Traditional Jazz with Pops Coffee- His Three Books Reviewed

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Pops Coffee
Enjoying Traditional Jazz, 265 pages
Playing Traditional Jazz, 118 pages
Tuba Skinny and Shaye Cohn, 166 pages
Amazon.com/PopsCoffee

Pops Coffee turned his focus to traditional jazz in his early ’50s but he pursued learning with such vehemence that thirty-odd years later he has become a real authority. He has been given the gift of passion for his subject and we have been given the gift of his sharing that passion with us in hundreds of Pops Coffee’s Traditional Jazz Blogspot posts.

Traditional Jazz with Pops Coffee- His Three Books Reviewed
Ivan “Pops Coffe” on the Riverwalk in New Orleans

As a booster and translator of the current jazz Renaissance in New Orleans, he has become a producer of the scene as well as its documentarian. Like John Hammond writing his Melody Maker column, he’s not afraid to gush about the bands he has come to know personally and help them along with his words—words which have reached three-quarters of a million people. For him, a serious and joyful endeavor is underway and his enthusiasm is catching. He’s done it all from his perch in Nottingham England, and mostly by watching the same YouTube videos available to us all. His trick is getting us to see what he sees.

He brought his blog to a close in March but has compiled and edited some of his best writing into three small books available on Amazon for between six and eight dollars. The longest, Enjoying Traditional Jazz, is for the general reader. It is an updated take on the “how to listen” books of years past. Everything is conveyed in a conversational tone with frequent referrals to specific videos on YouTube and what you may find in them. The first section contains interesting topics to get your feet wet, such as identifying groups of songs sharing the same chord structure.

The reprinted blogs don’t have any sequentially building narrative to them; you can feel free to skip around. The second section asks questions to help you think about the music seriously such as “What are ‘Blues’?” The third section is a long run of short articles on dozens of currently active traditional jazz musicians. This is the true wealth of these books. The young and active aren’t as good at documenting themselves as they might think. Someday these profiles will be the authoritative references turned to in arguments. His essay on the origins of The Loose Marbles and the post Katrina migration of musicians to New Orleans is especially important. The final section of the book is a YouTube guided history of some greats of New Orleans style jazz beyond Louis Armstrong.

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Traditional Jazz with Pops Coffee- His Three Books Reviewed
Pops Coffee poses with Marla Dixon, leader of the Shotgun Jazz Band, in New Orleans. (photo courtesy playing-traditional-jazz.blogspot.com/)

The second book, Playing Traditional Jazz, is the shortest at 118 pages. Even non-musicians will find it an interesting guide to understanding what the heck they are doing up there. That said it is the most technical of the books with specific advice for individuals and bands wishing to improve their playing. Many of these points will be familiar complaints, but they are familiar still because not everyone has gotten the message. This is the most structured of the three books and most edited from the original blogs. I would highly recommend this one to musicians serious about creating great jazz effectively.

The last book is a collection of his many essays about the band Tuba Skinny and their unofficial musical director, Shaye Cohn. He cites the band frequently as examples of traditional jazz done right and considers them to be one of the best groups to ever come out of New Orleans. As the cornerstone, if not the progenitors, of the currently thriving New Orleans scene they are certainly worthy of their own book. Some of the background information on the band duplicates from the Enjoying Traditional Jazz but there is enough unique material to justify buying it separately if you are a fan of the band. The final 70 pages give a play-by-play of dozens of their tracks as recorded or performed and the book ends with a full listing of the titles they had performed as of this spring.

Why buy the books when you can get the blogs for free? Two reasons come to mind. I enjoy Pops Coffee’s blog but I’m never there for long. He sends me off to YouTube and who knows where I go from there. Having these in book form made it a lot easier for me to stick it out and absorb the material even in front of the computer with book in hand. The second is that while the now finished blog may remain online for another 20 years, there are no guarantees—and having the books is a back up of the most important of the material.

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