Editor, Webmaster: Phil Cartwright Editor@earlyjas.org
|In Tune -- by Eric Seddon
Technological advance, constant innovation, commercialism, gratuitous competition
as a means of marketing: these are aspects of the American psyche which tend to spill over
from the marketplace into the rest of our culture, jazz history not excluded. Sometimes this
mindset has produced explosively creative results; other times the inability of the American
mind to cease its restless consumerism seems to get ahead of itself, leaving artistic forms
behind before they are fully developed.
Comparing jazz history to European concert music history reveals this compression--
whereas Functional Tonality took centuries to develop, and stylistic epochs in classical music
history stretched sometimes for multiple generations, Jazz went from polyphony to an early
'gallant' style to high romanticism to modernism in about four decades. Some of this was
simply a result of the interaction of jazz with modern European music, but much of it must
have had to do with the restless American muse. Because of this, we've often depended upon
other cultures to maintain, value, and support styles invented here and abandoned before
they've even reached full fruition. France, England, and Japan, to name just a few, have often
been more supportive of jazz musicians than America. Because of this, the spread of jazz has
not necessarily followed the trajectory abroad that it has at home -- "Trad Jazz" is not only
celebrated on other continents, but has produced heirs from other cultures who have added
their particular voice and ethnic flavor to the music.
One of the strongest of these Trad Jazz currents flowed through Great Britain in the
1950s and '60s, a major focal point being the music of clarinetist Acker Bilk. Bilk's
contribution goes beyond that of a curator of New Orleans style--he actually advanced the art
of jazz in ways we have yet to fully appreciate in the USA.
The Seven Ages of Acker takes New Orleans style as a point of departure, applying it
broadly, not only by playing standards (such as Tiger Rag and Ory's Creole Trombone), but
in terms of repertoire. Bilk expanded the base of traditional jazz, integrating light music
popular with British audiences in the early 20th century such as Ketebey's "In a Persian
Market," and Lincke's "The Gay Hussar." Significantly, this music was the direct precursor of
British Invasion rock (several Brit Rock bands and players of the following decade cut their
teeth in trad-jazz groups of the '50s). Like those bands, there is a distinctive English quality to
the way Acker Bilk's Paramount Jazz Band. The more you listen to English Trad Jazz, the
more you hear the long history of the British popular music blending into the New Orleans
style. That it’s such a good fit is both fascinating and enjoyable.
It's noteworthy that a Bilk original from this album, "Summer Set", was a top ten hit on
the UK charts, setting the stage for his biggest: 1961's "Stranger on the Shore"-- the first
British tune to hit number one on the American Billboard charts (predating Beatlemania).
"Summer Set" is a very simple tune, but the bright sincerity of it serves as foreshadowing to
the lighter, optimistic hits of Paul McCartney during his Beatle days.
This band, and this album, is one of the most intriguing of the Trad Jazz contributions
from the British heyday of the '50s and '60s. There is still much to be learned from what
those English traddies did, and for those who haven't yet delved into it, this album is highly
|Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning for
Jazz Advancement and Socialization
Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band
* The Seven Ages of Acker * 1959