[Dixielandjazz] Disavowing our roots

Gary Lawrence Murphy garym at teledyn.com
Mon Jan 14 15:14:37 PST 2013

I would like to add one other observation: while I perhaps more than most
admire, appreciate and dare I say even idolize the work that the historians
do in preserving the trad jazz, we must not forget that music is a tone
science, and that the purpose of the music is to burrow a special kind of
joy deep into the core recesses of the audience through the sounds that we

Dixieland, and by that I mean only a subset of what passes for Dixieland,
the sort of music that picks the old folks up and spins them 30 years
younger, that sparks people of all ages with a spring in their step and a
smile on their face, this is an 'art', it is a technology humans discovered
through painstaking trial and error and, bottom line, it works.  It works
really really well.  So in that sense, there is a need to have historians
who can help us both to understand and recall what the original sounds may
have been like, but just as much to help us recall what the original *
experience* was like, so we can know if we are getting the same, or dare I
say, getting a better response today.

For my purposes, the music is an anthropological thing, a shamanic practice
used to set the mood of public events, I am intending a psychological
effect *first* and any historical re-enactment authenticity later.  I want
to get at the *intention* of the composer much more so than the letter of
the print because today's ears are much more sophistocated in some senses
(tolerance of dissonance) and much less sophistocated in others (tolerance
of complexity); they are all still people, but they are not Calvin Coolidge
people, they are Barack Obama people.

That said, Bunk Johnson had a technology that worked, it was infectious, it
had the desired effect on a room or a market street, and that technology as
adopted by the likes of Louis Armstrong proved to be very flexible and
adaptable; to understand *what* they were doing, we need to understand what
they actually, mechanically did, and why, and we need to follow the
evolution from Bunk to Louis and Bechet and others to see where and why
they changed what they did to fit their times, in hopes we can learn how to
fit their message to *our* times and achieve the same effect.

As a young player, and a novice at this, I have to side with Sun Ra, that
something was *lost* in the shift to bebop and post-bop, something was
dropped from the music that had a vital importance to the function of the
music; if we could find that something, and teleport it across time and
into modern musics, I think we could do a lot of good in the world.

So yes, it is important to have the re-enactments and historians, as
meticulous and thoughtful as they can be, but it is *also* important that
we keep the *meaning* of the tradition alive too, and Louis tells us in his
own worlds that it was a message of bringing folks together, bringing
*all* types
of folks together ;)

On Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 1:48 PM, ♫ Sharp Bill - - B# ♫
<A1tradtrmpt at att.net>wrote:

> Here's an observation( intended to be read only by dixieland buffs):
> A multitude of years past, while in my early adult years, and after
> watching a live Civil War enactment, I realized that some people within our
> society think it's important to preserve certain moments in history through
> these reenactments.   It occurred to me that those of us who play the music
> of years past (OKOM) are also, in fact, historians. We are preserving and
> reenacting a small portion of history, that portion being a specific
> musical style - --dixieland.   As such, I have always felt a  certain
> amount of pride, knowing that I was a singleton member of an elite set of
> other musical "historians" wanting to preserve this particular era of
> music, with its characteristic sound and instrumentation.  Each time we
> perform OKOM we are in fact standing shoulder to shoulder with our comrades
> marching through history.
> The era of OKOM is represented with hundreds upon hundreds of wonderful
> songs.  The real "historians" of the era know this and, as
> instrumentalists,  will draw upon this vast repertoire to play just those
> songs.  What has become disheartening is that I find that many of our
> so-called "Jazz Societies" built upon the notion of preserving and  playing
> traditional music (i.e. dixieland)  are drifting away from that notion.
> They are disavowing our roots.
>  Much of the traditional  literature is not being played, as it was in the
> early days of our societies. Our festivals no longer stand on the rock on
> which the early festivals were built.   Bands playing at our society
> meetings often do not represent the music we are supposed to be supporting,
> and worse yet, the societies are essentially ignoring their charter
> guidelines.  A huge blatant example is the hiring of the cajun band
> currently making the rounds in our "trad jazz" clubs.  Cajun ! ! !! ??
> Really ?  ?! ! !    Yes . . boo hoo, a true reason for sobbing.  Get out a
> hanky to first dry the tears, then wave as a flag of surrender.  [ Hey,to
> be honest, I've gone and listened to them myself, where I danced and had a
> great time, but  at the same time I kept asking myself, what the hell are
> they doing at a dixieland club? I kept wanting to request that they play
> "Dixieland One Step"]
> Please, based upon the pride you should have in being a musical historian,
> don't you believe that we should stick closer to the literature?  Remember
> when we could call a tune like "Grandpa's Spells" or "South Rampart Street
> Parade" and everyone knew the tune?  We all had a copy of the Nabor's book
> and knew all the songs in it.  It was our "Bible" and we carried it with
> us.  Similar to church membership, the "flock has gone astray" and needs to
> "return to the fold".  With tongue in cheek, I say cast aside the "evil
> demons" of songs and musical styles not appropriate to the intent of our
> original charters.  Return to keeping alive those tunes deemed to be truly
> traditional songs played by the original founders of our jazz clubs.  I am
> certain that if you walked through the graveyards in which many of the old
> guard are buried and even whispered words like "cajun" , "big band swing" ,
> "gypsy jazz"  that the earth would shake and a volcanic eruption would
> occur on the spot.
> We are now operating under the assumption, and what I hear repeated over
> and over like a mantra, is that we have to "play for the dancers", so we
> play as much swing era tunes as anything ( and other tunes outside the
> genre).
>   Is it possible the founders must have left out of the charters the
> statement . . ."and above all else, make sure to play for the dancers, even
> if you have to lower your standards and sacrifice the values you place upon
> upholding the design of the original charter".  ? ? ( I say to each of the
> Jazz Societies, "If you are going the be that dishonest in the styles of
> music you support, then return to your charters and insert that statement."
> )
> What I observe is that there is apparently no design as to the music
> allowed in our jazz clubs.  The vigilance is gone.
> We need to quit being wishy-washy and realize our place in upholding our
> role as historians for our genre. We need to perform in our roles just as
> seriously as do the players in the enactment of Civil War battles.  We too
> are at war here folks,  with conflicting musical styles.  If our banner is
> going to be traditional jazz, and you believe in it, then you'd better
> start defending it, and keep a sharp eye on the enemy genres silently and
> stealth-fully sneaking into our camps while our backs are turned. "They"
> are already among us.
> As music director of the Stockton Jazz Society, I hope as much as possible
> to uphold our traditions, hiring those bands that have continued to play
> traditional music with  traditional instrumentation.  I take my role
> seriously as a musical "historian" wishing to preserve our portion of
> musical history - -OKOM…traditional music  ( of which dixieland is a small
> slice), from the late 1800's to somewhere around the 1940's, when the swing
> era took over.
> BILL (speaking-from -the-soapbox) SHARP
> retired educator,
> avocation: musician,
> (cleverly disguised as a responsible adult)
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