The Dime Notes - hot back then and still hot now
Piano lessons were beginning to lose their magic for Andrew Oliver when his teacher played him Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin and sent this classical music student off on a journey of discovery.
Oliver had been a self-confessed classical musical snob until this point in his teens. Something about Joplin’s sense of swing and mischief appealed, however, and one discovery led to another, Jelly Roll Morton, and opened up a whole world that Oliver hadn’t known existed: jazz.
It’s become a cliché to emphasise the point that the word jazz goes from A to Z in the middle, it being such a huge umbrella term and a sanctuary for all sorts of music that don’t get the attention they might deserve. It was this very A to Z that Oliver found himself exploring and as a professional musician the Portland, Oregon-born, London-based pianist is wide open to it, working in contemporary composition, Latin American styles and his African-flavoured Kora Band as well as the band that brings him to Scotland this week, early jazz specialists the Dime Notes.
“Jelly Roll Morton made a huge impression on me as someone who had been used to formal music presentations,” says Oliver. “The music he was making in the 1920s and 1930s just seemed to be so uninhibited, not to mention beautifully written and adventurous, and he was the key. I listen to and play jazz across the whole genre but it was hearing Jelly Roll, and listening to the amazing interview he gave to Alan Lomax that’s now in the Library of Congress, that made me want to find out how jazz developed and where it went from New Orleans.”
To do this Oliver went to New Orleans himself in 2002, studying jazz both formally, at Loyola University, and informally as he soaked up the live music available and marvelled at the continuity that gives modern jazz from New Orleans so much of the tang and accent that can be heard in the pioneers of the music’s work.
“That continuity that you hear in New Orleans is an important element for the Dime Notes,” he says. “We’re not revivalists. The idea, for me, is that the music we play should sound as if it’s of the time back then, in Jelly Roll’s day, and of the time right now. You can learn to play in the style of the old masters but it’s the spontaneity and self-expression that you put into it that makes the music live on the bandstand.”
Hurricane Katrina blew Oliver back to Oregon in 2005. Soon he was busy on Portland’s thriving music scene, leading one of the city’s top swing ensembles, the Bridgetown Sextet, while also becoming heavily involved in contemporary jazz projects. He ran the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble and formed the American-Canadian collective Tunnel Six.
It was while touring West Africa with this group for the US State Department in 2008 that Oliver became besotted with the sound of the kora, or African harp, and formed the Kora Band. It still tours and records despite its other members being scattered across the US and Oliver being domiciled in London since his wife’s career brought the couple over here in 2013.
One of the reasons Oliver was happy to give London a try was that he quickly discovered a thriving swing jazz scene there and soon after he arrived he happened upon clarinettist David Horniblow. Horniblow, who has the distinction of having played with British trad jazz’s three Bs - Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, and Acker Bilk - and has recently been seen on TV playing in the house band of Colliano’s Club in period drama Mr Selfridge, was just back from a spell in Australia when they met and as newcomers of a sort they bonded.
“David is a big fan of early jazz clarinet players, Barney Bigard especially, and we hit it off because, like me, he wants to bring spontaneity to the music,” says Oliver. “He has all the qualities associated with Barney Bigard, Johnny Dodds, and Omer Simeon – that richness of tone and fluent, inventive style of playing – but he brings his own personality to the music too.”
Their colleagues in the Dime Notes are equally experienced in playing swinging jazz. Guitarist Dave Kelbie is the long-term go-to-rhythm-guy for musicians including American clarinettist Evan Christopher, guitarists Bireli Lagrene, Lollo Meier and John Etheridge and Herald Angel-winning Hungarian violinist, Roby Lakatos, and bassist Tom Wheatley lends physical presence and mastery of the slap ‘n’ snap style to the rhythm section.
“All the guys can play other styles of jazz, and other styles of music,” says Oliver. “But their focus and immediacy when playing vintage jazz really makes this old music sound young.”
From The Herald, March 23, 2016