No, this isn’t an early celebration of Saint Patrick, nor is it a lesson in North American vernacular dance. A week ago today, I had the delightful good fortune of being in the basement known as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) to hear Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums. And one of the lively excursions into hot archaeology that they offered was Percy Venable’s novelty number, IRISH BLACK BOTTOM, premiered by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in Chicago in 1926. For the full history of this song and that performance, read on in Ricky Riccardi’s quite magnificent Louis blog.
And now, from 1926 to 2017, with a performance calculated to warm you more efficiently than heated seats in a new car:
The genial joyousness of that performance could win anyone over, even without the history. But I also post this musical episode to reiterate a point. Many “jazz critics” see the chronological advance of the music as one improvement succeeding another: Roy Eldridge was more “sophisticated” than Louis, Charlie Parker more than Roy, Miles and Trane and Ornette even more so. “Sophisticated” is a weighted word, especially when the appearance of complexity is taken as the highest good. But for those who look at “Dixieland” as simple, I’d suggest that even a tune as lightweight as IRISH BLACK BOTTOM has its own sophistication, its own complicated routine, and it is not something one could pick up at one hearing, the Real Book notwithstanding. Court adjourned.
May your happiness increase!