GOUGES, VAMPS, ZULUS AND SCRONCHES 
And Where They’ve Been Hiding
By Richard Spottswood

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In the last issue of VJM, I discussed trombonist Charlie Green's remarkable trombone cadenza on Fletcher Henderson's 1924 The Gouge of Armour Avenue and its probable antecedents. Beginning with the recordings already cited, here is a chronology of subsequent performances that appear to derive, at least in part, from The Gouge.

 

TED LEWIS JAZZ BAND "O" (Oh!), introducing The Vamp, Columbia, December 1919.

BAL TABARIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA The Vamp, Lyric, 1919.

FLETCHER HENDERSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA The Gouge of Armour Avenue, Vocalion, July 1924.

KANSAS CITY FIVE Get Yourself a Monkey Man and Make Him Strut His Stuff, Pathe), October 1924. Trombonist Jake Frazier plays a rudimentary vamp under brief solos by cornet and clarinet.

FLETCHER HENDERSON Play Me Slow, Columbia, January 1925.

Charlie Green offers a reprise in the form of a two-chorus blues solo, inserted into an unrelated pop tune.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND HIS HOT FIVE a) Yes! I’m In the Barrel, OKeh, November 1925, b) You’re Next, OKeh, February 1926, c) The King of the Zulu’s (sic), OKeh, June 1926.

Louis Armstrong would have bonded with Charlie Green during the year the former spent with the Henderson band. Neither were socially acclimatized to New York, and each played the blues in a way the other could understand. That Armstrong absorbed the Green cadenza is not remarkable, and it is demonstrated on each of the first three Hot Five record dates. Yes! I’m In the Barrel, recorded on 12 November 1925, a few days after Armstrong’s return to Chicago from New York, opens with a cornet cadenza played over a minor vamp. On You’re Next, three months later, Lillian Armstrong sets him up with a lavish concert hall piano introduction before feeding him a short vamp, concluding before Armstrong (playing trumpet, I think) constructs a new variation on The Gouge that itself becomes a model, and the source for Jack Teagarden’s signature piece Makin’ Friends a couple of years later. Finally, with The King of the Zulu’s (as the label reads) in June, we hear further transformation of the Gouge cadenza, evoked both in the ensemble opening and Kid Ory’s primitive reiteration. Louis asks Clarence Babcock, "What you mean by interruptin’ my solo?", perhaps not implying that he’d been playing the trombone so much as assuming authorship of the new creation. The greater purpose of the Armstrong/Babcock exchange isn’t clear; the King of the Zulus is a traditional mardi-gras figure, so why does Babcock represent him as a semi-coherent Jamaican with a predilection for hog bowels? Well, no matter. The two vamp-less trumpet choruses that follow have an introspective, incendiary beauty rarely revealed elsewhere in Armstrong’s popular roles as virtuoso and comic. John St. Cyr’s solo banjo variation is thoughtful and carefully prepared, and the final ensemble is a cri de coeur that to me is one of the most emotional moments in jazz. Ultimately the artistry of The King of the Zulu’s transcends its initial silliness and results in an only slightly flawed masterpiece. Surprisingly, Zulu’s hasn’t been scrutinized a lot by jazz historians, perhaps because its historical context hasn’t been clear. Armstrong’s record was popular enough to warrant cover versions by the Dixie Washboard Band (Columbia) and the New Orleans Blue Five (Victor). Gradually it inspired further creations, and even Armstrong himself would revive it in an unexpected context thirty-five years later, after it had been forgotten by others.

LLOYD SCOTT AND HIS ORCHESTRA Symphonic Scronch, Victor, January 1927.

Seventeen year-old trombonist Dickie Wells takes charge on his maiden recording date with a reprise of the Charlie Green solo.

JOHN WILLIAMS’ SYNCO JAZZERS Pewee (sic) Blues, Gennett, March 1927 where John (Mr. Mary Lou) Williams tries it out on his alto saxophone.

CLARENCE WILLIAMS AND HIS ORCHESTRA New Down Home Blues, QRS, ca. August 1928.

A revival of Ethel Waters’ 1921 hit, with a short "Gouge" contribution from trombonist Ed Cuffee near the end.

EDDIE CONDON AND HIS FOOTWARMERS Makin’ Friends, OKeh, October 1928.

The first recording of Jack Teagarden’s celebrated solo feature, evolving both from Yes, I’m In the Barrel and the Gouge. His opening chorus begins with "Gouge" references; the band moves to the blues when he’s done, returning to the minor motif for two final choruses, as Jack removes the bell of his horn and plays into a water glass.

GOODY AND HIS GOOD TIMERS (Whoopee Makers) Digga Digga Do, Pathe, November 1928.

A faster and more confident Makin’ Friends by Teagarden appears as a coda, complete with vamp.

THE RHYTHM ACES Jazz Battle, Brunswick, January 1929.

Jabbo Smith’s masterpiece; elements of "Zulu’s" inform his inspired two chorus solo near the end. It’s as close as he came on record to challenging Louis Armstrong on the latter’s terms.

KENTUCKY GRASSHOPPERS (Whoopee Makers) Makin’ Friends, Banner etc., April 1929.

An improvment on the Eddie Condon performance and perhaps Jack Teagarden’s most celebrated record.

EDDIE LANG AND HIS ORCHESTRA Hot Heels, OKeh, May 1929.

Tommy Dorsey revives the Gouge on a rare appearance as a trumpeter. The opening ensemble shifts briefly from minor to major as Dorsey puts down his trombone and picks up a trumpet for a lovely extended minor cadenza. Too bad TD only played trumpet for a short while. The instrument seemed to change him from Clark Kent to Superman. Jimmy Dorsey and Lang take up where Tommy leaves off, extending the cadenza with less impressive results.

Jack Pettis and Al Goering are the credited composers of "Hot Heels;" Jack Pettis and His Pets recorded it twice a year earlier, on Vocalion and (as The Cotton Pickers) on Cameo-Romeo-Lincoln. Neither these nor a 1927 version by Dunk Rendleman and the Alabamians (Gennett) include cadenzas.

TINY PARHAM AND HIS MUSICIANS Sud Buster’s Dream, Victor, October 1929.

A refurbished King of the Zulu’s, with a bridge added to give the melody more conventional contours. David Sager points out that, though its chord pattern is identical to King of the Zulu’s, it is common to other compositions as well. The title refers to percussionist Ernie Marrero’s washboard choruses, a followup to Parham’s earlier Washboard Wiggles.

RED NICHOLS AND HIS FIVE PENNIES Sweet Georgia Brown, Brunswick, July 1930.

Jack Teagarden’s trombone coda is a reprise of the one at the end of Digga Digga Do.

DUKE ELLINGTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA Rockin’ in Rhythm, OKeh, Brunswick & Victor, 1930/1.

Barney Bigard’s brief clarinet solo is played over a minor vamp.

BALTIMORE BELL HOPS Comin’ and Goin’, Columbia, March 1931.

This Horace Henderson piece opens with a brief Benny Morton homage to Charlie Green.

EARL HINES AND HIS ORCHESTRA Blue Drag, Brunswick, July 1932. WASHBOARD RHYTHM KINGS Blue Drag, Vocalion, December 1932.

Composed by one Josef Myrow, Blue Drag is more like Sud Buster’s Dream than anything earlier.

BEN POLLACK AND HIS ORCHESTRA Deep Jungle, Columbia, December 1933.

Pollack and Wingy Manone are co-composers. Over an opening tom-tom beat, Manone, a trombonist and clarinetist Matty Matlock take brief turns. Wingy and the tom-tom return for the coda.

ROSETTA HOWARD Plain Lenox Avenue, Decca, June 1939.

The song reverts from major to minor for some mild patter. A Barney Bigard solo is played over a minor vamp.

WINGIE (sic) MANONE & HIS ORCHESTRA In the Barrel, Bluebird, June 1939.

A humorous spin on Yes, I’m In the Barrel. Wingy starts with a trumpet cadenza and the vamp continues with a dialog concerning a visit to the tailor and wearing a barrel until alterations are completed.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND DUKE ELLINGTON It Don’t Mean a Thing, Roulette, 1961.

Ellington opens with the familiar piano vamp; Armstrong takes it as a cue for a brief chorus of Zulu’s before the familiar song begins.

I remember first reading Andre Hodeir’s  Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence (1957) in my teens, when I was in an early stage of my music learning curve. I was astonished at the lengths Hodeir went to trash early jazz, which I was coming to love. One major exception to his bias was the Dickie Wells solo on Symphonic Screach (his version of the title), about which he was inexplicably rhapsodic. It was years before I was able to hear the record; when I did, I paid particular attention to the solo, expecting of course nothing short of revelation. The performance was good, if not sensational, with 17- year old Wells sounding understandably nervous. Several years later I had an opportunity to acquire some acoustic Fletcher Henderson Vocalions at prices I could afford. I was attracted to Gouge, and the way it modulated from major to minor, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was so familiar about the Charlie Green solo. When I finally made the connection, I was pleased that it existed and that it served to discredit Hodeir.

Over the years I’ve come across other instances of instrumental cadenzas played over minor vamps. They haven’t all been knock-offs of Gouge and Zulu’s, but there are enough of them to impress me with the extent to which the device served as a recurring and important element of 1920s jazz vocabulary.

Why has the phenomenon been largely overlooked? Perhaps, since the vamp/cadenza device served more as diversion than as the focus of whole compositions, it has been elusive. Certainly there are more examples waiting to be discovered. At the start of this piece I mentioned that the cadenza-with-ostinato descends from the Turkish from the Turkish chifte telli; we can also hear it in the montuno sections of Cuban sones, from which today’s salsa developed. Jazz of course has never been geographically isolated, and the heart of its appeal lies in its complex amalgam of European and African, old world and new world elements. I’ve enjoyed tracking Charlie Green’s invention and I’m gratified to discover both its roots and branches.

Many thanks to David Sager, Tom Tsotsi and Robert Bamberger, who have provided sightings of recordings I overlooked, shared many insights and confirmed some, if not all, of my conclusions.

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