Marian McPartland: When The Saints Go Marching In

As host of the long-running radio series Piano Jazz, Marian McPartland has played innumerable piano duets with some of the finest jazz artists on the scene. The piano duet concept was transferred to McPartland's 1998 CD Just Friends where she performed with Tommy Flanagan, Renee Rosnes, George Shearing, Geri Allen, Dave Brubeck & Gene Harris. The last track on the CD was Marian's alone, and it doubtlessly represented the duet she wished she could play, but could no longer. Subtitled "for Jimmy", her solo version of "When The Saints Go Marching In" is a heartfelt tribute to her late husband, Jimmy McPartland. She starts the performance with a simple single-line reading of "The Blue Bells Of Scotland" (one of Jimmy's favorite songs) then makes a smooth segue into "Saints". The tempo is slow and thoughtful, making us remember the words, forgotten after so many raucous Dixie renditions. Marian was always more advanced in harmony than her husband, but I suspect that Jimmy would have approved of the "pretty chords" that Marian plays here. I suspect that someday in the hereafter they will play together again, but for now, Marian's solo version is a profound tribute to her dear departed husband.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Nicholas Payton: When the Saints Go Marching In

Contrary to what you might think, Dixieland bands hate playing this tune. Back in the 1960s, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band demanded a five dollar tip before they would even consider performing it, but would only require one buck for "Clarinet Marmalade." One solution for jaded trad players is to banish it from the repertoire—send those saints marching out—but the other approach is to follow Payton's formula. Change the chords and rhythms so that it becomes an entirely new song. Nothing remains of the original progression on this recording. You won't hear any trad band try this kind of reharmonization, and along with the eight-to-the-bar long count feel of the pulse, the result is a version of "Saints" that sounds more at home in Rio than the French Quarter. Payton's trumpet work is big, brassy and beautiful, and stands in marked contrast to the work of those horn players who think that you need to run roughshod over a tune if you want to play it in real N'awlins style. But this artist is a big enough talent to reinvent the tradition and refract it through his own personal aesthetic, as he demonstrates once again on this track.

August 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Louis Armstrong: When the Saints Go Marching In (live, 1956)

From the first notes of that famous melody flowing from Satchmo and the All Stars, you just can't help but get a smile on your face, the toe starts tapping, and spirit of Ol' New Orleans begins to take hold of you. Blessedly, despite the fact that Louis Armstrong had played this essence-of-New Orleans tune two or three thousand times, and the members of the band had played it hundreds of times, they play it with verve and passion, carrying the Crescent City spirit on a wave of song to their delighted and responsive audience for this live recording.

In his autobiography, the great clarinetist Barney Bigard said of Armstrong and the All Stars, "The band bridged the gap between show business and art." This tune, like that other essence-of-New Orleans song, "Basin Street Blues," was an ultimate demonstration of that - something you can clearly hear in the recording, as the audience is obviously highly entertained; but they are also hearing that supreme master of his instrument and singing, the one and only Satchmo, make musical art, with help from this great band. That includes the band members, again in the spirit of New Orleans, vocally echoing lyrics sung by Satch. Edmund Hall plays a clarinet solo early on that swings mightily, but as with other tracks on this album, his thin, screechy tone is the only negative. Trummy Young adds a wailing solo, with his usual fine tone, style and power, which takes it up a notch and hands it off to Armstrong for a grand finale, with vigorous ensemble backing.

It's easy to play this famous song in a caricatured manner, or just plain sloppily. (I've heard such versions of "The Saints.") But the tune is a significant piece of the culture of that unique yet quintessentially American city, New Orleans, and this live recording by Armstrong and the All Stars is one to enjoy again and again.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments


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