by Bert Thompson
New Black Eagle Jazz Band 1971-2011—CELEBRATING THE BIG 40 (OWN
LABEL: BE(CD)4001, 4002, 4003). Total playing time: 202m. 02s.
BE(CD)4001: Folsom Prison Blues; Memories; Special Delivery Blues; Bogalusa
Strut; Long, Deep, and Wide; White Ghost Shivers; Misty Morning; Diga Diga Doo;
Tree Top Tall Papa; Dreaming the Hours Away; One for the Guv’nor.
BE(CD)4002: Tipi Tin; Chimes Blues; Rosetta; Jelly Bean Blues; Shake It and Break
It; Red Man Blues; Dusty Rag; All Night Shags; Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland;
BE(CD)4003: Louisian-I-A; Working Man Blues; Please Don’t Talk About Me When
I’m Gone; In the Sweet Bye and Bye; Climax Rag; Home; Delia’s Gone; When I
Leave the World Behind; Out of the Galleon; Papa Dip; Joe Avery’s Piece.
Recorded on various dates between Nov. 1971 and Jan. 2011 in several locations.
Collective Personnel: Tony Pringle, cornet, vocal; Doc Cheatham, trumpet; Billy
Novick, clarinet, alto sax; Tommy Sancton, clarinet; Hugh Blackwell, clarinet, alto
sax, soprano sax; Brian Williams, clarinet; Brian Ogilvie, clarinet; Stan McDonald,
clarinet; Stan Vincent, trombone; Jerry Zigmont, trombone; Bob Pilsbury, piano;
Peter Bullis, banjo; Jesse Williams, bass; Barry Bockus, bass; Don Kenney, bass; Eli
Newberger, tuba; C. H. “Pam” Pameijer, drums; David Hurst, drums; Billy
There can’t be many traditional jazz fans who have not heard of the New Black
Eagle Jazz Band from New England—after all, they have been around for forty
years, such an anniversary being marked with the release of this CD set as well as a
celebration held at the Collings Foundation in Stow, Massachusetts, on September
18, 2011. They have recorded prolifically and also toured extensively, having
“played many times in Europe, Canada, all over USA, and in Singapore,” as we are
told on the band’s website.
If any reader is unfamiliar with the band, then this set will be an excellent
introduction. For the rest of us, it is a fine supplement to whatever NBEJB CD’s are
on our shelves since none of the tracks have been released previously and a good
number of the titles do not appear on any other of the band’s CD’s.
Over the four decades the band’s personnel has been remarkably stable. Five have
been members since the first year (1971) and are still present—Pringle, Bullis,
Vincent, Pilsbury, and Pameijer—and Novick has been part of the group since
1986. Newberger was a member for the first thirty years. Subs. also are “steady,”
the result being that they can slip seamlessly into their respective chairs. So the
band has been blessed with relatively little turnover.
There’s not much that can be said about the band that has not been said before, and
what we have in this set of CD’s is a tour of the band’s history, beginning on the
first CD with a selection from a very recent performance and then tracing back
through the years to the last track on the third CD: a performance from the first year
of the band’s existence—1971.
From the most recent track to that early one, the band gives a superlative
performance. Almost every tune is played with a pulsating four beat, even on the
fastest numbers, the rhythm section providing a solid base for the front line. While
there are solos, the emphasis is on ensemble, as befits the New Orleans style. Add
to this attention to dynamics, especially on the out choruses that build and build
and build some more, and the constant shouts of approval and encouragement
soloists are given by the other musicians, and the result is tremendous excitement
and tension. It is difficult to stay in one’s chair, and at the very least one’s foot will
be tapping furiously. Most of the songs have a duration of at least five to six
minutes, but one is hardly aware of that, being so swept up in the music.
Tempting as it is to say something about each track, I have to resist and mention just
a few highlights. The opening track of CD1, Folsom Prison Blues, does Johnny
Cash proud. It also clearly illustrates the excitement I just spoke of, resulting from
that driving four-beat rhythm, and it gets the proceedings off to a rousing start. (I
should also add that most of the tracks are live performances, and one can hear the
audience response at the end of the track—they, too, were obviously caught up.)
Also from this CD, Diga Diga Doo contains some fine riffing behind the sax solo,
followed by a dramatic drop in volume in the next chorus to provide great contrast
and interest. The last track, One for the Guv’nor, is a very nice Pringle original in
tribute to the late Ken Colyer. Why this tune has not been picked up by other
bands (other than the Albion, of which Pringle is the cornetist) is a mystery to me.
On CD2, Jelly Bean Blues is a standout, played “down” in all senses—volume low,
clarinet in chalumeau register, tuba searching for the lowest note possible. The
piano solo is so typical of Pilsbury. Everyone lays out but he, and while he plays a
“broken” rhythm, he never loses his place, but has one hanging on his every note.
One could hear a pin drop during his solo. Time passes unnoticed here, so
captivating is the rendition even though it is ten minutes long! This is the first track
in the set to have Newberger on tuba for the bass, and it should be said at once that
his tuba playing in no way impeded the drive of the four-beat rhythm but rather
contributed to it. So often—perhaps even most often—the tuba in a band plays two-
beat. But Newberger almost always maintains the four-beat, even during the fastest
tempos, clearly illustrating that he had mastered circular breathing since he never
once stops, in any tune, to take a breath. Another fine rendition of a tune is that
given Red Man Blues. The rhythm section is immaculate here, especially the tuba
The last CD, which takes us back to the band’s beginnings, has a number of
standouts for me. In the Sweet Bye and Bye swings mightily, the musicians calling
out approbation and encouragement to each other, followed by a neat duet between
cornet and banjo, the others all having laid out. The band then makes its way back
to ensemble, Pameijer having throughout punctuated the tune with judicious tom
tom fills, the whole swinging to and through its coda. And since I mentioned the
very first, most recent, track on the first CD, it is fitting to comment on the last,
which is actually the earliest, on this CD. Few will not have heard Joe Avery’s Piece,
but probably not as it is done here. The tempo is brisk, and the interest in the piece
is heightened by the several instruments—tuba and especially drums—following
the banjo’s lead of playing the stop time rhythm behind the rest of the ensemble or
the soloist. All great fun.
So there it is—a superb three-CD set to commemorate the four-decade anniversary
of a superb band. While I don’t know how many copies were made, I should think
they will go fast. On the band’s web site www.blackeagles.com one can find