King Oliver


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It's the middle of September, just past the middle of the 1920s, and Bert Cobb is playing an entire chorus of "Someday, Sweetheart" on his tuba without adding any embellishments whatsoever. Barney Bigard moans through a saxophone, and Johnny Dodds pours the rest of it right out the bottom of his clarinet. Meet the Dixie Syncopators. King Oliver has surrounded himself with about ten musicians who tease, squeeze and wheeze their way through harmless pop songs and authentic jazz tunes without apologizing or going out of their way to prove themselves any better than they need to be to make it through to the end of the year 1926. Kid Ory sounds like Kid Ory and that sounds awfully good. Every tub on its own bottom, like the fellows said. The time line is peppered with exciting changes. By April of 1927, Lawson Buford has captured the tuba. Omer Simeon is in the reed section with Barney Bigard, who is still wielding a dangerous tenor sax. Joe Oliver sounds great most of the time, and his band should be appreciated on its own ground. Comparing it with Duke Ellington's orchestra is a pointless procedure. Ellington was different from this, although both Ellington and Bubber Miley listened carefully to King Oliver. These Dixie Syncopators occupy their own plateau in eternity, and we are free to visit them at will. There are no washouts. Even the drudge-nudge of "Black Snake Blues" is marvelous theater. "Farewell Blues" is gorgeous. Any inquisitive person could learn a lot just by following the stories of all the people who sat in with King Oliver during these years. The reed players! The trombonists! And yes, without a doubt, get a load of those tuba technicians. This is a fascinating period to listen back on, as banjos and tubas were often considered mutually essential equipment. Compare the puffing of Cyrus St. Clair with the huffing of Bass Moore. The session of August 13, 1928 gives us the option of enjoying instrumentals or really nice vaudeville vocals. At least they seem nice enough until you hear the line: "hang the dog and shoot the cat." Gosh, maybe the instrumental version is better after all.

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