[Dixielandjazz] Al Grey playing Dixieland

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Jul 1 06:36:52 PDT 2008

On Jun 30, 2008, at 5:29 PM, Marek Boym wrote: (polite snip)

> Hello Steve,
> I heard the Eldridge band at Ryans' in 1980, and it was BORING!  The
> musicians sounded uninterested and lethargic.  The intermission piano
> (Red Richards) was something else!  I had that experience twice - the
> first time it was Max Kaminsky that fronted the band.
> On the Eldridge evening, during the intermission Eldridge was
> approached by two ladies of his age and height.  They gave him a tape
> they had made at a concert in Chicago, if I am not mistaken, and all
> three seemed to have great time!  After the intermission, it was a
> transformed Eldridge that took the stage.  Disregarding the band and
> the repertoire, he played highlights of his old repertoire for his two
> guests, and it was Great!  The band eventually followed, but Eldridge
> did not seem to care.
> If you want to know "just what the hell music between Swing and
> Dixieland could possibly be," listen to Eldrdge's "Dixieland" band on
> Verve!  It is closer to "swing" than to Dixieland, but it features
> mainly Dixieland repertoire and line-up.  But then, is it important?
> It sounds good, and that's what matters.

You bring up a couple of great points Marek.

Regarding Eldridge, maybe you hear him on a bad night. Happens to  

Then again, he had been the band leader at Ryan's for over a decade  
when you saw him. Playing the same 100 tunes or so for up to 6 hours a  
night, six nights a week.
Dixieland musicians who have been there, done that, realize that you  
become a jazz zombie with that much playing.

During my College/Law School years, (1956-1962) I played 4 nights a  
week.  In summers I played 6 nights a week. Band tune repertoire was  
roughly 200, but the customers demanded the same 50 or so war horses  
every night. Let me tell you from personal experience how one starts  
to play by rote in that situation. Thank goodness for the occasional  
sideman gigs in other bands that stirred the creativity pot.

Maybe after some 4000 or so gigs at Ryan's before you saw him there,  
Eldridge was a just a little sour? And the audiences were aging and  
getting less enthusiastic. Feedback energy is very important in the  
quality of live performances.

Also bear in mind that in the 1980s, Eldridge had developed some heart  
trouble which  is why he stopped playing entirely, not long after you  
saw him. Working with older musicians, I can relate from personal  
experiences, that health problems sure kill the creative spark in them.

For me, playing with and knowing Roy Eldridge, there never was a more  
competitive, fiery player than him. He proved that again and again in  
cutting contests, loft sessions, JATP recordings, and countless live  
performances in clubs. And he played the hell out of Dixieland.

Regarding "music between dixieland and swing" it is important to mock  
that phrase because it is meaningless in the sense that each of us  
ascribes a different meaning to it. Just like "jazz" as Jazz Jerry  
correctly pointed out. The word is bastardized in that it has  
different meanings to different people.  Same for "dixieland". It too  
has different meanings to different people.

So the point I try and make is that those words, or "trad jazz" or  
"hot dance" or whatever, are really meaningless. The discussion  
between us illustrates that. You say Al Grey doesn't play Dixieland. I  
say he does. Why do we differ? Because we define Dixieland  
differently. Not limited to you and me either. All of us on the DJML  
define those words differently. Simple as that, and perhaps that's why  
OKOM or MKOM is used to better effect. Or to quote Armstrong: "What's  
Jazz? Jazz is what you are."


Steve Barbone

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