[Dixielandjazz] 2 beats, or 4?

Butch Thompson butcht at sihope.com
Tue Aug 26 15:36:57 PDT 2003

As Steve Barbone points out, Lawrence Marrero does play a steady four beats
from the very beginning.  What I'm trying to say here, but not doing it very
well, is that a lot of the New Orleans records I'm talking about seem to
combine that four-to-the-bar feeling with some two-beat.  It's really both.
Maybe a better way to say it is that while the bands did play in four, the
bass drum and bass fiddle often played on one and three instead of all four
-- much like Morton's smoothed-out left hand on the piano, which had a
feeling of four but retained (with considerable variation) the outline of
ragtime's oom-pah. 

For George Lewis' band playing two-beat (with Marrero playing on all four),
listen to any number of recordings of Bugle Boy March, for example.  The
band never played that number any other way, though they sometimes went into
four for an out chorus or two. The Mosaic set includes the so-called Climax
session of 1943, and in fact the band is very much in four there; that's
because the bassist on that session, the great Chester Zardis, plays that
way consistently.  A few years later, with Joe Watkins on drums and Slow
Drag Pavageau on bass, there was a lot more two-beat for a while, but the
band changed its approach after spending some time on the concert circuit.
Watkins drifted away from the snare-based style he started with, and toward
an even four on the cymbal and bass drum.  Drag moved in the same direction.

I'm not saying that early New Orleans jazz was ever in strict two/four.  To
the contrary, there was nothing strict about it at all; I still think it was
a combination, a smoothed-out combination of the two.  Great players like
John Lindsey knew exactly how to manipulate this combination.

I promise to be quiet now.

Butch Thompson  

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