Recording Dixieland – A New Orleans tradition

The first thing we did once we found out we were going to be recording a Dixieland album in New Orleans was to start listening to Dixieland music properly. There are several ways in which a person can listen to music. Obviously, sometimes we listen for pleasure but any composer will tell you, sometimes we listen to “get under the hood” of a musical style, to get a sense of what makes a genre tick.

The Makings of Dixieland
The ubiquitous nature of Dixieland became more and more apparent the more listening we did. TV productions and advertisements for both adults and kids alike seem to feature Dixieland pieces. Closer inspection also brought to light the diverse influences that have widened the boundaries of the style. For example, there is a healthy dose of Afro Caribbean music in New Orleans which has influenced Dixieland jazz, as well as Folk music from France and marching band music (where Dixieland finds its roots). Dixieland, like many other jazz idioms is largely an improvisational idiom. Although we like to carefully prepare scores with specifics for players, we realized up front that we needed to give the players room to stamp their own stylistic interpretations on each work. Our mission in New Orleans wasn’t to ask these musicians to play our music our way, but to play our music their way.

The line up of instruments is particularly specific for most Dixieland works. Therefore we kept our line up traditional with trumpet, trombone, clarinet, sousaphone, upright bass, piano, banjo, guitar and washboard. One of the unusual things about Dixieland is the use of the sousaphone. What a powerful beast this thing is! The sound was originally based in American marching bands and has a really particular timbre often found on Dixieland tracks, so we split our bass lines between upright bass on some tracks and Sousa on the others. Both played by the marvellous Matt Perrine.

A New Orleans Tradition
Any one of the musicians playing on these recordings would frankly tell you that the music scene in New Orleans has changed vastly over the years. The older generation of Dixieland players have moved on or passed away and the city’s music community feels their loss. That being said, the torch is being carried on by a select few and we had the pleasure of working with some of them on this recording. We worked with a musical fixer, Mark Bingham from Piety Street Studios, to help us find the right musicians. Mark is incredibly well connected and putting our faith and trust in him paid dividends. We ended up with a band comprised some of this generation’s most well known New Orleans musicians.

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