I’ve recently begun playing with the Low-Down Sires, a dixieland group based out of Asheville, NC. I have always enjoyed playing dixieland, although I hadn’t been playing a whole lot of it lately, so it’s a lot of fun to be playing it again regularly. One of the things I really appreciate about this group is that everyone makes a serious effort to play in the style. There’s nothing worse than listening to players who don’t play stylistically correct, regardless of what genre of music they’re performing.
One of the tunes we’ve been playing that’s been giving me some trouble is Jelly Roll Morton’s King Porter Stomp. This tune is challenging for me to solo over, in part because of the changes (it starts on the IV chord, not rare but somewhat unusual), key (Ab major, not too hairy, but a little tricky if I’m not focused), and bright tempo. Taken together, it’s not usually a big deal for me to adjust to these changes and tempo, but I keep finding myself wanting to bop over it. In order to give me some ideas for a more stylistically correct approach I decided to transcribe Lou McGarity’s solo over this tune and get inside it a bit.
There’s a couple of things in it I find interesting. McGarity uses a lot of Ab major pentatonic over it, but with some added passing tones between the 5th (Eb) and 6th (F) as well as a lower neighbor passing tone to the 3rd (C). Here’s an example from the first 4 measures of his solo.
The Ab major pentatonic scale (Ab, Bb, C, Eb, and F) provides a nice sound to blanket over this chord sequence (which makes up most of the solo changes). The chromatic passing tones (E/Fb and B/Cb) give it a little more color without sounding to bopish in the dixieland style.
McGarity recorded this solo in 1951, quite a while after the tailgate trombone style evolved, but he plays some of the typical glisses and long notes in this solo. Somewhat unusually, he also shows off his solid upper register by screaming a high Eb in this solo. Here’s an example from last 8 measures of the second chorus.
If you’d like to see the whole transcription, you can use this link. As I always like to recommend, you shouldn’t trust my transcription for complete accuracy. For one thing, I’ve only approximated some of the glisses and smears McGarity plays. If you don’t really listen closely to the sound you’re going and try to learn this solo you’re going to miss a huge part of the style. Here’s a YouTube video I found of this recording, but be aware that the sound was sped up so that it is playing back a half step higher. You can buy this track here.