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King of the swingers

January 19, 2018

Jazz, it’s a bit like wine, there is a lot of snobbery and lots of so called ‘experts’. But, you either like it or you don’t. Pretending that a particular riff by John Coltrane is ‘amaaaaaazing’ is like saying that a 1963 Chablis is ‘humorous but not pretentious’ or some other such rubbish.

When you take that first sip, you either like it or you may decide that what you really wanted was a cold beer.


So let’s talk about Jazz.

The easy bit. It started in Congo Square in New Orleans, now part of Louis Armstrong Park.

Trad Jazz, Dixieland Jazz, it’s New Orleans Jazz. New Orleans ‘music’ stems from this, the pop, the funk, the brass bands, even the ‘bounce’ hip hop scene stems from New Orleans Jazz.

Then in the 1940’s Jazz went in different directions, it had lots of titles, be-bop, hard-bop, free jazz, avant garde jazz, jazz fusion, acid jazz etc. etc. You don’t need to worry about the names.

You will either enjoy it or you won’t. Listening to jazz or watching jazz is not about being in the right mood, but being in the right place.


Jazz is not something to be scared of, neither is it something to hold in higher intellectual regard to anything else.

That’s Jazz! and as I so often quote: “It’s all just music” these are the wise words of the one of the greatest band leaders/composers/musicians of all time; Duke Ellington.


I don’t remember the first time I heard jazz and decided I liked it. I think it was more of a case of hearing music I liked and finding out much later it was jazz. Most children hear jazz for the first time when they watch the original Disney cartoon Jungle Book, featuring scat singing band leaders Louis Prima (King Louis) and Phil Harris (Baloo) or maybe in Dumbo where Cliff Edwards sung the classic ‘When I see an elephant fly” also with its scat singing, and of course the other classic jazz tune people hear when they are young is the theme to the Pink Panther by Henry Mancini.

I have yet to meet a human being that didn’t like any of these tunes, so when anyone says they don’t like Jazz, they are lying.


The first time I heard Fats Waller, it was love at first listen, great tunes and comedy, I was drawn instantly to it and still am. When I first heard Ella Fitzgerald sing the raw blues number ‘Fine and Mellow’ another love affair began. Ella and Fats were my formal introduction to Jazz and everything I have discovered since then has been because of them ultimately. So, I thought I knew enough about jazz, until I went to New Orleans and I realised I knew nothing.


The first time I visited New Orleans I knew about the French Quarter and Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street but like so many experiences in life ‘the map is not the territory’ it’s not until you walk on its streets, go into the bars, talk to the locals that you get a sense of the place. One waiter described New Orleans as like ‘living in a cartoon’ whereas another line I heard was that people in New Orleans are so laid back that if you see somebody running then they must have just stolen something.


By the time of my second visit I knew so much more, there is more live music than anywhere I have ever experienced. In Frenchman Street the music seems to start soon after breakfast and goes on until the early hours in almost all of the dozen or more venues in just a three block distance. Add to that all the street musicians, many of whom are world class, as the streets of New Orleans is where they earn a living.


But New Orleans music isn’t just about the musicians, it’s in the DNA of the place. They have a what’s on magazine produced weekly of all the live music that’s on, it’s the size of Radio Times. In addition to the clubs and bars there are the festivals. A claim New Orleans loves to make is that there are more festivals in New Orleans than there are weekends. More about festivals in another blog.


We all like to recommend places we have been but I cannot emphasise enough the rich musical culture that oozes out of every bar and club in New Orleans. If you are an ‘Out of Towner’ you may be best advised to not to wander off to some of the parishes out of the centre unless you are with a local, but there is more than enough going on to keep you busy seven nights a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year, and most of it is free.


When I say free, the tip culture in the USA is prevalent in New Orleans, and most of the musicians play for tips only. Obviously the street musicians are only playing for tips but even the bars and clubs don’t pay the band. The tip jar is a feature and a dollar in the jar is all your social conscience need to worry about. If you really enjoyed it and want to give more, then most of the acts have CDs for sale, ten dollars each or two for fifteen is a typical tariff, but of course it varies.


Visit New Orleans, go down Frenchman Street, and then try and tell me you don’t like jazz.


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