Sunday, February 25, 2007

Snowy Morning Blues

( Naar de Nederlandse vertaling.)


On the 25th of February 1927, eighty years ago, James P. Johnson recorded at least three version of his famous Snowy Morning Blues in the Columbia studios of New York City. All three takes were rejected, like the recordings he made on that same morning from All That I Had Is Gone. Ten days later, on the 7th of March he visited the studio again and finally recorded these two tunes, that were released later that year as a Columbia record.

This great composition of James P.Johnson, father of stride piano players, was recorded when he was 33 year old. At that age he was already a famous stride piano player. In the 1910s had had made several piano rolls. In 1917 he had published his first composition Mama's Blues and in 1921 he made his first recording for Black Swan, The Harlem Strut. One of his first recordings, Carolina Shout, became a well known hit.

During the 1920s James P. became known because of Broadway musicals as Runnin' Wild for which he composed tunes like Old Fahioned Love and The Charleston and in 1927, the year he recorded Snowny Morning Blues he was part of the Keep Shufflin' revue together with his student Thomas Fats Waller.

Although James P. was a typically stride piano player from the ragtime tradition ( most early compositions are in fact raqtimes) this Snowy Morning Blues has for the first time a lot of jazz elements.

It is remarkable that this composition, Snowy Morning Blues, became a title that wasn't recorded by other artists. As far as I know it was never recorded by any other artist on 78rpm. The only remake of this tune was a 1938 Library of Congress recording by James P. Johnson himself made for the archives as a living documentary about the early history of jazz music ( The Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress records became known ) and a 1942 recording for Asch. But few contemporary jazz musicians recorded this tune, I guess because it is pretty hard to play. I have recordings of that tune by Ralph Sutton, Howard Alden and Guy Van Duser.

To illustrate that these compositions are difficult to play and should be ignored by inexperienced musicians I'll show you a guitar player who thinks he plays the tune in the right way. In my opinion this man should ignore this tune and start to practice a more easy composition.


The young man on the next fragment has found the right tone and spirit and he plays this tune as James P. had wanted it.




Keep swinging

Hans Koert

keepswinging@live.nl



MY TURNTABLE
blindfold test #37 (2) - donald byrd/at the half note cafe volumes 1 & 2 (2) - lee morgan/charisma - steve davis/update - blindfoldtest # 44/keep swinging (2) - george braith/the complete blue note sessions (2) - robert normann/volume III tricky fingers don ellis/how time passes third stream jazz - claudio roditi-klaus ignatzek-jean louis rassinfosse/light in the dark - les tresors du city jazz 1954/CD 45 - joe lovano/tenor legacy - ago, pixinguinha 100 anos volume 1 - swing accordion/le swing a bretelles (2) - charlie byrd/byrd-lore (2) - guy van duser-billy novick/lovely sunday afternoon

Nederlands ( To the English translation )


Op 25 februari 1927, tachtig jaar geleden, nam James P. Johnson tenminste drie versies van zijn compositie Snowy Morning Blues op in de Columbia studio's in New York City. De resultaten van de opnamen van die dag ( hij nam ook drie keer het nummer All That I Had Is Gone op ) waren niet goed en werden terzijde gelegd. Tien dagen later lukte het wel en werden beide nummers op de plaat gezet, die uitgebracht werd op een Columbia plaat. James P., ook wel Jimmy genoemd, was toen 33 jaar oud.

Hij was toen al een beroemde stride pianist en had al heel wat pianorollen opgenomen. In 1917 had hij zijn eerste compositie gepubliceerd, Mama's Blues en in 1921 zijn eerste plaat opgenomen voor Black Swan, The Harlem Strut. Eén van zijn eerste opnamen, Carolina Shout, werd een hit. In de jaren twintig hield hij zich vooral bezig met Broadway musicals als Runnin' Wild, waarvoor hij de muziek schreef. Beroemde composities als Old Fahioned Love en The Charleston komen uit die productie. In 1927, het jaar waarin hij Snowny Morning Blues opnam trad hij op in de Keep Shufflin' revue samen met zijn leerling Thomas Fats Waller.

Hoewel James P. een typische pianist is, voortgekomen uit de ragtime traditie ( zijn oudste composities zijn eigenlijk gewoon ragtimes), maakt hij met deze Snowy Morning Blues voor het eerst jazz.

Het is opvallend dat andere musici met hun vingers afbleven van dit nummer - in het tijdperk van de 78-toeren plaat lijkt geen enkele andere artiest het op de plaat te hebben gezet. We kennen alleen de Library of Congress opnamen van James P. Johnson uit 1938 waarin hij voor het nageslacht zijn carriere belicht en een opname uit 1942 voor het Asch label.

Ook hedendaagse musici hebben het nummer niet opgepakt, ik denk, omdat het vrij lastig is om te spelen. Ik heb het zelf alleen maar in versies van Ralph Sutton, Howard Alden en Guy Van Duser.

Om te laten zien, dat deze compositie moeilijk is om te spelen heb ik een fragment gevonden waarin een man het stuk voor de camera uitvoert op zijn gitaar. Al snel merk je, dat hij van het stuk niets begrepen heeft en er beter vanaf had kunnen blijven.


De jonge man in het volgende fragment weet wel de juiste snaar te raken en laat horen hoe het nummer hoort te klinken. Geniet van deze versie - zo zal James P. het bedoeld hebben.



Keep swinging

Hans Koert


keepswinging@live.nl



MIJN DRAAITAFEL
blindfold test #37 (2) - donald byrd/at the half note cafe volumes 1 & 2 (2) - lee morgan/charisma - steve davis/update - blindfoldtest # 44/keep swinging (2) - george braith/the complete blue note sessions (2) - robert normann/volume III tricky fingers don ellis/how time passes third stream jazz - claudio roditi-klaus ignatzek-jean louis rassinfosse/light in the dark - les tresors du city jazz 1954/CD 45 - joe lovano/tenor legacy - ago, pixinguinha 100 anos volume 1 - swing accordion/le swing a bretelles (2) - charlie byrd/byrd-lore (2) - guy van duser-billy novick/lovely sunday afternoon

2 Comments:

Blogger Jo said...

Thanks a lot, Hans, for this contribution on a great tune by James P., the father of stride piano. - To transfer this difficult piece to the six string guitar only succeded for Guy Van Duser, who recorded it in 1981 on his "Stride Guitar" album, devoted to this great piano tradition. In 1983 he released the sheet of his arrangement together with other tunes in a MelBay musicfolio. I have both items in my collection and have tried my fingers on "Snowy Morning Blues" as well. Your considerations regarding the first guitarist on the video performance are shared by me. The secound guitarist on electric guitar has the right feeling for the music and definitely is an accomplished finger-style player. Thanks for sharing, Hans.

Jo

9:36 AM  
Blogger CooCurrent said...

When you said the first man thinks he's playing it as intended, did you realise that he was practising sight reading? I assume you did -if so, did you mean he should try easier sight reading?

Maybe he just wanted a challenge and thought he'd try sight reading a piece for the first time that was difficult?

Anyway, I enjoyed the article on the whole, and I recently just finished learning it. By the way, have you heard Sue Keller rendition? Personally I thought it was awesome, so I decided to learn it! (from a midi file)! I played it on piano, as opposed to guitar.

Thanks for sharing, Hans =)

7:22 PM  

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