Tag Archives: Michael McQuaid

‘Jelly Roll Morton Concert’

By Tim Harding

On the evening of 3 April 2014, The Red Hot Rhythmakers presented a sold-out ‘Jelly Roll Morton Concert’ at the Flying Saucer Club in Elsternwick, a suburb of Melbourne.  Billed as ‘a musical journey through the life of pianist, composer and bandleader Jelly Roll Morton’, the concert traced Morton’s jazz career from the bordellos of New Orleans to the height of his fame in Chicago and New York.

Born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe in 1890, Jelly Roll Morton began his career in the early twentieth century as a pianist in the New Orleans ‘red light district’ (DeVeaux and Giddens 2009, 78-79, 92-93).  Regarded as the first great jazz composer, in that he combined predetermined elements with improvisation (Dapogny 1982, 5), Morton composed an impressive number of works.  Now considered to be staples of the early jazz repertoire (Schuller 1968, 135); many of these compositions featured in this concert. 

On this occasion, American cornet player Andy Schumm and drummer Josh Duffee joined the nine-piece Melbourne jazz band The Red Hot Rhythmakers.  Led by the talented young saxophonist and arranger Michael McQuaid, The Red Hot Rhythmakers specialise in performing authentic big band jazz and hot dance music from the 1920s.  By transcribing original recordings, McQuaid also arranges many of the works in the band’s repertoire, often including the horn solos.  He also provided an interesting commentary on Morton’s life and works throughout the concert. 

Figure 1 – The Red Hot Rhythmakers at the Flying Saucer Club with Andy Schumm on cornet (Michael McQuaid is third from left) (photograph by the author).

The full band comprised six horns (three brass and three reeds) seated across the front of the stage, with a three-piece rhythm section of banjo/guitar, drums and string bass/sousaphone positioned behind.  A notable absence was a piano, especially in view of Morton’s prominence as a leading early jazz pianist.  In light of this, the rhythm section sounded a little thin when compared to the lush horns, especially in two-beat passages where piano chords would have helped to emphasise the off-beats (beats 2 and 4 in each bar).

In order to showcase the full band, the evening commenced with a rousing up-tempo rendition of Morton’s composition ‘Burnin’ the Iceberg’.  This work has two strains – a fast 12-bar blues followed by a 16-bar chorus with instrumental breaks.  After a subdued clarinet solo by McQuaid, Schumm responded with a blaring hot cornet solo in the style of Morton’s original 1929 recording, followed by the full band playing harmonised riffs behind improvised clarinet in the final choruses. 

Following this opening number, and in order to provide a contrast, the group played Morton’s ‘Black Bottom Stomp’, a two-part work separated by a 4-bar key modulation from Bb to Eb, with three different themes or variations in the 16-bar first part (Dapogny 1982, 201-209).  On this occasion, the band played this fast-tempo piece with only 3 horns (cornet, clarinet and trombone).  This combo allowed room for more collective improvisation during the ensemble passages than would have been possible with the full band. McQuaid played a rhythmic clarinet solo in the lower register and Schumm shone with an exciting stop-time cornet solo, placing his hand half over the bell to provide tone colour in the 1920s Chicago jazz style.

Interestingly, most of Morton’s compositions were not of the usual 32-bar AABA Tin Pan Alley form.  They were original structures, often comprising multiple strains of different lengths (such as 16 bar verses and 32 bar ABAC choruses), like the ragtime tunes and brass band marches that Morton grew up with (Schuller 1968, 135).  

The full band then played two of Morton’s medium-tempo works based on the 12-bar blues, ‘London Café Blues’ and ‘Dead Man Blues’.  The latter piece began with a somber funeral dirge presaging the blues, but both works contained melodic variations so innovative that the average listener may not have recognised them as blues. 

The regular drummer with the band, Sandra Talty, is also a fine jazz singer influenced by Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday.  Sandra also took to the stage to sing the Morton compositions ‘Sweet Substitute’, ‘Doctor Jazz’, ‘Good Old New York’ and ‘Why?’, accompanied by a smaller combo.  Unusually, the wistful ballad ‘Sweet Substitute’ (which is about an illicit sexual relationship) consisted of a verse and chorus of 16-bars each, whereas the medium tempo ‘Doctor Jazz’ had a more traditional 16-bar verse and a 32-bar ABAC chorus.  The string bassist Leigh Barker played arco (using the bow) in ‘Sweet Substitute’ to great effect.  

One of Morton’s most famous compositions performed towards the end of the concert was ‘King Porter Stomp’, which has three different strains of 16-bars each.  The full band played it in the late 1930s swing band style of Benny Goodman, for whom it became a huge hit during the Big Band Era.  The full band finished the concert with a very fast version of the jazz standard ‘Panama’ (composed by William Tyers rather than Morton).  This tune featured some outstandingly rapid fingering by the three saxophones playing in harmony, resulting in enthusiastic applause from the audience. 

Overall, the concert was a fine tribute to jazz’s earliest composer, authentically played by some of the best young musicians in this genre.

References

Dapogny, James. 1982. Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton: The Collected Piano Music.  Washington D.C: Smithsonian Institution Press.

DeVeaux, Scott and Giddins, Gary. 2009. Jazz. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Schuller, Gunther. 1968. Early Jazz – Its Roots and Musical Development.  New York: Oxford University Press.

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‘The New Wireless’ CD review

nolte-front-cover

CD album title: ‘The New Wireless’
Band: Andrew Nolte and His Orchestra
Recorded: Live at the Spotted Mallard, Brunswick in 2014 (CD released 2016).
Length: 10 tracks totaling 34 mins 13 seconds

Review by Tim Harding

If I had to sum up this album in one word, it would be ‘authenticity’.  It looks and sounds like Andrew Nolte as leader and CD producer is trying to recreate an authentic 1920s dance band, and to that extent he succeeds admirably.

Almost everything about this album is authentic– the mono recording (possibly using a single microphone), the arrangements, the playing style, the danceable tempos, the band photos in tuxedos with wing-collar shirts – even down to Andrew Nolte’s 1920s haircut and moustache!

If it wasn’t for the audible bass drum, one could even be forgiven for thinking that this album was recorded in the 1920s.  But don’t get me wrong – the bass drum helps to provide a driving two-beat rhythm that I’m sure would be great for dancing.  In fact, Benjamin Braithwaite’s drumming is rock solid, yet light-touched and stylistically…um, authentic.  Not a high-hat or ride cymbal in sight.

Based in Melbourne, the band regularly performs at various music venues and events, including the Victorian Jazz Club.  According to the band’s web site: ‘The Orchestra was formed as a result of a lifelong interest in early 20th Century history, and thus the inspiration for an ensemble arose out of Andrew Nolte’s vast collection of old records, orchestrations, piano music, film, magazines and newspapers.’

The Orchestra is the standard 1920s dance band line-up – three brass, 3 reeds and 4 rhythm including a banjo and sousaphone.  (The saxes occasionally switch to clarinets in the Fletcher Henderson style). This line-up is ideal for playing what I understand to be the original stock charts from the 1920s, as no in-house arranger credits are given on the liner notes.

Some of the arrangements are very similar to those in the early recordings. For instance, ‘Clementine from New Orleans’ is similar to the 1927 California Ramblers version; and ‘Glad Rag Doll’ is similar to the 1928 version by the Golden Gate Orchestra (which according to Brian Rust was a pseudonym for the California Ramblers).  ‘Alone at Last’ is based on the 1925 arrangement written by Don Redman for Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra, and popularized by the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks.

I think that the band interprets these old arrangements very well, in terms of phrasing and articulation.  There are not many ad lib solos, although Andrew Nolte on lead alto sax and Rob Moffat on trombone play occasional 8 or 16 bar solo melodies.  An exception is the pianist Buck Evans (from the USA) who ably ad-libs on the right hand throughout, and plus full ad-lib choruses on some tunes, such as ‘Alone At Last’ and ‘I’m Gonna Charleston Back to Charleston’.  Rob Moffat also does a nice 16-bar ad-lib trombone solo using a plunger mute on ‘Stockholm Stomp’.  One of the trumpets (Robert Rizzo or Sean Nihill) sometimes ‘lets loose’ and ad-libs in a quite jazzy style during the last chorus of some tracks.

According to the cover notes, Michael McQuaid plays tenor sax on three tracks, where Russell Oxley plays lead alto sax and Andrew Nolte plays banjo instead of Campbell Shaw.  (If I was the leader, I would have re-arranged the charts to give Michael some ad lib solos).

Andrew Nolte sings on some tracks and imitates Ted Lewis’ spoken singing style on ‘When My Baby Smiles At Me’.  I don’t know if the band has a girl singer, but that would usually be a popular addition, notwithstanding that most 1920s vocal charts were written for tenor voices.

If you like listening to the early larger bands, or even dancing at home, and you would like to encourage Melbourne’s younger jazz musicians, then this album is one for you.  No record label or price is shown on the cover; so presumably this album is ‘self-published’ and obtainable via the band’s web site http://www.andrewnolteandhisorchestra.com/

(This review was published in Jazzline magazine, Vol. 50 No. 1, Autumn/Winter 2017).

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