[Dixielandjazz] Re: Dixielandjazz Digest, Vol 12, Issue 61

anichols anichols at gis.net
Mon Dec 29 15:26:50 PST 2003

  I remember the phrase Cutting Contests as used instead of Battle of the
Bands, which seems, nowadays, to refer to a contest between Rock music
bands. Anyway, when Googleized, Cutting Contests came up with the following
first 3 references. One by our/DJML's own Steve Barbone:


Imagine Fats Waller, Willie "The Lion" Smith and James P. Johnson in the
same room, each taking his turn at the piano and each trying to outplay the
other. Thatwould be the mother of all cutting contests!
Cutting contests originated in New York City's Harlem neighborhood as "rent
parties." If you felt you couldn't make the next month's rent, you would
invite to your apartment as many friends and neighbors as you could (for a
fee, of course) and hire the best pianists you could find to entertain into
the wee hours of the night. The pianists would get their monetary due, the
landlord would get his rent and you would hear to the best music possible Ð
in fact, the very best Ð because each pianist would try to "cut" the prior
pianist by outplaying him.
Sadly, since cutting contests occurred before the invention of the tape
recorder, there are no recordings of them available. How unfortunate.
However, through the magic of MIDI, I have recreated a cutting contest
among the likes of Fats, The Lion, James P. and Jelly Roll Morton (although
there is no evidence that Jelly Roll participated in them - indeed, he
deliberately avoided them).
So, sit back, access my virtual Cutting Contest and you be the judge of the

Let's get ready to
We've got the best of the best being put to the test . . . the mother of
all cutting contests.
The cutting contest to end all cutting contests.
Fats Waller!
James. P. Johnson!
Dick Wellstood!
Jelly Roll Morton!
Art Tatum!

All here to duke it out at the ivories!!!


David Palmquist and Phil O'Rourke wrote about "cutting contests".

Yes, they were quite prevalent from the beginning of jazz till the
present. Some of the more talked about included:

Goldkette Band vs. Fletcher Henderson Band at Roseland NYC in the 1920s.
(2 occurrences).
Chick Webb Band Vs. Benny Goodman Band in the 1930s in NYC.
Lester Young vs. Coleman Hawkins in Kansas City in the 1930s.
Countless sessions at Minton's and Monroe's in Harlem in the 1940s.
Countless sessions among OKOM players and bands in clubs and lofts in
NYC from the 1940s till the 1960s. (at least)

They were an integral part of "paying one's dues" as a jazz musician in
New York City when I was there in the 1950s and 1960s. Whether you won
or lost was not the point. What you learned, and how much better you
played at the next one was important. I think I posted before what my
wife said, when we were courting, about Kenny Davern and me at one such

She said: "He plays better than you." I knew that, but to have her know
that was special to me and we got married a few months later in 1962. We
are still married, Kenny still plays better and we 3 joke about it every
time we are together.

The best and most competitive cutting session player I ever knew or
heard was Roy Eldridge. Everybody always wanted him to go last because
no matter who was there, Gillespie, Shavers, Navarro, Bill Davidson, et
al., Eldridge would get going and blow all other trumpeters away. He had
some fire in his belly that would ignite the audience at any cutting
session as he played well beyond his normal self. After he played, no
one wanted to follow and that was the ultimate accolade.

Steve Barbone



Robert Altman on "Kansas City"

by Henri Béhar

Buy this video from Reel.com

Music from Amazon.com:
Buy The Soundtrack.
Cannes, May 12, 1996

Shown in competition Monday, May 12, and starring Harry Belafonte, Miranda
Richardson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Altman's "Kansas City" weaves
several stories, and several moods, against the backdrop of a lively,
lawless city in the 1930s, which was as well known for its jazz as it was
for its party girls and its gangsters. The energy of the music reverberates
through the entire film. For FilmScouts, Kansas City-born director Altman
takes off below on a riff about the music, the politics, "cutting
contests", fleshing out a film script as if it were a score and the actors
instruments, along with some personal memories. - HB


Kansas City became the hub of the music world at that time because it was
the port for the center of the continent, the crossroad of commerce for
one-sixth of America. All the airlines went through there, all the trains.
You went from East to West, you went through Kansas City. It was the base
for all musicians who traveled in what was called "The Territories", the
Western territories. The bands would make up in Kansas City, travel through
Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, California, and back to Kansas City through
Nevada, Colorado. They played one-night stands. They'd go in a bus,
usually. Many times, the bands would go broke, the guys ended up back in
Kansas City and new bands were formed.

Between 1926 and 1936, Kansas City was run by Tom Pendergast, who had in
his pocket both the political machine and the racketeers, led by Johnny
Lazia. Pendergast never listened to music and was always in bed by 9:00
P.M. He made sure, however, that the town never did. It was a wide-open
lawless town of dance-halls, nightclubs, honkey-tonks, clubs and brothels
-- K.C. had the largest red light district in the country. The bars were
always open, so musicians were always employed.
On their night off, which was Monday, everybody would come together from
those different clubs and a jam session would occur that would go on for
days! The day WE're talking about in the film was the Monday before an
election. Of course, on Election Day, they wouldn't work.

The "cutting contest" between Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young that we
describe in the film actually happened. Charlie Parker was there, too. But
he played so badly that Joe Jones, who was the drummer, threw a cymbal at
him. And Parker was kind of laughed off the stage.

"Cutting contests" happened all around, but Kansas City was particularly
known for the energy of its jam sessions. The principle is simple, it
originated in tap dancing. One guy would get up and do so many steps, the
other guy had to do something different, and they just kept going till one
guy ran out of ideas. And they did that in music as well...

There was a time, possibly, when a high-level aficionado could tell the
difference between K.C. jazz and Chicago jazz. I wouldn't know how to
describe the Kansas City sound. They weren't taking solos the same way as
anywhere else. As the big bands began to grow -- Bennie and Buster Moten,
Bill Basie, who wasn't yet nicknamed "Count" -- they came up with a certain
kind of drumming... and swing was born. A particular brand of swing.

The jazz scenes didn't exist as such in the script. We put the bands
together, made a 50-minute film with just the music. It's not a
documentary, it's a performance. Like an album. Only, it's a visual album.
And we integrated it in our narrative. There is nothing but live jazz,
here. Sometimes you see the musicians, sometimes you don't. But that was
always the intention, not one "incidental" note has been added.

From writing to editing, the film, to me, is constructed like jazz. Here
you have Miranda Richardson and Jennifer Jason Leigh doing a riff, then
Harry Belafonte cuts in with his own riff... They're doing improvisations
off of the same theme. If you just stuck to the story --which would be the
song, "Solitude" -- it could be done in three minutes: "Girl kidnaps a
woman, hoping, with the ransom to pay off the debt her boyfriend has
vis-a-vis a local gangster who owns the jazz club where Coleman Hawkins and
Lester Young are engaged in a 'cutting contest' the Monday before Election
Day." But put a jazz spin to "Solitude", and it could go for twenty
minutes. Or two hours, depending on your performers.

I would say Belafonte was a brass. A trumpet, perhaps. And the two girls,
Miranda and Jennifer, are kind of like two tenor saxophones. On the
shooting, therefore, I acted less as a "director" than as an orchestrator,
the arranger of the band. I'd write the charts and say, "Okay, you are
going to play so many bars of this, and then the trumpet is going to do so
many bars of this, and you're coming back in, and we're going to end with
just a soft cello bass/fiddle duet." Which is another rendition of

I grew up in Kansas City. The housekeeper that kind of raised me was a
black woman named Glendora Majors. She kept the radio on all the time. One
day, I was about eight, it was the middle of the afternoon, and the two of
us were in the house alone -- she said, "Bobby, come over here and listen
to this." She sat me in front of the radio. "That's Duke Ellington's
'Solitude'. It's the best music there is. Now you sit and listen to it."
And I remember I remained glued to my chair. "Solitude" is the first piece
of music that I really remember. And it's the last piece of music in the

Original message:
>Date: Wed, 24 Dec 2003 12:09:58 -0600
>From: "Linda Marty Schmitz" <marsch at chorus.net>
>To: <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
>Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Battles of the Bands
>Message-ID: <001c01c3ca49$24d0e880$fdf80b45 at oemcomputer>
>Content-Type: text/plain;
>        charset="iso-8859-1"
>MIME-Version: 1.0
>Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
>Precedence: list
>Message: 1
>Hey list mates:
>This is a first time missive from me.  I am president of the Madison =
>Jazz Society in Madison, WI.  We are celebrating our 20th anniversary in =
>One of our concerts will be a "battle of the bands" between two local =
>18-piece big bands.  I want to write a news article about the old =
>battles of the bands but I'm much too young to have been at one (born in =
>1945).  Can any of you help me? =20
>Were you ever at one?  How were they set up?  Who did you hear?  Did =
>they really determine a "winner?"  Whatever you can give me that will be =
>of interest to our readers in Wisconsin would be greatly appreciated.
>Linda Marty Schmitz

Norm Nichols
anichols at gis.net

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list