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Jim Cullum Jazz Band Live From Stanford This Week On Riverwalk Jazz


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This week on Riverwalk Jazz, The Jim Cullum Jazz Band presents a collection of early jazz classics from New Orleans and beyond. It's a summer concert captured live at the Stanford Jazz Workshop with Evan Christopher on clarinet. The Jim Cullum Jazz Band brings a fresh approach to its classic repertoire.

The program is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM satellite radio and can be streamed on-demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website. You can also drop in on a continuous stream of shows at the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound.

What sets '20s and '30s hot jazz apart from the cool Bebop of the '40s and '50s?

Early jazz was dance music. Crowded, noisy and smoky dance halls large and small in New Orleans, Chicago and San Francisco's Barbary Coast were where jazz first found its voice in the years after World War I. “Jazz" (originally spelled “jass") was coined to describe the relentlessly peppy rhythmic quality of a kind of ragtime-based music coming out of New Orleans. Back then (as now), '"jazz" was often used interchangeably with “enthusiasm."

In the 1920s, the self-conscious, wondrously abstract Bebop of the 1950s, with its much smaller audience of sophisticated “hipsters," and upon which a great deal of contemporary jazz is based, lay far in the future. In its early 20th-century genesis, jazz appealed to a mass audience. All of the styles of jazz that evolved during its 100-year history are performed today, and stylistic differences stand out from one another in stark contrast.

One of the most important differences—and a defining characteristic of early jazz—is the “ensemble" chorus, where all the horns improvise simultaneously. These spirited choruses are sometimes referred to as “collective improvisation." Another term used by musicians is “polyphony" (many sounds or voices).

In the jazz ensemble chorus performance, the role each horn plays is well-defined and natural. The declamatory cornet (or trumpet), explicitly states the melody ('lead') embellished with “hot" or syncopated rhythm. The highly mobile clarinet plays a detailed, constantly moving filigree of notes outlining the harmony, or chord changes, of the underlying tune.

The trombone, with its lower-pitched voice and less agile slide mechanism, plays a much simpler part based on the bass notes and counter-melodies of the tune. The slide enables the player to 'smear' from one note to another, creating the familiar “tailgate" trombone effect—so named because of the placement of the trombone at the tailgates of wagons used to promote bands in the streets of New Orleans.

Noisy, boisterous jazz as played by early bands projected an element of chaos and rebellion that was a breath of fresh air to urban youngsters of the post-WWI era and the ensuing “Roaring Twenties." By strictly adhering to the tonality of the tune and playing within the rules of the jazz ensemble for each instrument, audiences could easily recognize the melody of each tune. Bands invented their own unique additions and embellishments based on simple 'riff' melodies and hot rhythms. By the 1930s, the riffs themselves became an important part of the jazz language.

The first of the New Orleans bands to catch on nationally was the Original Dixie Jass Band, now referred to as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band or ODJB. The ODJB members composed a series of tunes they recorded in 1917 to follow up on the success of their first hit record, “Livery Stable Blues." Some of these tunes, such as “Dixie Jass Band One-Step," “Fidgety Feet" and “At the Jazz Band Ball" were re-recorded many times through the decades by enormously popular bands such as Bix Beiderbecke and The Wolverine Orchestra, The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, The Bob Crosbyy Bob Cats, Bud Freeman's Summa Cum Laude, and Eddie Condon. Today these tunes are a core component of the Traditional Jazz Revival still ongoing.

New Orleans-based clarinetist Evan Christopher, heard on this week's broadcast, held The Jim Cullum Jazz Band clarinet chair from 1996 through 1999. Evan has a deep commitment to exploring the full range of possibilities in the traditions of New Orleans Jazz. His sound is anchored in the rich jazz tradition founded by early Creole clarinetists—Sidney Bechet, Omer Simeon and Barney Bigard.

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