Georgie Price

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DIGITAL ALBUM: HOUSE BOUND JAZZ. Andrew Oliver and Friends. Persian Rug, Sittin' On The Curbstone Blues, Smoke House Blues, Stomp Time Blues, Stock Yards Strut, Little Girl, Blue Lester, South Side Strut, Blind Boone's Southern Rag Medley, No. 2, Crazy Blues, Daddy Won't You Please Come Home, Shreveport, Cannon Ball Blues, Endurance Stomp, Weather Bird, London Blues, Blowin' Off Steam, The Throw Down Blues, Blue Grass Blues, Renée (Biguine), I Wish I Were Twins, Georgia Grind, Come On, Red, Oh! Sister, Ain't That Hot?, Deep Trouble, Shim Me Sha Wabble, There's No Gal Like My Gal, Blind Boone's Southern Rag Medley, No. 1, Lookin' Good but Feelin' Bad, If Your Kisses Can't Hold The Man You Love (30 tracks). Bandcamp. Unnumbered. Name your price.

House Bound Jazz

Professional musicians have been particularly hard hit by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Their world of bars, clubs, theatres, wedding venues, concert halls was one of the first to experience lockdown, and will be one of the last to emerge once restrictions start to be lifted.

With this in mind, London-based American pianist Andrew Oliver came up with an idea to pass the unexpected and unrequested surfeit of spare time on his hands, and hopefully bring in some money too. As he told me: “The original idea was to just do some overdubs of small group 20s jazz since we weren't doing anything else, and all work had suddenly dried up, so I sent out an email to a bunch of musicians I know around the world in late March and everyone was super up for the project. Some people provided arrangements and transcriptions they had done, and I transcribed and arranged some new stuff as well, so by now we've ended up with a very wide mix of material ranging from solos, duets and trios in various styles to 8-piece 20s hot dance bands to 30s swing.” Andrew’s ‘bunch of musicians’ includes some of the biggest and brightest names in the world of contemporary Classic Jazz - Andy Schumm, Jon-Erik Kellso, David Sager, Martin Wheatley, Dave Bock, Colin Hancock, Michael McQuaid, Josh Duffee, Nicholas Ball, and a host of others, all working from homes as far afield as Portland, Oregon, New York, Paris, Cologne, Austin, Texas, New Orleans, Seattle, and London.

There were several technical teething problems for Andrew to overcome, not least the variable quality of the musicians’ home recording equipment, and their skills at using it. Far worse was the challenge of getting a cohesive rhythm section together when the participants are continents apart. Suffice to say, Andrew has done a terrific job in overcoming these technical and artistic hurdles, resulting in some spectacularly fine music. 

As Andrew mentions above, several of the tracks are transcriptions of jazz classics from the 1920s and 30s, and the clues often manifest themselves in the often quirky band names. Thus the ‘Croydona Dance Orchestra’s Come On Red is a note-for-note recreation of the ‘Savoy Havana Band’s 1924 version, issued on Regal pseudonymously as by the ‘Corona Dance Orchestra’, complete with trumpeter Mike Davis’s interpretation of Vernon Ferry’s 12-bar blues solo. Saxophonist Mike McQuaid has all Al Starita’s tricks and tone off pat, and the whole band convey a lovely 1924-ish feel.  Likewise, ‘Hancock’s New Orleans Orchestra’s Sittin’ On The Curbstone Blues pays homage to Armand Piron and his ‘New Orleans Orchestra’. The immensely talented young African American multi-instrumentalist Colin Hancock not only transcribed the arrangement, but also plays cornet and tuba on this lilting version of a Creole jazz classic.

Not all the tracks are slavish recreations of classic jazz recordings - there are a number of tracks where ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘copied from’ takes precedence; for instance Don Ewell’s South Side Strut performed by Seattle-based clarinettist Jacob Zimmerman, with a Mortonesque Andrew Oliver at the ivories and Joe Dessauer at the drums. The whole performance sounds as as if it should have been made at the same time as Jelly Roll Morton’s Shreveport session! Speaking of which, the aforesaid title also turns up on the set, with German clarinettist Matthias Seuffert taking the Omer Simeon role, with Oliver and Nicholas Ball rounding up the band in an excellent, spirited rendition. One finds it hard to believe that the participants were not in the same room together, which is praise indeed, given the circumstances.

Another track where the clue of the origin is in the name is ‘McQuaid's Ambassadors’ The Throw Down Blues, a transcription by Michael McQuaid of ‘The Ambassadors’ 1924 Vocalion recording that featured a pre-Bixian Red Nichols, Miff Mole and the inimitable Jack Pettis. McQuaid himself takes the Pettis part, but somehow he doesn’t quite capture the essence of Pettis - the airy tone, and the loping ‘Northwestern’ beat that easily identifies his presence on any record. But, to be fair, is there anyone alive who could? Veteran banjoist and guitarist Martin Wheatley excels himself on this and many other tracks, with the perfect John Cali-esque shuffle rhythm of the original. 

McQuaid is back again as arranger and soloist on the utterly delicious Blowin’ Off Steam, transcribed from the ‘New Orleans Owls’ 1926 Columbia record. Cornetist Andy Schumm takes a great, driving solo based on Bill Padron’s on the record, maintaining the authenticity of the original while imbuing it with his own personality, and McQuaid’s alto sax solo is a thing of beauty, and one which Benjie White himself would surely have nodded approval to!

Oliver and Jelly's ‘Red Hot Peppers’ Cannon Ball Blues is taken at a slower tempo than Morton’s Victor, but does not suffer in comparison. New Orleans trombonist Charlie Halloran has a fantastically broad, gutsy, deep tone, and his tailgate style is pure Kid Ory. Guitarist David Kelbie plays a nice solo that Johnny St. Cyr would have been proud of, whilst Nicholas Ball’s subtle percussion gets my approval - and I’m a harsh critic in this particular department as I’ve loved the drumming of Andrew Hilaire since I was a teenager! 

Another ‘inspired by’ track that really works is Kennedy and Oliver's ‘Mellow Four’ version of Persian Rug. One has to assume that Andrew Oliver didn’t have immediate access to a church organ (given that they are all barred to congregants and musicians alike at the time of writing), so he does the next best thing and duets at the piano with fellow American pianist Scott Kennedy in a stride piano tour de force. Trumpeter Mike Davis fits very nicely into the role of the subdued but tasteful Jabbo Smith on the original, whilst the ubiquitous Michael McQuaid weaves a sinuous and swinging alto sax solo through Garvin Bushell’s rather stodgy original part - he was never my favourite reedman, I have to say…

The two Jimmie Noone Apex Club ‘recreations’ - Oh! Sister, Ain’t That Hot? and Deep Trouble are delightfully swinging performances, with Messrs. McQuaid and Zimmerman taking the Noone and Poston parts respectively, with Oliver’s Hinesy piano solo, all driven along by Nicholas Ball’s subtle Johnny Wells-inspired drumming; you can tell he’s done his homework. 

‘McQuaid's Melody Boys’ take on the ‘Original Memphis Melody Boys’ 1923 version of There's No Gal Like My Gal, arranged by the nominal leader, features some fiery trumpet from Colin Hancock and excellent two-part clarinet and tenor sax contributions from McQuaid, Ball on drums, and Hancock, not content with taking the lead, also plays tuba.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to these 30 performances; not every one comes up to the high standard of those mentioned above - some tracks, especially the Oliver-Hancock duets in the manner of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, lack the essential electric spark ignited when two hugely talented musicians at the top of their game were in the same room, indulging in musical prizefighting, but how could that be when their modern counterparts are 5000 miles apart? One can hope that there may be an opportunity for a rematch of this particular prize fight when Andrew and Colin are in the same room - I for one will look forward to the result!

There is an awful lot of good music to be heard here and, if you are feeling stingy, it can be free to download but, remember these guys have done this for nothing, at a time when their income from performing is zero, so do the decent thing and click on ‘Buy The Digital Track’ or, better still, ‘Buy The Full Album’ buttons. You can pay as much or as little as you want, and Andrew Oliver told me that all the money will be shared equally among the musicians, so let’s see VJM readers show their support - you won’t be disappointed!


CD: THE BLUE BOOK OF STORYVILLE. Don Vappie & Jazz Créole. Eh La Bas, The Blue Book of Storyville, Buddy Bolden’s Blues, La Ville Jacmel, Port Bayou St John, Mo pas lemme ca, Couleur de Créole, Basin Street Blues, I Would If I Could, Abandon, C’est l’autre Cancan, Red Wing, Misu Banjo, Tin Roof Blues (Créole Blues), Panama Rag, Les Oignons, Fais Dodo (17 Tracks). Lejazzetal LJCD22. £12. Also available as an mp3 download for £6.99.

I first encountered Don Vappie at the 2016 French Quarter Jazz Festival in New Orleans, in the plush surroundings of the Hotel Royal. He was playing modern jazz guitar duets with Steve Masakowski, and very fine they were too. Then, out of nowhere, he produced a banjo and gave us something quite other: a series of Cajun solos, music that was very new to me. Three years later, I caught up with him again: he was on stage in Jackson Square with his regular band, the ‘Créole Serenaders’, and explaining between numbers his determination to rehabilitate the banjo, bring it out of the obscurity of the rhythm section and let it shine as a front-line solo voice. And that is precisely what he does on this CD, recorded in London with David Horniblow on clarinet, Dave Kelbie, guitar and Sébastien Girardot on bass.

  Vappie is a Créole, his family has been in New Orleans since before the Louisiana Purchase and his dedication to jazz from that city is not only in playing it: he teaches guitar at Loyola University and has worked on many other educational programmes, from the Lincoln Center in New York via Carnegie Hall to the Smithsonian Appalachian State University. He has performed with Peggy Lee, Eric Clapton, Diana Krall and many more; he has played French West African and Caribbean music, funk, soul and modern jazz…but has for some time now focused on his New Orleans roots: the banjo, then, is in expert hands.

  The music on this CD is as varied as you’d expect from a New Orleans master: traditional Creole melodies, tunes by local composers (Morton, Ory, the ‘New Orleans Rhythm Kings'), and many compositions of his own. You may imagine from a quick scan of some titles (Eh la Bas, Mo Pas Laimé Ça, Les Oignons) that the music will be routine, hackneyed even. Not so, never so: Don Vappie is a true original and every tune is infused with a fire and inspiration that makes it a virtuoso performance. And his own compositions are a tribute to the Crescent City’s tricentenary: playing banjo, he says, ‘in a more melodic role, as I perceived it was in some of the Caribbean and African styles.’

  The CD kicks off with what, in other musicians’ hands, might be just another version of a very old friend, Eh la bas, but Vappie’s coruscating habañera banjo rhythms and cross-rhythms with Girardot’s bass make this as exciting and original a performance as you could wish – with a finely crafted banjo solo to add just that little extra something, and played at less than the headlong pace of many other recordings. The title track The Blue Book of Storyville is one of Don Vappie’s originals, played with a stately swing and featuring one of his lovely vocals and some soaring – and searing - clarinet from David Horniblow.

  The Blue Book, of course, was the notorious directory of Storyville ‘sporting houses’, and I can easily imagine Vappie’s music being played alongside the older songs in Mahogany Hall! Older songs like Buddy Bolden’s Blues, which opens with a lengthy banjo cadenza, before swinging into a beautifully relaxed performance, with some excellent clarinet ‘fills’ in the vocal choruses and ending with a virtuoso banjo coda. La Ville Jacmel is another Creole song, from Haiti, whilst the better-known Mo Pas Laimé Ça is New Orleans born bred. Both are played with the jaunty habañera rhythm so beloved of Jelly-Roll Morton; then the second song breaks into a straight 4/4 beat for a fine clarinet finale. Port Bayou St John is a Vappie original, named from the town on St Lucia and is in a quite different mode, based on a rock idea, according to Vappie himself and played with the Cuban-style ‘tresillo’ rhythm; whilst Couleur de Créole, also composed by Vappie, features a long, flowing clarinet line, which he says is based on an early New Orleans form that appears in, for example the main chorus of Alphonse Picou’s High Society. Playing in a small group like this allows Vappie to make the banjo a genuine melody instrument: he plays with a fluency and precision that is quite stunning…and nowhere better than on Basin Street Blues: the melody lead has some lovely variations and the vocal very effectively plays rubato with the chordal base at several points.

  I Would If I Could is the last of Don Vappie’s own compositions; it’s an upbeat, happy-go-lucky tune, played in 4/4 time with a great swing and contrasts very effectively with the next track, Abandon, a haunting melody in waltz-time, from Martinique. The banjo is a masterpiece of clean picking and clever trills, and there’s great fluid clarinet from Horniblow. C’est l’autre Cancan refers not to a dance (Creole or otherwise) but to a gossipy woman, though Jelly-Roll Morton suggests the word is much more vulgar than that. The tune is credited to Kid Ory, though is obviously much older than his 1944 recording of it. Red Wing and Misu Banjo are both traditional tunes: the former has a long pedigree of performance by folk and jazz musicians alike, but few of the latter have made it swing like this group. Tin Roof Blues and the traditional Créole Blues are played as a medley, introduced once again with a lovely unaccompanied banjo solo; Horniblow’s clarinet is both passionate and reflective by turns on the first title, while Vappie sings a fine Creole-French vocal on the second, wrapped by the riff chorus from Tin Roof as a ride-out. Panama is the old standard, but played here with an habañera rhythm in the opening and third strains, as it was apparently intended when written in 1912. It’s taken at a much more relaxed tempo than many versions, which allows David Horniblow to give full emphasis to melody in the final strain. The CD closes with two more traditional Creole numbers, Les Oignons and Fais Do Do: Don Vappie sings both in Créole patois and turns in a lengthy and punching solo on the former; the second title is a lullaby played in 3/4 time and is a delightful solo vocal and banjo performance.

  Seeing Don Vappie on stage is an experience in so many ways, not least his ability to convey passion, humour and that special musicianly spark that makes his performances so exciting. This CD is beautifully recorded and although I haven’t said much about them till now, I must mention the fine guitar backing provided by Dave Kelbie and bass lines from Australian Sébastien Girardot. These four musicians form a tightly-knit ensemble, which is perfect for Don Vappie’s material and makes it as good as anything I’ve heard from him ‘live’. This is a terrific CD.