Thursday, April 18, 2019

Blow Your Own Horn pt. 5: Ragtime Orioles

This is the final instalment of Blow Your Own Horn. It is probably a good thing as I am really going against my “Canadian ways”, by writing about myself and even listening to records that I have played on. Very UN-Canadian of me.

The final record and the most recent one that I played on is called Ragtime Orioles. This is under the leadership of pianist Bill Westcott. It is mildly controversial within the band why his name is not on the cover of this CD however none of that matters once you start listening.

Right away when you put the Cd on you will be drawn-in by the beautiful opener called Do Your Duty (1933). It features Brenna MacCrimmon on vocals and she will have your attention immediately. I am always amazed at how beautifully she presents these songs with a very high level of respect for the tradition. (a very wordy way of saying she is damn good!) One of the reasons I am amazed is because Brenna has spent most of her musical life focusing on Turkish music and is even quite famous in Turkey.

Bill Westcott is a fantastic piano player and I have been listening to him since he was my prof at York U in the 80s. As a matter of fact, his Early Jazz course was the best course I took in my Honours degree in music at York. His attention to detail (something I am always looking for in music)when he plays the piano is great. He knows more about early jazz than anyone I have ever met.

The title track and the name of the band; Ragtime Oriole is our version of a banjo/piano duet originally featuring Fred Van Eps on the banjo. Brenna joined us on the snare drum too. This piece was epic for me to learn and it still requires some work before live appearances.

You are probably looking at your own copy of the CD by now to find out just who this awesome clarinet player is. Chris Robinson is someone that is well known in Toronto music circles but was unknown to me until we started playing together in this group. He really knows this music. He plays it with great ferocity and knows lots of great stories about the music’s history too.

It is a real treat to open this beautiful Cd package designed by Yesim Tosuner. She never disappoints and this time there is a fantastic little booklet writing by Bill with lots of interesting info about the music we are playing. I look forward to reading it again soon.

Bill reminds us at the beginning of the notes that ragtime was inescapable in the turn of the 19th Century. He then goes on to say that “it could be imposed on almost anything: current popular favorites, old gems, military marches-all the rage then-and well-worn hyms and folksongs.”

This is another one of the records in this Blow Your Own Horn series that was recorded and mixed by Jeremy Darby at Canterbury. I love that he can bring his magic to just about any style of music. He found a way to make the recording sound just old enough but also modern enough to massage our sensitive ears of 2019.

I am glad there are some solo piano tunes on the record. You really get to hear the way Bill has spent his life playing in this tradition.  His ornaments and time feel always different and appropriate for each tune.

I had not played a lot of early jazz on the banjo before joining this band. However, it felt so natural the first time they came over to my house I couldn’t stop smiling. I still get that feeling whenever we play together. I guess, once again my twenty some-odd years of focusing on jazz guitar paid off. I think I am part of a very small club that plays this music on a bluegrass five string banjo with picks on my fingers. Originally it would have been done on a tenor banjo with a single pick held between the thumb and index finger.

I haven’t mentioned our great bassist Andrew Downing as of yet because he is so good on this disc you almost forget about him. Some might say anyone could play bass on this music but it is not true. The way that Andrew plays each note with the right attack and decay and a beautiful pulse is a delicate art for sure. Andrew is also a great bandleader, composer, arranger and he and I even have a banjo/cello duet project.

Wow, Chris plays some great clarinet on this record! You even get to hear him say farewell with a fantastic reading of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic Shreveport Stomp (1925).

If you want to hear this record you will have to come to one of our shows to purchase a Cd or contact me at and I will try to get one to you. (it is NOT yet available on all your favourite streaming sites)

It has been fun sharing these five recordings with you. I feel very fortunate to work with all these great friends of mine. The Toronto music scene is a community blessed with so much musical talent and creativity.

I would be lucky to ever have such a productive and successful 18 months again but if I do…you will be the first to hear about it.

Time to make some new records!

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