It’s deeply foggy here in Halifax, Nova Scotia. And although my thoughts might turn to myriad possibilities for indoor edification and soul-solace, today they turn to YouTube.
Tom Warner, ever diligent, has just posted a number of video clips from the most recent Bix Beiderbecke Festival held each year in Davenport, Iowa. The one that caught my attention was “Clarinet Marmalade,” a set-closing performance by Randy Sandke’s New York All-Stars: Randy on cornet, Dan Barrett on trombone, Dan Block on clarinet, Scott Robinson on C-melody and bass saxophones, Mark Shane on piano, Nicki Parrott on bass, Howard Alden on guitar, and the Invisible Man — I presume it’s Rob Garcia, by the sound of his cymbals — on drums.
It’s a very satisfying performance, both evoking the original recording (itself a cut-down version of the famous arrangement Bill Challis did for the Jean Goldkette Orchestra) and building upon it in lively ways. “Clarinet Mamalade,” one of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band records Bix so loved, is also a refreshingly old-fashioned piece of music. Harking back to ragtime and brass bands, it has several strains, which might make it a minefield for players who know it only slightly, but it also has more substance than the usual thirty-two bar AABA tune. I particularly like the strain that comes after Mark Shane’s piano solo: it always makes me think of silent film music, the soundtrack for something particularly ominous (the demure heroine tied to the track, the approaching train, the storm at sea, perhaps?) while the band is swinging.
Here, for your dining and dancing pleasure, are Randy’s All-Stars:
Musically, it’s greatly rewarding. But there’s something delightful about watching musicians at work, feeling the spirit without showing off, when they are not constrained by the knowledge of someone with a video recorder getting it all down for posterity. It’s a treat to hear Mark Shane’s Wilson-inspired stride playing, light yet forceful, but my pleasure is intensified by the sight of Nicki, rockin’ in rhythm, during his solo. And watch her, hard at lip-biting work, during hers! It adds to the pleasure of hearing Dan Barrett’s fearless Miff Mole-staccato leaps to see his slide moving, to see the rest of the musicians acting out their notes and phrases in the language of their whole bodies, to see Dan Block express his enthusiasm by moving in time while Barrett plays.
Sometimes the visual aspect detracts from what we’re trying to hear. Musicians have a casual way of chatting and guffawing while someone else is soloing. But even though Warner’s cinematography is functional, seeing adds to hearing in this instance, and the ovation this band gets is well-deserved. I don’t know if you will leave your chair in front of the computer monitor, but you will understand why the Bix Fest audience did.