The Smithy Lane Stompers - The Meister Concert Hall

Musical Epiphany Personal Reflections on a Musical Journey

Jazz by Rex Harris

 

Where to start?

1956 - Peter Oliver, Guy Mitchell and 'Jazz' by Rex Harris ...

and Chester Jazz

1957 - Dennis Williams and Clemences ...

1958 - Wall City Jazzmen and Quaintways ... 

1959 - The Glasgow Rhythm Club and University.

The 1950s ... What was this blues swing thing? ... old curmudgeons remembered?

Music ain't nothin' but a bunch of notes, but it seemed to be how, where, when and who made the sounds that made the magic. We didn't bother to figure it out, it was just fun. We guessed the brain was the source for all behaviour & thinks, so just like every thing else going on in the head, music was a trial & error discovery process which was only understood in evolutionary terms.

Music maybe a spandrel, an odd consequence of work elsewhere. But it emerged from the survival necessity to 'make sense' of environmental sounds. Recognising and responding to patterns of sound was vital for survival, after all discriminating between the sound of walking & running could be the difference between dinner & death.

All this musical malarkey became clearer much later when we started to study music proper under the coaxing of the great Slim Read ... (and Richard Dawkins!) ... the musical patterns seemed to involve -

listening ... (sense perception)

remembering ... (cognitive recognition)

jigging ... (creative motor responses)

the result was 'organised sound' (rhythmic, melodic, harmonic and timbral) ... patterns which meant something ... they made sense ... we always thought it was all a bit difficult for cricketers but even the very young soon got the hang of do-ra-me-fa-sol-la-te-do ...

The emotional appeal of music came directly from the excitement that built up when patterns of sound were established or anticipated and expectations of pleasure aroused ... but the climatic satisfaction was delayed or disguised by a series of  intriguing diversions and unanticipated surprises. Music involved deliberately tantalising the listener with heightened expectations before a final resolution. Spine tingling, intense arousal came from anticipating the release from tension as dopamine kicked in ... was this the chemistry of the orgasm?

The social thrill of participation in music really fascinated some English youngsters who had been weaned on the crooners and the big swing bands that ma & pa used to dance to. These bands were mostly American but the Brits had dance bands that created good imitations ...

We remembered Lew Stone was in the middle of everything; he arranged for Bert Ambrose, Jack Hylton, Jack Payne & Roy Fox and employed Nat Gonella & Al Bowlly ... and many more ... but it was Ted Heath who ended up at the pinnacle for many aficionados.

But in the fifties as the kids grew up they tasted a new world of music as the old jazz from New Orleans enjoyed a revival. This sound was different and these new interpretations produced amazing physical & perceptive effects which bounced the music into prominence - 

the blues; hauntingly different novel melodies & scales with complex compelling rhythms & infectious syncopations

improvisation; spontaneous creative unwritten collective self expression, which posed an intriguing challenge for players and listeners alike as surprisingly coherent musical trajectories emerged from a spontaneous, apparently chaotic environment

swing; buoyant, detached, floating, melodic & rhythmic trajectories, away from the 'ground beat', resulting in a lilt, which was difficult to describe but unmistakable when heard and felt, the manifestation of the tension & release created by the interaction of juxtaposed rhythmic lines.

But forget the words ... we had to feel the haunting blues ... incredible spontaneity and unfathomable swing ... apparently chaotic but excitingly coherent ... for dancing ... and the girls too always loved to 'jive' to this exotica.

The Fish SellerMusic was all over the place, everywhere, but it wasn't easy to find the real old Dixieland style ... it was music from the past ... occasionally the sounds were heard ... steam radio ... a few scratchy 78s which were worn out on Garrard auto players ... and when enough pocket money could be saved there were some treasured purchases from the music shop in Northwich ... most notably Humphrey Lyttelton's The Fish Seller backed by 'The Glory of Love' ...

From Humph's Parlophones we graduated to the real thing ... the Hot 7 and Potato Head Blues was our next prized purchase... we found kindred spirits at The King's School and even Mama loved Louis ... and then inevitably Black Bottom Stomp and Jelly Roll ... we became avid listeners and more ... the appeal of primordial rhythm and participation ... rhythm the most basic element of music originating in the co-ordination of body movement of both predator & prey ... the distinction between listening and playing was unnatural, modern and Western ... we were onto the real thing.

Melody MakerJazz Journal every month and there was a ritual every Thursday; seeking out the weekly copy of ‘The Melody Maker’ and hoping to glean a little more about the mystery music they called ‘jazz’. The paper was affordable but funds never stretched to buying new fangled LP recordings ... but through seeking you could listen to excitement offered by the aficionados at The Glasgow Rhythm Club and whenever you were in London you could find the sounds at Doug Dobells in Chairing Cross Road ...

But we were always irked by the thought ... if this old music sounded so good to listen too ... what would it be like to actually play it?

This was the time the music of the Blues had a new lease of life in America as the black kids were dancing to Rhythm & Blues and then Rock 'n' Roll ... and then all hell broke loose with The Beatles and Eric Clapton ... and everything changed ... opportunities to play jazz were zilch ... in any case there were always other priorities monopolising any spare time.

Most of the kids in those days had guitars and played Skiffle, learned in a day, but many were bent on earning a living, they had to follow the money trail when some of the others went rockin' ... nobody was trying to make a living in playing this jazz stuff ... although it was rumored vast fortunes were being made from 'Rock'? 

Doug DobellsBut Rock wasn't music easily understood ... the rhythms didn't seem right to the jazzers. The swing thing messed with the beat and messed with the Blues feeling. Rock sounded different? It wasn't clear that Rock was just another route back to the blues.

Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker took a jazz & blues route to Rock and stormed America with a '2nd invasion' in 19?? adding to the Beatles led '1st invasion' already underway ...

But even in the 1950s 'Trad Jazz' appeared to be slowly, relentlessly shutting down as the rest of the music world seemed to be moving on ... on its way towards mp3s and itunes ... it was very lonely ... there was only Rock on the telly ... and nobody could ever play like Charlie Parker, that was impossible ... but this was self imposed isolation, shutting out the rest of a world just because it was different ... perhaps the 'Country & Western' and the 'Grand Ole Opry' folk felt the same way ... did they also isolate their genre?

Impetus inevitably mellowed as jazz took a back seat ... most of the girls thought it was a bit infra dig ... and the kids started to absorb time and lucre for sustenance, education and brain training ... but we could afford to buy a few LPs and we remembered a statement of intent when luxurious Dynatron Hi Fi equipment, the superb Transpower SRX 24C, was delivered to 71 Latham Avenue, Helsby on September 17th 1968 ... JJ's birthday ... and the latest specification Stereo equipment followed us to Africa and beyond ...

In 1976 bound for Malawi and long nights with no TV we hatched a plan to learn the saxophone with a Leslie Evans correspondence course ... we purchased a glittering Mark VI Selmer Soprano (serial no. 264948) for £500 in the Tottenham Court Road ... but the long nights never materialised due to an excess profusion of convivial pints ... however the sax did eventually come out of its case in 1992 ... 

Johnny HodgesFrom the 1950s to 1992 there had been a sort of listening sequence when time was squeezed from the real work in putting crumbs on the table -

Over the Rainbow - Judy Garland - Harold Arlen, 'Wizard of Oz', 1939. Our first musical orgasm, beautiful girl, exquisite voice and a connoisseur creator of ubiquitous 32 bar theatre songs ... with those octave jumps and a terrific middle 8 … and leading to Berlin, Hoagy, Gershwin, Kern, Porter, Rodgers, Loesser - 'It's Only a Paper Moon', 'Stormy Weather', 'Let's Face the Music and Dance', 'Georgia', 'I got Rhythm', 'Smoke gets in Your Eyes', 'You'd be so Nice to Come Home To', 'You Took Advantage of Me', 'Slow Boat to China' ... and countless others ... this was The Great American Songbook

Singing the Blues - Guy Mitchell, 1956. Our first live concert which proved so exciting that we bought 'Jazz' by Rex Harris in a vain attempt to understand this American music. We discovered that this was not the blues and not jazz but it was an entreé into a whole new world which existed beyond cricket and girls …

Fish Seller - Parlophones - Humph, Wally Fawkes, Bruce Turner, Johnny Pickard, 1955. Our first 78 rpm record purchased, to be worn out on our old Garrard turntable, and this old Bechet toon still sounded as fresh and creative 60 years later ... but Humph also played the blues ...

Rock Around the Clock - Bill Haley - a simple 12 bar blues, raw and primitive, like a physical assault, can you imagine the effect on anyone in love with Judy Garland …

Blue Suede Shoes - Elvis Presley - boogification of triplets and outrageous liberties - a dramatic new sound forcing foot tapping, body jerking participation as the boys as well as the girls reacted to those hips and sounds …

Rock Island Line - Lonnie Donegan - the penny drops, music is about your individual participative contribution, inspirational, no one else performed like this, you didn't have to be 'good', it was time to pick up a guitar and do something with the 3 chord trick ...

Heebie Jeebies - Louis - back to where it all started, song and dance - messing about with rhythm, irreverence and the first recorded innovations which changed music ...

Potato Head Blues - Louis - Hot 7, 1927. Swing - what was it? What was happening to our body? Another uncontrollable urge? … the manifestation of the tension and release created by the juxtaposition of rhythmic lines? Buoyant, detached, floating, melodic 'trajectories', away from the 'ground beat', resulting in a lilt, which is difficult to describe but unmistakable when heard or felt. Improvisation, or unwritten spontaneous collective self expression, which poses a further intriguing challenge for players and listeners alike … wow !!

Black Bottom Stomp - Jelly Roll Morton - sophisticated dynamics, making the music move the body - loud/soft, instrumental breaks, syncopation, harmonic contrast - everything packed into a 3 minute dance ...

The Continental - Dennis Williams - dancing at Clems

Twist and Shout - The Beatles - local lads innovate, the Americans no longer had a monopoly of rhythm - perpetual dancing for a year in 1963 with beautiful Chester girls ...

Take the A Train - Duke Ellington - and Willis Conover and the VOA 'Jazz Hour' - dancing at the Cotton Club, more sophisticated beauty ... and leading to Hodges, Carney, Bubber, Tricky Sam, Cootie, Gonsalves, Hamilton, Blanton … on and on …

The Moon got in My Eyes - Mildred Bailey = Buck Clayton, Ed Hall, Herschel Evans, James Sherman, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, 1937.

Rabbit's Blues - Johnny Hodges, Lawrence Brown, Al Sears, Nelson Williams, 1951 ... unassailable!

I Guess I'll have to Change My Plan - Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Vic Dickenson, 1956 ... cool!

Cool Blues - Charlie Parker, Errol Garner, 1947 ... unbelievable!

We reserved the right to add more songs to the list after more eager reflection … we'd no space for Bix, Billie and Basie … and the saxophonists ... Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins ... we needed more space … furthermore we had a right to adjust our total selection as we were deluged with irrepressible memories which were so compelling and invigorating as to make immediate commitment an act of folly … such was the power of music … 

The World's Greatest Jazz BandThe Smithy Lane Stompers 

At a Christmas Party at The Meister after a pint or two at The Goshawk on Thursday December 17th 1992 ... during an interlude in Hark the Herald Angels Swing, a clarinet and a trumpet and a soprano saxophone were offered from the store cupboard for play. Enthusiasm overtook our decorum and we eventually organised our first band rehearsal on Good Friday April 9th 1993. In this way from Easter 1993 the Smithy Lane Stompers struggled at The Meister Concert Hall almost every Thursday prior to refreshments at The Goshawk at 9pm.

In retirement we voted with our feet and joined a couple of social clubs of our choice - Dixieland Jazz & Evolutionary Economics ... we met many new interweb friends ... we joined the Open University January 1994 ... and Peter Lovric started the Dixieland Jazz Mailing List on March 13, 1995, we joined up later that year ... and we also played saxophones with The Smithy Lane Stompers with renewed effort ... we didn't want to sprinkle the desert with a teaspoon ... we were determined.

So although the jazz spark ignited our passions in 1956 it was not until some restless years later that some of the old jazz kids became granddads and the mortgage had been paid off and there was a bit of time to have a go and try to play a bit of this swing stuff which was still in the blood. A motley collection of mates with battered instruments, acquired years ago on a whim of hope, were agog ... and doing something about it.

Perhaps it was really an excuse for a social get together before going to the pub for a pint? We played for our own meagre fun and the gross amusement of others.

We had grand ideas and from simple lead sheets of the good old Dixie songs we assembled a Bandbook.

We didn't go dottin' we played The Blues even though we couldn't agree what they were.

Great fun but a lousy sound. In this way playing started ... some thought it was easy? ... but it was very difficult if you wanted to sound good ... when results were recorded there were embarrassing vows to improve ... there was a sort of compulsion to try and be better. One local tutor 'got it' - 

'I know you only want a bit of fun, but it's no fun playing crap is it? You gotta practice'.

We weren't any good the sound was wrong, some said 'orrible, but we had a go ... and felt better for that. But the recording proved it, the wall of muddy sound was excruciating.

Hard WorkThe good news was everybody could do it ... if they tried ... they were born with it, the bad news was it needed the hard work of practice. Just like everything else folk do ... you need to learn.

Some didn't want to practice, some didn't need to practice, some didn't have time to practice, some needed help to practice ... everybody was different.

But it wasn't just practice, practice, practice makes perfect, it was soon discovered that practice also made perfect mistakes especially if you didn't listen ... and those that didn't listen just played louder.

A method had to be concocted and learning was hard hard, jazz had to be discovered ... gleaned from Humph and Slim Read and Glenys ... and The Banjo Player's tales of woe ... after fretting over endless convivial pints ... and endless hours of practice fun ... according to himself six of the best were involved -

lots of leg slappin' - there was a right and a wrong way to play an instrument, the basics had to be taught by someone who knew how to 'pitch me a big nice round G' ... otherwise practice made perfect mistakes ... it was all about sounds ... and cloth ears had to be coaxed to listen ... Wynton said, 'check out Miles' sound ... check out Louis' sound ... now blow me a G and listen'!

get the toon stuck in yer 'ead - the song had to be really really learned inside out & upside down, 'cos when you were playing you had no time to think in fact thinkin' was the quickest way to lose it ... and losing it was serious destruction of relaxed swing ... why do you think we play the Blues ... ? ... Wynton said, 'your foot starts tappin' and those changes keep on comin' at yer'!

throw away the dots - you don't 'play' the blues, you must 'feel' the Blues, you can't be distracted with reading, no one can feel sounds and read instructions at the same time? ... anyways the Blues can't be wrote ... most folk don't know that ... Wynton said, 'play your own thing and improvise ... play with others and swing ... and feel the blues'!

find your own line through the toon - it's up to you to contribute something of your own ... create, build, motor, pump, decorate, tailgate ... Mozart didn't write out no blues lines for you, you yourself made up something 'pretty' and exciting by 'singing' on that bass line and 'drumming' out those lyrics in your head ... Bach got the idea of 'building' those thirds on that bass line ... all you can do is try and remember & repeat what works  ... it's in your bag ... then one day you'll say, 'Where did that come from!?' ... Wynton said, 'there's no right and wrong, just some notes sound better than others'!

hear me talkin' to ya - listen, listen to the sounds of the others, hear me talkin' to ya' ... don't shout, call & respond, you're having a conversation with other folk it's not a soliloquy, it's no exhibition ...  it takes at least two to tango ... you can't feel the blues on your own ... Wynton said, 'you gotta share the grief and share the joy'!

 

sound relaxed & swing or you're better off growing tomatoes - you must make the others sound good ... help them, give them a nice 'groove' and they'll respond ... Baby said, 'if they don't like your groove give them another until ... folk start dancing'! Dixieland Jazz was always social dance music

This concoction seemed like a good system and over a pint or two we took it on board ... perhaps it would work?

There was no doubt we worked hard there were recorded writes on all our efforts ... but we threw away our recorded sounds too embarrassed to care. We woodshedded along a long musical journey through what seemed like endless time, somebody said it took 10,000 hours for things to become something like interesting ... or 'listenable to' as our piano player used to say ... no wonder we needed beer to fend off exhaustion!

In 2001 we managed our first endorsement ... the late & great Slim Read suggested we were on the right track ... with Bill Bailey and Five Foot Two ... we just needed practice!

The granddads thought they were playing British Trad jazz but it didn't work out like that because there were all sorts of sounds in their heads. You can't help it ... you always 'hear' evolved music, you can't shut it out, its everywhere ... and like Darwin's species ... you only 'hear' the survivors and the survivors tend to get in your head ... if you listen ... and if you don't listen you might as well go and grow those tomatoes.

Like it or not, music, just like everything else, evolved, and brains learnt and remembered what they liked ... so most just played their own thing.

But jazz required pretenders to expose themselves to each other rather embarrassingly. There were no punters to listen, nobody knew the old songs anymore. And only the old swing songs were on the menu, they were the ones that went the same old way. Songs that were never heard nowadays, and they were played on strange instruments ... only one guitar and that was a banjo ... and no fiddles at all.

In a deluded way the music spawned many happy hours; as long as it was fun and as long as it was getting better we indulged ... a band of old farts were having a bit of fun while the youngsters were elsewhere.

Clearly the jazz was different for each individual; different sounds from listening to different performers and different sounds from dues paid in different ways but the breakthroughs were the synergies, the sheer pleasure came from playing together in the rehearsal room, hearing each other and noticing the synergies ... the punters would have been slightly bemused, they thought the performance was for them but the pay back came from playing your music with your mates ... many folk said you're lucky if you have mates to jazz with ... but others smiled, Jazzers had no truck with luck and suggested perhaps the harder you practiced the luckier you got!

Tuba SkinnyOut of the blues enter the youngsters.

Designer and The Banjo Player had always mused about our crass sound -

'How is it that youngsters can get beautiful sounds out of their horns almost as soon as they pick them up?'

In 2010 out of the blue came a load of young kids from the streets of New Orleans and they were playing the old songs and swinging ... maybe there was life after death after all? ... but for sure, nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

Their pleasure came from playing together the music they loved ... there weren't many punters on Royal Street but their recordings were up on YouTube ... and they went viral.

'I'm happy to report that 'Tuba Skinny' are under my skin ... a narcotic mix of youth, exuberance and Shaye Cohn's phrasing. I listen to their YouTubes and am compelled to have a blow myself ... repeatedly failing to reproduce their magic but I enjoy trying'!

There were lessons; the magic of swing was not a 'thing' to be controlled like a tap, there was no specification, no user manual, individuals had to be free to create their own contributions and get excited about them, but crucially their freedom was inextricably linked to the others in the band, and swing was an emergent phenomena which nobody really understood ... but unmistakable when it happened. The synergy of swing never materialised unless everyone cooperated and were in sync ... and how do you do that when everybody was different?

And there was more; swing was a moving feast constantly changing as new creative rhythms collectively ebb & flowed. As folk called and others responded, there was a time pressure and a timing pressure which meant magic was never guaranteed and many creative experiments failed and required adjustment to secure the exciting and swinging responses. The test was the recorded evidence ... did it sound good enough to listen to?

No recriminations, everyone was trying to make it work through negotiation. Give & take was call & response but the magic was synergy. And if there was synergy there was fun and it was getting better.

The kernel of sociability was there in the band, moral empathy was the unchangeable center of the human soul; everybody wanted to get excited without harming others. That was the unstoppable necessity. Jazz reconciled differences by making them complementary ... otherwise it didn't work. Hard work, honesty & investment. Jazz was aesthetics not mechanics ... and occasionally it was good ... otherwise there would be more tomato growers.

Renaissance

One day something quite remarkable happened ... on Wednesday July 11th or 18th 2012? ... after an incomprehensible delay ... with 2 iPads and 'Band in a Box' ... me & him glimpsed the starting line of our marathon and conducted an uncontrolled experiment ... we attempted to play and record 'Running Wild' and 'Sheik of Araby' ... followed by 'My Blue Heaven' and 'Margie' a week later ... The Banjo Player was enthusiastic - 

'Sorry that experiment didn't work, I won't do it again, try this one instead'.

In October Designer 'piano' Hughes joined the experiment for a lilt ... then on November 12th 2012, Mel Scott, an outstanding friend and a bone fide fully fledged musician, acclaimed a recording ... Buddy Bolden's Blues ... nothing was ever the same again, the Buddy Bolden experiment changed our world ... where on earth did that come from? We'd always made a balls of that toon? The sound wasn't Dixieland Jazz, it was different, but it was us ... 'cos we checked? We had learned how to try to play ... not what to play ... a sort of relaxed swing ... but we didn't know what was going on!

We just played what we felt like, we played 'I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None of this Jelly Roll', we didn't have no dots, we played by beer. This was fun fun and from then on we were permanently in a state that resembled intoxication.

 

After 20 years of trying music, we had stumbled across an experiment that sounded ‘interesting’ ... it was certainly not 'good' but it was 'different'. This was not a Machiavellian plot, we just wanted a bit of fun. Any gloss on this musical extravaganza was ‘tarnished’ by the necessity (in my case) for artificial support from ‘Band in a Box’ ... how much better if we could play with real live beer drinkers!

Then on Thursday May 5th 2016 just 4 folk pitched up for our regular Thursday gig ... a Quartet ... we played - 105 Saratoga Swing, 133 Barefoot Days, 028 Shine, 052 Hindustan, 012 I can't Give You Anything but Love, 067 You Only Hurt the One You Love, 113 Dallas Blues, 009 When You're Smiling ... and went to The Goshawk afterwards and had some fun and reflected. Serendipity ... we had inadvertently discovered ‘a quartet’ which also felt ‘interesting’ and offered a (remote?) prospect of using a real live banjo to ‘hold us together’ without the BiaB crutch ... and generate some better musical fun. We agreed that at our age we wanted to seize on any glimmer of hope before we were too old to care. So on Wednesday June 1st at 2pm we experimented with a ‘one off’ meet to record – Saratoga Swing (a Bb blues), Barefoot Days (a simple good one), Higher Ground (a familiar bluesey), Canal Street Blues (with piano intro). This was no big deal just an ‘experiment’. But we were all well aware that experiments often led to unintended consequences which were impossible to resolve ex post by returning to a status quo which no longer existed ... if you follow our drift? (the experiment itself changed the proclivities of the participants).

The Celtic Strummer bought a brand new Rhythm Guitar - he tried to keep time with a propulsive groove and added some unpretentious vocals for more fun ... the strummer was a reliable journeyman who just stuck to his craft 

The Piano Man didn't seem to need training - he tried a simple style with no finger busting note cascades but with an unmistakable jazzy lilt for more fun ... he just let everything hang out and it just worked for us

The Banjo Player played the blues on the 'bone - he just used his ear and attempted some responsive tailgating fills and hoped to discover some bass lines through the harmonies which added a bit of glee and more fun ... he stayed real close to his mates, listened and helped

The Saxophone Player - had found an inspirational tutor but failed to develop some motoring riffs which pumped up the ensembles without thieving space from the 'bone ... but it was all very difficult ...

In the sixties we paid our subscription to the cricket club and never expected to play croquet ... and in retirement we subscribed to The Blues ... the costs were meagre ... a simple lead sheet, a BiaB backing track for practice and a couple of iPads for recording ... and it worked for us ... 

We needed a drummer but couldn't find one ...     

Then by September 2016, as with Juliet we were plagued -

'It is the lark that sings so out of tune, straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.
Some say the lark makes sweet division; this doth not so, for she divideth us'.

...  we were calling for tugs ...

Obituary The Meister Concert Hall (1992-2016)

Music at The Meister Concert Hall had started by ‘accident’ some 24 years ago ... (Our ‘Autobiography of Beer Drinking’ noted that CJM told us it was Thursday December 17th 1992!)

Wot an opportunity! And many budding musos we talked to were green with envy!

Over the years -

Ken Robbo had ambitions for the bassoon but such dreams were immediately swapped for golf

Mal Davies, 'Bongo' was a drummer until his dog ate his drums and Spanish and flying and archeology and hiking went full time

Mel Scott, was a respectable musician who was immersed with his tutor in a prestigious accordion club

Jim Trueman, 'Super Sax', was also his own man and a formal student of music at Liverpool

Geoff Lewis was already schooled and experienced and already spent too much time with music

Roy Miles liked Dixie but preferred his choir and orchestra up the Wirral

and the Martins from next door were focused on the delights of wind bands and The Ashton Singers

... all played with us at The Meister for a while and all left and pursued their own alternative musical endeavours. No problem we respected all their very personal preferences and wished them well as they joined the club of their choice.

By 2016 we were convinced our current line up of reprobates was a mash of different musical passions –

Colin was self taught on piano and moved on to studies & listening to classical music at The Liverpool Phil

Les was conventionally tutored by the delightful Hannah and enjoyed dotin’ & orchestras in Barrow

Mike was a folk singer accompanied by his guitar banjo and formed his own folk group ... and he listened to ‘modern’ jazz for inspiration!

John & Keith entered the world of professional tavern bands at Stamps with real musicians like Geoff Lewis & Keith Jones

John also experimented with his own brand of ‘Jazz at The Paddock’ and was paid astronomical sums of money to play gigs for a proper band the 'Downtown Dixielanders'

Keith even crossed the border and went to Llangollen and The Jolly Tar for gigs and reached a pinnacle of excellence when invited to play with The Wall City Jazzmen at The Mill in Chester

Dr John enjoyed a bit of musical fun before his beer ... social interaction, pop, ballroom dancing and non-chromatic harmonicas ... wise, melodic, sensible stuff ... not decadent jazz

Amongst all this diversity we were clear that our own musical fun came from a lifetime listening to ‘American giants of jazz’ and saxophones, starting with Dennis Williams at Clemances and finishing with Johnny Hodges, Lester Young and Charlie Parker ...
... and we were intoxicated by the enlightened coaxing of the great Roger ‘Slim’ Read ... who taught us all about The Blues.

On Thursday nights we started to feel like a spare prick at a wedding, an ‘accidental’ prisoner 'trapped' in our own home,
tied by loyalty to friends and common courtesy to music where there was little progress and no longer any fun ... we remembered how Slim Read had been on the button -

‘I know you only want to have a bit of fun music before you go to the pub, but it’s no fun playing crap ... is it?’

Without noticing it and without Machiavellian intent, we had all moved on to pursue our own things.

Following Keith’s absence for four weeks during September, Mike then went to sunny Madeira for four weeks.

Suddenly we realised the interregnum on Thursday nights was a relief from excruciating harmonies and a dire shortage of rhythmic melodies which swung ...

After 24 years of hard work and fun ... painfully slowly ... feelings finally emerged and crystallised ... our music on a Thursday was a mess would we be better off growing tomatoes?

On November 3rd 2016 we were clear and a fateful email was circulated -

Mike et al,
wot a mess, we are an impromptu band with no leader.
All I can do is state more clearly -
1. I do not want to play Thursday nite type music as it has evolved (I feel like a ... ... etc).
2. I do not wish to upset my friends of 20+ years by 'closing' The Meister (I feel trapped).
3. I believe there are alternative avenues for us all to pursue our different musical passions (folk groups, Jazz at the Paddock, dottin' in Barrow, real gigs at Stamps, proper music at The Liverpool Phil ... etc)
I'm calling for tugs.
There will be no music at The Meister tonite!
Please!

Mike the Strummer was sweet ... he was reluctant to impose on a friend -

'I'm sure we all very much appreciate your hosting our Thursday night jazz sessions for the last 20+ years, but it is a bit of an imposition and if you have grown disillusioned with the music we should respect your feelings and not impose on you more. I personally have had a very good time and am grateful you encouraged me to join the band, all those years ago.
Maybe next week we could discuss this in the pub (we could do it by Skype, perhaps?).
Mike (still just a strummer)'.

Designer welcomed the peace & tranquility and the new possibilities for relaxed swing and noted emphatically -

'You make peace with your enemies not your friends. Friends must always vote with their feet and join a club of their choice'.

Les was magnanimous -

Just a note to say 'Thank you so much' for resolving my download problem.
Meanwhile I’ll take this opportunity to say how much I have valued and enjoyed your Thursday evening hospitality over the last ??? years. Without it the group’s playing would have never got off the ground.
For me it was always special fun although I accept that I, for one, didn’t progress into the New Orleans style as much as I and others had wanted. However I will miss it.
Furthermore it’s a pity that the post-jazz sessions split asunder last April, but having a fascinating in-depth conversation became increasingly difficult as our numbers increased. None of us were able to remain silent while sets of 2 or 3 progressed an initial topic – hence the multi conversations with which my old ears can no longer cope.
But, and this is very important to me, whatever the group’s reasons for closure, it’s a pleasure to realise that its valued friendships will continue.
Love to Carole.

The Busker wrote an obituary ... a tear jerker of a musical 'obituary' ... The Meister Concert Hall (Thursday December 17th 1992 - Thursday November 10th 2016) ...

-----Original Message-----
Sent: 08 November 2016 11:30
To: 'jpb'
Subject: RE: My Type of Music ! A Personal Thought.
Very interesting but you forgot what we learned from that excellent book by Colin Aston and Glenys. As I was pondering on an obituary for our Thursday session, I was going to write particularly how much I valued that book and even more the tutorials you gave every week for about a year around 2003. The lasting value of those is something I have always been grateful for, as I continue to try and do my best and improve with my instrument. I got to understand the music and how it impacted with my long interest in jazz. I still run on it whenever I play.
Whenever I get to play in public, I give my thanks to you and Glenys in tandem. It is a lot like our discussions on John Robinson and Bishop Spong which we used to have when we drank together.
But as we discussed in my house a month ago, your final conclusion is correct.
It is something you have been saying for 10 years, in the old Goshawk in that little room I recall. I used to think we might get around it but reluctantly I have realised you were and are correct.
We can just do our best, listen to each other and practice beforehand. We will never be a good band in totality but individually we all are better through playing with other people rather than practicing alone. A more limited goal but I suggest, not an unworthy one. Les has improved I think since he began playing with his band at Barrow.
I will now practice for Thursday with the third of your three legacies (BiaB) which you installed for me in 1999 and has been another fulcrum for my continuing efforts with my hobby. It even beats the installation of double glazing so I could practice without annoying my neighbours.
Hope you are blushing now because you deserve to be. If you want to share this edited or unedited with the others, be my guest.
Remember it is not just theory. The beauty of Glenys and your tutorials in particular is that you give a coating of understanding (convergent thinking) to blend with divergent thinking which is what is in your ‘ead so you can harmonise. And that usually means an understanding and appreciation of chords and how to use them as you listen to the others in the band. In other words, how to busk in tune.
I am reminded once again of the wise words of the good Dr Jones one Wednesday night as we left the Marlborough round about 2008. He said there are only three things to remember in jazz.
1. You have to be competent on your instrument
2. Listen and react to what is going on around you
3. Be able to improvise.
I replied 'Fine but what about rhythm and timing?', 'Oh' he said, 'you are OK on that'. I was on Cloud 9 after the master had thus spoke. Whether others think it is true or not is another matter. But it does reflect well a philosophy I have in that I regard the clarinet as a component of the rhythm section (as well as its front line role) and if I am playing well, I can do it. If I am not paying well, it is rubbish. That is why I was especially pleased after my last 'Stamps' session, the drummer said he liked what I did and kept a good tempo. I suppose that is why like Omer Simeon as well as the lyricism of George Lewis. On another occasion, I recall once at 'Stamps' we even got Myra up dancing. Other days, not so good I realise. But Glenys (and you) underpin all that and that is not just theory.
Reference to your greeting last Thursday, it was time for a renaissance. I had not realised that this was indeed the last stand of the Mouldsworth Stompers. It is a pity but after 23 years, none us can complain and indeed you will have noted that none of us did. I endorse my earlier comments, even more so after last night when I was pressganged off the street to play clarinet with the Downtown Dixielanders in Liverpool. Keith Jones could not attend and had not fixed up a deputy. I was of course delighted but I had to give it some wellie as playing was in a big slightly noisy room with two admittedly very fine tuneful horns alongside me. And the first number up – 'That da da Strain' - which I have never played before even though I knew it, (a benefit of senior middle age). I survived very much on your teaching including one other tune where I could not pick out the middle eight and was relieved that John Dorgan behind me thought the same. But a wonderful evening and following some good recent previous advice from Dave Burke, I had been giving some attention to my breathing. I just about survived. Not too much puff left and that has never happened before. Another thing apropos our conversation on keys. We played Georgia in C instead of F because the singer wanted it. John Dorgan was not too happy. His view of that key C is like Keith’s for much the same reason. I don’t mind. I have enough licks in C (D for me of course) and play lots of F#s. Good note to play when stuck.
As for Thursday, although I think we agree that the band as a group was going nowhere (I had come round to your view to be precise), I thought the sessions valuable because they made people play together and listen to each other. These more limited goals changed my strategy towards Thursday playing particularly in the last 2-3 years. That said, and despite one or two cynics, I thought there were some nice notes last Thursday night, including from you. The trumpet was better until he collapsed and went flat with 'Changes' at the end. He clearly had been practising Breeze. When he is OK, I can play off him as a clarinetist should, although timing errors and the guitar following the lead makes for complications. I still think the piano could have done much more to help us in ensemble play rather than just sit on the sidelines. Frankly we are not rubbish but we were not good enough either and had not improved enough as a group because there was too much self indulgence. I will have contributed to that probably but not in the past 2-3 years when I made a deliberate effort be unselfish.
But overall, it has a been a most valuable experience as we agreed last Thursday. I cherish it more than carp about it.
My one real regret is that the convivial pint you and I started with Ken back in 1989 has gone and that I am sure hastened the band’s demise.
I miss our chats on musical, philosophical and sporting matters and in part compensation, I hope you can join us tomorrow for coffee at about 10:15am. We will let Les tell us about his Barrow band and get his insight on how he thinks it has improved him.
Hope to see you tomorrow and if not thanks again; I thought of you and Glenys last night as collectively you bailed me out!

Meanwhile The Banjo Player pushed ahead with a noo 3-D printed mouthpiece and proper gigs but still needed help -

Monday night Panama gig was more than a challenge. (St Louis Blues in F and a completely different interpretation, duet with dep trombonist on Sweet Georgia ... murder!!!)
Had call from Paul Blake, would I do the trombone at The Mill Monday night?
Terrified but said yes.
Need help and succour.
Talk to me!
Cheers Banjo Player

But we still preferred to think of a 'renaissance' rather than an obituary ... while there was still time!? Rather than a death, the happenings at The Meister Concert Hall led to some really splendid rebirths of our musics, full of new opportunities for our different musical fun.

Our own efforts were to try to practise and experiment –

practise and ‘get stuck in the ‘ead’ some 5,000 wonderful toons which we had accumulated over a lifetime

experiment and see if we could manage to record one or two saxophone extravaganzas which were -
- ‘fun’, ‘blue’, ‘relaxed’ & ‘swinging’ (our type of music?)
- for our grandchildren (who, of course, won’t be the slightest bit interested ... yet?)

We were determined to play and experiment ourselves out of a rut! ... before it was too late?

We knew we could do better! And there ain't no app for that.

Captain Chorlton had the last word, 

'rather than be sad that it came to an end we should wonder and be grateful that it ever happened at all'.

 

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