Tag Archives: jazz strings

Is it Bix?

I’ll weigh in on the controversy: If it’s actually Andy Secrest as credited on the 1929 recording of Alabammy Snow, then Secrest was capable of an extraordinary Bix Beiderbecke imitation. That he was a good imitator is plausible — Secrest had after all been hired away from Jean Goldkette’s orchestra by Paul Whiteman precisely because of his ability to emulate Bix’s cornet playing. Bix’s health was failing and so Secrest was backing him up at both events and recording sessions. But was Secrest really *that* good an imitator? After weighing the evidence (af little) and using my ears (a lot), I’ve concluded it must be Bix.

You can begin a deep dive into Bixology here if you’re inclined. The debate about whose cornet can be heard on the 1929 side Alabammy Snow continues. See here for example.

I took a shallow dive into Bixology after listening to Alabammy Snow. All the musicians on the record are incredible: Trumbauer, Secrest (credited on cornet), even Quinn on guitar. The rhythm is locked in, the solos are full of character. The tune is short and sweet. It’s a real toe-tapper that feels very ‘Twenties’ to me.

To my ears, the cornet solos feature signature Bix elements: coy melodic ornamentation and glissandi, ‘in the pocket’ rhythmic feel, nuanced phrasing, articulation and dynamics, whole tone scale runs, and a a trademark Bix dom7 flat9 arpeggio that reaches up to the flat9 on the strong beat.

This cello tribute to Bix (or perhaps Secrest’s Bix?) features all the solos on Alabammy Snow. I tried to reproduce especially Bix’s glissandi, phrasing, dynamics and articulations as accurately as I could.

Transcription for cello available here: https://payhip.com/b/PsHJm

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.

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 https://youtu.be/pwhQ918ZYFI?t=45m27s
  5. Do another arrangement for string jazz band.
  6. Write some Cello Blues.

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


Black And Tan Fantasy for Cello Quartet

Here’s an arrangement for four cellos I did of the Duke Ellington / Bubber Miley composition Black And Tan Fantasy. I tried to faithfully transcribe all of the solos as played on the original 1927 first take, for Okeh Records. I think this tune is amazing because of the way it combines elements of classical, blues, and jazz.