Tag Archives: Jelly Roll Morton



Shreveport Stomp

4 stars

ON July 12 last year three patrons left Bennetts Lane jazz club in Melbourne grumbling that they “didn’t pay to hear three drunk blokes wearing flannel … miss every third note”.

Yet that night these blokes, none of whom had touched a drop, began recording a live album that dips its lid to Monk, Parker, Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and Ornette Coleman while delivering superbly creative and uncompromising modern jazz.

The version of Brian Wilson’s Wonderful is exactly that. Allan Browne (drums) and Sam Anning (bass) give Marc Hannaford free rein and his piano takes us almost anywhere we could wish to go.

This music varies so much. It swings subtly and strongly. It pushes, nudges and shoves. It barrels along. It explores finesse and freneticism.

And it’s fun.

File between: Monk, Jelly Roll Morton

Download: Cheryl et al, Wonderful


Grabowsky, Hannaford, Mayas (Melbourne/Berlin)

GIG: January 16, 2011 at Bennetts Lane

Piano soloists: Paul Grabowsky, Marc Hannaford, Magda Mayas

Martin Jackson and the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative gave us the chance to hear three very different piano soloists: Melbourne’s Paul Grabowsky and Marc Hannaford, and Berlin’s Magda Mayas on thoroughly prepared piano.

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky

Shortly after Christmas one of my internet searches took me to an Australian Art Orchestra page of tributes to bassist Gary Costello, who died in 2006. The words collected here by fellow musicians and others who knew him well are definitely worth taking the time to read. They demonstrate not only that Gary was a friend and an inspiration to many, but that those in the music world are more than capable of expressing their deep feelings in words as well as through their playing or the performances they make happen.

The first in that long list of tributes was written by Paul Grabowsky. Every time I read his writing I marvel at how deftly he uses language and how well he conveys meaning. But I also must admit to being a bit annoyed that he is so good at communicating musically and yet so good at communicating in words. That’s a silly reaction, but I suppose it comes because I find writing about music is often a struggle, and Grabowsky seems to do it with ease.

Enough preamble. Grabowsky was the first piano soloist in an intriguingly diverse line-up. As I came in he was playing Coal for Cook, which he recorded in 1988 with the Wizards of Oz — Dale Barlow on tenor sax, Tony Buck on drums and Lloyd Swanton on bass. Grabowsky said he had been into Ornette Coleman when he wrote the piece. He followed that with Silverland, from his albums Tales of Time and Space (a personal favourite) and Big Adventure. What stood out for me in this solo version was its fluidity, how Grabowsky used the dynamics and the definite, strong presence that he has — it’s hard to define except to say that he grabs our attention and holds it.

In Angel, also from Tales, the notes tumbled and cascaded over each other so easily. It took a while for the familiar melody to drift in. Again Grabowsky used dynamics expressively. There was clarity in individual notes, which had great beauty as they skipped between pauses, then rolled on with the abandon and delight of a child descending a grassy hillside. Grabowsky caresses the keys, nurturing the notes, then without apparent haste summons them to grow in volume, splendour and power.

This set closed with The Fruit (Bud Powell), which was faster, jaunty, bouncy and fun, with plenty of melody mixed with verve and energy.

Marc Hannaford

Marc Hannaford

Marc Hannaford said he felt as if he was stuck between Bud Powell and prepared piano, which he was. His set opened with his version of an Elliot Carter piece followed without a break by a Jelly Roll Morton number.

I look foward to Hannaford’s playing because it is always interesting — in the good sense of that word. He uses and creates space in the music. He savours individual notes and chords. He lets them ring out. The way in which he uses dynamics can produce two concurrent conversations — one louder than the other. It’s like two planes, with differences in pace and volume creating the divide. A series of slower notes can act as an anchor while faster notes skip and prance over the top. Then they unite.

One slow, solemn passage seemed to emphasise the timbre of the notes, as well as evoking separateness and cohesion. The notes were not loud, yet they were compelling, developing and growing through evolving patterns. Briefly the piece leaned towards classical, reminding me of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations in the intricacy of the patterns. Then things fired up — it was thrilling stuff, broader and more encompassing in scope. Slow, solemn steps with an overlay of high notes ended the piece, which suddenly morphed into the rollicking fun of Jelly Roll Morton’s King Porter Stomp (or something similar). My feet were immediately tapping and my face was smiling, but I looked around and the audience seemed very serious.

At this point I decided if I had any skills as a promoter (not so) I’d like to put Grabowsky and Hannaford on at BMW Edge and get a packed audience to hear them do this solo piano gig — surely people would love it.

Hannaford finished with “a quick version of a tune I like”. It was slow, chordal and deliberate, with lots of space.

Magda Mayas

Magda Mayas

I’ve heard Erik Griswold a few times on prepared piano, but this was thoroughly prepared piano. Mayas spent a long time setting up her array of percussive implements and was extremely busy “under the hood” during the pieces. I admit to being so fascinated by the way she was achieving sounds, and watching the reflection in the grand’s lid of her hands at work, that for periods I was not concentrating fully on the music. That’s a pity, but one of the pitfalls of this type of performance.

Magda Mayas

Magda Mayas

The music was more cohesive than I had expected, developing gradually like a plot line and coming in surges, like breathing or ocean waves. The sounds were often short and discrete, yet there was a sense of continuity. At one point Mayas’s playing seemed like an oscillating radio signal. But is thinking that really approaching this music in the wrong way? It seems as if I had to find something I could liken the music to rather than just hearing it. Amazing sounds emerged — thunder magnified, creaking, aching. (Can you hear aching? Well, maybe this was what it sounds like.)

In “another short piece” Maya produced in my mind another set of likenesses — cow bells, spurts like the ends of dying catherine wheels, a soundscape of fireflies or the insect world magnified. There was muted dissonance, wavering and wandering, with occasional keyboard notes interspersed. Her playing was dextrous, deft, assured and swift.

Prepared piano

Prepared piano

I’d like to revisit Mayas and try to avoid any focus on how she made sounds or to what those sounds were similar. Then I could perhaps just hear them in a more direct, “purer” sense.

The Melbourne Jazz Coop, Martin Jackson and Bennetts Lane deserves bouquets for this trio of soloists.


at Chapel Off Chapel

Two sets, two eras. Allan Browne took us back in time with his favourite in jazz combinations, the trio. Then, with his quintet and his usual devilry, he showed us the beauty of an interlude in hell. Or was it a glimpse of heaven?

Margie Lou Dyer, Allan Browne, Jo Stevenson
Margie Lou Dyer, Allan Browne, Jo Stevenson

The audiences at Stonnington Jazz seem to be more advanced in years than those at, say, Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival or Melbourne International Jazz Festival, though I have no hard data on that. So the first set of traditionally flavoured classics from Jelly Roll Morton, George Lewis and Duke Ellington may have been the main attraction of the afternoon. I met my wife, Debra, at the Lord Napier jazz pub in Thornton Heath, south of London years ago, but that was much more brassy, bold and full-on than what we heard from Al Browne, his wife Margie Lou Dyer on piano and vocals, and Jo Stevenson on clarinet and bass saxophone. This was light, bright and full of fun, zest and whimsy.

Allan Browne and Margie Lou Dyer
Allan Browne and Margie Lou Dyer

As always, Browne’s drum work was relaxed and reflected his obvious sense of enjoyment in the occasion and the music. Dyer’s smoky vocals carried us into a dimly lit nightclub and Stevenson’s lyrical clarinet streamed notes as fluid as quicksilver. There was plenty of energy, but no bid to blast us away or smash and crash. This was a delightfully sensitive interpretation of the music that Browne first loved, played by musicians steeped in that tradition and with a long history of playing together.

The trio — Al Browne said it was his favourite form — began with Bogalosa Stomp (Sam Morgan), then played Morton’s Buddy Bolden’s Blues (Morton), High Society, Sidewalk Blues (Morton) and Mood Indigo, a Duke Ellington tribute to clarinetist Barney Bigard.

Browne on washboard
Browne on washboard

For Oriental Man (referred to in earlier days as “Ornamental Pan”, the pride of the dunny, Browne related), the drummer took up the washboard, emulating his hero Baby Dodds, and it was a hoot. Stevenson played soprano sax on Dyer’s commissioned calypso Bechet, which she said was related to “people who took their clothes off to fast music”.

Vintage clarinet: Jo Stevenson

Stevenson’s clarinet was shining in George Lewis‘s Burgundy St Blues, before Dyer delivered a suitably gravelly rendition of Gimme a Pig Foot (Bessie Smith).

Trio joins quintet
Trio joins quintet

And in augmented finale, quintet members Geoff Hughes (guitar), Phil Noy (alto sax), Eugene Ball (trumpet) and Nick Haywood (bass) joined the trio, with Stevenson switching to bass saxophone, for the fun-filled, exuberant Magpie Stomp (Browne).

Jo Stevenson digs deep
Jo Stevenson digs deep

After our trip to toe-tapping, swinging New orleans, it was time to go to hell.

Allan Browne Quintet

Allan Browne

The quintet played this suite in the order replicated on the album. There are eight compositions, four each by Eugene Ball and Geoff Hughes. The only possible criticism, IMHO, is that if this represents hell, or the torment of Arthur Rimbaud as he fled across Europe with lover Paul Verlaine, it is more benign than I had imagined. That’s not meant to be flippant — before hearing this music (on CD) I had expected passages that would be hard to take because they were drawn from images of a harrowing, horrifying inferno. Instead, though this is undeniably dark music — as Browne said, “It’s very dark. We like it dark.” — it is often beautiful, reflective or wistful in mood rather than being in any way difficult to enjoy.

Allan Browne Quintet

That said, the suite is superb and a worthy successor to The Drunken Boat, which is also based on the verse of Rimbaud. And I must now read Une Saison en Enfer, to explore how it has inspired Ball and Hughes, and the quintet. For reasons known only to themselves, a number of patrons felt compelled to walk out during this set. They may have had commitments, or they may not have liked this style of music. But it is a pity the seating design at Chapel Off Chapel does not allow for people to leave without walking down through the audience and across in front of the musicians. This was a piece of music that deserved to be experienced without interruption.

Phil Noy et al

In Nuit de l’enfer, Hughes’s solo guitar was great, but seemed too pleasant for an inferno. Song from the Highest Tower opened regally and included an exquisite solo by Phil Noy. And Browne’s use of what looked like long springs to produce a sharp, metallic sound from the cymbals was effective over Hughes’s guitar. Embers of Silk was appropriately serene, with Ball in splendidly resonant flight.

Eugene Ball et al

A real highlight for me was I Dance the Sabbath and Chorale, with some fine interplay between the trumpet and sax. If anything, Ball seemed more constrained in his trumpet attacks than on the recording. Sleepwalker saw Noy move to baritone sax. Hughes’s solo was great in this piece. A Life Too Light brought the set to a close.

Allan Browne Quintet

I’m not sure whether it was the crowd or the venue or both, or my fertile imagination, but I did not feel there was a real buzz of appreciation for this set, which I thought was exquisite, despite the absence of any gnashing of teeth. But this was an afternoon of music that ideally suited the 50-year career of an unassuming musician who has the ability to make his presence felt through the lightest, most tender of touches and the greatest of poetic passions. And Allan Browne never takes himself too seriously.

Browne reminded us a few times about his residency at Bennetts Lane on Mondays, and that on August 1 at Uptown Jazz Cafe in the afternoon there will be a launch of the album Une Season en Enfer. And on August 8 at Bennetts Lane at 2pm the Red Onions Jazz Band will hold an informal reunion to mark its 50th anniversary.