

I was recently introduced to the vocal quartet The Ink Spots by a Chicago native whose father, as he told the story, had in turn been introduced to black music [sic] during his time living in the integrated barracks of the US Army during the Korean War. The Ink Spots were part of an early wave of popular vocal groups led by black men in the late 1930s, and in the group’s tight harmonies can be heard the components of the later doo-wop style.

There are several notable things about the group. First, they had a remarkable style change in the early forties. Their early style in the late thirties sounds a lot like the “hot” foxtrots played by dance bands. The guitar work in these uptempo tunes is reminiscent of Eddie Lang, and Django Reinhardt. The later style is more soulful and ballad-like — early doo-wop.

Second, Chicagoan Orville “Hoppy” Jones (b. 1905), apparently the glue that held the group together, played cello.

Hoppy Jones on cello

Here’s an example of their earlier uptempo style featuring Hoppy Jones laying down a sick bassline on pizzicato cello:

Third, it seems that Hoppy Jones may have invented the style apparently known as “high and low” or “talking bass”. I’ve always thought of that style as something that Boyz II Men first did in the early nineties. Guess I was wrong.

Here’s an example of the later Ink Spots sound, featuring Hoppy Jones on talking bass:

Finally, one oddity about The Ink Spots is that almost every song starts with the same four chord guitar turnaround. Kind of weird. Still gotta figure that one out.

Django, on the shoulders of giants…

Django Reinhardt discovers jazz:

“During the years after the [1928] fire, Reinhardt was rehabilitating and experimenting on the guitar that his brother had given him. After having played a broad spectrum of music, he was introduced to American jazz by an acquaintance, Émile Savitry, whose record collection included such musical luminaries as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang