[Dixielandjazz] The Music is Not Enough (Steve Barbone)

Graham Martin grahmartin at bigpond.com
Mon Jun 19 23:03:53 PDT 2006

[Steve wrote: "The music is not enough. It never has been."
Marty wrote: "It is true today, but when I encountered the Condon records back in the  50's and never stopped listening; I had a impression that his was one case where music was enough. It was a lot of the other type outfits that couldn't make it on music alone. Just my .02 .  And I thought the reason he was getting he attention he got was that for his outfit it was, "just the music." BTW, I listened to "Barbone ST." on radio365 "Gumbo" show, and the trombonist according to Steve was Glenn Dodson. Wow, a great player and fun to hear."

Steve wrote: "Thank you, Marty, for your compliment of Glenn. I'll pass it on to him during our gig tonight. He is a pleasure to perform with. Huge sound.

I agree with you that for some of us the music is/was enough when played by a solid band such as Condon's. However IMO, we need to stand back a bit and perhaps ask ourselves is/was everybody else like us? Many Dixieland fans do not like soloist oriented "Condon Style" today, and did not like it then.

The mass audience then and now, IMO, is the same as it ever was. For some few, the music is/was enough. But for most, the music is/was never enough. Something more than the music attracted them. The overall ambience was in many ways similar to the "show" that the rock stars put on today. Not nearly as gaudy then, but surely in keeping with the times. Like the movies. Then it was clever dialog. Today it is "special effects".

e.g. We can lament the lost dialog artistry of "All Quiet on the Western Front", but still appreciate the special effects of "Band of Brothers".

We might also ask ourselves why people go the OKOM festivals? I think there are many reasons besides the music."]

This is an interesting topic. I thought Steve's original email was so much 'on the ball' that I reposted it on the Online Trombone Forum  http://forum.trombone.org/viewtopic.php?t=25983 - without his permission I must admit and I apologise if that was not appreciated. But I was inspired by Steve himself into thinking along the lines of 'all the publicity one can get' for OKOM must be a good thing. Marty, being a fellow trombonist, also posts on the OTJF and I generally find myself in agreement with him. So, I was interested in his comment about Eddie Condon, "I had a impression that his was one case where music was enough". But then I thought about it and I must come to the conclusion that it was not enough for me because it was what inspired me to take up the trombone and try to play Condon style jazz myself. It also seems clear to me that the real Condon fans were mainly my fellow musicians, albeit some beginners, and not really the punters. 

Condon style is still my favourite kind of jazz and the beauty is that it allows for new ideas and styles to be incorporated. But these days I am often obliged to be less selfish and think about the audience more. I am also forced to admit that during the Trad Boom in the UK,, it was the Chris Barber, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball bands that held the centre stage. The Freddy Randall and Alex Welsh bands never did achieve the same success as the 'Three Bs' and perhaps this was because they were playing a more, for want of a better word, sophisticated form of Dixieland/Trad. The problem is that those Pommy long haired trad fans of the fifties now make up the bulk of my audience of Aussie pre-boomer jazz fans. And one just has to make concessions to their tastes. It is no fun playing to empty rooms. Not forgetting that we have to do something about those younger 'hot' jazz fans we now need so badly.

This state of affairs was highlighted for me the weekend before last when I played at the Merimbula Jazz Festival on the South Coast of New South Wales. http://merimbulajazz.asitis.net.au/  I was talking to a trombonist mate of mine and he made a few kind comments about my playing, especially my soloing style and the use of the higher range of the instrument. I thanked him and said, "But if that is true, why is it that the audience applaud your solos but not mine". George has a lovely middle range tone, plays a very sparse ensemble part and sticks very close to the melody in his solos. Perhaps in describing his style I have answered my own question. You see, I don't think it is too many solos ("soloist oriented") that bamboozle the audience. I think it is the style of those solos and the KISS factor that is the major reason for audience appreciation. By example, let me say that the one of my solos did get a round of applause. Except that it was not mine; it was a note for note reproduction of Ory's solo on "The Savoy Blues" So the rider must be that if you can't keep it simple, then at least play something the audience knows. And ham it up a bit because the audience also seem to like a stage presentation and excitement. 

Of all the British/European bands that played during the Trad Boom, my favourite will always remain the Alex Welsh Band. To this day Roy Williams is my all-time favourite jazz trombone player. Bud Freeman said of this band it was "the best small band of its kind in the world". But how do I come to terms with the fact that Barber, Ball and Bilk were far more popular? Especially as I would like my present-day band to be just as popular! It is a question that has been on my mind for nearly fifty years now and I am still wondering why the Condon style did not rule the day. Compared with Alex Welsh; the Barber, Ball and Bilk bands existed in the same time frame, often played the same tunes, played the same venues and took just as many solos.

HOLD ON A MINUTE! I couldn't be.......? Could it? It's surely not those bloody banjos? Ah well, I suppose that's entertainment!

Seriously folks, one does have to find a balance between one's artistic ambitions and one's success with the punters.

Right now I have to practice because I have a gig with a big band on Saturday and those pesky youngsters are always chasing after the first trombone slot. Another friend of mine said recently that at our age practice is more a question of ensuring that you don't go backwards too fast. I smiled wryly. But secretly I'm still trying to play as well as Roy ......... and Cutty, and BigT, and Trummy, and Bob Havens, and Bill Allred, and Dan Barrett, and ................ But I think I will keep a few Kid Ory solos up my sleeve.



Graham Martin
Queensland, AUSTRALIA

E-mail: grahmartin at bigpond.com
Website: http://tromjazz.netfirms.com/

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