Friday, May 11, 2007

Jelly Roll Morton - Listening to Black Bottom Stomp

Jelly Roll Morton's Hot Peppers, in Chicago, 1926

The structure for this piece, after the introduction, is AAABBBBBBB. The letters refer to sections of the song - in this case, choruses. In jazz there are basically two sorts of songs. Black Bottom Stomp is sectional, meaning it is composed of one section (chorus) following another with no return. Strophic songs, by contrast, are those which return to various sections, sometimes again and again, like the blues, which repeats the AAB chorus over and over, or the song form, whose AABA structure sets up a repeated phrase (AA) then shifts to contrasting material (B) before returning to the familiar A theme. Sectional songs like Black Bottom Stomp, again, simply add sections one after another, without returning.

This difference is worth noting for yourself. The song consists of two sorts of sections: A and B. Once we leave the A, which we will hear three times, we will not hear it again. Instead, we get 7 B's in a row to the end. The following is meant to be read with a recording of the song you can pause whenever you like, as on an mp3 playing on itunes. It can be heard online at the wonderful Red Hot Jazz Archive site here.

Here we go.

0 - 7 seconds Intro

Those first eight bars of vividly rhythmic music are known as a vamp , usually a short instrumental introduction in which a chord progression sets the mood and tempo – and can be repeated as necessary until the singer gets on stage, or whatever. Here the full ensemble plays four bars of arranged music (that is, not improvised – the arranger was Jelly Roll Morton) and then plays them again, for eight bars. The principle of repetition here is obvious, and will be used with variation throughout this song. The hard-driving rhythm helps to give a preeminent quality to the repetition.

08 – 22 A1

The A1 chorus starts with eight bars, again taken by the full ensemble, and again repeated, making, this time, for 16 bars and, once more, arranged rather than improvised. All three of the A choruses will be 16 bars long, this one establishing both the form and the strain – tune - which will be repeated with each A chorus. The various breaks are arranged in each chorus as climax points - Jelly Roll specified when they would occur and let the soloists improvise around them. We learn to listen (among other things) for the variations and contrasts between the first eight and the second eight bars.

23 – 37 A2

The second A chorus (A2) alternates four bars of a trumpet call ( at about 0:23) with four bars from the ensemble, twice. Here the trumpet and the ensemble are trading fours as call and response. Call and response is a jazz fundamental in which one voice or instrument calls, as it were, or asks, and another voice answers in response, as here. Responsorial music is pervasive around the world in all different sorts of contexts. In jazz, it is quite common, and tends to give the music a conversational flavor, and as when - the analogy is to a basketball game - something - a theme, an idea - is tossed around from player to player, only in the ball game the ball stays the same while in a conversation or a jazz recording, the theme changes each time a new player gets it.

Also in A2, note that in the second eight, the bright, clarion trumpet call initiates a stop-time rhythm to which the band responds. Stop-time is another jazz fundamental. Someone takes a solo chorus while the the rest of the ensemble, including the rhythm section, plays just chords, only on the downbeats, or, at times, only on every other downbeat. (The downbeat is the first beat of a measure.) It is an impressive feat of synchronization. Essentially, a stop time is when some of the beats in a measure are not played, which changes the feel of the rhythm.

38 – 52 A3

The third and final A chorus is a full 16 bars of Omer Simeon’s brilliant clarinet solo improvisation with banjo accompaniment by Johnny St. Cyr. The ensemble in the background plays along wide-eyed with the same tune. The phrase repeats at 0:48.

53 – 56 Interlude

This four bar interlude, taken by the ensemble, moves us from the A section to the B. The B chorus will be different from the A, duh, and will repeat 7 times.

If we hit pause (!) to look back where we’ve been, a vamp of eight bars introduced the song which starts up with three A choruses; they are given the letter A because they come first, so naturally B follows. Each of the A choruses consists of an 8-bar phrase played twice in succession, the second phrase varying from the first expressively, and this variation becoming a significant part of how we respond to what is happening in the music. After this interlude will start a new series of choruses, the Bs, each chorus again consisting of two repeated 8-bar sections, but now with four bars tacked on at the end to make choruses 20 bars each, thus adding to the original repetition with variation a new bit of contrasting material at the end.

57-1:15 B1

We start out in B1 with the ensemble improvising six bars; the trombone and trumpet take a 2 bar break in bars 7 and 8, (around 1:02) and the ensemble returns for a full 12 bars of collective improvisation. This means the players - who know the song, and have rehearsed it with the arranger - composer himself - play their own part on their own, with their own personalities and inventiveness at the fore.

1:16 – 1:33 B2

Like the following chorus- the B3 – this B2 chorus splits the 20-bars into one section of18 bars and the next of 2 bars. We’ve moved on from repetition. Here, Omer Simeon’s clarinet solo in the low register (chalumeau style) takes the first 18 bars – note his solo break at 1:20 - and the ensemble the last two. Listen for the accented chords of the “black bottom rhythm” both in these final two bars and in the final two bars of ensemble playing in B3. It was the dance to do in 1926, and audiences would have recognized the salute.

1:34 – 1:51 B3

In B3 Jelly Roll Morton takes the first 18 bars on piano in the stride style of playing, throwing himself into the performance, as you can plainly tell with your own ears, and again the ensemble comes in for the last two bars, again reverting to that black-bottom rhythm.

1:52 - 2:10

B4 is George Mitchell’s 20-bar muted trumpet stop-time chorus. Here we might recognize the black-bottom rhythm in the chorus itself. It seems likely that the enthusiasm - which admittedly never flags throughout the entire song - may have been brought up a notch by Mitchell's toothsome response to the leader's solo in the previous chorus.

2:11 – 2:29

B5 is Johnny St. Cyr’s 20-bar banjo solo with bass and drum accompaniment. This one starts out in stop-time and switches to walking-the-bass, where the bass plays a note of the chord on each beat of the bar.

2:30- 2:47

B6 is the ensemble’s 20 bar collective improvisation chorus; notice the cymbal break in bars 7 and 8, at around 2:35, and how the rhythm section cuts out.

2:47 – 3:04

B7, the final chase chorus, is again taken by the ensemble, now driven by the powerful back-beats provided by the tom-toms, where the drummer accents the 2nd and 4th beats of the measure, noticeably shifting the rhythmic feeling from 4/4 to 2/4. Note the trombone break at 2:54. Also, note how equal the instruments appear to be. The trombone smears and the clarinet obbligato, at least, seem to carry the same weight as the cornet.

3.05 - 3.09 End

The rousing tag ending send-off brings the climax.

Information gathered for this posting by listening and reading, including to Listening Guide, Introduction to Jazz by Donald D. Megill and Richard S. Demory and Jazz Styles: History and Analysis by Mark C. Gridley.