Goin’ Back to Speakeasy Times
When I got married a decade ago, I was put in charge of the wedding music. In fact, other than showing up, that’s pretty much where my responsibilities began and ended. Being someone who’s made music a vital part of my personal and professional life, I naturally gave my sole assignment considerable thought.
I worked out a budget, searched the web and thought about the spirit I wanted a band to bring to the event. Then I tracked down a bunch of old-time musicians who were experts at playing the music of the 1920s. And not the obvious stuff, either!
They were great! To top it off, they showed up with not one, but two, bass saxophones! Now the bass saxophone has fallen out of favor these days, probably because they’re taller than your average point guard and can’t be a lot of fun to haul around. But they turn up relatively frequently in ‘20s recordings. They sound kind of like a tuba with a little more bleat coming through.
Our new compilation, Speakeasy Times, offered me another opportunity to indulge in my affection for the music of the Jazz Age. For weeks I shuffled through some of the most ridiculously entertaining music ever committed to wax, narrowing the selections down to the 16 that appear on the disc that’s in Starbucks stores now.
It wasn’t easy whittling down a list that includes the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Whistling Jack Smith. But I’ve got to say it’s awfully satisfying putting the Mississippi Mud Steppers and Bert Williams on a CD. Not to mention an incredibly hip, young Bing Crosby and a once-in-a-lifetime pairing of the “Father of Country Music,” Jimmie Rodgers, and the greatest of all jazzmen, Louis Armstrong. And on and on!
HBO’s brilliant Boardwalk Empire and Prohibition, the upcoming Ken Burns documentary on PBS, are reviving interest in a fascinating period in American history, and music is so essential to capturing the feel of that time. What’s remarkable is how fresh and relevant these 80-year-old recordings still sound. That’s what I’ve really aimed to get across.
And I made sure there’s at least a little bass saxophone in the mix. ‘Cause there’s just too little bass sax in the world these days.