by Don Pelton
What I didn’t realize when I sent the Center my note is that Tuba Skinny actually performed at the Worldfest here in 2015! So, the Center for the Arts is years ahead of me and my recent enthusiasm! Still, I’d love to see them brought here as a featured group on the Center stage.
From their ragtag appearance in the videos below, you wouldn’t expect them to be an international hit, but such are the joys of traditional street jazz. And Tuba Skinny is nothing if not joyful. Check out the videos below, and notice how much wild energy there is in the street performances.
In my favorite, Jubilee Stomp. Ewan Bleach plays a sweet clarinet:
Here’s another stomp, Postage Stomp. Best antidepressant ever! Check out the washboard riff at 4 min 10 sec, followed by the trombone slide and the screaming clarinets and the dancers in the street … unbelievably joyful!
And in this next one, Shaye Cohn, usually on coronet in the full band, plays the piano. What a talented group of people!
Here are some notes on Tuba Skinny’s repertoire (from Wikipedia):
The band has frequently covered jazz and blues songs by figures such as Jelly Roll Morton (left) and Ma Rainey (right).
Tuba Skinny’s repertoire, while it includes some original material they have composed, is drawn from the lesser known compositions of the early jazz era and has been documented to include over 350 songs. Their selection of deserving tunes has garnered praise and the following is especially noteworthy: “New Orleans Bump,” “Cushion Foot Stomp,” “You Can Have My Husband,” “Jackson Stomp,” “Deep Henderson,” “Banjoreno,” “Treasures Untold,” “Russian Rag,” “Oriental Strut,” “Minor Drag,” “Michigander Blues,” “In Harlem’s Araby,” “Me and My Chauffeur,” “A Jazz Battle,” “Droppin’ Shucks,” “Fourth Street Mess Around,” and “Carpet Alley Breakdown.”
The singers and composers whose material they favor include Victoria Spivey, Jelly Roll Morton, Lucille Bogan, Memphis Minnie, Jabbo Smith, Georgia White, Skip James, Merline Johnson, Ma Rainey, Hattie Hart, Blind Blake and Clara Smith. Some of the bands whose material Tuba Skinny has interpreted in its own manner are the Memphis Jug Band, the Dixieland Jug Blowers and the Mississippi Mud Steppers.
While hailed as outstanding performers of traditional jazz, Tuba Skinny have not restricted their selection of material exclusively to what is permitted in the traditional repertoire. In fact, their goal is not to be circumscribed by rigid genres. The ensemble began playing predominantly early jazz and, as time passed, they transitioned “towards jug band music, country blues, string band music and ragtime.” They briefly incorporated folk-country songs and New Orleans rhythm and blues into their performances before returning to their roots: Early jazz.