Saturday, February 18, 2017

Handy & The Blues at Urban Eats

Tomorrow I'm playing background piano at Urban Eats Café at 3301 Meramec in St. Louis... it's sort of a non-Chinese dim sum where they bring out various small dishes and you pick what you want, dessert, salad, quiche, waffle, etc. Kinda fun. It keeps me in shape having something to practice for every month. I play third Sunday of the month most of the time, so pop on by if you can! The wraps are good, the quiche is good, pretty much it's all good. Plus local art's for sale, not everyone is into local art, but we have a lot at home, and it's a nice feel to have some affordable original photographs or paintings.

One thing I try to do with the old songs is play the original sheet music, which for many folks was how the song went if they didn't hear it played live. And a lot of the old recordings are pretty faithful to the sheet music, or orchestrated versions of it. It's sort of a shtick now that I do it, but it's also a challenge, and I think an homage to the era.

It's something to "shoot for," as in learning how to play it as it was published, vs. comping chords. Plus I guess it's a bit more authentic. You find out things, for instance a lot of WC Handy was originally a tango. The chorus to St. Louis Blues and Beale Street are both tangos, which you rarely hear, but you can even read about why he did that. to put in something familiar and introduce them to the blues at the same time.

Also old Blues didn't swing, but I swing it anyway. So sue me. It's just hard not to, but if you listen to the Handy Band, it doesn't swing. Also, you'll get the feel that early blues came out of ragtime, the way the left hand plays the rag bass and the right plays the syncopation is pretty much the same thing, and it goes from there.

Random thought, "Darktown Strutters Ball" which is a jazz classic from 1917, you can hear how jazz is taking over, the bass line doesn't do the rag thing, it does more the jazz thing as in it just moves along w/o so much oompah, but there's plenty of oompah to remind us we'll still in 1917. I think looking at the sheet music vs. just comping chords shows a bit of the history.

That being said, I've always been sort of proud of my arrangement of Memphis Blues by Handy, that I did off a lead sheet. It probably sounds more like 1950 than 1915. It's the version people don't sing that much, vs. the version they do, which was the version George Norton put out after he tricked Handy into selling him the copyright. (essentially he said the song wasn't selling, and it was, and bought the rights "for a song." Handy got the rights back later on.) I like that version too, and 100 years after the trickery it's still wrong, but the song is good, kind of a lazy blues. Below is Memphis Blues by The Ragged Blade Band: we recorded this in 2012 or 2013.

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