[Dixielandjazz] Violin in OKOM

D and R Hardie darnhard at ozemail.com.au
Fri Mar 11 16:18:52 PST 2005

Hi everbody,
I am waiting to hear what Steve has to say about his recent experience 
with the fiddler in his Chicago style group, but Charlie's excellent 
comments prompted a response. He states correctly that the early New 
Orleans bands relied on a violinist leader, and this appears to have 
been true right up to the 1920's. (If you want to hear it get the Piron 
Orchestra recordings of 1923.)
  For about 6 months I have been working here with a group of very 
experienced New Orleans style players trying  to play  music of the 
Bolden era using contemporary repertoire,authentic instrumentation and 
performance practices. I summarised these in The Loudest Trumpet and 
developed them in more detail in Exploring Early Jazz [Chapter 10].
  In the process we are learning a lot about the music.
There appears to be no problem with the violin as leader. On the 
contrary, the complementary voicing of violin and cornet
  rather surprised us. As Baby Dodds suggested it actually helps to have 
the violin supporting the melody at all times. It adds a higher 
register melody line as  the violinist can be  up above the cornet. It 
also takes pressure off the cornet who can jazz it up, or rag it around 
the lead. The violin can also play very nicely in the lower register 
when the clarinet improvises on the melody. Violinists are consummate 
musicians which is a great help when learning from old scores, and 
violinists used to Swing style rhythm appear to have little difficulty 
moving to the leadership role.
We have also learned to appreciate the bowed bass, guitar  and drums 
rhythm section especially as the valve trombone  reinforces the bass 
rhythm in most choruses in brass band fashion. The extra flexibility of 
the valve trombone is also noticeable when  playing melody lines from 
old ragtime era scores. I suspect we have more to learn about the role 
of the bowed bass in relation to two beat rhythm.
My own feeling is that there is a role for the violin in later jazz, 
but Steve will no doubt comment on that.
  Dan Hardie
  Check out the Early Jazz website:

On Saturday, March 12, 2005, at 06:03  AM, Charles Suhor wrote:

> On Mar 10, 2005, at 6:46 PM, Mike C. wrote:
>> With a trumpet on the melody, clarinet a third above the 
>> melody(typically) and trombone on the harmony what role does the 
>> fiddle player play in the front line?
>> Mike
> I thought someone would pick up on this good question. Here’s one 
> historical and musicological take on it, which I hope others will 
> comment on and correct.
> In the pre-jazz and early jazz days, many groups playing dances in 
> N.O. had a violin in the front line, with some variation, of 
> trumpet/trombone/cl. or reedman. Often the violinist was leader and 
> played the melody. The force and clarity the trumpet lead with the 
> clarinet and bone playing the roles you describe hadn’t come into 
> focus.
> While the oft-maligned ODJB probably wasn’t the first band to assert 
> the three-player front line, their wildly popular recordings 
> demonstrated the vitality of the lineup. Some historians say that the 
> violin then faded from the scene as an essential instrument in small 
> combos in the city as a direct result of this.
> The enemy of a good front-line sound is clutter and lack of sonic 
> balance. The traditional three-man lineup caught on and lasted, I 
> think, because the counterpoint with this instrumentation can be so 
> nicely articulated, and the players have a lot of freedom in ensemble 
> improvisation (assuming the freedom isn’t abused, as when they aren’t 
> really listening to each other, which happens too often in OKOM). I’ve 
> never been fond of adding a sax to the ensemble because the 
> contrapuntal relationship tends to become muddled or obscure. Many 
> exceptions exist, like Eddie Miler in the Bobcats, and sometimes even 
> the crowded sound “works” for me when it shouldn’t, as in the 
> Dorseyland Band. (Sax without clarinet loses the “high-end” excitement 
> of the clarinet sound.)
> I don’t see these as rules. The traditional lineup can be negative, 
> bending unimaginative players to formulaic approaches. Conversely, we 
> all know that great jazz has been played with various front lines, 
> from one horn (or violin) and rhythm to a two-trumpet sound like 
> Oliver and Armstrong to what-have-you. Even so, there’s an enduring 
> appeal in the standard front-line ensemble that I still find exciting 
> both as a listener and a drummer.
> Charlie Suhor
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