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Point of View 

We asked eminent Australian jazz trumpeter
and band leader, Eric Holroyd
to answer the following question...

Eric Holroyd

December 2007

The Question:
Has Traditional Jazz had its day?

Response by Eric Holroyd share this - email, favourites, social bookmarks and more

My answer is a resounding ‘No’ as I firmly believe there will always be a place for it in the scheme of things in music.

Traditional Jazz may not live on in the pubs and clubs that I’ve known for the last thirty or so years though, and that’s mainly due to the business aspect of financial support by fans of the music.

Every Traditional Jazz musician can tell endless stories of ‘fans’ either sitting on one drink for the entire session OR bringing their own booze and/or food into a jazz venue that has both on sale, and relies on those sales to pay the venue’s overhead and the band – yet doesn’t charge any entry fee.

I could write a couple of pages on this aspect, but it’s best not to do that I guess. I might just upset someone…

Instead, I’ll concentrate on the jazz music that I love best – which I really don’t like to hear referred to as ‘Trad’ or ‘Dixie’ as I find those terms a little demeaning.

I know that ‘modernists’, for want of a better word, often look down on those of us who like the older music, and indeed I’ve been told by many musician friends who have attended the Sydney Conservatorium of Music that the jazz history taught there during a certain tutor’s era began in 1942.

Indeed, I was playing a big band gig and this tutor was in the band also. During a break we naturally talked about jazz, and he conceded that he often had the Conservatorium Big Band go ‘as far back as the Duke Ellington book’. But, he added, he always removed the baritone sax part from the Ellington charts as he personally didn’t like it! Thereby missing the whole point, not to mention dis-respecting the wonderful Harry Carney, who played baritone sax with the Duke.

The main reason that Traditional Jazz will live on, in my view, is that this very exciting music was invented – or perhaps ‘created’ is a better word – by some extremely good American musicians almost a century ago, and the best of them are highly revered and respected by present day musicians right around the world.

Mention Jazz in any company and sooner or later the name of Louis Armstrong will come up. And rightly so, for he was an originator par excellence. Sure, many of us present day trumpeters can take a stab at those ‘fireworks’ solos that he created, often with startlingly life like results, Sweden’s Bent Persson springing immediately to mind. Check him out at http://www.visit.se/~bentpersson/.

Australia’s own Bob Barnard was very much a ‘Louis man’ in his earlier years, and can still produce very creditable performances of Satchmo’s brilliant solo pieces if the time and place is right.

Potato Head Blues would have to be one of Louis’ most famous creations, and here (to my mind) is the crux of the whole matter: Louis created that brilliant stop chorus solo right off the top of his head, and as a musical creation it is on a par written by any of the great classical masters in my opinion.

I’ve always thought that Johann Sebastian Bach would have loved to have been around at the birth of jazz, for he was a great improviser himself, and I guess he could even have been a match for the great Earl Hines as a pianist, given all those piano studies that he wrote for his own students.

One of my favourite recordings is ‘Switched On Bach’ performed by Walter Carlos on the Moog Synthesizer, and I feel in my bones that Johann Sebastian would have loved it too – bringing out, as it does, the previously overshadowed second voice in ‘Air On A G String’ for starters.

I should digress a little here and point out that my own musical upbringing began at the age of four and a bit, when my father, a North of England piano teacher, began to teach me musical theory – using a Flash Card system of his own invention to do so. At the age of six he began my piano lessons, which I continued until the age of 13, when teenage rebellion set in and I ‘wanted to play brass like my mates’. So I joined a brass band, playing variously tuba, trombone, and cornet. I got my first professional music job at 16, playing 3rd trumpet in a 16-piece dance orchestra doing six nights a week. And I had no day job either… Two or three years later, the British Government legalized gambling, with the result that cinemas and dance halls all over UK turned into Bingo Halls, and all of us pro musicians were out of work. So I learned guitar, and went on the Working Men’s Club circuit with a trio, and didn’t play trumpet for many years.

The point of all this is that my musical appreciation is very wide, from Classical Music to Ragtime; Rock & Roll to Jazz; and just about anything else in between. So I feel that I’m qualified to talk about it all.

My musical heroes include: Louis Armstrong (Natch!); Jerry Lee Lewis; Jabbo Smith; Duke Ellington; Andres Segovia; Chuck Berry; Charlie Parker; Red Nichols & Miff Mole; John Williams; Bix Beiderbecke; and a couple of hundred other disparate characters.

So when I say that, of all the jazz I listen to and play, my favourite is Traditional Jazz, and will continue to be so. Played properly, it is a wonderful music, and there is a huge variety of early jazz both to listen to and marvel at, on the Red Hot Jazz Archive at http://www.redhotjazz.com/ You should check it out.

I’ve really only scratched the surface regarding the way that I feel about this great music, and whilst I’m pretty sure that it may drop out of favour when the current crop of fans who attend today’s gigs diminish into permanent retirement, there will always be groups of people all over the world who love the music and gather together for record evenings and perhaps private performances ‘just for fun’, for Traditional Jazz surely is lots of fun.

And that’s the way I like it.

Eric Holroyd, Sydney. 29 November 2007


© 2007 Eric Holroyd

Have Your Say
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My kids used to play red hot jazz. We were called "Doctor Jazz and Sons". We recorded "Doctor Jazz" when Richard was 10 and Patrick was 11. We are still on my website & why not? http://www.finetunes.com.au/ They played as well when they were 7 ans 8. Wonderful contribution from Eric Holroyd thank you. Mark Whitty 2012

Posted by Mark Whitty on Sunday 20 May 2012
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