Thursday, May 5, 2016

Jam Session Song of the Week (11): Big Chief Battle Axe

I'm sorry there was no song of the week last week-- I just didn't get to it.

This week, another simple song: Big Chief Battle Axe (not to be confused with Big Chief).  (Simple is always good, especially for a jam session.)

I'm featuring this one because Yves seems to like it so much.  It's not really a standard, but it is moderately well-known in the "dixieland" repertoire.  I don't know much about its history, but it was written in 1907 by Thomas S. Allen.  I can't find any trace of it in jazz history until Bunk Johnson recorded it during the 1940s revival of traditional jazz.  Where did Bunk know it from?  Had he played it all along?  I don't know.

When I google this, I see that nearly everyone who has recorded it is someone I know... so I guess it has not spread too far.  I learned it from the Loose Marbles, and we play it like the Loose Marbles. That means we don't play the verse- or we play a very altered version of it.  Maybe in the future we will play it the way it was written, and like Bunk played it.

It's fun to play because it switches from the key of G minor to the related major key of Bb.

Here is a very basic lead sheet for it from the New Orleans Jambook site (be aware that the chords are in concert pitch but the melody is transposed for Bb instruments).

And here is Bunk Johnson's version, which should be considered the reference:

Here are some other versions by modern bands: