I hesitate to try and expand Butler¹s quote but I imagine that what was in
his mind was the difference between choosing repertoire and presentation to
satisfy the paying customer and playing insincerely or in a wholly
derivative manner. Obviously there can be a fine line between these two
stances but it is a fine line that all vernacular musicians in all
traditions have to tread if they want both to make a living and make
I have another New Orleans quotation which I keep on my desk top. It is from
guitarist Ernest McLean, who said, ³You got three people that want to listen
to a million chords and a million people that want to listen to three
chords!² He was exaggerating, but not much.
The same fine line determines whether borrowings from another idiom are
digested and enrich the tradition they are added to, or whether they just
produce a meaningless hybrid inferior to all its parents (like so much
Latin jazz¹), or ultimately a new idiom with its own traditions.
For good or ill it often needs to be left to posterity to determine this!
Though it¹s usually a good predictive guide to look whether the new
hybrid/idiom actually has any roots in any community or constituency, or is
being produced from above to be handed down. But of course some things which
originate that way do take root.
Paradoxically I feel that the music being played at Preservation Hall and
elsewhere in New Orleans in the noughties, by what is increasingly a mixture
of musicians who have passed through rhythm-and-blues/soul jazz (two names
for the same thing in my book) and young men who have come fresh to a
tradition inherited from their grandfathers rather than their fathers (a
common enough pattern of cultural transmission) is often more ³authentic²
than what was originally played at Preservation Hall by their elders in
company with the odd (sometimes very odd) revivalist. Its spirit and drive
certainly much more often remind me of the glory days.
on 13/06/2008 13:48, Robert Greenwood at robertgreenwood_54uk@...
>> > A recent issue by the New Orleans pianist Henry Butler (Pianola
> Live, Basin
>> > Street BSR0803-2) has in its notes an interesting comment by
> Butler. Of the
>> > version of Basin Street Blues¹ included, he says, ³I used to
> practice tunes
>> > like that, but I wouldn¹t play them in public. I thought it was
>> > music. Yet playing them day by day opened me up. It¹s only tourist
> music if
>> > you play it like tourist music.²
>> > Sums revivalism up in a nut shell.
> That's a great quote, Howard. With revivalism comes the troubled
> notion of "authenticity." In some quarters the music played at
> Preservation Hall or on Bourbon Street has been dismissed as
> inauthentic or as tourist music, with authenticity being located
> firmly in the functional dance music played by most of the same
> musicians at venues way off the tourist trail or at a time when
> tourism in New Orleans, such as it was, did not include an obligatory
> sampling of traditional African-American music. But surely the
> musicians played to suit their audiences? Are they, therefore,
> not "authentic" no matter what they play? I recall hearing Kid Thomas
> Valentine playing at a pub in London opposite Mornington Crescent
> underground station. Like many in the audience that night, I was
> familiar with Thomas from his recordings and was aware of quite how
> unhackneyed and varied his repertoire was. Much as I enjoyed that
> evening, I was disappointed to hear a set comprising well worn
> standards like Tiger Rag and The Saints. But if Thomas had obliged
> with, say, a waltz or a rhumba, it would have delighted the New
> Orleans cognoscenti there that night but no-one would have got up to
> dance. So, that night, who was "authentic" and who wasn't?
> Robert Greenwood.
Howard Rye, 20 Coppermill Lane, London, England, E17 7HB
Tel/FAX: +44 20 8521 1098
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