In terms of its current growth potential, Dixieland music has approximately as much vitality as the minuet; it is a form that interests creative jazz musicians not at all - or only as a long bygone evolutionary stage in the history of jazz (a genre which now begins to look promising for the first time in many years).
Dixieland is a bright, colorful sound, and one into which, occasionally, a new melody can still be manipulated. But it is now a musical fosil kept alive, one suspects, with artifical life-support systems supplied by the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce.
And that takes care of that, doesn't fit?
Not quite. Because the fact is that Dixieland still enjoys enormous popularity and still plays a vital role on the jazz scene; it has a status like that of "Scheherazade" and the "Trout" Quintet in the spectrum of jazz styles. It is still attracting thousands of new fans, some of whom will later move on to the enjoyment of such artist as Cecil Taylor or Ornette Coleman.
Because this entry-level function is so vital, and because the music itself is so charming, so beautifully performed and superbly recorded, I have found myself enjoying enormously and playing repeatedly some tapes of contemporary performances of Dixieland and other oldfashioned jazz on cassettes from the Advent Company (195 Albany St., Cambridge, Mass. 02139) and on open reels from Barclay-Crocker (1 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10001). These are highly recommended for those who have the taste.
Advent cassettes E 1064 "The New Black Eagle Jazz Band in New Orleans" and R 1065 "The New Black Eagle Jazz Band in Concert" feature a Massachusetts-based group which has been playing since 1971 and which sounds like it has been playing for half a century, except that the interpretations have a freshness and a technical precision now unavailable, alas, to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. This is Dixieland playing of the highest technical quality, with richness and detail which give a kind of satisfaction unavailable in the musically superb old recordings of King Oliver and others.
Trumpeter Jimmy McPartland has been playing for more than half a century, his name is firmly enshrined in Jazz history as one of the Chicago pioneers, and he still sounds highly impressive on "The McPartlands Live at the Monticello" (Barclay-Crocker HAL C 107), which was recorded before in a very enthusiastic audience in Rochester, N.Y. The contents of the tape include such classics as "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," "Avalon" and "Basin Street Blues" - tired, overdone music that sounds brand-new in these expert, enthusiastic performances. The sound quality of the tape has to be heard to be believed.
This tape is taken from the catalogue of Halcyon Records along with several others featuring the piano-playing of Marian McPartland, wife of the trumpeter and an equally vital figure in jazz history. Unlike Dixieland band style, solo jazz piano has offered continuing growth possibilities, and these are well reflected in the superb tape "Marian McPartland, Solo Concert at Haverford" (Barclay-Crocker HAL C 111), which includes a Gershwin medley as "Send in the Clowns" and "Killing Me Softly," very sensitively interpreted. Particularly notable are a number in which the Lennon-McCartney "Yesterday" is treated like something from "The Well-Tempered Clavier."