Yes Yes Sunday jammers. Warm greetings and salutations the big fizzy, sherbet dipped kind.
So, the last few days have been spent in a medium sized dive into early jazz and the pioneers who gave birth to the various forms. Such a rich, tumultuous, dark, vibrant and, in some cases, confusing history. Despite this there are similar themes in all the corners including musical innovation, beauty, rebellion, self- destruction, audacity and always, artistry. In some cases, it’s hard to reconcile all the dark underbelly when you hear the music. It’s more apparent in work of auteurs like Davis, Coleman, Gil Scott Heron et al but there is a period in earlier jazz history - the big band, club circuit kind that’s so contained so well packaged that it’s easy to forget about the struggle that came with it. This era’s music feels more formulated, contained and yet around the fringes there are small fires being lit by innovators who are hinting at Jazz’s abstract potential and also produce some musical firebrands. This week two of them happen to be women – a topic worthy of more study – both of them lesser known because of the obvious prejudices but in the last few years have been given the dues they so rightly deserve, both entirely audacious and brilliant. Pianist Dorothy Donegan and trumpeter Valaida Snow, both incredible and hard to choose between so I let my dancing feet do the choosing and Ms Snow won out.
Today’s track is ‘Patience and Fortitude’ by Valaida Snow. This is a beauty of a track full of high notes courtesy of her trumpet, it’s ethereal but entirely grounded by the bebop sounds of the band. Then just before it settles into something seemingly predictable, in comes a double bass that cuts through the heart of the track, adding extra rhythm. Over the top is Snow’s gospel inspired vocal chirping, she sings about staying the course – that being life I am assuming - with ‘patience and fortitude then things will come your way’. In one version I am sure that I heard Louis Armstrong lend a vocal in the chorus before a hallelujah – might not be but that’s what I am choosing to believe.
It’s a classic style of the form packaged and, I imagine, made digestible for the whiter jazz masses of the 1920s, a far cry from the later experimental take over by the Masters mentioned above. However just because this style appears more grounded than its successors does not mean its without merit or bite. This track is tightly composed, the vocal is an exercise in effortless genius, all the musicians have mad skills, especially Snow, whose trumpet playing more than rivalled Armstrong – apparently he sang her praises whenever she was mentioned. This track makes me want to host a black and white themed party in an underground bunker where the dress code is pure glamour with great lighting and lethal cocktails.
Part of me wants to grab a hand and head out onto the dance floor and attempt some kind of 1920s jazz jive while the other part can’t help but feel slightly haunted knowing that Snow was a brilliant artist but living in the shadow of more successful male Jazz Masters – she was dubbed Little Louis after Armstrong and never achieved the notoriety in her home country until many, many years later. Coupled with being captured by Nazis whilst touring in Europe – where she was more successful – then returning home permanently haunted by the traumas. Tragic, beautiful and bloody brilliant. Engage with it however you feel and if you are interested check out her performance for Lady Snow on YouTube and also check out Dorothy Donegan playing piano with Cab Calloway – pure magic.