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Posted on May 2nd, 2014, by

The focus of my first music review is the outstanding contribution into jazz’s development of one of the lading jazz saxophonists in the US in 1920s and 1930s, Frank Trumbauer, and specifically to one of his albums: the album “Riverboat Shuffle”/”Ostrich Walk” that was recorded by Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra in 1927, New York.

Why have Frank Trumbauer been chosen as the subject of the present review? The major reason is that in 1920s and 1930s the jazz style was simply to play the music, and musicians didn’t care too much about technical style or anything like that. It wasn’t a technical style or anything like that, everything depended on melodic. In accordance to Gitler (34) the technical style was developed later with the emergence of the big bands. The big band became more technical, arrangement-wise, and they got higher up on the scale, and the trumpets were doing larger bands. (Gitler 34) But jazz saxophonist Frank Trumbauer influenced a large number of musicians and that is why it’s so interesting to listen to his music and research one of his recorded albums.

It has to be noted that Frankie Trumbauer was a groundbreaking saxophonist who played mostly on the C melody saxophone, but in some cases he played the alto too. According to Huntoon (76) Trumbauer was the foremost jazz exponent of the C-melody saxophone, an instrument that fell out of favor by the late 1920s and hasn’t been manufactured in over 75 years. As a result, the use of that instrument on these sessions gives a somewhat dated feeling compared to other small swing groups of the period. (Huntoon 76)

The album that is reviewed is “Riverboat Shuffle”/”Ostrich Walk” by Frank Trumbauer and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. The most known songs of the mentioned album that were recorded by Frank Trumbauer and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band on May 9, 1927 included ”˜Riverboat Shuffle”, “Ostrich Walk”, “I’m Comin’ Virginia”, and “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.”

I would like to discuss the song Ostrich Walk. The music is performed by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band. The arranger is Bill Challis. Performers consists of Bix Beiderbecke, cornet, Frankie Trumbauer, C-melody saxophone, Bill Rank, trombone, Don Murray, clarinet, baritone saxophone, Itzy Riskin, piano, Eddie Lang, guitar, and Chauncey Morehouse, drums

Straight away it could be noticed that both the influence of the New Orleans musicians and the characteristics of the new Chicago-style jazz can be heard on this Beiderbecke and Trumbauer rendition of Ostrich Walk.

The actual composition comes from the repertoire of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. The form is taken from that of the concert and marching band repertoire of an earlier day: introduction, first and second strains (with a repeat of the first), vamp (a short connecting passage to a new key), third and fourth strains (with a repeat of the third), a da capo (back to the beginning for the introduction and first two strains), and a coda.

The new elements in the music include the arrangement itself, for the ensemble passages are scored by a new figure in jazz, the arranger. Among the arranger’s contributions that we hear are the saxophones having a soli chorus of their own (several musicians playing passage work together, soli [plural] as opposed to solo [singular]); the ensemble performing a group crescendo; and the introduction and ending being scored rather than improvised. (Tirro 10- 11)

But the fame of Ostrich Walk work comes not because of its arrangement, which is rather typical than extraordinary, but to the cornet playing of Bix Beiderbecke. Without a doubt, the performance of Bix Beiderbecke brings something new; it is definitively a new sound, and his solo style unique. In my opinion, this melody has a very pleasant and cheerful character.  Bix Beiderbecke’s easy, relaxed, almost velvety cornet tone and his quasi-legato style, he blends coolness with the hot syncopations and the pressing urgency of the piece. The squeezed and delicately bent pitches that interrupt his solo at measures 11 and 12 are a sound uniquely his own. His choice of notes to complement a chord, his relaxed eighth notes, and his phrasing, which disguises the regular phrasing of the piece, are characteristics of his playing that later influenced many younger musicians. (Tirro 10- 11)

Clearly Trumbauer is a perfect soloist but gets little opportunity to display his skills in Ostrich Walk. Bur it needs to be noted, the trombone work of Bill Rank is first rate, and the brief solo passages where four connected one-measure solos are played one after the other (saxophone, cornet, trombone, and clarinet) are also interesting highlights of this outstanding musical piece.

It has to be emphasized that the Ostrich Walk by Frank Trumbauer and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band has both an element of tension and an element of relaxation in it. It  goes in full accordance with the  Hodeir (195) who claims that ahe analysis of a good work of jazz in the classical style reveals the coexistence of two mentioned above characteristics that seem opposed to each other. In the contrast to other music genres, the feeling of relaxation does not follow a feeling of tension (like in the in classical music when there are periods of movement and periods of repose), Not all, ”˜the feeling of relaxation and a feeling of tension are both present at the same moment’ (Hodeir 195) in the jazz performance and it easily could be traced in the Ostrich Walk by Frank Trumbauer and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

In addition, it has to be pointed out that I have managed to trace several similarities between the recording of Riverside Shuffle by the Wolverines in 1924 and by Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra in 1927 and the recording of Jazz Me Blues that appeared in 1924 and was performed by the Wolverines, and later by Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang. It appears that the solos of both songs sound similar. But how was it possible? These recordings are separated by few years. A presumption could be made that Bix Beiderbecke created his solos ahead of time, and some critics mention the term ”˜the fabric for the solo’. So, Bix Beiderbecke has probably created the pattern of the fabric for the solo in advance and was used by this musician in few subsequent performances.

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