"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
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.
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
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 on this
Our next show is Wednesday June 29th at
the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan. We'll be
performing again at "Powerhouse Stomp", a musical
tribute to classic cartoons of the 1920s, 30s, and
40s. The first of these events was presented back in February. Shien Lee, the amazing promoter of a hugely popular Manhattan dance series called Dances of Vice, and I had a conversation about what kind of event to do. I told her I was working on music from early American cartoons and she jumped at the idea. We'll be performing music from our new CD "Hothouse Stomp" as well as new arrangements of music by composers Carl Stalling, Raymond Scott, and Sammy Timberg. Tickets are now available here. Hope to see some of you there.