On The Genius of Hartzell "Tiny" Parham
25th May 2011
Hartzell "Tiny" Parham stands out as one of the most original composers for
the jazz orchestra as it was being developed in the late 1920s.
Parham was one of the four bandleader/composers I selected to cover
for the new Ghost Train Orchestra CD Hothouse Stomp. When we were putting together the CD of material, I asked
illustrator Molly Crabapple to work up some illustrations of the
bandleaders for the booklet. She provided this illustration at left and really knocked it out of the
park. Last month I spoke with
NPR's Terry Gross a bit about Tiny Parham and she played our version
of his piece "Voodoo" on NPR. You can hear it here.
Born in Canada in 1900, Hartzell, ironically nicknamed "Tiny" (one record noted he weighed well over 300 pounds) got his start in Kansas City as a pianist and began touring with territory bands until making his way to Chicago in 1926, where he worked as an arranger and recorded piano on a few blues recordings with Ma Rainey and Hattie McDaniels. He played organ and piano in the vaudeville houses, most notably the Savoy Ballroom.
It was during this time that he cut 38 sides for Victor with his own orchestra under the name of Tiny Parham and His Musicians. These recordings left quite an impression on me. His use of violin on the melody in the high register combined with slow, lumbering low brass lines created an atmosphere rivaled only by Ellington. His music is at turns atmospheric, creepy, and beautiful. Most of the musicians he recorded with are not well-known, with the exception of banjoist Papa Charlie Jackson and the great bassist/photographer Milt Hinton, who played tuba on at least one recording (one of his first recordings, I think).
After the band disbanded in the late 1930s Tiny found work playing organ in a Chicago roller-skating rink. He died in a dressing room in Milwaukee during a show in 1943 at the age of 43, not surprisingly, due to his weight. It's hard to believe that Tiny Parham is not more well-known. His compositions for the jazz orchestra were some of the most original pieces of the time; a Tiny Parham piece is instantly recognizable.
One of the first pieces of music of Tiny's that really blew me away was a piece from 1928 called "Voodoo". It has an exotic element to it in the toms and the band does this unison moaning thing at the end. It's creepy, atmospheric stuff. I remember listening to that and immediately wanting to bring it to people's consciousness again live. My interpretation was to underline the exotic nature of it by adding the saw and adding more voices at the end, and it's always a real crowd-pleaser live.
Robert Crumb, besides being a famous cartoonist and illustrator, is also a purveyor of old time blues, jazz and country, a musician and a 78 collector. In 1982, he illustrated a great collection of trading cards called "Early Jazz Greats" with Tiny Parham. The book of cards was re-released in 2006 with a bonus cd which included "Mojo Strut" by the Apollo Syncopaters. Below is a youtube of the original "Mojo Strut" by the Pickett-Parham Apollo Syncopators, a band led by Tiny and violinist Leroy Pickett. They recorded two sides in 1926 on Paramount. This vinyl he's making such an effort to show off is just a compilation. When you listen to this, you hear that great introduction, followed by the violin way up in the high register. When the trumpet solo begins, the rhythm section changes abruptly to offbeats. Later on the trumpet leads the whole band through a series of chromatic triplet figures, another odd move for a jazz composer during this time. With all of the 2-bar stop time interruptions on throughout, the piece has this feeling of abandonment. It's a incredible piece of music for 1926 and a signature Tiny Parham piece.
Rave Reviews for Hothouse Stomp
13th May 2011
The new Ghost Train Orchestra CD Hothouse Stomp: The Music of 1920s Chicago and Harlem (Accurate Records) has been receiving all kinds of praise. AllMusic rates it 4 stars, raving "this thoroughly winning disc...all adds up to a relentlessly rollicking good time". Downbeat Magazine says "the only thing better than hearing this recording would be seeing the band live", with an additional 3 1/2 star review in the July issue. All About Jazz raves the band "heats their surroundings with a radioactive warmth, infectious and viral in the modern-media sense of the word." The Boston Globe raves "this is a crazy-beautiful living-history lesson." Blogcritics.org raves "one of the few jazz albums I would recommend to non-jazz listeners." And if you missed my spot on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, you can now stream it here. The CD is available now on Accurate Records at all the usual places, including the Store page on this website.
Brian Carpenter on Fresh Air with Terry Gross
8th April 2011
Brian Carpenter was interviewed by NPR's Terry Gross Fresh Air on his work with the Ghost Train Orchestra and Beat Circus. The show aired on Thursday April 7th but you can read the transcript and listen to the whole thing here.