Storyville 049 0011
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Pythagoras discovered that a string under a given tension vibrated at not only its fundamental frequency, but at V2, Vs and V4 and smaller fractions along its length, giving rise to overtones. From this discovery he adapted a scheme of tuning which is still known as the Pythagorean or âJustâ Diatonic Scale, a method of tuning which has been in use ever since with advantages and disadvantages as we shall see.
For the sake of simplicity let us take a string set up to play middle C. A vibration at half its length produces a note a perfect octave above and a vibration at one third its length produces a twelfth, i.e. an octave and four whole tones above. Halve this number of vibrations and you get a perfect fifth above middle C (G natural). Using the same process starting from the newly established G gives you D natural1 and so on.
However, we now come to the mathematical quirk referred to above in that tuning by this perfectly legitimate method gives a wider octave than the perfect relation of 2/1, and this fractional difference is still
called the Pythagorean comma.2 Another anomaly is that tuning (or playing) up or down from a given note can give a different value to a note which is identical on a keyboard instrument tuned to the now universally accepted âEqual Temperamentâ. This may help to explain a statement which has often puzzled the jazz neophyte ....that Jack Teagarden had such a good ear that he could distinguish between F sharp and G flat ....which on a piano, are the same note!
Classical string quartets are well acquainted with this and usually hate playing with a pianist; it is no strange phenomenom to choristers either.
As a partial solution to this problem the system of âMeantoneâ tuning was evolved. This enabled keyboard instruments to remain relatively in tune in keys which contained few accidentals ....or black notes. It was achieved by tuning perfect thirds, for example C natural to E natural, and octaves, and flattening the fifths âas much as the ear can bearâ 2. Shades of Be-Bop!
Elizabethan Madrigals were deliberately
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OLD MAN WITH A HORN
written to exploit this tendency and used certain harmonies to exploit these dissonances ....one is almost tempted to say âBlue Notesâ, against the perfect concordance of octaves and thirds ....which is why they often sound dull when sung or played in Equal Temperament.
I hope this piece will arouse interest and comment. One wonders if in whatever Limbo
Old man with a horn
by BjÃ¶rn Englund
Old legends die hard, especially the âcornet mythâ. This myth has been perpetuated in Rustâs otherwise outstanding Jazz Records 1897-1942, wherein he shows all New Orleans Negro trumpeters playing cornets at least until the end of 1931. It has been shown recently in these pages that it can only be wishful thinking of a purist which can show Armstrong playing cornet as late as the last Hot Five session of December,
1927, but I would suggest that it is equally incorrect to state that musicians such as Jabbo Smith and Punch Miller ever played cornet on records. A closer study of contemporary photographs would be a great help in determining whether a particular musician plays trumpet or cornet at a given time.
However, the reason for this particular note is a much later recording session. On 26 December, 1939, Eli Oberstem brought W.C. Handy into his U.S. Record Corporation studio in New York to record four sides with a studio group for the Varsity label. It has been reported repeatedly that Handy plays cornet on these sides, and yet at the completion of the session, Otto F. Hess took the photograph of the group which appears overleaf, showing Luis Russell, pno; Pops Foster, sbs; W.C. Handy, tpt; Ed Hall, clt; Bingie Madison, ten; J.C. Higginbotham, tbn; and Sidney Catlett, dms. This proves conclusively that Handy played trumpet, not cornet, on this date. I feel sure that this
is reserved for retired musicians there is some long dead sackbut player who has listened with relish to Jay C. Higginbotham and recognised some of his old phrases!
1 Piano Tuning and Allied Arts. William Braid
White. 5th Edition 1950. Turnerâs Supply Company, Boston, Mass. (Obtainable to special order from any Public Library)
2 An Amateur at the Keyboard. Peter Yates. Allen
& Unwin 1965. (See in particular Appendix 1 )
photo must have been published in a contemporary music magazine, but Iâve been unable to check Down-Beat or Metronome from this period.
We have always tried to be as accurate as possible in our discographical reporting, and the above highlights yet another small problem facing the discographer which calls for a little thought. In the early days when discography was a much less exact business than it is today, no-one bothered too much about whether a musician played trumpet or cornet, and to many the terms were (and I suspect to some, still are) synonymous. As BjÃ¶rn points out above, photographic and other evidence is available in some cases to allow of a more definitive approach which I feel should be the aim of us all. Thus the abbreviations for trumpet and cornet should mean just that! We are then left with a large body of recordings on which doubt will remain and for which some other term (and a suitable abbreviation) will have to be found. The words treble horn might be suitable, for that is an adequate description of both instruments (and their near relatives which are occasionally used in jazz) in which case the abbreviation could be âthâ or, better, âtrhâ. Perhaps our more discographically-minded readers would care to comment.
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