THE BANJO AND GUITAR IN NEW
ORLEANS TRADITIONAL JAZZSCOTT MYERS GRADUATE COMPREHENSIVE for PROFESSOR BRIAN SEEGER UNIVERSITY of NEW ORLEANS FALL SEMESTER 2014
Introduction Most people, when asked to picture a New Orleans jazz band, first think about the brass section: trumpets, trombones, tubas and saxophones. Banjo and guitar are probably way down their list, if at all. Most of the famous New Orleans musicians that people are aware of play a horn of some sort Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and Nicholas Payton, to name a few. While they may not garner as much attention as the flashier horns, the banjo and guitar have a long and rich tradition in New Orleans traditional jazz. Their role providing a steady quarter note rhythmic accompaniment pulse reaches back to a time before the drum set was as commonly used and as developed as it is today. As they were in many parts of the U.S. and the world, string bands were common in the 19th and early 20th century, with violins, mandolins, string bass and gut string guitars commonly featured. Eventually, the 4string tenor banjo, tuned in 5ths, came to prominence as the most common stringed accompaniment instrument in New Orleans jazz, although most banjoists started on and doubled on other instruments. Somewhat less commonplace is the 6 string hybrid guitarbanjo, tuned the same as a guitar, and nicknamed the “guitjo”. Notable early musicians such as Johnny St. Cyr, Edmond “Doc” Souchon and Danny Barker performed and recorded with the guitjo, and modern players in New Orleans including Detroit Brooks, Seva Venet and occasionally Don Vappie play the instrument. This paper will briefly outline the development of New Orleans traditional jazz and the history of the banjo and the guitar in the United States, then go on to cover a select few of the
many well regarded banjo/guitar players in the New Orleans traditional jazz format, both past and present. New Orleans Traditional Jazz What is now called New Orleans traditional jazz is a descendent of a many musical traditions and influences: European dancing music, ragtime, marching band music, French Creole influence, Caribbean, Latin and African influence, amongst many. Despite the varied influences, of traditional jazz, for many years, the Creole (downtown, east of Canal St), black (uptown, west of Canal St) and white musicians of New Orleans lived and operated in distinct circles; occasionally seeing and hearing each other play, but unfortunately separated by race and generally not sharing the same bandstand. New Orleans born drummer Baby Dodd’s put it this way in his book “The Baby Dodd’s Story”, excerpted here in an article published by the National Park Service: “[Big Eye Louis Nelson] lived downtown, and I lived uptown. He was on the north side of town, and I was living on the south side. In other words, he was a Creole and lived in the French part of town. Canal Street was the dividing line and the people from the different sections didn't mix. The musicians mixed only if you were good enough. But at one time the Creole fellows thought uptown musicians weren't good enough to play with them, because most of the uptown musicians didn't read music. Everybody in the French part of town read music.”1 While the line was not hard and fast, and some musicians were able to participate in both circles, by and large, the ethnic groups kept to themselves for many years. The Creole musicians were known generally as well trained, reading
musicians who played in string bands and orchestras, entertaining for social events as well as the endless dances and balls held in New Orleans in the period. They performed parlor music, waltzes, quadrilles, and eventually ragtime in essence, anything that was in vogue with the dancers of the time. For almost two hundred years, the New Orleans Creoles of Color maintained themselves as a separate and free people; ironically it was not until the end of the Civil War that they were subjected to the same legally enforced oppression as the black descendents of slaves, via a series of legislation that reclassified them as Negro and severely restricted their freedom, in essence forcing them to join their AfricanAmerican musician brothers in circumstance, and eventually the bandstand.2 The uptown (West of Canal St) black musicians did not have as strong of a culture of reading music, played predominantly brass and drum instruments rather than string instruments, and performed in a wide variety of scenarios marching brass bands, picnics, parades, at public functions, parties, street corners for advertisement, on the backs of wagons and in countless other settings. The musicians memorized their arrangements, with the nonreading members of the band learning them from those who could read. It was after the music was memorized and performed countless times that the musicians began to elaborate and improvise on the tunes. Johnny St Cyr, a pivotal banjo/guitar player who made important recordings with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Seven groups, described the process of learning tunes that was common in the teens of the 20th century: “I never remember learning a number by ear from hearing another band playing the number. If we heard a new piece we liked, we would go to Werlein’s and buy the arrangement and learn it. Then we would change
it around to suit our style of playing… We would learn about ten or twelve new numbers a year. A band would have a repertoire of about thirty or forty numbers. Most of the men could read and if they couldn’t read, at least they could spell. Every band had some good readers in it. The hot playing, improvising, came after we learned the number, usually a ‘head’ arrangement. One man could go from one band to another and fit right in, no trouble. We used to play the verse as well as the chorus on popular songs and most of the numbers had different strains to them, usually three — High Society is a good example of this…” 3 As ragtime and hotter rhythms became popular with dancers, early New Orleans jazz bands began to experiment with new instrumentations, mixing the brass and string instruments that had previously existed in separate worlds. As brass instruments entered the previously stringoriented bands, guitarists found the gut string guitars they were playing incapable of cutting through the mix, and they began to turn to the much louder banjo. The tenor banjo, with its tuning in 5ths creating wider voicings that cut through the mix well, became the instrument of choice, with the 6 string guitjo also seeing some use. By the late teens of the 20th century, into the 1920’s, banjo dominated as the string instrument of choice in the jazz and ragtime bands. As the swing era of jazz developed in the late 1920’s, ragtime, traditional jazz and the banjo saw a decline in popularity, and the more sonorous archtop guitars replaced the banjo in most bands. The 1930’s and 1940’s were lean years for New Orleans traditional jazz musicians, until a revival of interest sparked by jazz historians created a new era of recordings and worldwide interest. An excerpt from a Tulane University document posted on the section of their website entitled “Music Rising the Musical
Cultures of the Gulf South” website sums up the revival concisely: “Perhaps the most surprising development of all, however, was the "New Orleans Revival" that attended the publication of the early history Jazzmen (1939) by Frederic Ramsey and Charles Edward Smith. This book sparked a highly publicized resurrection of the careers of cornetist Bunk Johnson and trombonist Kid Ory in the 1940s, conceived as an antidote to the rise of bebop and modern jazz in the World War II period. The revival brought previously unknown musicians (particularly the clarinetist George Lewis) to public attention and led directly to the establishment of Preservation Hall in 1961, based on the belief that traditional New Orleans jazz was noncommercial, communitybased music that should be protected from the machinations of the music industry. “4 New Orleans Traditional Jazz or Dixieland? Among the musicians interviewed, the viewpoint on the terms Dixieland vs Traditional Jazz was not uniform, but it is fair to say that there is among some musicians, a sense of impropriety in the term Dixieland, given that the first band to popularize the term was a white band (Original Dixieland Jazz Band), performing music that by and large created by African Americans. It might be said that there exists a philosophical difference of interpretation between groups that identify themselves as Dixieland vs traditional jazz, in that groups that focus on the term Dixieland tend to play faster and more stridently, while those whose roots are more firmly in the ground of the city of New Orleans tend to play in a more languid, joyful manner.
Guitar and Banjo in the United States. The Banjo The banjo as it exists today is an amalgamation of various African stringed instruments, which were slowly changed and improved upon technically as the popularity of the instrument grew and new technologies such as wire frets, steel strings and mass production appeared. Initially, African slaves, drawing on their memories of instruments from their homelands, created stringed instruments featuring a gourd body, a stretched membrane head of animal skin, and a fretless neck with several gut or twine strings. Their playing of these instruments intrigued whites, who copied their unique African method of picking with the back of the nail and the thumb, a technique that is still evident in the “clawhammer” or “frailing” finger picking techniques commonly used with the 5string banjo. Joel Walker Sweeney, an early white banjo player and entertainer, is often cited as a pivotal figure in exposing the banjo to a larger audience. After learning to play the banjo from black slaves on his family farm, he toured the U.S., England, Scotland and Ireland. England, Scotland and Ireland still maintain a banjo tradition in their music, likely harking back to his initial visits.5 Banjo became a featured instrument in minstrel shows (typically white performers in blackface), circuses, and other traveling shows which, along with the California Gold Rush and the Civil War, contributed to the spread the instrument throughout the country. As the instrument became more popular, technological improvements were made, including wire frets, a wooden body and resonator, and steel strings. A plethora of hybrid stringed
instruments were made, among them the still common 5string, plectrum and tenor banjos, the banjomandolin (banjolin or banjourine), banjoguitar (guitjo), even a bass banjo. made, along with others. As the banjo grew in popularity, it grew in respectability, losing some of its associations with its African roots, which were unfortunately viewed as vulgar. Banjo competitions, method books and inclusion in classical and parlor music came with the newfound popularity, but with the advent of the jazz age, the banjo was quickly considered yesterday’s news, although strong traditions in folk music like New Orleans traditional jazz and bluegrass remain. The Guitar Perhaps more than any other single instrument, the guitar has come to identify American music. Brought to the New World by Spanish settlers, the guitar proved to be a popular, portable instrument. Prior to the invention of steel strings around the turn of the 20th century, guitars were commonly strung with gut strings, which were often prohibitively expensive for anyone not occupying the upper crust of society, and also did not produce much volume. Curiously enough, it was the great westward expansion of the United States which created the opportunity for the development of metal strings, as settlers needed cheap and strong material to fence in large tracts of land. The manufacturing advances that were made in the quest for fencing wire led to steel guitar strings, in turn giving impetuous to the development of the steel string acoustic guitar,
the steel stringed banjo and eventually the electric guitar.6 Unfortunately, most guitars of the era were not well suited to the higher tension of steel strings, and broken necks, unglued bridges and other problems plagued guitarists until luthiers developed innovative bracing techniques adapted to the higher tension strings. In the 1936, the first electrified archtop guitars appeared, followed shortly by the solid body electric guitar pioneered by Les Paul, cementing the role of the guitar forever in American music culture. Important Banjo/Guitar Players in New Orleans Traditional Jazz Johnny St. Cyr 18901966 Johnny St. Cyr is typically mentioned first and foremost by guitar and banjo players in the New Orleans traditional style, due to his seminal recordings with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Seven groups. Born in New Orleans in 1890, he started playing guitar on a home made cigarbox guitar, before convincing his mother to let him play her guitar. St. Cyr was trained as a plasterer, in fact having learned the craft via an apprenticeship with the father of another well known New Orleans guitar/banjo player, “Creole” George Guesnon. St. Cyr played with most of the important early New Orleans bands and musicians including A.J. Piron, Freddie Keppard, Jelly Roll Morton, The National, Tuxedo, and Magnolia Orchestras, as well as the Chicagobased bands of King Oliver, Kid Ory and Louis Armstrong, amongst others. As did many other New
Orleans musicians of the period, he spent some time playing on riverboats, beginning in 1918 on the Steamer Sydney. There he played with an excellent band, as he
described in a series of interviews entitled “Jazz as I Remember It”: “We had William ‘Bebe’ Ridgley on trombone; Joe Howard, cornet; Johnny Dodds, clarinet; Dave Jones, mellophone; Geo. ‘Pops’ Foster, bass; Warren ‘Baby’ Dodds, drums; myself on guitar and banjo; and Fate (Marable) on piano. Well, we needed another cornet to fill out the band. We all had our eye on Louis Armstrong as the coming man on this instrument in New Orleans. So we were all bucking to get him in the band. At this time Louis was working for Kid Ory”.3 St. Cyr shortly got his his wish, and Armstrong joined the riverboat band later in 1918. In 1923, St. Cyr followed King Oliver to Chicago, where he would go on to record the seminal Hot Five and Hot Seven cuts with Armstrong. From 19301955, he resided in New Orleans, playing locally and working as a plasterer, then moved to Los Angeles, where he led a band at Disneyland for many years. Much of his well known work with Louis Armstrong was recorded on a 6 string guitjo and became an important reference point for later musicians who also preferred the guitjo, although he also played 4 string tenor and guitar. Listening: Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five and Seven Recordings, Vol 1 and 2. (1) “Gut Bucket Blues” (1925). As with the rest of the Louis Armstrong Hot Five recordings, “Gut Bucket Blues” features a drummerless, bassless lineup, meaning the pulse of the music is created via the banjo and the piano’s lower register. The song opens up with a bluesy banjo intro that utilizes the lower range of the guitjo, working
well in the spare instrumentation. St. Cyr sits out for the piano solo, then returns for the trombone solo. Under the trombone, clarinet and trumpet solos, he plays primarily quarter notes, with some rhythmic variation, albeit less than Danny Barker, Don Vappie and others will display years later. As the polyphonic New Orleans style melody section comes back in, it sounds like he returns to straight quarter notes, although the sound quality makes it somewhat difficult to pick out. In an interesting preview of the soloistcentric jazz future, each instrument in the band is afforded a solo on this tune, although the intro section that St. Cyr played was probably not improvised. (2) “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque” showcases a couple of the banjo breaks that were a common feature of this group, at 0:51 and 2:36. St. Cyr is very precise with the length of his strummed chords during comping, definitely not taking a strictly staccato approach. The guitjo’s additional sustain is put to use with his approach. (3) “King of the Zulus” is one of the tracks on which his guitjo can be clearly heard, the extended lower range of the instrument lending a darker sound to the mix. He also takes a single note/chord melody solo at 1:10, as well as a break leading up to the end of the tune. The Hot Five and Seven recordings feature him primarily as a solid, swinging accompanist, but he was capable of playing in many other styles, including solo fingerpicked guitar. In 1949, folklorist Alan Lomax interviewed him, and was treated to this solo rendition of “Jelly Roll Blues” (online only).
Like many New Orleans banjoists, Sayles started on an instruments other than banjo; in his case, the violin and viola. In New Orleans, he performed with the Tuxedo Orchestra, as well Fate Marable and others on Mississippi River riverboats, before moving to Chicago in 1933. He returned to New Orleans in 1949, and went on to perform locally with George Lewis, Sweet Emma Barrett, and The Preservation Hall Band, among others. An excellent soloist, both in single note and chordal fashion, he recorded a unique banjocentric album in 1964, entitled Dixieland Hall Presents Emanuel Sayles and Banjos on Bourbon, featuring fellow banjo player Narvin Kimball and acoustic bassist Jerome Jerry Green. Listening: Louis Nelson’s Big Four, Vol 1 1964 Sayles solos on most of the tunes, a definite departure from the early days of banjo tradition in New Orleans jazz. The small ensemble of Louis Nelson (trombone), George Lewis (Clarinet), Joe Robichaux (Piano) and Sayles (Banjo), along with modern recording technology makes it an insightful and pleasant listening experience. He has a particularly precise and repetitive comping style that is distinctive, very rarely breaking out of quarter note strumming. On (4) “Dippermouth Blues” he plays a blues influenced single note solo at 3:05, while on (5) “Ballin the Jack # 1”, he takes a primarily chordal solo. George Lewis in Japan, Vol 2 1963. As he does on the Louis Nelson disk (also recorded in Japan), Sayles displays a very precise and measured approach to comping, virtually never breaking from a steady quarter note pulse, except for some turnarounds
and ends of phrases. That is certainly not for lack of chops, as he turns out a great tremolo chordal solo on (6) “The World is Waiting for The Sunrise”, from 0:401:39.
Dixieland Hall Presents Emanuel Sayles, Narvin Kimball and Jerry Green, Banjos on Bourbon. 1964. On this very interesting trio recording, Sayles is featured front and center, showcasing single note soloing, chord soloing and singing. On (7) “Sweet Georgia Brown”, he starts off with a machine gun like rhythmic intro, before providing the melody in a tremolo chordal solo, then singing the tune. At 1:52, he starts an extended solo, which is fascinating and impressive in the incredible musical communication between the two banjos, which phrase almost as one. Narvin Kimball March 2, 1909 March 17, 2006. Showcasing a more more active and varied strumming style, the left handed Narvin Kimball was the son of New Orleans bassist Henry Kimball, and played with Papa Celestin’s Tuxedo Jazz Band, where he met his future wife, fellow band member Jeannette Salvant; he also worked alongside his father on riverboats. For many years, he was a mailman, and refrained from extended touring until his retirement in 1973. A longtime member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, he is featured on the four records that the band recorded and released between 19771987, entitled simply Vol 1, 2, 3, 4. He handed down a beautiful tenor banjo to fellow New Orleans musician Carl LeBlanc, who would play at Preservation Hall as well. Sadly, he died while in exile from Hurricane Katrina. Listening:
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Vol 1, 1977. (8) “Bill Bailey”. While Kimball isn’t featured as a soloist on this track, it is a good example of his active and engaging comping style. Rather than playing just a quarter note pulse on one chord voicing, as other banjo players such as Sayles typically do when comping, he adds rhythmic interest and shifts chord voicings often, creating a lot more of a polyphonic and improvised feel to the music. He walks voices up and down the neck to give a contour to the comping, much like a great walking bassist uses his whole instrument range to create a contoured line. At 3:33 on the next tune, (9) “Joe Avery”, he plays a simple, swinging chordal solo. At 5:53 on (10) “Panama”, he plays a fantastic chordal solo that utilizes the entire range of the instrument and has some great rhythmic tricks in it. With Papa Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Orchestra in 1928, on the title The Sweetheart of T.K.O. (online only), which sounds surprisingly good for the year in which it was recorded, his banjo can be well heard, and his precise rhythmic feel and talent for interesting rhythmic subdivisions is already very evident. The softer, more suave feel of the orchestra is very interesting as an example of an older style of playing. Danny Barker 19091994 Alongside Johnny St. Cyr, Danny Barker is one of the most often mentioned banjo/guitar influences in New Orleans music. Born in New Orleans, he grew up in a musical family that includes his uncle Paul Barbarin, composer of the famous New Orleans standard “Bourbon Street Parade”. In 1930, following in many New Orleans musicians’ footsteps, he moved north to New York in search of further professional
opportunities. In New York City, he would record and perform with a wide variety of jazz musicians, including Albert Nichols, Benny Carter, Cab Calloway, Billie Holliday, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. Barker returned to New Orleans in 1965, and in 1970, created one of the most important musical institutions in the history of New Orleans jazz, the Fairview Baptist Church Christian Band. Concerned by a lack of interest in jazz amongst the young generation in New Orleans, he partnered with Reverend Andrew Darby, of the 7th ward Fairview Baptist Church, and began teaching New Orleans music and traditions to the young boys of the neighborhood. Many of those that he taught went on to have successful musical careers, pumping essential new inspiration and energy into a fading New Orleans jazz tradition. Musicians that spent time in the Fairview Baptist Band or under his mentorship include: Leroy Jones, Lucien Barbarin, Herlin Riley, Greg Stafford, Dr. Michael White, Kirk Joseph (one the founders of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band), Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and Nicholas Payton. Interestingly enough, while his banjo and guitar playing certainly influenced many New Orleans guitar and banjo players, Harry Sterling, who now plays with Big Al Carson, appears to have been one of his only students. Barker typically played guitjo or guitar, and was a master of both single note and chord soloing. He played with a brutally precise, engaging and rhythmic right hand approach, and had a melodic singing voice to boot. He was also well known for his interest in Creole music heritage and Mardi Gras Indian traditions. Inasmuch as he was a musician, he was a teacher and a mentor. As Don Vappie put it in an email interview: “Danny Barker was a mentor for all young musicians in New Orleans. If you were interested you could always learn
something from him. It was more than a music education. It was a life education.”7
He was highly interested in music history, and spent some time as assistant curator of the now defunct New Orleans Jazz Museum, which was cofounded by fellow New Orleans banjo/guitarist and historian Doc Souchon. Barker wrote two books: A Life in Jazz and Bourbon Street Black. Listening: The Fabulous Banjo of Danny Barker, 1958. From the first track on the album, (11) “Bye Bye Blackbird”, his very unique jazzinformed approach to the banjo is evident in his playing of the melody on single strings, with a combination of single note picking and tremolo. He then goes on to lay out during the piano solo, a very jazzoriented move. In his comping under the clarinet solo, while he provides a steady pulse, he uses more variety in rhythm rather than strictly quarter notes. He then goes on to outline the melody alongside the piano in chords, with a lot of rhythmic variation and truly impressive right hand control. His strumming is fiercely aggressive, but totally controlled and never anxious or not swinging. On (12) “Sweet Sue”, a relaxed number, he again demonstrates his mastery of a variety of techniques, starting with single notes, adding tremolo picking, then harmonics, and some quarter note strumming. His guitjo is perfect in this setting, allowing for larger chords (0:12), and a less strident sound.
Paul Barbarin’s Jazz Band of New Orleans, The Oxford Series Vol. 15 Afternoon Concert. 1956 (13) “Bourbon Street Parade” is a good example of his interesting comping. He plays a simple quarter note pulse during the melody, then displays an amazing sensitivity in his comping, gradually unleashing an higher amount of rhythmic
variation during the clarinet solo. When the vocals enter, he reverts to a quarter note pulse, then gradually adds more variation. When the piano takes a solo, he again reverts to a quarter note pulse, and gradually brings in more variation as the other instruments come in to take the tune out. As the other instruments play more and more, his comping becomes more simple. This one tune is a lesson in itself!. On (14) “The Second Line”, he again demonstrates his unique, very active, percussive comping style, helping the band create a hard driving swing. At 3:20, he delivers an incredible, powerful chord solo showcasing his precise control of strumming and creative rhythmic approach. Another solo on (15) “Royal Garden Blues” at 3:33, again showcases his aggressively percussive chord soloing. He launches into an extended tremolo
accompaniment at 4:11, finally breaking out of it into an unusual cross rhythm at 4:30. Jazz A La Creole The Baby Dodds Trio 1946 and 1951 (unclear which tracks are from which dates). This recording showcases the beautiful Creole influence that Danny Barker was proud of, as well as Mardi Gras Indian songs, which was unusual for a recording artist. (16) “Salee Dame” features a Caribbean/Latin syncopated groove not unlike New Orleans SecondLine. His playing is much more restrained and serves as accompaniment only, while his vocals and the clarinet take center stage. The recordings of the Mardi Gras Indian songs feature his vocals rather than guitar/banjo, but it the fact that he recorded them is significant, and the rhythmic variety that they show is interesting one is in a swing feel, one a bamboula feel, one a 4 beat traditional jazz feel, and one a second line feel with a very heavy beat 4. These recordings feature his unique role as a virtual musical library, and his highly varied musical taste.
More Banjo/Guitarists in the New Orleans Traditional Jazz World ● Edward “Doc” Souchon” October 25, 1897 – August 24, 1968. Guitar player, played 6string banjo as well, was also a doctor. He helped found the New Orleans Jazz Museum (no longer open), and coauthored New Orleans Jazz a Family Album. His Six and 7/8’s String Band revived the tradition of string bands that he had heard as a young boy, and their recordings serve as an important historic document, created by musicians who actually grew up with and heard the original string bands. Current New Orleans banjo/guitarist Seva Venet leads a string band that is influenced and informed by their recordings. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__etCk5Y4os
Six and 7/8’s String Band https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeFEAtFudCI 1956 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zj81jWnVAVQ 1956 ● Les Muscutt 19412013 Originally from England, he became a fixture in New Orleans in the 70’s, and recorded a Grammy award winning album with Doc Cheatham and Nick Payton. ● Steve Blailock 19442013. A native of Mississipi, he became a fixture on the New Orleans music scene. Recorded and performed with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Lars Edegren, Dukes of Dixieland, Greg Stafford, Dr Michael White and others. ● Papa French 19101977. Took over leadership of the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band from Papa Celestin in 1958, stewarded it until passing it on to his son Bob French, who in turn turned it over to Gerald French. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GPfyVvelQ4 1964 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkJErPFVNRY 1964 ● George “Creole George” Guesnon 19071968 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbLkdtDNPeg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_kCYIBAbJ
Today’s Flag BearersCarl LeBlanc A native of New Orlean’s Seventh Ward, he grew up hearing the sounds of brass bands around his neighborhood, but a large portion of his early musical heroes were in the world of rock, and R&B, and the sounds he heard while watching R&B bands over the wall of the Autocrat Social Aid and Pleasure Club near his childhood home. He studied first at Columbia University, then at Southern University of New Orleans, where he graduated with a degree in music education. He studied with master saxophonist Kidd Jordan, and spent some 8 years with Sun Ra. Some of the artists he has performed with include the Sun Ra Arkestra, Fats Domino, Allen Touissant, Bo Diddley, Ellis Marsalis, James Rivers, The Dirty Dozen, Blind Boys of Alabama, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Irvin Mayfield & The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Listening: New Birth Brass Band On My Way, 2009. This recording features a lineup that is sort of a cross between a typical traditional jazz instrumentation and a brass band tuba, saxophone, clarinet, bass drum, snare drum, and Carl on guitar/banjo. On the first track (17)“Hot Sausage Rag,” his adventurous playing style is readily recognizable, rarely settling for a simple quarter note pulse, and adding in contrapuntal lines
throughout. The third track, (18) “Happy Dreams” contains comping in the same vein, along with a hybrid singlenote/chordal solo right before the head out.
Carl LeBlanc New Orleans’ Seventh Ward Griot 2008. While not in any sense a traditional jazz album, the incredible variety of styles on this disk serves to inform the listener as to the wideranging musical interests of LeBlanc. He ranges from the African sounding acoustic guitar of “Indian Love Song,” to the classic R&B feel of “Lonely Teardrops,” the spoken word of “Stop the Violence”, to “You Can Depend On Me” (Narvin Kimball’s signature song, played on Kimball’s banjo). Don Vappie Don Vappie in his own words: “I grew up in New Orleans. I've always wanted to be a musician. I played trumpet all through school. I had piano lessons from one of my cousins before that. As I entered high school I fell in love with the bass. I continued on brass in high school. Play(sic) baritone horn but I also played electric bass in the jazz band. During this time in the New Orleans there were garage bands all over town. The big thing for us was to compete in the local talent shows that were held at the different high schools. At one point we couldn't find a guitar player and that's when I got a guitar… In response to a question about who some of his predecessors on the banjo were: Music was all around in New Orleans. If you live here or were born here it was just part of life… Banjo players before me or people like Danny Barker, George Guenos, Emmanuel Sales, Papa French, Sidney Cates and others. I learned banjo on my own. The same with guitar. But I had a foundation in music. However lessons would've been nice. I'm sure it would've saved me some time.” I grew up playing funk music. The name of the most
remembered band was Trac One. I played bass and guitar in that band. However I got bored with disco music and quit. I actually sold all my instruments except for my bass violin. After about three months I realized I needed to play. I tried to buy them back, to my dismay I couldn't.” “I began working at Werlein's music store and I would wake up every morning and play along with a Kenny Burrell record.” “An older musician named (indistinguishable) Adams would come into the store and encouraged me to continue playing. So I began playing with trios and quartets doing jazz standards and New Orleans music. The banjo came to me during that time. While taking care of some of them at the music store I noticed that they had a certain funky sound to them that reminded me of muted guitar lines in the funk music.” “I checked out a lot of early New Orleans music by Jelly Roll Morton King Oliver and others. I think what influenced me the most in terms of my role in the band as a guitarist or banjoist was listening to Django Rienhardt and the hot club of France band. “7 Today, Vappie is known as a virtuoso on the banjo, as well as a highly accomplished bass player, guitar player, arranger and bandleader. He leads his band the Creole Jazz Serenaders; a short list of the highlights of his career credits include the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and Bob French’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Band..
Bob French’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, 3 Generations, 2003. While his role on the disk is very much as an accompanist, on the mid to uptempo numbers on the disk, such as (19) “Jada” and (20) “St. Louis Blues” he varies his comping rhythms more than some previous players. He includes more syncopation and tremolo in an active style that may owes more to Danny Barker and Narvin Kimball’s influence than some of the other predecessors. On the other hand, on slower numbers such as (21) “Creole Love Call”, he sticks almost religiously to even quarter notes, creating a strong rhythmic bed for the tune.
Don Vappie Banjo A La Creole, 2005. (22) The World is Waiting For the Sunrise. This fantastic banjocentric arrangement opens up with a solo banjo
introduction. The main tempo is set up, and after the theme, a single note solo grows until it breaks into intense chordal playing; in turn giving way to a stop time section with technical banjo pyrotechnics. Finally, almost at the very end of the tune, the rest of the band comes in with bounding energy.
Wynton Marsalis, Standard Time, vol 6: My Jelly Lord, 1999. Since this record focuses on Jelly Roll Morton’s music, it focuses on a more ragtime feel. It is very interesting to hear a modern recording of it done by a top notch band of musicians.
Detroit Brooks A product of a musical family, Detroit grew up playing music in a gospel setting with his family, including his father George Brooks Sr. Besides Detroit, his brother Mark Brooks is a professional bass player, and his sister, the late Juanita Brooks was a highly respected singer and actress. Detroit prefers the warmer sound of the 6 string guitjo, feeling that it blends better with the horns. A great point that he raised in a personal interview is that the tenor banjo came to prominence at a time when there was no sound reinforcement or microphones. The tenor has a strident, cutting sound that helps it to be heard through the horns, but with microphones available at most of today’s concert settings, the guitjo has more than enough volume and a more pleasant sound. Detroit has recorded in a traditional jazz format with Dr. Michael White, and played with a wide range of jazz and R&B artists, including Donald Harrison, Charmaine Neville, Ike Stubblefield, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Johnny adams. Seva Venet Originally from Los Angeles, Seva is now well known in New Orleans as a traditional jazz and American roots music musician and a scholar. Shortly after moving to New Orleans in 1999, he began an almost daily schedule of busking with well known New Orleans musician Tuba Fats (who came out of Danny Barker’s Fairview Baptist Band), often playing at the now defunct Donna’s Bar and Grill in the evenings. One year during a Mardi Gras gig on Harry Connick Jr’s Orpheum float, he had a chance to play alongside Shannon Powell. After the gig, Powell told him that he sounded just like
Danny Barker, the legendary New Orleans guitarist. Powell went on to tell him that he should go buy a guitjo (Venet was playing guitar at the time), and come by his house to practice, starting a musical relationship that would open many doors for him. His passion for folk music traditions is highly evident, and Venet has published articles on the New Orleans string band tradition as well as an interesting Hawaiian/New Orleans music connection. Venet leads his own band in the New Orleans string band tradition, the Storyville String Band, as well as AllStar bands at the Preservation Hall. He has recently released his second CD with the Storyville String Band, entitled “The Storyville String Band of New Orleans”. Some of the musicians he’s worked with in the New Orleans traditional jazz genre are: Lionel Ferbos, Treme Brass Band, Dr. Michael White, Tuba Fats, Greg Stafford, Lars Edegran, and Shannon Powell. Beyond Traditional Jazz: There are many great guitarists who have spent some time in the New Orleans jazz scene, and played who play in a style informed by traditional jazz. These are just a few. ● Hank Mackie, native of New Orleans who recorded several CD’s in the traditional jazz style with clarinetist Tim Laughlin, and a prolific teacher. ● Steve Masakowski, native of New Orleans, head of the Jazz Studies at the University of New Orleans, member of seminal New Orleans Modern Jazz Band
Astral Project, influenced practically any guitar player who has spent any time in New Orleans. ● John Rodli, member of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers, The Palmetto Bug Stompers, and the Hot Club of New Orleans, known for his strong rhythm playing and singing voice. ● Matt Bell, who plays in a wide variety of mostly acousticoriented guitar styles, including western swing, gypsy jazz and swing. ● John Rankin, master of many varieties of guitar and acoustic instruments, professor at Loyola university. He often performs with other guitarists, including Don Vappie and Steve Masakowski.
ConclusionThe study of New Orleans traditional jazz and the banjo and guitar tradition is a fascinating avenue of exploration. It seems that every little piece of information leads to seemingly endless new paths the banjo ragtime tradition, the earlier nonrecorded New Orleans string bands, the German marching bands that influenced the tradition of jazz funerals, the influx of Italian musicians, the Creole, Caribbean and Latin tinge, the seemingly neverending lists of musical families, on and on. The fond reminiscing of Danny Barker and Johnny St. Cyr are worth the price of admission (hours and hours of
research) alone, as were the personal conversations with Carl LeBlanc, Detroit Brooks Seva Venet and Don Vappie. The fact that busy, professional musicians were willing to volunteer their time for a research project like this says something profound about the respect and love that the musicians who practice traditional jazz have for the art form. Traditional New Orleans jazz seems to constantly live on the verge of being forgotten, misunderstood or lumped together with seemingly similar gypsy jazz or old swing, but it is a distinct and proud music tradition, with a equally proud guitar and banjo tradition that certainly deserves further study and appreciation.
End Notes1. United States. National Park Service. "Jazz Origins in New Orleans." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 11 Nov. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. http://www.nps.gov/jazz/historyculture/history_early.htm 2. Charters, Samuel. A Trumpet around the Corner the Story of New Orleans Jazz. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2008. Print. Page 38. 3. St. Cyr, Johnny. "Jazz As I Remember It." JOHNNY ST. CYR Jazz as I Remember It. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. http://www.doctorjazz.co.uk/jstcyrjj.html 4. "Traditional Jazz." Music Rising ~ The Musical Cultures of the Gulf South. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
5. Reese, Bill. "History of the Banjo." History of the Banjo. Bluegrassbanjo.org, Feb. 1998. Web. 09 Nov. 2014. http://bluegrassbanjo.org/banhist.html 6. "Ervin Somogyi: Articles: Whence the Steel String Guitar: Part 1." Ervin Somogyi: Articles: Whence the Steel String Guitar: Part 1. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. 7. Email interview with Don Vappie
DISCOGRAPHY1) Armstrong, Louis, The Complete Hot Fives and Sevens, Vol 1 and 2. Columbia/Legacy 2) Barker, Danny, The Fabulous Banjo of Danny Barker. 3) Barbarin, Paul, The Miami Folk Arts Society Presents Paul Barbarin’s Jazz Band of New Orleans, the Oxford Series Vol 15. American Music Records 3/3/56, Wilmington College, Oxford. Personnel: John Brunious Snr. (tpt), Willie Humphrey (clt) Bob Thomas (tbn), Lester Santiago (pno), Danny Barker (bjo), Ricard Alexis (sbs), Paul Barbarin (drs).
4) Dodds, Baby, Jazz a La Creole. GHB, (c) 2000 GHB Records. Personnel: Albert Nicholas,clt; Don Ewell, pno; James P. Johnson, pno; Danny Barker, gtr; Pops Foster,sbs; Freddy Moore, drs; Johhny Williams, drs; Haywood Henry, bs
5) French, Bob, Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, 3 Generations. Tuxedo Records, 2003. Personnel: Don Vappie, (banjo), George French (bass), Matt Lemmler (piano), Fred Lonzo (trombone), Leon Brown (Trumpet), Jack Maheu (clarinet), Bob French (drums/bandleader). Guests: Kermit Ruffins (trumpet/vocals), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Kimberly Longstreth (vocals). 6) Vappie, Don
1. "Ervin Somogyi: Articles: Whence the Steel String Guitar: Part 1." Ervin Somogyi: Articles: Whence the Steel String Guitar: Part 1. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. 2.
3. Reese, Bill. "History of the Banjo." History of the Banjo. Bluegrassbanjo.org, Feb. 1998. Web. 09 Nov. 2014. http://bluegrassbanjo.org/banhist.html
4. Yanow, Scott. "Johnny St. Cyr | Biography | AllMusic." AllMusic. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. 5. United States. National Park Service. "Jazz Origins in New Orleans." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 11 Nov. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. http://www.nps.gov/jazz/historyculture/history_early.htm 6. United States. National Park Service. "A New Orleans Jazz History, 18951927." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.nps.gov/jazz/historyculture/jazz_history.htm>
7. "Traditional Jazz." Music Rising ~ The Musical Cultures of the Gulf South. Tulane University. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://musicrising.tulane.edu/learn/a_chapter/8/>. 8. St. Cyr, Johnny. "Jazz As I Remember It." JOHNNY ST. CYR Jazz as I Remember It. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. http://www.doctorjazz.co.uk/jstcyrjj.html 9. "Traditional Jazz." Music Rising ~ The Musical Cultures of the Gulf South. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
1. Rose, Al, and Edmond Souchon. New Orleans Jazz A Family Album. Third Edition ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1984. Print. 2. Charters, Samuel. A Trumpet around the Corner the Story of New Orleans Jazz. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2008. Print. 3. Jacobsen, Thomas W. Traditional New Orleans Jazz Conversations with the Men Who Make the Music. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State UP, 2011. Print. Personal Interviews: 1. LeBlanc, Carl 2. Venet, Seva 3. Vappie, Don (via email) 4. Brooks, Detroit (via phone)