Citizen Staff Writer
Until bebop came along in the 1940s, jazz was best known for being fun music. You got a girl, you found some jazz and you had fun. Whether the music was on a record, on the radio or in a smoky bar that served great barbecue, it didn’t matter. Whether the music was a swinging dance tune or a bittersweet ballad, it didn’t matter.
You could be doing anything and the sound of jazz just made it better.
That sprightly spirit has been missing from the music for a long time, long before gender was a hot button issue. Most people have forgotten those days. Many are too young to ever know them.
Sure, a digital culture probably needs its own music. But human beings are still human beings. Fun is still an essential ingredient to life itself.
One bunch of trad jazz guys who believe in the stimulating power of this old aural tonic are the six musicians who comprise the Original Wildcat Jass Band. That’s jass, not jazz, reminding us this proud American art form spent a lot of its formative years entertaining women of ill repute.
The CDs liner notes confirm this heritage and flaunt it loudly in the musicians’ own preference for their spelling of jass.
As for the “Wildcat” part, two of the band members are music professors at the University of Arizona – Kelland Thomas on banjo and soprano sax, Kelly Thomas playing the most lighthearted tuba you will ever hear.
Also with high profiles in Tucson’s jazz community are Jason Carder, trumpet, and Rob Boone, trombone. Ray Templin brings a Chicago influence to his work on piano and drums, completing the sextet.
The band’s new album is “Two Deuces,” a lively blend of better and lesser-known songs originally recorded by the likes of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five.
Added to the album’s 16-song mix is Boone’s romantic rendition of “Stardust,” a joyful “Pennies From Heaven” and Kelly Thomas’ tuba leading the rhythm on “Caravan.”
Everybody kicks out the jams on another tune with Middle Eastern flavors, “The Sheik of Araby.” There is such a straw hat flavor to this number, another lost tradition is recalled – repeating “in a bathing suit” after every phrase. Try it.
“I’m the Sheik of Araby (in a bathing suit), Your heart belongs to me (in a bathing suit). At night when you’re asleep (in a bathing suit), Into you’re tent I’ll creep (in a bathing suit) . . . for the whole song.
Then order another pitcher of beer.
An impressive proof of these musicians’ love for the very roots of jazz are two original, if uncredited, pieces deep in the fun pocket, “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too” and an ode to all moochers, “Suits Are Picking Up the Bill.”
Pun lovers will be convinced “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too” was written in the golden age of punditry back around the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a tale of a fellow who has one girlfriend, Kate, but also wants the singer’s girlfriend, Edith.
But wait … there’s more! Recording “Two Deuces” was so much fun, the rhythm section said, “Hey, when’s our turn in the spotlight?” So Kelly Thomas added his higher-toned euphonium, Rob Wright joined up with banjo and vocals, Ray Templin came in on piano and drums.
Right away we know this trio spells fun like FUN! An easy-swinging “Ain’t Misbehavin’” opens the 15-song list, but next up is a hilarious version of “Dueling Banjos.”
If you remember the hippo ballet in Disney’s “Fantasia,” you’ll be grinning as the ponderous tuba steps up to duel with the smarty-pants banjo. In lesser hands, this contest could get downright muddy. Instead, Thomas’ tuba is such a fleet-footed adversary, the banjo has to do a lot of tap dancing just to keep from getting squashed.
A more patriotic reminiscence on the rustic South lies in the medley “Dixie/Battle Hymn/This Land/America the Beautiful.” By the time we get to this track, the banjo and tuba have become inseparable friends. Just the idea of putting these two out front, giving them equal time to shine, feels daring enough. Then when they turn out to be so evenly matched, well, your ears will be smiling, as well.
To get a copy of either release, phone 544-0476 or check cdbaby.com