JJ 09/62: In My Opinion – Bob Scobey

Sixty years ago, the Dixieland trumpeter reckoned half these modern groups had lost the apple out of their lunch box. First published in Jazz Journal September 1962

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This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians who are asked to give a snap opinion on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being unaware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items procurable from any record shop. Bob Scobey is the foremost Dixieland-styled trumpeter in America. He has been playing now for a good many years (he started when he was nine years old), and first made his name when playing lead in the Yerba Buena Jazz Band in 1938. He left Lu Watters in 1950 to form his own group. Has since played with success out on the West Coast, and now owns a club in Chicago at which his band are the resident attraction. It was a pity his band didn’t have the chance to show their paces to the jazz public, when they toured here in the summer of this year – they were a smart group, finely rehearsed, with an outstanding musician in drummer Dave Black. – Sinclair Traill


“Jimtown Blues”. Miff Mole & His Dixie Hi-Flyers. Esquire 32-160
You know, I missed ever hearing Miff Mole. By the time I had got back to Chicago from the West Coast he had left for New York, and I don’t get there too often. But when I was there I could never find him playing anywhere. Pity, he was quite a boy, was Miff – an innovator. A lot of trom­bone players took something from Miff, I’d say all the early white players – all of ’em. He had a pretty sad end didn’t he? Or so I heard. I know Miff’s old partner Red Nichols quite well. He works in Los Angeles most of the time, has been out there for years. Picks up a lot of work through his old friends such as Bing Crosby. Does a lot of studio work. That picture brought him out a bit, great publicity for him. I would say he never played as well as they do on this record. His trumpet is too contrived for me – all those solos were written out beforehand. But he gave something to jazz; all those oldtimers did. I took my style from Louis of course – he has always been the trumpet player for me, ever since I first heard a record of his when I was at High School. Power, feeling and everything – he is the most captivating musician I have ever heard.

‘You know there is a certain school of musicians today who don’t try to get with their audiences. They seem to feel that the object of their playing is merely to play something screwy that will change the whole course of jazz’

“Drop Me Off At Harlem”. Louis Armstrong-Duke Ellington. Columbia SCX 3430
Well, there’s that man again. What a trumpet player and what an entertainer! He just makes people feel good! You know there is a certain school of musicians today who don’t try to get with their audiences. They seem to feel that the object of their playing is merely to play something screwy that will change the whole course of jazz. They don’t know what entertainment is, and I don’t think they understand very much about jazz. I like the people who come and hear me to like what I play for them, and understand what I play, and to go away happy, not depressed. Like Louis. Some people in America say Louis is finished. I don’t get that, just listen to him there – he’s still playing great. The giant of jazz! How many years has he been on tour? Much too long. But vacations present a problem; he must keep that lip in trim, or else it’s murder. And Duke there on piano – he’s great. I saw him just recently and thought he looked wonderful. Some of the boys, Clark Terry and Johnny Hodges, came in my club recently; we had a good night I can tell you. I know Duke would like to have my drummer back in his band. Duke’s had some good drummers, but my boy Dave Black is pretty hard to beat. He left Duke because he had a light case of polio. So when he came out of hospital he came out to the Coast and decided he had better take it easy for a spell. He played with Lena Horne for a time and then settled down in ’Frisco. He was recommended to me for some out­side job I had one night and so I took him on. I knew nothing about him, didn’t know he’d been with Duke or anything, but directly I heard him I knew he was the best drummer I had ever played with. He has nothing less than an uncanny feeling for time – the tempo is always just right, and he’s in there all the time. He can in fact do it all. There is no one has so much technique, excepting his friend Buddy Rich. Buddy has more self confidence, but that’s the only thing he has over Dave, in my opinion.

“Sheik Of Araby”. George Lewis. Storyville SLP 127
George is just a fine old guy. I love his band and always listen to them when ever we get a chance. He plays with that real authentic New Orleans sound that I love. He and Wilbur de Paris have about the only bands left that play that way. Wilbur is much more sophisticated of course, but basically the music is the same. There is a much older public for jazz in America than you have here. In Bourbon Street, my club in Chicago, we play to a much older set of people. I tried to get George in whilst I was away, but I don’t really think he could stand the hours – it’s a tough grind, ten until four in the morning.

‘They smiled, they entertained the people and they had fun. Half these modern groups look as if they had lost the apple out of their lunch box; that’s not the way to play jazz – it’s an entertainment’

“Runnin’ Wild”. Dukes Of Dixieland. CBS BGP 62014
Well, they have enjoyed some measure of success for quite a while. They are the most popular band of their type back in the States right now. It was the record company Audio-Fidelity that did it for them. It came just as there was a great thing about hi-fi sound, and the record company advertised this band in every little hi-fi magazine there was. People thought they were getting something new, a new sound, for that was the way it was advertised. And they sold a heap of records in all the homes. Of course the music was popular. That type of Dixieland is easy to listen to, and it goes, in a way. They really are not too outstanding, but the trumpet and trombone play quite a bit, and the pianist is a good musician. The rhythm is not too strong there, I think they had their best rhythm section when they had Rich Madison with them. He used to play for me, and he uses a helicon bass. Now that really cuts through a Dixieland band, whereas the ordinary string bass doesn’t make it with a Dixieland band at all. My bass player, Jimmy Johnson, is outstanding – a real powerful two-beat player. He was with the Treniers for years and they used to produce a real jumping beat. They were a great rhythm-and-blues band who looked as if they enjoyed every minute of their working time. They smiled, they entertained the people and they had fun. Half these modern groups look as if they had lost the apple out of their lunch box; that’s not the way to play jazz – it’s an entertainment.

‘It seems to be the habit these days of recording very long tracks, and I’m not sure if much jazz can retain the interest for that long’

“Mariooch”. Pee Wee Russell-Coleman Hawkins. Candid 8020
It seems as if Pee Wee has made something of a comeback during the past few years. He kind of dropped out, which was a shame, for there is no clarinettist who plays with more feeling and such unusual ideas. He’s on his own. I don’t know if that track wasn’t too long for comfort. It seems to be the habit these days of recording very long tracks, and I’m not sure if much jazz can retain the interest for that long. This is alright, Pee Wee has plenty to say, and it’s just a blues on which he could go on improvising for ever. But much of the other stuff one hears goes on for much too long. One doesn’t do it on the stand, so why do it on record?