More Than You Know: Mar 01

Bass in St. Blues
In the days of the “Trad” boom, BBC radio featured many bands of that ilk, and though much has been said and written about these bands (often in derisory terms) the truth is that the majority had a professional attitude which is often lacking today. CD’s are being put out on a regular basis of some of these bands from the 1950’s and it’s marvellous to hear again the likes of Alex Welsh and Freddy Randall, just two bands who at that time could compete with the best anywhere.

In the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s my trio was in the Maida Vale Studios practically every week, recording sessions for the Jimmy Young Show, David Hamilton Show, Sam Costa Show and Breakfast Special to name just a few. In retrospect, I was probably practicing more than I was performing, continually trying out new material. The BBC always provided the bass player and drummer – top drawer musicians who could read music as fast as I could read the form in the Racing Post! After a few sessions I suggested to the Producers of the “JY Show” that I use my own bass player and drummer. They agreed, and this went fine until one particular session when they were not available, so I booked two others who I worked with from time to time. It was a mistake! As I got out of my car outside the studio, the bass player came to greet me. Horror of horrors – he was armed with an electric bass with the excuse that it was easier for him as he had come by public transport. This was bad enough, but midway through the session, during a fast number, the drummer exposed himself (if you’ll pardon the expression). What I mean is, he couldn’t hold the tempo and it was dragging. Realising his limitations, he said gleefully “I’ve got my washboard in the car”. My heart sank, things were rapidly going downhill, but before I could say Baby Dodds he rushed outside to his car for the “scrubber”.

Now I have nothing against washboards – or folk who play them – but was this right for JY? (At that time, the “Jimmy Young Show” had a daily listening audience of 14 million). We got through the session and the next day I called the Producer with the news. “No problem” he said, “I listened to the tapes this morning and I’ve heard worse”. “Much worse?” I enquired. “On first hearing I was seriously thinking of scrubbing the washboard” he joked. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Just Gone
At the time of the BBC radio shows, I was getting many requests from listeners to play their favourite tunes – also publishers and composers sent me their compositions to “plug” their tunes. One odd request I had was from a friend of mine in New York who had an obsession with a 1915 novelty piano piece entitled “Nola”. He had amassed 149 different versions on tape and wanted to make it 150. Like most novelty piano pieces it is difficult to play but after sweating blood I finally mastered it and duly played it on the “JY Show” . I did a copy for my friend and sent it off. Another satisfied customer (or so I thought). A couple of weeks later I got a letter back from him saying he had been burgled and had lost all his worldly goods – including his reel-to-reel tapes. My version of “Nola” was now the only one he had.

I Cried for Youth
The Ken Colyer Trust and Phil Mason are to be congratulated on their fine efforts to “spread the gospel” to the youth of today, also the way in which they, and others, are encouraging younger musicians to understand and appreciate our kind of music. Alan Robinson’s letter in November’s “Just Jazz” confirmed the blatantly obvious – Students and Teachers alike are ignorant about the history of our music and the men who created it. In America, the New Jersey Jazz Society have come up with their own scheme, teaming up with schools in the area. The project is self-supporting from the $800 charged to the school and part of this fee is put aside to help those schools which can’t afford the whole amount. A talk is given by members of the NJJS and musicians are on hand to explain improvisation and the role of each instrument in the jazz band. After each talk (with live and recorded examples) the students are given a questionnaire followed by a discussion. More than 10,000 Students have attended the lectures and 34 schools have been involved in the project. It wasn’t all plain sailing though – during the discussions, many Students said they “weren’t really interested in dead musicians”. There is no easy way round that one.

Turn on the Beat
The following programme notes are from an actual piano recital:

Tonight’s page turner, Ruth Spelke, studied under Ivan Schmertnick at the Boris Nitsky School of Page Turning in Philadelphia. She has been turning pages here and abroad for many years for some of the world’s leading pianists. In 1988, Ms Spelke won the Wilson Page Turning Scholarship, which sent her to Israel to study page turning from left to right. She was the winner of the 1984 Rimsky Korsakov Flight Of The Bumble Bee Prestissimo Medal, having turned 47 pages in an unprecedented 32 seconds. She was also the 1983 silver medalist at the Klutz Musical Page Pickup Competition where contestants must retrieve and rearrange the musical score dropped from a Yamaha. For techniques, Ms. Spelke performs both the finger-licking and the bent page corner methods. She works from a standard left bench position, and is the originator of the dipped-elbow page snatch – a style used to avoid obscuring the pianist’s view of the music. She is page turner-in-residence in Fairfield, Iowa, where she occupies the coveted Alfred Hitchcock Chair at the Fairfield Page Turning Institute. Ms. Spelke is married with two children and has a nice house on the lake.

Neville Dickie March 2001