Dresden, 8/8/2014

last night cathy and i were walking home from the dresden tent festival… it’s a bit like the Garden Of Unearthly Delights at the adelaide festival, or the Festival Garden at the festival of sydney, but younger, more creative, dirtier, cheaper, heaps more entertainment, open later, more fun, better art, later parties.
Mic has played three or four half hour shows each night in his little tent, to really great audiences.  they gasp, they clap, they cheer.
there are a dozen little tents with a show in each, you buy three tickets on your way in and choose which three shows you will see. the last one ends at midnight.  then a band plays in the main bar for an hour or so.  then everybody hangs around the art installations making it totally impossible to go home because there’s always a puppeteer or a record store guy you really wanted to talk to.

so last night we were walking home around 3am, and as i stopped to take some midnight photos of the best painted bar in dresden we heard singing.  i thought, since the pub was closed, that a few locals had locked themselves in with some of the staff, and they were singing traditional german pop songs from the 90s.  but then i realised it was coming from further down the street, which is where we were walking anyway.  so we walked towards it.  then the singing stopped, and a saxophone started playing.  it was pretty good.  then more, a bit new orleansy, horn lines weaving around each other from the darkness.
dresden doesn’t have many streetlights.
and the newtown part of town is pretty dark and grey at night with all that stone.
so we walked towards the railway underpass, which is pretty much exactly like the train bridge over eddie avenue if it only had one street light and belmore park was a cemetary.  and eddie avenue was paved with cobble stones and you could walk down the middle of the street and only a bicycle would run you down.
so we got to the bridge and turned under it, and there they were. in almost complete blackness, two boys with a saxophone and a trombone, at 3:30am, playing their little hearts out.  i stopped to listen, and a man walked up to me and said a long sentence in German which included the phrase “free jazz trio”.  so when he finished talking i said in english (my first and last language) “yes but it’s only a duet”.  and he said in English “they are a free jazz trio, they just finished a rehearsal, the third guy has gone to his bed and they have had enough drink now that they want to play again”.

it was totally great.
and after another 5 hours sleep, i’m heading out for another day.

i’ll put a photo here eventually

but first i’ll put it on flickr

Jazz in Sydney, 2013

The jazz scene in Sydney nearly died at the turn of the century. The Side On Cafe and Wine Banc and Soup Plus all closed, leaving us with no proper full time jazz venue, and nobody doing anything above ground, not even one night a week.

But music abhors a vacuum, the jazz community rallies, and before long 505 had moved into its new home and a whole lot of underground venues started featuring jazz. Then Sydney’s new licensing laws finally came through, and there were a hundred small bars from Marrickville to kings cross who wanted a small cool band to stand in the corner and play a couple of times a week. Suddenly, regular work for guitarists, drummers, bass players, even tubas and pianists got a look in.

The growing energy in the last 6 years means that there are now a generation of young musicians who have had most of their training in an optimistic environment. They have entered the con knowing that there were regular gigs and a listening audience waiting for them. That there are ears waiting to hear music and it doesn’t have to have a pretty girl singing out the front. The pretty girl could be playing drums.

And Australia’s escape from the big financial crisis means that some of those young musicians have been able to afford to travel to new York and Paris and Berlin, to study and play and hang out. And, because we in Australia have spare money to pay musicians and people who are interested in New music, some of them have been able to form bands who can perform in both hemispheres.

There is another thing too. I don’t know how it happened, but most of these young players are really lovely. Friendly, generous professionals without chips on their shoulders or needles in their arms. Maybe there is a generation of music loving parents who have brought their kids up right. Maybe the seasoned musicians have been teaching communication skills along with syncopation. But they are all a pleasure to work with.

And so Sydney has an international jazz scene, populated by musicians with broad experience and big ideas. It’s been a decade since we’ve had that, and it’ll be a decade before we’ll know how it pans out.

Leo DickHughes

dick hughes playing piano on a riser at an RSL club, hitting the keys so hard that leo and two other guys had to stand behing the piano leaning on it to stop it falling off the stage

after the 2fc jazz session one saturday morning
leo: did you hear that session this morning with sidney bechet
dick: yes we recorded that a couple of weeks ago in paris

Mezz Mezzrow on Drums

(Mezz is on a big rave about where jazz went wrong … )

And then, to make things worse, along came an invention called the sock cymbal or highhat cymbal, and that was the end. This cymbal is played by the drummer with his left foot, as though he didn’t already have enough to do, what with his bass and snare drums and the cowbell and the woodblock and the rachet and the two or three Chinese and Turkish cymbals that real jazz drummers use. The result is a sort of topheavy effect, um-CHING, um-CHING, um-CHING for a beat instead of the steady tempo of the New Orleans drummers, and that strangles the rhythm so necessary to jazz. Now the tendency for the swing drummer is to play cymbal solos all the way through, fighting all the other musicians instead of helping to build them up. An offbeat ring comes out of his sock cymbal because the human body just isn’t constructed to do so many things all together – and that delayed CHING makes all the horn players fall into a kind of hesitation style, waiting for the drummer’s lagging cymbal beat before they can come up with their own notes. And they have to overblow their instruments, fighting to be heard above the drummer’s loud metallic hum; trumpets and clarinets go way up into their upper registers and become shrill and squealing, losing the rounded soulful tone of New Orleans music. Your improvisation, if you’re allowed any, isn’t built from a rich harmonic pattern any more, but centers around that clanging cymbal beat. Arrangers have to keep the sock cymbal in mind, and they build their orchestrations around it insted of using free chordal progressions, and all the New Orleans color is lost. When people with sensitive ears get apoplexy over the terrible din of so much modern swing and jump, they ought to remember that it’s not jazz they’re so horrified at. It’s the corruption of jazz that was brought about by the wrong, egocentric use of the piano, the individualistic sock cymbal, the modern-classical influence, and the terrible mechanization of today’s arrangements.

[ from Really the Blues, by Mezz Mezzrow

[barney says:

Whoa… and I thought jazz’s identity went south when Kenny G came along…
BUT then again, Imagine saying to any drummer now, “you have to play without that hi-hat cymbal”,
they’d have a fit!! They wouldn’t know what to do.
I’m with mezz, hi hats along with the other million things that happened after that. the internet for one.
I cant wait to be a grumpy old man and write a book of my own………

-> here’s another quote from Mezz, about the beauty of improvising with another human

Mezz Mezzrow on Harmony

I jumped into the harmony pattern like i was born to it, and never left the track for a moment. It was like slipping into a suit made to order for you by a tailor, silk-lined all through. When two musicians hit it off like that right from the start, a fine glow of ease and contentment creeps over them. They’ve reached a perfect understanding through their music; they’re friends, seeing eye to eye. Maybe there’s a parable here for the world. Two guys, complete strangers, face each other, and while one takes off on the lead, the other feeds the accompaniment to him, helping him to render his solo and making the solo richer, spurring him on and encouraging him all the way. One feeds harmony while the other speaks his piece on the horn, telling the world what’s on his mind, supported every inch of the way by his pal. It’s like a congregation backing up the minister’s words with whispered “Amen’s” at the right places. The congregation never stands up and hollers “Shut up! You’re a liar!” while the minister’s preaching – that would be dischord, the whole spell of being together and united in a common feeling would be broken. That’s how it is when you play music with a man you understand and who understands you. You preach to him with your horn and he answers back with his “Amen,” never contradicting you. You speak the same language , back each other up. Your message and his message fit together like pie and ice cream. When that happens, man, you know you’ve got a friend. You get that good feeling. You’re really sent.

Really The Blues, by Mezz Mezzrow

-> here’s another quote from Mezz, about when rhythm sections went wrong

Jelly Roll Morton leaving New Orleans

Jelly Roll Morton, 1907:

Those days I hung out at Eloise Blackenstein and Louise Aberdeen’s place – the rendezvous for all the big sports like Pensacola Kid, who later came to be the champion pool player of the world.  Bob Rowe, the man who didn’t know how many suits he had, and his wife, Ready Money, were regulars, also the Suicide Queen, who used to take poison all the time.  Tony Jackson also hung out there and was the cause of me not playing much piano.  When Tony came in, the guys would tell me, “get off that piano stool.  You’re hurting the piano’s feelings.”

One day we were all up at Lala’s saloon.  Pensacola Kid was paying Buster Brown for ten dollars a round and they asked me to keep the game.  In came Chicken Dick, the uptown roughneck, and started yelling, “Keeping the game, hey, little boy?  You don’t know what you doing.  I’m going to keep game.”  He hit me hard and I fell on the table with my hands on some balls.  I hauled off and hit him with a pool ball and he jumped like he was made of rubber.  Then i laid into him with more balls and some billiard cues and they finally had to haul him out of there.  That gave me a name.  “Don’t fool with Winding Boy.  He like to kill Chicken Dick.”  I had sense enough to know it wasn’t healthy to wear a name like that around New Orleans where some tough guy might decide to see how hard I really was.  So i decided to accept Tony Jackson’ invitation to visit Chicago.

[Mister Jelly Roll by Alan Lomax and Jelly Roll Morton]