February 26, 2017

A Hundred Years Ago Today


On February 26, 1917, a less-than-famous five piece band recorded what was called the first jazz record. The Original Dixieland “Jass” band was comprised of five musicians from New Orleans who formed their band in Chicago in 1916. Their recording consisted of a semi-improvised conversation between trumpet, clarinet and trombone, with rhythm provided by piano and drums.
In a now familiar occurrence regarding innovators and imitators, the Original Dixieland Jass Band, an all-white quintet, was afforded the now historic opportunity to make the first jazz record. Their music was a re-creation of the style they had heard in New Orleans, provided by black musicians such as King Oliver, Buddy Bolden and Freddie Keppard. According to jazz lore, trumpeter Keppard was offered a chance to be the first jazz musician to record but he declined, believing that his personal style would be stolen easily by way of this new medium of re-created music on wax.
Livery Stable Blues” is a pale imitation of the real thing. The New Orleans style had been around for a number of years, an offshoot of the joyous  music provided by marching bands in New Orleans. It was the first incarnation of swing, and set the stage for many jazz superstars to come, including Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Bix Beiderbecke. The Victor Talking Machine Company released this record complete with the indication of “Fox Trot,” a popular dance style at the time. The Original Dixieland Jass Band enjoyed modest success both here and abroad, but eventually faded away, like all bands, partly due to the racist and exaggerated statements by their leader and trumpeter, Nick LaRocca, who insisted that he was a key player in the invention of jazz.
Have a listen to “Livery Stable Blues” — you’ll find it quaint and hopelessly dated both in sound and style. Reflecting the title, the instrumentalists imitate barnyard sounds and barely manage to achieve a swinging rhythm. Whatever we think of it, it was a milestone. Victor Talking Machine Company, whose mind was always on profits, felt it worthy of exposure to the public. In the early part of the twentieth century music was mostly spread through live performances. A 78 RPM disc brought home to be played on the family Victrola was always an event. I can picture the adults in the room wondering what is this “jass music” I’m hearing? — and thinking this can’t possibly last. A few decades later they said the same thing about rock & roll.

February 20, 2017

Fillius YouTube Channel Opens

I am pleased to announce the launch of the Fillius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College YouTube channel which is now up and running. On it we are uploading complete video interviews we have recorded from our body of over 330 sessions with jazz luminaries here and abroad. Syncing the closed captioning transcripts with the video takes some time, so as of now there are twelve interviews uploaded. We will be adding more weekly, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the fun.

February 14, 2017

Al Jarreau, 1940-2017

The music world was surprised and saddened to learn of the passing of singer Al Jarreau on February 12. Mr. Jarreau was 76 at the time of his death, and had enjoyed a career spanning many decades, and recognition in the music world that included Grammy awards in three different categories.
While ostensibly a jazz singer, Al branched out into the pop and rhythm & blues world, and is mostly recognized for hits that spanned the late 70s and early 80s. These ear catching tunes included “We’re in this Love Together,” “Dancing in the Garden,” “Boogie Down,” and “Mornin’.” He benefited from collaboration with the best of producers and musicians, including Jay Graydon and studio ace drummer Steve Gadd.
Al had a particular talent for scat singing, and was an early purveyor of what we call “mouth percussion.” He was a fascinating singer to watch, as he used his vocal cavity (mouth, tongue, and jaw) and whole body to elicit unique vocal sounds.
Less heard on the radio but always a highlight of his live concerts were vocal versions of iconic jazz songs. When you start with material by Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond and Chick Corea, you can hardly go wrong. So if you have a few minutes, check out this other side of Al Jarreau, with his versions of “Take Five,” “Blue Rondo รก la Turk,” and “Spain.” He was the a one-of-a-kind talent who attracted many devotees.