What makes a good band?
This following comment from David Fox sparked off a discussion

Dear Fred

This fan has just returned from the IOM jazz festival having both good and mediocre experiences.

The Hilton hotel allocated two rooms to jazz. For the occasion they called one The Harlem Club and the other room The Cotton Club. The latter was where one could listen old type N. O. Jazz. The former was the venue for other styles of jazz.

I rated the Jim Mackintosh band as the most enjoyable. The inimitable Annie Hawkins on Bass and the young drummer Baby Jooles were special entertainers. It was nice to see a drummer who knows what brushes are and when to use them. The other players were also good but the trumpet man went off sick during the last set. The trumpet player from the Swedish 2nd Line Jazz Band deputized to the end.

The 2nd Line band leader (Trumpet) was very particular about the correct sound balance and took over the sound desk from the operator to make sure it was done right. A good thing too because until then the sound balance was poor.

The 2nd Line Jazz Band played High Society and the well known clarinet solo was played first by the reeds man on his tenor sax, and then by the trombone player, at a speed which could be described as ‘tempo DE teararse’. It was a stunning performance.

Marcia Pendlebury was doing her bit in Harlem Club so those of us in the other room did not get to hear her sing. Last year she and others from the Harlem Club joined the band in the Cotton club for a last half hour jam session. Unfortunately it was not to be this time. 

The Chicago Teds banjo player went off sick to hospital so Jim Mac deputized. Banjo player now ok I think.

I won’t go next year unless something different is on offer.

Regards - Dave Fox

I read David Fox's comments on the Manx Jazz Festival. David is too sensible to finger particular players or bands that he doesn't like, but what would make him return? - 

More "entertainment"? (Obviously) :  
Musicianship ahead of (or behind?) showmanship?  :  
Wider (or narrower?) range of jazz on offer?  : 
Different styles integrated or separated? :  
Music played with more (or less?) obvious feeling?  :  
Fewer (or more?) bands playing the same tired standards in the same few keys?  :  
A more (or less?) professional stage manner?  Or is the clue in the musicians who went off sick (hope they're better)  :   


People's views are always interesting.  A week and a half ago at a trio session in a pub we had a very enthusiastic listener. At the end he commented that he had seen some of us in proper jazz bands (six or seven piece) and thus knew that we COULD play jazz. We pointed out Jelly Roll Morton's trio recordings in the 1920s, but he seemed unimpressed. It didn't seem worthwhile mentioning the trios of Johnny Dodds, Barney Bigard, Omer Simeon, much less those of Benny Goodman, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Jimmy Giuffre. I suppose it would be a funny old world if we all agreed

John Muskett

I have just read Mr. Muskett's letter regarding bands. Like John I like all jazz if it is played well. Unfortunately this isn't always the case. I have come across some bands who have been playing for many years and the standard of musicianship is as low as if the musicians had only been playing for a year or two. Add to this questionable tuning and weak rhythm sections and you get a pretty dreary sound. these bands appear at festivals and clubs and any person fresh to the scene might come away far from impressed.

Also I consider a professional approach on stage essential." what shall we play next ? "  " what key is that in ?" etc. is a no-no. I understand there are fans who consider sloppy presentation and off-key playing as the real jazz well in that case I don't play jazz!  

Moe Green

Dear Fred, Moe Green's letter of 4th Oct deserves great response:-

I so agree with you, Moe, about the woeful lack of skill offered by so very many bands who might, indeed, be playing to people having their first experience of jazz. This is perhaps even more likely to be the case today than in the past... when everyone and his mother were likely to have had Chris Barber and Acker rammed into their ears for years. Lack of skill offends us, as some musos always will do... i.e. those who play with less of it than we think we have!!! My tongue is hurting the inside of my cheek!

I'm not sure I agree with you about the need for "slick" presentation. A degree of camaraderie and chat from the band, on stage, can be often entertaining and even endearing! I only have to mention me owd mate Terry Brunt!!!!

He is a superb musician by any standards, but... but... but when did any audience ever understand and applaud musicianship?

Allan Bentham, 05/10/08

 Regarding Alan Bentham's letter:- I was not advocating 'slick' presentation. A good rapport with the audience is essential. A few jokes, maybe a few comments about the upcoming number. It is essential to invite the audience into your music. But this need not detract from a professional performance. Show the audience that you are enjoying yourselves and it is quite catching.  

Moe Green, 05/10/08

Hi Fred,

I agree with what Moe Green writes to a certain extent, I know of bands that are weak in some respects, for all I know my band is in there somewhere.

What shall we play next ? I agree with this.

I play in three bands on a regular basis and two of them always go out with a list with chord book page numbers written by the cornet player (Alan Duckles plays cornet in all three bands), two reasons for this, (1). no messing about between numbers (2). although we have a large repertoire if you don't make a list you finish up playing the 30 well known tunes over and over again.

When I started my Sunday Lunchtime band at The John o' Gaunt in Lancaster over 25 years ago I made rules:

It was not to be a working band, just enjoy ourselves (it is a working band now).

Sitters in were very welcome, this works well.

NO LIST! we pick stuff out of the air and a lot of the time I just open a page in the chord book to see if we can find something different or new, this way we have come across lots of tunes that are now in our repertoire, (on gigs we have a list). 

The bands are... 

The New Riverside Jazz Band (Alan Duckles band) 
The Quayside Hot Stompers (Tom Culberts band) 
The Sun St Stompers(my band)

Barrie Marshall 05/10/08

What makes a good band? - David Fox

This letter is from a listener, and is just a view point not necessarily consistent with band leaders opinion. 

I prefer to see/listen to NO bands with seven players. Other combinations can be excellent but not producing the sound I want to hear. I understand the economics of smaller groups but that is not the point under discussion. I think it is absolutely essential to have a banjo to achieve "that sound". The reed man could leave his sax at home for me, and just come with his clarinet. I know of course that there are some great sax players around but in some other place please. A base guitar will only work for me if he plays the base notes and not veer away to fancy rhythms not suitable for NO jazz. I could go on.

The sound I want to hear is a well rehearsed tight togetherness with the use of dynamics being a feature. Listen to a top brass band, because playing all the range of dynamics is one reason they are at the top. (Dare I say it :- Pat Alcock is a master of this technique)

I am rarely entertained by the one after the other solos format. Bands who run with mostly deps stumble thro the AABA ( they all know the tune) then stand back for the solos. I am very much entertained with that rare occurrence when the soloist is backed by the other front liners either quietly playing the tune or playing moving chords. It is rare however because this is chat time or swig beer time for those not playing the solo. It goes without saying ( I hope) that there are certain tunes which are based on a bare solo with the rhythm section support.

The comment one often hears from band leaders is the expression "tired old standards".

Well I want to be clear about this, those standards are only tired when they are played by bands obviously fed up with playing them. ( we never hear that comment about great standard orchestral works) I like the standards and differences two good bands can produce with the same tune. Entertaining bands play the same tune differently each time and I don’t mean just the improvised solos.

I sometimes believe that our "trad" bands or other jazz bands would do well with a conductor or musical director ( I can hear the cries of horror already) not to be seen on stage of course. I say this because the superb fantastic articulation skills of our jazz men could benefit from some direction. Stage behaviour, sound balance, tuning appearance, professional stage manner, music format in particular.

I could give examples but it mean naming bands or musicians so best not.

To answer John Muskett about my Manx festival experience:- A lot of my misgivings were to do with the management or lack of it. It was not clear if anyone was in control. I have written to the Manx Jazz club and hope for an answer one day.

Just one view point.

Dave Fox,  07/10/08

From Fred McCormick, 07/10/08

Moe Green's email about the lack of professionalism among certain musicians has prompted me to raise something which has been bugging me for quite a while; namely the tendency of bands at festivals to repeat the same small number of tunes ad nauseum. You know the situation, I'm sure. Band No 1 mounts the rostrum. Much discussion. They strike up (we'll say) Beale Street Blues. Then in the course of a not-very-imaginative set, they work their way through Cakewalkin' Babies, St Louis Blues, Doctor Jazz and a dozen or so other similar warhorses.

Band No 2 takes the stage. After much discussion, they work their way through a similar list of warhorses, a fair bit of which repeats what band No 1 has just played. Band no 3 gets up and repeats a large slice of what bands 1 and 2 have just presented us with. So it goes throughout the weekend; exponentially.

Now, I'm the first to acknowledge that there are mitigating factors. Band repertoires were largely formed at a time when records of traditional jazz were expensive and hard to come by. The only way musicians could learn was by studying what records were available very closely. A lot of those musicians made a remarkable job and I certainly take my hat off to them. Against that, though, given the vast array of material which is available nowadays, and which can be downloaded off the Internet at very reasonable cost, wouldn't it be nice if more musicians sought out some less well known tunes?

Again, in a world where deps and stand ins are an ongoing fact of the business, there has to be a common stock of widely known tunes for bands to be able to function. So you're never going to get away from that hard core of well worn chestnuts. In truth, I wouldn't want to. I'd just like to hear them a little less often.

Finally, I do appreciate that there may be factors affecting the choice of repertoire which I'm not aware of. For instance, I used to wonder why that splendid Louis Armstrong Hot Seven tune, Potato Head Blues, is not heard more often. Then somebody told me that trumpeters need lungs like ole Satch hisself to be able to play it. 

But even when those factors are weighed, what does one say about a band which I heard at a weekend festival some time ago? Said band mounted the rostrum well into the programme of events and entered into the usual discussion. At length one of them said, "It's Easter. Let's kick off with Easter Parade". This was oblivious of the fact that, for all they knew, every band which preceded them might well have kicked off in the same way.

The bottom line I think is this. If a band is booked to play a festival, why not dig out some of the less well known numbers; tunes which the members can be reasonably certain haven't been flogged to death already that weekend? If you think that's asking too much, I've just come back from Kelsall jazz festival which, for a first time event, was superb. The landlord and landlady couldn't have been more welcoming; the bar staff were excellent; the food was great, and so was the real ale; Arthur Pedder did a grand job of overseeing the weekend; and the sound man worked his socks off. As a consequence, a whole lot of marvellous music was made and a great time was had by all. The only mosquito in the Germoline lay in the number of times I heard Do You Know What it Means To Miss Doctor Jazz That Cakewalkin' Baby From Basin Street St, New Orleans. At any rate, that's what it ended up sounding like.

To their enormous credit, The Blue Mags closed the festival with an absolutely blinding set, which fair blew the roof off the place, and in which they went out of their way to avoid repeating anything which had been played earlier. Granted they had Arthur on hand to tell them. But if the Blue Mags can go that extra mile, why can't some of the others at least try for the five hundred yards?

One final corollary. As part of that scintillating set, the Mags played King Oliver's Sobbin' Blues. A cornerstone of jazz history, and one which deserves to be much more familiar. Neither of the people sat next to me had ever heard it.

Fred McCormick.

Regarding Barry Marshall's letter I agree that you can fall into the trap of playing the same numbers all the time. I used to play with a band that had a regular monthly gig. The rest of the time we all played in our regular bands. Eventually the audience stopped coming because as one said we always played the same tunes. Our band plays at The Brown Jug in Newcastle at lunchtime on the first Sun. of the month and we try anything that comes to mind and if it works, it is in the book, and I lay great store on musicianship. 

Cheers Moe Green. 07/10/08

For audience novices like me, musicianship is defined in dictionary.com as "knowledge, skill, and artistic sensitivity in performing music" - Fred

Hello again Fred,

I do hope David Fox gets a sympathetic response from The Isle of Man organisers, and that they, and other promoters, can put on exactly what he wants.

But, no place in David's affections for Jelly Roll Morton's Dr. Jazz, Beale St Blues, The Pearls, Original Jelly Roll Blues, Jungle blues (all got sax or guitar - sometimes both!)? Nor presumably for half of King Oliver's Creole Band (1923) recordings with a saxophone (Working Man Blues, Mabel's Dream, Buddy's Habits, Riverside Blues......), ODJB (only 5 players, no banjo), Armstrong's Hot 5 (two missing), various Johnny Dodds and Clarence Williams combos (numerically inadequate) and Kid Ory's Creole Orchestra (Bud Scott having ditched his banjo in favour of the guitar - I think Barney Kessel also played with Ory)? The Oscar Celestin and Sam Morgan recordings are saxophonically besmirched and I suppose most of Sidney Bechet's work would also be cast into outer darkness.

"Tired old standards" are picked by bandleaders (often to the dischuffment of the rest of the band) who proceed to do nothing imaginative with them. Listen to Morton's Dr Jazz (oh no - of course it's prohibited) and consider whether any modern local band has remotely done it justice (most can't even play it in Db).

Or .... have a number of us been duped?......... Is "David Fox" a comic creation of Fred (or others) to provoke and flush out those of us with impure views? Come clean Fred, perhaps the joke has gone on long enough. 

Best (musicianly) wishes to all,

John Muskett  11/10/08

You're the joker John, I don't need to invite work, it's already here - big time - Fred

Dave Fox is completely wrong in what he says. I grew up in a world of orchestral music and you were always hearing things like "Oh, God. Not the Widor Toccata again!" and "If I have to listen to the Preludes and Fugues again I think I'll kill myself!" etc. And don't get me started on Handel's Messiah. The same feelings exist in all forms of music. I was talking to one of my fellow players just last week and he was saying about a bloke in the audience who comes every week, and every week he asks for "Doctor Jazz" and every week they play it. People should not be telling bands what they want to hear all the time. Yes, play requests, standards etc but its the job of the bands to educate their audiences in a way. Play things they haven't heard before, if they like them play them again, if they hate them don't play them. etc. Could you imagine what it would have been like if some crettin had said to Beethoven "We only want to hear your Fifth Symphony, we liked that. We don't care if you've got a new one out or not, we don't want to hear it no matter how good it is!". Actually something similar did happen to Schubert, he died a pauper with his music largely overlooked at the time. Only later, after his death, was he given the recognition he should have had when he was alive.

Andrew MacKenzie    14/10/08

Dear fred,

On the subject of what makes a good band, I agree a professional presentation is desirable. There are various ways this can be achieved - the easiest is probably to make a list of tunes (and their arrangements if not obvious) in order, so that the evening is planned out in advance - boring! boring! boring! When handed such a list preplanning the evening my heart drops a beat - no surprises, no unknowns, less challenges, no flexibility, less creative jazz content?

Our quartet has a useful way of avoiding too much repetition of tunes, by using a matrix next to the alphabetical tune list and ticking boxes when we play a tune we can quickly see the number of squares (each representing a week) since a tune was last played - usually we avoid repeating a tune for about 8-10 weeks. We make a list - but it is an 'a la carte' menu and will have at least a third more tunes than time will allow - giving a guide but also flexibility to pick and choose and thus vary the program in response to audience reaction, mood and other unpredictable circumstances.

Personally I thrive on the stimulation of having a degree of unknown and believe the essence of the music to be the spontaneity of performance requiring reaction to the unexpected such as requests, sitters -in and atmosphere, or a band member unexpectedly excelling themselves on a number to the point of the leader altering the 'arrangement' in midstream to allow him to 'takeoff'.

Barry Marshall's Super Sunday session is great for this element of the unknown. There is professionalism there because a sitter -in might , for instance, only know a tune in the wrong key leading to discussion on stage of 'how can he be accommodated'. This is not 'sloppy presentation' it is letting the audience see a professional response to whatever the situation demands. 

My experience of several jam sessions at jazz festivals has been of considerable professionalism displayed when a group of jazzers, some never having met before and certainly not having played as an ensemble, being able to arrange themselves on the spur of the moment, often with just one or two words and signals to produce music which was much more exciting and had more jazz content than some of the pre-planned official band performances. These have been some of my best ever jazz experiences and seemed to excite the audiences too. So I think we have to be very careful not to remove the magic of such good jazz. Of course, the real reason a group of jazzers can get together and blend is that they have listened to and adsorbed the music for years and understand the framework within which they are working. The magic is actually hard experience. 

The addition of one dep., or sitter -in, into an otherwise regular band line-up can break the normal routine stimulating the group into a level of performance greater than their norm. I think this is because the elements of the unknown and change have been introduced sparking that spontaneity that is so essential in jazz.

I strongly disagree with David Fox about the structure of a N. O. style band - all sorts of size and instrument mix can achieve it. But I do agree with him that strings of solos whilst the others drink their beer is a lost opportunity and that it is rapport between musicians and collective playing that makes the most exciting music.

Yours Peter Boswell    14/10/08

Audiences and bands have the solution well within reach. Nobody can deny the jazz world is full of variety and I feel that we must all agree that without this, the world would be a boring place for both musician and listener. 

Mr. Fox has the solution to his problem - two ears and two legs - if he does not like what he hears, he can walk away and not return. If sufficient folk agree with him then the band/bands in question will soon tire of playing to no audience and will either pack up, change their programme or just continue playing just for their own enjoyment. As for bands, they have a similar choice, they can concentrate on the same, well-worn numbers in which ever style they play or they can try to expand their repertoire. This does not mean sacrificing their style for another, just researching some new material.. If this does not work for their audience, the above will happen and it will be up to them what they do but, above all, they should not give up ( unless they are total rubbish!! ) because we need every jazz musician around to keep the music live in no matter which style!

Dave Dixson

Hi, Fred, I know the Harp in Albrighton is out of your catchment area but I thought you might like my two pen'orth about what makes a good band. A comment first about Dave Fox's views... he does seem to be very blinkered in choosing the style of music he wants to listen to, you yourself say a recent session saw you listening to a vibes player and enjoying it... why ever not if it is well played? At the Harp we have recently had a superb session with vibes, piano and drums. 

Regarding musicians and their music we really have two criteria... the musicians must be competent on their chosen instrument, and they are all much more than that, and they must enjoy playing the music because that enjoyment then passes through to the audience. 

I quite agree with the comments about bands who play the same old numbers to the extent that you could almost write the programme for them but surely that is up to the organiser who has a choice whether he gives a band repeat bookings or not. It isn't the nicest thing to do but if a band are boring the audience and as a result attendances are falling it is surely better to bring in new bands, whether they be established or younger bands trying to get on the jazz circuit. 

One of our popular bands is New Washboard Syncopators and at virtually every session they play at least one number which very few people have heard of (including the band members until cornet player Chris Carmel introduced it into their repertoire) and they are always well received . 

Whether it is the brilliant four piece Wabash Jazzmen, violinist Ben Holder with a rhythm section, Amy Roberts with her young band or the superb seven piece New Orleans Heat they all have one thing in common.... they all let the audience know that they enjoy entertaining them, what more could you ask for? 

Regards John Howell    15/10/08

28/03/09 - Some thoughts by John Muskett  

1 Audience Involvement.

Recently I was depping at a jazz club with a dixieland-to-mainstream band. A significant number of the audience (lovely people) kept requesting Chimes Blues, which we were reluctant to perform. On being asked whether other bands played this, they said: "all of them". We suggested that they get those other to bands to play it, but they seemed unimpressed, as they were when we indicated that we hadn't got a piano for the chimes - presumably King Oliver's version would not have sufficed. Eventually we succumbed, the comic cuts chimes (without bobbing up and down) being sounded by the horns (including a recently installed trumpeter and a dep trombonist) to an appreciative reception. I recounted this tale to another musician. "Your trouble, John," he said "is that you aren't distinguishing between a trad audience and jazz lovers." Was I flabbergasted? Then I thought of Andrew MacKenzie's remarks a few months ago on What Makes A Good Band.

2 Missing Themes

Now that so much early recorded jazz can easily be accessed, I am becoming aware of themes frequently omitted by local bands. I know that what really matters, in jazz terms, is what is done with the themes that ARE played (and some top bands have recorded excellent "reduced" versions), but I think that a number of musicians and listeners would enjoy the performance of multi-themed tunes in their entirety.

Some examples are:

At A Georgia Camp Meeting: Third theme often omitted.

Beale Street Blues: First (12 bar blues) theme sometimes missed.

Ole Miss: Second theme always omitted, and key change to third theme neglected.

Rent Party Blues: Second theme (verse?) usually omitted.

Saturday Night Function: The two differently chorded blues themes often omitted.

Shout 'em Aunt Tillie: Major (?) and minor 12 bar blues themes omitted.

Wolverine Blues: Second theme often omitted, and key change to third theme neglected.

Doubtless there are many other examples: what do other musos and listeners think? I recall that Hoagy Carmichael was said to be much miffed when Frank Sinatra omitted the chorus to Stardust on a recording.

Cheers - John Muskett           

02/04/09 - Dear Fred, 

Nice to hear from Mr. Muskett. I was interested to hear the theory about the audiences. Trad Jazz or Jazz Lovers. The former have probably not heard of King Oliver let alone his version of Chimes Blues. They think Chris Barber wrote it. Fortunately there are a few clubs where they don't insist on the same old tired warhorses every week and actually enjoy a tenor sax solo and even a guitar in the rythm section. 

As for bands playing numbers in their entirety and not missing out themes I agree. Many a number could be given new life. Although as a drummer I frequently miss out themes and play everything in the key of H. 

Moe Green.           

07/04/09 - Hi Fred

Must admit I've got a bit hot under the collar during the last few weeks while perusing 'Jazz Extras'. There seem to be a whole host of people who know what the musicians should be doing far better than the musicians themselves. Trouble is, that they don't seem to play any instruments.

Many factors make up whether a band is good, bad, or just (like most) indifferent, but there is another element which can tip the balance when it comes to enjoying a good evening's entertainment at the local jazz club/(pub?) ............ and here I refer to 

The Audience. 

OK, they may (or may not) have paid a token, adequate, excessive, or scandalous admission charge, but does that really give them the right to :-

  1. Chatter, louder, louder and LOUDER during even the quiet passages of most numbers?

  2. 'Request' the band-leader to play simple numbers like 'Hiawatha Rag', 'The Chant', 'Snake Rag' etc and then just bugger off to the bar for further (loud) chatter while those numbers are played?

  3. Notice that the session is being recorded (by the BBC or some poor 'ham' who's trying to get some of it preserved for posterity) so then get as close as they can to the mics. and mouth profanities as loudly as they can?

  4. (and I've actually seen this happen......) get together with several fellow-cretins and blow up and 'pop' crisp bags, to see who could make the loudest 'bang' while the band's doing it's best? ........... I could go on, but won't.

At the current rate, there won't be half a dozen bands playing 'Real' Jazz in ten years' time. Someone needs to encourage the youngsters to listen, learn and play. Happily there are a few....... but so very, very few. And they will only stick with it if the 'audience' encourages them.

Moan over,

John Westwood
(who once 'sat in' with the Smoky City Stompers, and would love to see their like reincarnated......... but know that it won't!)

09/04/09 - Dear Fred,

Regarding John Westwood's letter. I have never encountered an audience like he describes and I've played in front of a few in my time. Where does he go, the zoo ? It's true that clubs vary but confronted with such a rabble I would make my excuses and leave ! Most audiences comprise a few knowledgeable souls who have really studied the subject and the majority who just like to listen to jazz and thank goodness for them I say. We would be very lonely musicians without them. 

Moe Green. 


I'm muchly amused by the responses from 'Moe Green' if he's not played any gigs where the 'audience' are more interested in the beer and chatter than the music, he's very lucky - and I'm referring to North, South, East and West here. 

John Westwood

15/09/09 - Wider Repertoires

In response to suggestions about getting away from the old warhorses, could I make a plea for bands to make some tunes shorter than average to allow more to be fitted in? Typically a six or seven piece band will play one or two ensemble choruses, solos for all the front line (single or double choruses), a banjo/guitar or piano solo and one or two ensemble choruses out. Thus there are at least six choruses, could be twelve or even more if there is a verse, a vocal or a fourth horn. Thirty two bars at medium tempo last for about a minute, so it is not difficult to see that some tunes could last for at least ten minutes. Many celebrated jazz recordings took a bare three minutes (West End Blues, Doctor Jazz, Weather Bird, Singin' The Blues, Body And Soul), so it should be possible to produce worthwhile music in such a period. Of course for a live performance longer arrangements are often desirable - for dancers - to incorporate verses and vocals - for instrumental features. And the three minute limit would have kiboshed Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue at Newport in 1956!

How to do it? Cut down on horn solos (half a chorus or occasionally omit), incorporate duets (trumpet and piano, clarinet and bass, trombone and banjo/guitar), spread banjo, bass and drum solos thinly (all sometimes more remarkable for visual than musical content) and don't reprise vocals. As well as the opportunity to squeeze in more tunes, musicians would be encouraged to play something meaningful more pithily. Coleman Hawkins (B & S) managed to produce a masterpiece in just TWO choruses. - 

John Muskett

20/09/09 - 

Hi Fred

We had Brian Carrick's Algiers Stompers play for us Friday and those who gave comments, while agreeing they were a great band, would seem to have preferred more up tempo numbers. This leads me to add to your 'What makes a good band' forum.  (Remember, of course, I am a non-playing jazz fan who just likes good ol' New Orleans style music, and dance a bit!) 

It seems the first attempt to write a definition of Jazz was in the San Francisco Bulletin in 1913, when it was described as "dance music full of vigor and pep" Apparently one of Cab Calloway's musicians in the late 1920's quoted Cab as saying that "however good a band was, it's live audiences can't be held and entertained in the complete sense by sound alone. There must be something for the eyes to see" Now, none of us would expect any of the band members, on our jazz circuit, to go as far as Cab's example and enter on stage doing somersaults, etc! But maybe it has to be said that the most favoured bands around are those where, besides the ability to play good music, there is some great banter with the audience, a story or two (naughty even with care!) and also getting the jazzers clapping and singing in response. It is also a responsibility of us promoters to help set the scene at the venue to get both band and audience off on the right footing from the beginning.

Norman Gibson

09/09/10 - 

Hello Fred,  I was just reading some of John Muskett's comments. He sounds a bit like the guy many years ago, who after listening intently to the band, told me that my trombone solo was constructed from elements of a 1930's Teagarden, with lots of later Jim Robinson. AS IF IT MATTERED!!! Qustion - What makes a good band?  Answer - A bunch of musicians who are ENJOYING THEMSELVES!!

Question - What makes a good audience?

Answer - A bunch of people who instead of nit-picking and pontificating, can come along to a session and join in the enjoyment of musicians who enjoying playing.

Personally I don't mind how long the enjoyment lasts 3- 5 -7 minutes even more.

FUN ENJOYMENT (meeting people, especially the ladies) Ive been having fun playing jazz for over 45 years I wonder how many minutes that is?

It really doesn't matter

Have fun Regards Peter Jezard

09/09/10 - 

Hi Fred, I must protest at Mr. Muskett's comments about bands playing long tunes. When I take a drum solo I like to make it last for at least 20 mins. This includes a visit to the bar for refreshment and getting the audience back into the room at the completion of said solo. And there is something amusing ( ? ) listening to someone embarking on their third chorus when they were incapable of playing anything even remotely interesting in their first ! It was a bit unfair mentioning Hawks ' Body and Soul ' Sheer genius in less than 2 mins. What chance have we got ?

Moe Green. 

10/09/10 - 

ust a few comments on the latest topic. It's the leader's job to continually assess how things are going on the night and adjust accordingly. We don't need to stick to a rigid format of solos for all on every piece, nor have a full chorus for each solo, indeed some numbers are great when played ensemble right through. If one musician is clearly on form and having a ball, give them some more, if someone's not having a good night leave them out, (a good musician knows and will opt out anyway). Duets, 'fours'. (4-bar exchanges), sensitive backing, etc. all add variety and help to stimulate ideas. 

Length is a factor when making recordings, always has been (3 minute 78's) but live performances are alive and don't need a set limit. If the band is bored the music will be boring and the audience bored too. If the band is really cracking on it will be infectious. On the other hand analytical jazz punters with arms folded, with that 'entertain me if you dare' expression on their faces can't half affect a band's confidence if you let it! Do what jazz musicians have always done. Play it by ear and have fun. 

Richard Knock

10/09/10 - 

Hi Fred, Lovely to read two superbly tongue in cheek musos swapping lines on your site !

My two-pennorth on length of numbers ? Just for fun I checked out the first track of our new CD - 'Panama'. First come three repeated 'themes' which I timed at two minutes forty seven seconds. After solos, the final theme and 'ride out' chorus take up about a minute and a half so that's four and a half minutes ensemble. Many tunes of New Orleans format work in this fashion. 'High Society' is a case in point and so is Bechet's 'Dans les Rues d'Antibes'. The skill musicians should employ is in their use of dynamics to build tension and release in both ensemble and in solos. 'Brass Bands' of British and French origin have always used this format in their 'marching' tunes. Jazz 'Brass Bands' and composers just extended it a bit further. Come on John and Moe - keep it going!

Ian Royle

10/09/10 - 

If I were a trombonist and someone told me my solo was made up of 30s Teagarden and later Jim Robinson, I think I'd be flattered and take it as a compliment rather than accuse him of 'nitpicking' and 'pontificating'; but regardless of whether the person concerned was John Muskett (and it probably wasn't), his observation that we sometimes include too many choruses doesn't warrant that kind of abuse. If offering an opinion is pontificating, virtually everyone who writes in these pages is guilty of it, but we'd all be the poorer without them.  

Allan Wilcox

10/09/10 - 

Fun! FUN?? What's going on? When my schoolmates and I got into jazz we took it very seriously. First there were instruments to procure and learn. Scales, chords, arpeggios to come to terms with, accuracy of pitching, good tone and the occasional foray into difficult keys; developing the ability to listen to each other.

Fun! FUN?? There was a repertoire to master. Hours of clandestine listening to records by Oliver, Morton, Armstrong, Beiderbecke and possibly Bunk Johnson with the Yerba Buena Band. And chord sequences to work out and memorise. A whole new language to learn.

Fun! FUN?? We were on a mission to save the world from those twin evils of popular music - greasy haired Rock 'n' Rollers and egg-headed corduroy-clothed modernists. We were fighting against the annihilation of a distinctive art-form: the philistines were at the door. Serious stuff. Floreat Pedantica was our motto.

It's just possible that there's little harm in folks taking a modicum of enjoyment from jazz, but FUN? This sort of thing could disturb the even tenor of my life of morose introspection.

Whatever next? Dancing girls?

Best wishes,
John Muskett

10/09/10 - 

Hi Fred, My favourite story about what makes a good band.

Some years ago I was depping for a band that I have to admit was not the best in the world so it will remain nameless, it was a small audience but three older ladies where obviously enjoying it, so as is my way I went to chat to them. At one point one of them said to me, "You can tell your a proper jazz band from the way you dress". We were wearing sparkly waistcoats and boaters.

So any band leaders reading this take note!
Barrie Marshall

11/09/10 - 

I am glad someone shares my attitude to jazz ( I refer you to John Muskett's excellent letter ) There are a number of bands who appear to be enjoying themselves although this is obviously faked for the audience. Jazz is much too serious a matter to be treated in a lighthearted manner. A few years ago after many years of serious study I started to enjoy myself but was quickly pulled up by a fellow musician who had noticed me smiling during a particularly demanding blues. This was brought home to me when I saw the Illinois Jaquet trio with Jo Jones. Jo's beaming smile throughout the performance quite put me off the music and I had doubts about his ability to play real jazz. However the mention of dancing girls gives me pause for thought. I seem to remember that girls and fun can go together so maybe a few long solos behind ( ? ) one could be the mental release that I am looking for. 

Moe Green.

John Muskett is, as always, quite correct. If the bands can't put a song across in three and a half or four minutes, then either (a) they don't have a large repertoire, or (b) complacency has set in, or (c) self-indulgence has set in or (d) lack of imagination has set in. 

The Original Panama Jazzband will continue to play about 12 to 13 songs an hour including my ramblings in-between, keep the ensemble playing up at the expense of solos, and refrain from the two in / solos / two out format. Rubbish it maybe, but it's rubbish we've thought about! 

Cheers, Jon Critchley

14/09/10 - 

Hi Fred, about the letters re the pros and cons of bands playing long tunes. I have just read an article from a Jan. 1936 Downbeat Magazine about jazz clubs on the Southside of Chicago. In one club the reporter heard the Meade Lux Lewis trio who, quote; ' played a Yancey style blues for 50 mins.' and ' his Honky Tonk Train Blues for almost half an hour' I'm afraid that for me almost an hour of unrelieved blues piano is one experience I can do without. Likewise in another club Albert Ammons played a ' boogie number for 40mins. ' All I can say is ' where's the door ?" 

Moe Green

16/09/10 -

Fred, What price Sonny Rollins, known to have improvised on St. Thomas, and other tunes, for an hour plus at a time, taking the tunes apart and rebuilding them ? And still doing it, presumably, as we speak!

What would the local traddies make of that ?

Regards, Roy Swift

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