Texas Shout #4- Reading, Solo & Ensemble Skills

Life is Better with Syncopation. Spread The Word!

The American Rag/Texas Shout Reprints By Tex Wyndham

(The following introduction was added to this column when a series of reprints began in 1997.)

Set forth below is the fourth “Texas Shout” column, reprinted from the March 1990 issue of The American Rag (then West Coast Rag). Because the text has not been updated, I should point out that, since it appeared, the graying of the audience for Dixieland has placed all local Dixieland jazz clubs, on the West Coast and elsewhere, in precarious shape from the point of view of finances and attendance at regular presentations.

 


In my last “Texas Shout”, I mentioned that the skills required to play hot dance jazz are substantially different from the skills required to play other types of Dixieland. Actually, there are three main skills utilized in playing the various styles of Dixieland jazz. For purposes of today’s column, I’ll call them “reading skill”, “solo skill” and “ensemble skill”.

Reading skill is the ability to execute a written or memorized arrangement with the proper degree of jazz phrasing and feeling. As explained in my previous column, it is the most important skill in the hot dance style of Dixieland.

Solo skill is the ability to conceive novel and interesting improvisations, together with the instrumental ability to execute those improvisations as they are conceived. Although soloing is important in all jazz styles, solo skill is most highly valued in Chicago-style Dixieland, where the solos are the focus of the performance.

Ensemble skill is the ability to listen at once to as many as seven other musicians improvising simultaneously while, at the same time, conceiving and executing an improvisation that will enhance and complement their efforts, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This is the most highly-valued skill in the other styles of Dixieland, such as uptown New Orleans, West Coast revival, etc.

Many Dixielanders possess all three of these skills to some degree. However, it should be noted that being particularly proficient at one of these skills does not necessarily guarantee adequate performance at either of the other two.

That is the reason why so many hand-picked all-star bands fail to jell as units. All-stars are usually selected for their superior solo skills. However, a group of outstanding soloists may include several artists with below-average ensemble skills. In a Dixieland band, even one performer who functions poorly in an ensemble can bend the overall results out of shape.

Sidney Bechet, for example, though arguably the finest soloist Dixieland jazz ever produced, was a relatively weak ensemble player, being a flamboyant artist who tended to dominate ensembles. Bechet’s best ensemble recordings were made on those occasions when he was matched with other top players who were equally strong-willed, and who could stand their ground with Bechet in an ensemble context.

A player in a hot dance band should practice by spending time sight-reading, or by going over any memorized arrangements to be sure his notes are fixed in his mind and can be instantly executed. Depending on the difficulty of the scores, and on the other instruments with which he has to blend, he may also need to work on range and tone.

A player desiring to practice ensemble skills should seize every opportunity to play with other improvising Dixielanders, in as many different combinations and styles, with as varied a repertoire, as possible. Failing that, ensemble practice could be gained by playing along with a good variety of recordings.

A player practicing solos is going to work on developing licks and creating logical melodic lines. Playing with records is suitable for this purpose, but a sufficiently broad-based musician might be able to get by practicing with a metronome (or without one, if he has a sure enough sense of rhythm).

A professional musician will often need to attain a professional standard in all three areas. He will have the time to do the required practicing and will usually have to be proficient at reading, soloing and ensemble playing if he is to compete successfully for whatever gigs may come his way.

The problem is that these days, except for a few areas like Orlando or New Orleans where nostalgic music is either an important part of the entertainment scene or part of the area’s tourist-attraction heritage, it is next to impossible for a musician to make a secure full-time living playing Dixieland. The overwhelming majority of Dixieland musicians seen at local jazz clubs and festivals today are semi-pros who depend importantly on full- or part-time non-musical jobs for their livelihood.

Most part-time musicians simply do not have the practice time available to become accomplished in all three areas described above. This fact has some impact on the quality of the music provided by the average Dixieland band we hear today.

Let’s start with soloing, which is the most discouraging area. Becoming a consistently creative soloist requires constantly working to expand one’s ideas and to extend one’s self. A musician who practices an hour or two a week and then plays a gig or two on the weekend is very unlikely, unless unusually gifted, to do more than get himself back to where he was last weekend by the time he finishes his weekly cycle. He will spend most of his solo time reworking favorite figures and standard licks that lie comfortably under his fingers.

Unfortunately, and it pains me to say so, the level of soloing we hear these days from the part-time bands is pitifully weak, even from many of the best-known players and combos. As a record reviewer over the past twenty-plus years, I’ve heard a pretty representative sampling of what’s out there. I’d be hard put to name more than a small handful of part-time Dixielanders who manage to get through a record (or a festival set) without substantially repeating themselves as soloists and leaving me with an uncomfortable sense of deja vu.

Whether you like the all-star jam sets or not, the fact is that if you like consistently inventive soloing, you’re much better off to spend time with the name pros on the all-star festival sets, even if their ensembles seem chaotic. Similarly, if you are a budding Dixielander who wants to learn to solo, the records of your favorite organized bands are not going to teach it to you as well as the recordings of the famous professional soloists.

The news is much better in the other two areas. In particular, I’ve observed that the typical format for West Coast Dixieland jazz club meetings almost always includes several informal jam sets for the members. In those cases, a person desiring to jam will be matched, from month to month, with a wide variety of players, of all levels of ability and in a mix of styles.

This admirable practice not only helps involve people in the music, to ensure some sort of steady supply of players, but it is ideal for developing ensemble skill. I feel sure that this factor is an important one in the relative health of Dixieland jazz on the West Coast as compared with the rest of the country (where the informal jam session is generally not an integral part of local jazz club meetings).

Denver Jazz Club Youth All-Stars

Finally, most players learned their instruments in school, where they were also taught to read music. If the school had a stage band program, they were also taught to read with a jazz feeling and to read more complex licks than are usually found in a Dixieland arrangement.

After leaving school, such players can gravitate rather easily to Dixieland, which is all to the good for our music. There are quite a few bands out there which are either reading their charts or obviously performing memorized arrangements, and doing a most effective job thereof.

So-called purists may scoff at Dixieland that isn’t fully improvised, but as I pointed out in my previous column, hot dance is a perfectly valid Dixieland style. In today’s climate of part-time musicians, the presence of arrangements provides a way for a band to play a much broader and more varied program than it could if the sidemen were required to memorize the entire band’s book in the limited practice time available to them. Also, the presence of the arrangements makes it possible to bring younger musicians, fresh from their stage-band training, into a Dixieland situation that allows them to feel comfortable and be productive while learning the rules of the music.

None of the foregoing remarks is intended to be critical of the scene or of the players that comprise it. They’re designed more to help the non-musician fans in the crowd better understand what’s going on onstage. Once you’ve grasped the dynamics of the situation, I think you’re likely to be more forgiving of any weaknesses caused by the circumstances under which we all have to function today, and thereby enjoy yourself more. And what should Dixieland be all about, if it isn’t enjoying yourself?


Want to read ahead? Buy the book!

The full run of “Texas Shout” has been collected into a lavishly illustrated trade paperback entitled Texas Shout: How Dixieland Jazz Works.  This book is available @ $20.00 plus $2.95 shipping from Tex Wyndham, P.O. Box 831, Mendenhall, PA 19357, phone (610) 388-6330.  On request, Tex will autograph the book and add a personalized note (be sure to tell him to whom the note should be addressed).

 

 

 


Note: All links, pictures, videos or graphics accompanying the Shouts were added at the discretion of the Syncopated Times editorial staff. They did not accompany the original columns and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Tex Wyndham.


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Texas Shout #3 – Hot Dance

Life is Better with Syncopation. Spread The Word!

The American Rag/Texas Shout Reprints By Tex Wyndham

(The following introduction was added to this column when a series of reprints began in 1997.)

Set forth below is the third “Texas Shout” column, reprinted from the February 1990 issue of The American Rag (then West Coast Rag). It was the first such column to discuss the defining characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of a Dixieland jazz style.

I have identified seven such styles: white New Orleans, hot dance, downtown New Orleans, Chicago, uptown New Orleans, West Coast revival and British trad. Eventually I wound up writing a similar essay about each of them. Because some styles took more than one issue to discuss fully, they consumed twelve of the total of seventy-five columns, thus comprising the most extensive single topic covered during the days of “Texas Shout”.


Hot Dance

Festivals wishing to present the full spectrum of pre-swing (i.e., Dixieland) jazz styles customarily include combos playing “hot dance” music. Like many terms emerging from popular culture, “hot dance” is not the best name that could have been selected for the particular type of jazz it describes.

Image result for Hot Dance Band Jazz
Jazz Roots 2015 Dance Teachers Battle

As a result, I have encountered some misconceptions about hot dance music which I’ll mention and try to clear up below. In addition, I’ve never seen anyone attempt a useful working definition of “hot dance” in musical terms. So, for the benefit of festivalgoers and other interested listeners, I’ll provide you with one:

“Hot dance” is a pre-swing, or Dixieland, jazz style in which the ensemble passages are generally arranged (either via written scores or memorized voicing), leaving only the solo passages available for improvisation.

To properly understand that definition, you should be sure not to confuse an “arrangement” with a “routine”. A routine is a common understanding among the musicians as to when certain strains of the selection will be performed, where the key changes and breaks are, and which instruments are to be playing at which times. It need not involve an arrangement.

All jazz performances have to have routines, even if they are the common ensemble-solos-ensemble jam formats handled spontaneously on the bandstand by having the leader point his finger at the next soloist. Many Dixieland standards have very complex routines. “Tiger Rag” is an example of a tune that has an extremely tricky routine — one which all seasoned Dixielanders know, but which is rarely rendered via an arrangement.Musicians will sometimes casually refer to the routine as the “chart” or, less accurately, as the “arrangement”. However, an arrangement, in the sense we are using it here, applies to musical passages which are voiced in advance so that the instrumentalist is given little or no choice as to the notes he is to play during those passages.

With those ideas in mind, let’s address two misconceptions regarding hot dance. The first is the notion that hot dance is an exclusively big-band idiom. The second is the notion that hot dance is not jazz, or that it has some lower amount of jazz content than other Dixieland styles.

It is true that a large group playing twenties-style jazz will be a hot dance band. Once you have more than eight instruments, you pretty much have to voice the ensembles to keep everyone from getting in each other’s way. In that sense, hot dance may be thought of loosely as the big-band jazz style of the twenties just as swing was the big-band jazz style of the thirties.

However, a smaller combo may elect to arrange its ensembles on some or all of its tunes, and will thereby become a hot dance band, just as there are swing combos that have fewer sidemen than a typical thirties swing band. The Stomp Off label has, in recent years, released a number of fine hot dance albums by groups using the conventional seven-or-fewer Dixieland lineup. One of the most popular thereof is the Hot Antic Jazz Band which uses the doubling talents of its five (sometimes) six musicians and very intricate arrangements to evoke the feeling of a larger unit.

To address the second misconception, hot dance is most emphatically a jazz style. In fact, that’s what the word “hot” tells you. If the performance is not a jazz performance, then it is ordinary dance music. Thus, it is not proper to use “hot dance” as a catchall term for any twenties-style pop music.

How do you tell if you’re hearing a hot dance performance? First, you satisfy yourself that it is, on the whole, a jazz performance — i.e., its main focus is on using jazz licks and jazz phrasing, played with a jazz feeling. Second, you satisfy yourself that it is a Dixieland performance — i.e., it deliberately avoids the jazz licks and conventions of swing or of other advanced jazz styles. Third, you listen to try to determine whether the ensembles you’re hearing, for the most part, must have been voiced in advance. If all three tests are passed, you have hot dance.

The third test will be the toughest. It might not always be possible to determine the presence of an arrangement just from hearing the performance.

In most cases, you will be able to detect an arrangement fairly easily — usually there’s not much point in arranging something unless you’re trying for an effect that wouldn’t happen spontaneously. However, if the band is doing a note-for-note re-creation of a performance that was originally fully improvised — let’s say the 12/8/27 OKeh 78 of “China Boy” by McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans — the result ideally would sound just the same as the original.

Why, you may ask, should a style of jazz be defined in a way that might not make it identifiable from listening to it? One answer to that question is that, whether one realizes it or not, all jazz styles can only be validly defined in terms of what the musicians are trying to do.

Musicians who operate under exactly the same rules and objectives are inevitably playing the same style of jazz — some better, some worse, some bringing their own distinctive sounds and ideas to it, but they could all sit in with each other’s bands and get along. It’s only when you change one or more of those rules, say to put more emphasis on soloing, or on fancy repertoire, etc., that you move to a new style. Usually, those changes will be fairly obvious to a seasoned listener, but that need not necessarily be the case.

Another answer to that question is that the skills required to play hot dance are substantially different from those required to play other styles of Dixieland jazz. To function effectively in hot dance, a musician must be able to execute written or memorized arrangements with a proper jazz phrasing and a feeling of spontaneity. For other styles of Dixieland, a musician need not be able to read music or to fit in with scored voices. In Chicago style, for example, where the solo is the focus of the performance, it will be sufficient if he is a talented and creative soloist. (By the way, the subject of Dixieland skills is really a larger one that needs a column of its own.)

Note that it is the performance, not the band, that determines the style of jazz. Most bands can only play convincingly in one style and are not interested in playing other styles, so that it would be proper to refer to them as “uptown New Orleans” or “West Coast revival” style bands. Other groups, however, may take a more eclectic outlook.

One such group, fondly remembered as one of the best of the twenties white hot dance bands, was the Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra. However, listening to its overall output reveals that many of its recording are straight non-jazz dance music. It wasn’t until the Nighthawks began waxing jazz-permeated material like “High Fever” and “Roodles” that they became a jazz — i.e., a hot dance — orchestra.

This characteristic is more typical of groups that like to play hot dance. Some of their selections will be hot dance numbers, some (if the band is small enough) might be fully improvised, and some might be conventional dance tunes. Failure to notice this difference causes bands like, e.g., Paul Whiteman’s twenties band, to be too casually referred to as hot dance bands. Actually, most Whiteman performances are not primarily focused on jazz, despite the presence of Bix and other famous jazzmen. They are essentially ordinary dance music, spiced up in isolated portions by an overlay of jazz.

Paul Whiteman opens the Venetian Pool, Coral Gables Florida.

One point may bother some of those who have wanted to dismiss hot dance as being some kind of weak sister in the Dixieland field. The pre-swing recordings of the great Negro orchestras such as Moten, Ellington and Henderson are properly characterized as hot dance sides. That is, from a technical point of view, the members of those orchestras were given exactly the same assignment as the Coon-Sanders musicians — read the arrangement and play hot solos.

Calling early Ellington and Henderson “hot dance” may disturb fans who feel that such outstanding groups should not be lumped into the same category as the lesser-quality white hot dance bands. In this instance, one needs to realize two things: (1) In all styles of jazz, there will be musicians who are much, much better at what they’re doing than other musicians. (2) In the twenties, the Black jazz orchestras were so far ahead of their white counterparts that comparisons are hardly possible.

Black bands displayed a much more pervasive jazz feeling, and far superior soloists, than the whites. Had Ellington’s crew waxed the Coon-Sanders arrangement of “Brainstorm” while the Nighthawks were waxing the Ellington score of “The Mooche”, each would have known exactly what it was supposed to do. However, in that case, I feel sure that the Ellington rendition would have been so superior that today’s Dixielanders would have made “Brainstorm” into the quasi-standard that “The Mooche” has become, and the latter tune would have fallen more by the wayside.

By the way, I would like to emphasize that my use of Coon-Sanders for illustrative purposes here is not meant in any way to denigrate the output of a band whose best records are every bit as memorable as its many present-day fans testify. One hardly needs to apologize for not consistently operating at the level of an Ellington.

Finally, and most importantly, what is the best way to enjoy hot dance music? You do so by focusing mostly on the arrangement. Has the arranger made imaginative use of his resources, giving you a pleasing yet distinctive mix of sounds? Has he found combinations that bring out special features of the composition, or shown you a vision of it that you hadn’t anticipated? Does the band handle the arrangement crisply, with the sections functioning as a unit with no rough edges? And, with regard to solos, do the soloists have the skill to carry their passages and provide the build that the arrangement contemplates?

Developing an appreciation of such matters will more than compensate you at your next festival when you decide to take off a set from a diet of free-wheeling let-it-all-hang-out jamming to catch the hot dance combo. Anyway, for fans or would-be fans of hot dance, I hope that the above provides you with a basis for more easy access to a fine and valid style of Dixieland.


Want to read ahead? Buy the book!

The full run of “Texas Shout” has been collected into a lavishly illustrated trade paperback entitled Texas Shout: How Dixieland Jazz Works.  This book is available @ $20.00 plus $2.95 shipping from Tex Wyndham, P.O. Box 831, Mendenhall, PA 19357, phone (610) 388-6330.  On request, Tex will autograph the book and add a personalized note (be sure to tell him to whom the note should be addressed).

 

 

 


Note: All links, pictures, videos or graphics accompanying the Shouts were added at the discretion of the Syncopated Times editorial staff. They did not accompany the original columns and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Tex Wyndham.


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Texas Shout #2 – Unavailable Records

Life is Better with Syncopation. Spread The Word!

The American Rag/Texas Shout Reprints By Tex Wyndham

(The following introduction was added to this column when a series of reprints began in 1997.)

Set forth below is the second “Texas Shout” column, reprinted from the January 1990 issue of The American Rag(then West Coast Rag). It is the only “Texas Shout” not written specifically for this publication, having previously appeared in the August 1989 Jersey Jazz. Because the text has not been updated, I should point out that, during the past decade, nearly everything of jazz interest that was recorded in the twenties has been reissued on CD. However, the points made in the column are still valid because most such reissues are on foreign labels stocked in the U.S. only by specialty dealers. One has to be deeply involved in Dixieland even to know where to obtain them.


Unavailable Records

It hardly needs to be said that you learn how to play jazz by listening to jazzmen perform. It goes without saying that, if you want to play jazz well, you need to listen to the greatest artists in the field. If you have not heard the best, and if you do not fully understand what makes them the best, the odds are that you will not move your own talents in the proper direction, nor stretch your skills to their maximum potential.

Where classic jazz is concerned, most of the truly lustrous names can be found only on recordings. Bud Freeman and Wild Bill Davison are about the last active practitioners from the twenties. If you want to study with Oliver, Bix, Louis, Bessie, Fatha, etc., you need to look toward your record player as a classroom.

Unfortunately, there no longer is any reasonable accessibility to the acknowledged masterpieces in the vintage discography. Go into your nearest record store and try to find any pre-swing jazz at all, much less music recorded in the twenties (regarded today, I suppose, as being in unacceptable fidelity). Although some of this material is beginning to appear on CDs, there is not as yet a whole lot of it, and as far as I know, mall stores, which usually go for high-volume, fast-turnover items, aren’t rushing to stock up on what has been issued.

Similarly, the large domestic corporations with rights to, say, the OKehs, Victors, Vocalions, etc., have minimal interest in producing recordings that will have low-volume sales to a decreasing number of fans of older-style jazz. Further, small collectors’ labels, for understandable reasons, tend to focus on really rare 78s that have never been reissued.

Image result for Japanese CD Louis ArmstrongThus, the budding jazzman who needs sources is cut off at the knees. Seasoned collectors know that classic stuff can be obtained, often on foreign labels, through specialty mail-order houses, but how many of today’s players even know about the limited-circulation publications in which such recordings are advertised?

The net effect of this dearth of masterworks is a change in the nature of the jazz being played. It is only too obvious that many of today’s organized bands are learning licks and tunes not from the originals but from each other, especially at festivals (about the only place where much interchange of ideas can occur these days, or where recordings can be bought in any quantity or variety). If you hear Band X play Tune Y, and you like the tune or it gets a good crowd response, you take the chart, using your hand-held cassette machine, and eventually show up with that tune played much that way in your own book. A natural enough thing to do, and where else can you find new tunes and figures?Related image

So far, so good. But the problem is that the guys on the next bandstand, though certainly capable enough, are probably themselves part-timers just like you. Without demeaning their talents, we still know that few of them deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the Hall Of Famers. They may have graduated from more modern forms of music in which amplification and heavy rhythm are taken for granted.* How likely is it that your own performances are going to be much improved if you follow their lead?

Thus we have, as once was noted in the letters column of The Mississippi Rag, some bands getting standing ovations today that would have been laughed off the stage twenty years ago. This situation is not their fault. Most of them in that category, I’m sure, are playing as well and honestly as they can. However, their growth has been stunted through lack of opportunity to understand what they’re supposed to be doing via intimate familiarity with the great recordings in the idiom. Audiences conditioned to a steady diet of amorphous music on the radio and in commercials, movie and TV sound tracks, etc., are in the same position and respond enthusiastically to a type of pre-swing jazz that is becoming increasingly hybridized.

Image result for vince giordanoPerhaps there is nothing wrong with this development. Perhaps all music should change over time. Perhaps it is just fine for musicians to play what they want to, and audiences to enjoy it, regardless of what it’s called.

Personally, though, I have some trouble with the way things are going. If our music is going to change, I don’t think it’s right that older-style jazz should become something else without realizing that it is doing so, or without changing what it calls itself.

As one who was lucky enough to amass a collection of music during a time when great material from the golden age was reissued in abundance, I get discouraged at the current flow of recordings from artists who too often have nothing to say, nothing to add to what’s gone before. And yet I think they would have much to contribute, if they only knew how to go about it — as can be demonstrated by a relatively limited number of musicians/bands (Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, The Jim Cullum Jazz Band, Warren Vache, Jr., Howard Alden and Kenny Davern, among others, are names that come quickly to mind that will be familiar to readers of Jersey Jazz) who have developed personal and valid styles within the bounds of traditional jazz. Which brings me back to the points in my first paragraph. With no solution to my concerns, that is as good a place to stop as any.

Related image

*As an aside, a good classic-style combo shouldn’t need amplification, except for vocals and announcements, on a typical indoor gig — i.e., one that isn’t in a large auditorium. Its instrumentation took shape at a time when sound equipment wasn’t available, and that’s why banjos, tubas, trombones and other instruments that can easily be heard without amplification wound up in Dixieland bands in the first place. Nevertheless, how may of you have seen bands that always operate with each man’s axe stuck into a turned-up mike? Can that kind of music be likely to “swing” in a jazz sense? Or will its rhythmic intensity and excitement be more likely to resemble that of rock rhythm?


Want to read ahead? Buy the book!

The full run of “Texas Shout” has been collected into a lavishly illustrated trade paperback entitled Texas Shout: How Dixieland Jazz Works.  This book is available @ $20.00 plus $2.95 shipping from Tex Wyndham, P.O. Box 831, Mendenhall, PA 19357, phone (610) 388-6330.  On request, Tex will autograph the book and add a personalized note (be sure to tell him to whom the note should be addressed).

 

 

 


Note: All links, pictures, videos or graphics accompanying the Shouts were added at the discretion of the Syncopated Times editorial staff. They did not accompany the original columns and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Tex Wyndham.


Back To Shouts Index

Texas Shout #1- “Dixieland”

Life is Better with Syncopation. Spread The Word!

The American Rag/Texas Shout Reprints By Tex Wyndham

(The following introduction was added to this column when a series of reprints began in 1997.)

Set forth below is the initial “Texas Shout” column, reprinted from the November-December 1989 issue of The American Rag(then West Coast Rag). Although the scene described therein has changed considerably in the past decade, I think this column is still a good place to start the reprint series because it deals with terminology, a subject that proved to be a frequent theme of “Texas Shout” through its lifetime.

Because the text has not been updated, I should point out that the “Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee” now calls itself the “Sacramento Jazz Jubilee” — not out of any aversion to the term “Dixieland”, but because the Jubilee currently presents such a broad range of jazz and jazz-related music that it can no longer properly be described as concentrating on any one of them. The same is true of Shasta and other festivals which used to include “Dixieland” in their names.


“Dixieland”

Not so long ago I undertook an assignment to write some liner notes. Everyone seemed happy with the result, except that both the producer and the artist took issue with my use of the term “Dixieland” to describe the music with which they were involved.

Dixieland Jazz Band
Whistlin’ Dixie

 I asked each to define for me what he thought “Dixieland” was. I got two very different answers, one of which went into such things as the clothes worn by the musicians on stage.

This incident caused me to reflect on the way, over the years, the term “Dixieland”, when used by people who have a deep commitment to the music normally covered by West Coast Rag, has become a pejorative word. Interestingly enough, these people rarely go much beyond that point in refining their thinking about “Dixieland”. It’s as if they are saying: “I recognize that music which is heavily informed by devices used by jazzmen during the twenties may be categorized into several styles. I know which of these styles I enjoy. The other styles are ‘Dixieland’.”

Thus, I have Person No. 1 telling me that “Dixieland” is “solo-oriented” twenties-style jazz, meaning (in this person’s case) what we generally refer to as Chicago style, a type which this person doesn’t like much (he prefers an emphasis on ensemble playing with carefully-worked-out routines on little-known titles). However, some well-known Chicagoans are reputed to have expressed a dislike of “Dixieland” and a preference to avoid playing with “Dixieland” musicians (meaning exactly those (usually) part-time organized bands preferred by Person No. 1). Obviously, both can’t be right.

The short answer is that none of these attitudes, though quite prevalent among the cognoscenti, makes musical sense. If “Dixieland” refers to a style of music, then there must be a musical definition of it — that is, we should be able to tell if a band is a “Dixieland” band just from hearing it, without needing to see what it’s wearing, how it moves on stage, etc. Also, if “Dixieland” refers to a style of music, then there must be varying levels of performance of it, from excellent to inferior — that is, there must be good Dixieland as well as bad Dixieland.

Yet, those who resist use of the term “Dixieland” usually do so because, whatever it is, they want to dismiss all of it. At any rate, I have never heard such a person admit that there is a Dixieland performance that he really enjoys.

I submit that denigration of the term “Dixieland” reflects sloppy thinking on the part of the folks who desire to do so. Worse, it is counterproductive to the effort in which we are all engaged to attract more people to an enjoyment of our music.

We should recognize that there is no need for us to preach to the converted. Instead, we should want to present ourselves, via our music, our terminology, etc., so that we can most easily reach the ones who have not yet come to appreciate the merits of twenties-style jazz.

Image result for Classic Jazz bebopIf so, let’s face up to the fact that the most commonly understood term for our music, to those outside the field, is “Dixieland”. How many times have you had to explain to someone what “classic jazz” is? (“No sir, it has nothing to do with classical music.”) Or “traditional jazz”? (After all, bop has been around for nearly 50 years, and I have met bop musicians who consider themselves to be playing “traditional jazz”.) If someone not close to twenties-style jazz is going to associate any term with it at all, I think you’ll find overwhelmingly that the term which makes that association for them is “Dixieland”.

Moreover, to the civilians outside our hallowed halls, “Dixieland” does not have the negative connotation described above. They may not know exactly what Dixieland is, or to be able to define it with precision, but they usually have an upbeat image of it, an image that suggests a good time.

Producers of large festivals have frequently been quick to perceive the positive effects of “Dixieland” on general audiences. The largest, best-attended festival in the world calls itself the “Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee”.

I’m sure all of us can name many other festivals which go out of their way to make sure that the public knows that they are a “Dixieland” or “Dixie” festival (San Diego, Central Ohio, Shasta, Santa Rosa, etc.). The producers of these festivals know that they need the attendance, not only of the small number of traveling jazz fans and jazz club members who read the genre publications, but also of the public as a whole.

I think it is time for our community to stop trashing a term that works on our behalf. This word helps us get gigs and helps us get audiences into those gigs where we then have the opportunity to expose them to quality older-style music. In short, “Dixieland” is not a synonym for bad jazz. It is a very useful umbrella term for describing the type of music played at our favorite festivals, music which is comprised of several styles, all of which can be played badly or well.

(As an aside, I can’t help but be amused at the inconsistency displayed by certain fans and musicians who claim to hate “Dixieland” but who nevertheless take great pains to plan trips to attend — or get invitations to perform at — festivals that proclaim themselves to be “Dixieland” festivals that hire “Dixieland” musicians. Do such musicians make a point of telling the festival chairman, when the invitation comes in, that they really shouldn’t be invited because they don’t play “Dixieland”, or do they take the gig under false pretenses?)

For my own part, my Red Lion Jazz Band’s business card states that we play “Authentic Dixieland”. When people ask me what kind of jazz I play, I respond “Dixieland”; that answer usually strikes sparks of recognition, and of a positive type.

Image result for Red Lions Jazz BandIn the quarter-century the Red Lions have been together, we’ve never once, to my knowledge, lost a booking because the person who got my name decided he wanted a “classic jazz” or “traditional jazz” band and not a “Dixieland” band. Quite the contrary: I always point out to any potential client who’s never heard the RLJB that we are a Dixieland band, and he often responds with a sigh of relief and says that’s just what he wants.

We then go and play our regular show in which we perform as honestly, sincerely and uncompromisingly as we know how to do. Most of the time, both the crowd and the musicians leave with smiles of satisfaction on their faces.

Do yourself and the whole genre a favor. The next time you’re discussing jazz, don’t twist yourself into a pretzel trying to deny that you’re involved with “Dixieland” and trying to persuade others that they should investigate what they may perceive as an esoteric music described by a term they don’t know. Tell them up front that you like “Dixieland” (adding any other descriptive words, such as Chicago or uptown New Orleans, as you wish), and see if you don’t find yourself reaching a common understanding with them a lot faster than before.

Back To Shouts Index


The full run of “Texas Shout” has been collected into a lavishly illustrated trade paperback entitled Texas Shout: How Dixieland Jazz Works.  This book is available @ $20.00 plus $2.95 shipping from Tex Wyndham, P.O. Box 831, Mendenhall, PA 19357, phone (610) 388-6330.  On request, Tex will autograph the book and add a personalized note (be sure to tell him to whom the note should be addressed).

Note: All links, pictures, videos or graphics accompanying the Shouts were added at the discretion of the Syncopated Times editorial staff. They did not accompany the original columns and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Tex Wyndham.