Cutting Contests

Everything about the swinging music we love to DJ

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#16 Post by Roy » Thu Mar 24, 2005 5:10 pm

In Mezz Mezzrow's book "really the blues" he talks about a cutting session in the mid 1930's with Fats Waller, Willie "the lion" Smith, and another piono player. He states the they couldn't figure out a winner so they called James P. Johnson in the wee hours of the morning and he came over, and instead of deciding a winner he joined the cutting contest. Mezzrow explains that it went on all night and into the morning and no one could determine a winner.

He exlains that one person would play the piano and eveyone would be watching. Then another piano player would sit next to the playing pianistr. Then they would switch and one pianist was playing with his left hand and the other was playing with his right hand Then the new piano player would take over. and this would repeat all night long.

Obviously in this case they only had access to one piano. And it also suggests that they were in fact competitive, but it seems to be a friendly competition sinc James P. Johnson was called to determine a winner.

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#17 Post by Roy » Sun Apr 24, 2005 10:04 am

I got a chance to talk to 94 year old franz about this. He played with the big band in NYC from 1938 to 1943 before travelling around the world with the USO. And Prior to that was in Chicago. He stated he never saw them the swing era artists never really did it. It was something that was common with the rag time and stride piano players.

He did say he practived at the Savoy ballroom allot when it was closed which led me to ask him if he got a chance to see the dancers there. He said on the band stand it was hard to see the dancers because people would stand right in front of the stage. Often times other musicians. He told me one time the entire Benny Goodmen Orchestra was standing there watching the band he was in. I didn't ask him what band but it was likely the Roy Eldridge or Fats Waller big band.

I also aksed him who he liked playing with the most. And he said he loved playing with Roy Eldridge bebasue he was a great musician and would let other players play. He stated he did not like playing with Louis Armstong(which he did around 1930-31). He stated the whole night every song he never let anyone else on stage get a chance to play. Everyone else including other horns were background. So he quit Armstongs band and moved on.

He also said he is really happy to see people dancing to jazz again.

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#18 Post by SpuzBal » Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:59 pm

Sweet. Nice info, man.
"In my opinion, out of the ten great guitarists in the world, Django is five of them!" - Rex Stewart

Albert System
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#19 Post by Albert System » Mon Apr 25, 2005 12:39 pm

Actually, some of ther earlier "Cutting Contests" were pretty tough. I am talking about in New Orleans back in the teens and twenties, when nightclub owners would put their bands on the back of a truck, and send them out into the neighborhood to promote. When two trucks carrying bands from competing clubs would run into each other ono a corner, a real cutting contest would break out. Each band would try to out-do the other until one band eventually gave up. The band that won would obviously draw the crowds back to their club.

BTW- this is where the term "Tailgate trombone" also came from. The trombone player use to sit sticking out the tailgate of the truck so he could slide the slide out into the street without bumping it on the side of the truck.