Topsy – The history of jazz in one tune

Count Basie and his orchestra, recorded in NYC August 9, 1937.

Written and arranged by Eddie Durham, one of the most important and underappreciated artists in jazz and American music history.

Irish and Mexican on his father’s side, Native American and Afro-American on his mother’s, in his childhood Durham grew up wearing his hair long and braided, Native American-style.

Born and raised in rural San Marcos, Texas (1906), he learned to ride, drive cattle, shoot and hunt rattlesnakes. He was also a fine carpenter.

One of the legendary Oklahoma City Blue Devils, he was a mainstay of the Count Basie band.

A first rate composer and arranger, he wrote for Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller and is reputed to have been the key arranger on “In the Mood”, the anthem of the Big Band Swing era.

As if that weren’t enough, Durham was the pioneer of the jazz electric guitar (Charlie Christian quoted him in his early recordings). Durham was also a virtuosic trombone player who invented the Non-Pressure technique for the trombone.

Here he is at age 73 (born 1906). This was filmed in 1979.

Serious guitar players know that Django Rheinhardt wasn’t the only inspiration for today’s guitar-based “Gypsy Jazz” movement.

Here’s some folks from around the world honoring Durham’s art with their own versions of “Topsy.”

Arranged by Alexander Vinitsky (Russia)

From the Netherlands

Henk Sprenger guitar, Gideon Tazelaar (13) baritone sax, Stefan Bos (15) piano, , playing Topsy by Eddie Durham.

Recorded 30 July in Hilversum Netherlands

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans (1938) – both takes

Recorded in New York City, NY September 27, 1938. Eddie Durham takes a solo – on electric guitar – in this jewel-like ensemble piece with Lester Young (tenor sax, clarinet) Buck Clayton (trumpet) Eddie Durham (guitar) Freddie Green (guitar) Walter Page (bass) Jo Jones (drums)

Listen to the intro. You’ll here the riff that became “In the Mood.”

A long interview with Eddie Durham by Stanley and Helen Dance (The audio quality is terrible and its unedited, but contains a lot of gems.)

https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/52035/#playback/M4A-1

Click here for the Dave Oliphant bio of Eddie Durham

– Ken McCarthy
Jazz on the Tube

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