From now on, whenever I post on Friday I will be showcasing the wonderful world of Modern Jazz. I use the term Modern Jazz quite loosely so it basically includes all post-war jazz.
Today's modern jazz track features a rather unusual instrument not often used in Jazz music. The obscure instrument featured in today's post is the bagpipes.
The bagpipes have long been associated with British Isles (especially Scotland), and with it traditional folk music from Europe. However sculptures found in the Middle East that feature primitive forms of bagpipes date back to around 1000 BC. Making the bagpipes far greater an antiquity than saxophones and other reeded instrument played by most jazz musicians of today and far older than Anglo-Saxon society itself. So once you detach the modern "dogmas" of the bagpipes, it isn't too difficult to realise the possibility of the instrument being played in Jazz. Other instruments not traditionally associated have been given a new life in jazz in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Including the Bass Clarinet (Eric Dolphy, Peter Brotzmann etc), the Oboe (Yusef Lateef) and even the Tuba and French Horn (Howard Johnson, Julius Watkins).
The key practitioner (perhaps the only?) is Rufus Harley. While other musicians experimented with bagpipes like Albert Ayler (you can hear him play the bagpipes on "New Grass" and "Music is The Healing Force of the Universe), Rufus Harley is arguably the first and only true jazz bagpipe player.
The recording featured in this post, is from Harley's debut album entitled Bagpipes Blues and was recorded between 1965 and 1966 (predating Ayler's bagpipe experiments). The piece "Chim Chim Cheree" comes from the 1964 Disney film production "Mary Poppins". At the time this piece was recorded the song was well known to most people and had won an academy award for best song in a motion picture. Harley it seems was following a trend that was popular amongst jazz musicians at the time, especially with the success of John Coltrane's recording of "My Favourite Things". The piece is hard-bop based, and it centers entirely on Harley's playing, with only a tiny solo from the backing trio. It is intriguing to hear a person improvising jazz on a bagpipe and although the bagpipe has only limited range, Harley manages to push the most of his instrument. The playing is solid, the sound of the bagpipes may be an acquired taste, but this song is likely to convert at least some sceptical listeners to appreciate the bagpipes as a legitimate and enjoyable instrument.
EDIT: I just remembered that the British Free Jazz multi-instrumentalist Paul Dunmall is also known to improvise on the bagpipe.
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