Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Bud Scott Breakdown

As I mentioned in the most recent post, the Southside Aces are about to host the donnybrook that celebrates the release of our latest recording, Second Thursday. It’s been nearly a year in the making, and I’m dang excited about it. From whence the name? Most often you name a record after what you consider to be one of the best tracks, or at least a track that makes for an evocative title. This is why, a million times in your life, you have heard DJs say, “That was the title track off of so-and-sos new blah-blah, blahbidiblah.” Despite the jaded tone of that last sentence, I actually like that method. The Aces named our last three albums after songs. So a while back, Erik and I were gently stirring a couple Manhattans in his kitchen trying to figure out which track made the best album name when I said, “You know something? I think just about every song we picked for this thing is in the Aces book because of an Eagles feature.” The Fraternal Order of Eagles, Aerie #34, has been the Southside Aces habitat once a month for the last few years. Erik sort of threw out, “We could call it Second Thursday.” This, the day each month on which we come together. And now you know that story.

P.S.A. Don’t use this for Manhattans. Only for cleaning drum kits.

Much better.

“What songs did you pick?” might be the natural follow-up, and I’m glad you asked. Sit down, because here’s where I really dig in. As my friend Judith would entitle it: This is the story of the Southside Aces and “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me.” The song title was rejected early on as our album title, but it is one of my favorites off of Second Thursday nonetheless. This minor key song is one of my favorites, period. I’m going to first tell you about what I consider to be two of the finest instrumental versions ever.

The first time I ever heard it was about ten years ago off the amazing 1928 Jimmie Noone recording. Jimmie is one of my all time clarinet heroes; his versions of tunes always appear at or near the top of my lists. I set myself to learning it forthwith, and got to perform it with the Bill Evans New Orleans Jazz Band now and then. In the Noone recording, Earl Hines starts with a left hand tremolo lead in the lower end of the piano. Slow and insinuating. The song creeps in like a villain out of a fog. But this is no whispy, attenuated villain. Earl is accompanied by guitarist Bud Scott who, instead of strumming chords, peppers the air with fiercely accented eighth notes. The villain has a henchman, and the henchman knows how to punch.

Listen to the two of them go through a whole chorus like that! When Jimmie finally comes in with his plaintive Creole tone, he weaves the melody into his improvisation. His technique is marvelous, while at the same time he brings out the melancholy nature of the melody without being too lugubrious. After his chorus, the song builds with the full band playing the last eight bars as a coda, Jimmie with his top to bottom cascades. I really like that record.

A few years later, I was standing around on break playing a swing dance in Wisconsin. The DJ spun the 1951 Sidney Bechet version of the tune. I’d never heard it before. Though Sidney has his band moving at a full forty beats per minute faster than the Noone version, I was taken by how much it swings. Sidney’s arrangement owes something to Noone’s, beginning with piano, ably plunked by Don Kirkpatrick. But what really makes the song swing is Pops Foster and his rock solid, doghouse-slapping, thumping four-beat bass. Sidney, per usual, wails and growls, spits and churns. He’s offset wonderfully by the other Sidney on the record, trumpeter Sidney De Paris, who keeps things grounded with a strong melody throughout. I really like THAT record.

Since it’s 1919 publication, many people have recorded the tune, though none quite so slow as Noone’s. The idea of the quicker tempo wasn’t Bechet’s. One of the first versions, a cylinder put out by Harry Raderman’s Jazz Orchestra in 1920 is even faster. But by the time Bechet recorded it, the song had become a vehicle for spectacular acrobatics, sometimes reaching speeds of more than 100 beats per minute faster than Bechet! They make his forty beat increase seem very reasonable indeed. To me the acrobatics work best when someone decides to sing the song. The vocal contains a double time lyric which, when attempted, can ratchet the tension of these jackrabbit performances until ladies are fainting in the aisles. When Patty and the Buttons first started playing the tune, we stumbled upon a version by John Denver, of all people, singing on the BBC, of all places. 

Jazz singer, John Denver.

He sings the hell out of it, including a John Denver kazoo solo. If you watch the video closely, you see he hid the kazoo up his sleeve until the last second. Maybe 1973 British sensors didn’t allow kazoos on air. But the real stunner is a section where he sings the double time lyric twice again as fast! Double-double time! The surreal quality of the thing is augmented by His Rocky Mountain Blondeness bouncing with both of his arms hanging down like he’s the animatronic John Denver. He screams, “Yeah!!” at the end, apparently surprised he pulled it off. This is one of those things I watch with a mixture of one part embarrassment, two parts absolute admiration. At any rate, the Buttons took a hack at it on their just-released Mercury Blues. Speaking of admiration, Patty knocks the lyrics out wicked fast, but all the while still swinging like the master of swing that he is. I can’t even order breakfast as clearly as he spit out those words!

There’s a nimble tongue in that bullhorn

But I confess that my favorites are still the Noone and Bechet instrumentals. Which brings us to the Southside Aces version. When we did a Jimmie Noone feature at the Eagles Club a couple years back, I had Robert pluck away in an homage to Bud Scott. We don’t run with a piano in this band, so I assigned the Earl Hines part to Erik on his sousaphone. This makes for a great rhythm section feature, and I get to try to channel Jimmie in my chorus. I really like playing it that way. But then, at a dance here or there, I’ve counted off the song at the Bechet tempo, with the whole band all falling in at the top. I really like playing it THAT way. 

For our recording, I split the difference. We move it along at a tempo that recalls the Bechet without going all the way there. But my first love was the Noone version. I’ve become so enamored of the 1928 Bud Scott work that I wanted to hear Robert’s guitar and Dave’s drums do it all on their lonesome. I hear tell the kids call that a “breakdown.” I want to start calling it the “Bud Scott Breakdown.” You heard it here first. Erik’s sousaphone creeps in halfway through, like a stranger walking through the door at a roadhouse. I get my clarinet chorus before the whole band is finally together. Before we stick a fork in it, you hear a reprise of the “Bud Scott Breakdown.” I’ve listened to it at least thirty-eight times now, and I really like THAT record, the leader of the band says back-pattingly.

A man has song loves, and this is an early love, but a lasting one for me. I never tire of playing it. Here’s our version to put up on the top of your “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me” pile:

Aces breaking it down!
Blues My...

Oh, and in case you haven’t cared about anything I’ve said after the words “John Denver kazoo solo,” go here:
His Denverness

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