Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What is Stoptime?

When about talking Stoptime with friends and strangers, the first question people ask is “Why Louis Armstrong?” The second is “What is stoptime?” It’s time that I spend a little time defining this common jazz term. But first here is Stoptime’s “Hotter than That” logo designed by Patrick O’Rourke. It heads the News Release sent out to all the local and regional publications, radio and TV stations.

For Immediate Release:
Event:                        Stoptime: Louis Armstrong Celebration
Date:                         July 6, 2011
Location and Time:      4 PM       Zankel Music Center, Skidmore College
                                 5- 8 PM               Congress Park, Spring St Gallery
                                 9 PM-midnight     9 Maple

Contact:                     Margo Mensing   518-584-7997

Stoptime celebrates Louis Armstrong’s life and music in Saratoga Springs, Wednesday, July 6. Hal Miller, noted jazz historian and drummer, kicks off the festival at 4 PM at Zankel Music Center, Skidmore College. The Skidmore Summer Jazz Institute partners with Stoptime to offer Miller’s presentation on Louis Armstrong’s music and influence in jazz, a rare opportunity to see footage of Armstrong in performance.

The celebration moves downtown to Congress Park at 5 pm for music, dance, visual art, and story telling events. The exciting new band Horns on the Hudson will play early jazz in a 21st century mode. Joe Bruchac, author of more than thirty books and his son, Jesse, will present "Red, Black and Blue," presenting songs and stories on Armstrong from the Bruchacs’ Abenaki and Slovakian perspective. Other events include Debra Fernandez’s dance, “Chops”; Ginger Ertz’s “Rhythm, Color, Collage”—a workshop centered in the collage of Romare Bearden; and Terry Diggory’s “A Cornet a Day,” an interactive word game played with dice embedded with Armstrong song titles and a special cornet.

Nearby at Spring Street Gallery, the clever duo Clarke E. Hingeford and Elky with guest percussionist Stanley Francois present “Scatterimpop,” an electronic music read on Armstrong’s genius. In the gallery is a wide array of artworks inspired by Louis Armstrong, improvisation, and jazz. Anne Diggory, Francelise Dawkins, Ginger Ertz, Willie Marlowe, Margo Mensing, Vicky Palermo, Barbara Todd and Stephan Dawkins.

Picnic in the Park with Hattie’s Restaurant special Louis Armstrong Take Out dinner. At 9 pm at 9 Maple Pete Sweeney Quartet will present an improvisational evening of jazz grounded in Armstrong’s music. A jam session follows.

July 6 celebrates both Louis Armstrong birth dates. Armstrong always believed he was born July 4, 1900. Seventeen years after his death in 1971, a researcher discovered a baptismal certificate listing August 4, 1901 as his birth date. Stoptime celebrates both on July 6, coincidentally his death date.

The term stoptime originates in jazz—a break where the soloist improvises. The beat pulls back; the band repeats sharp accents opening space for the soloist. Stoptime is the place where improvisation happens. Stoptime taps into Armstrong’s energy and love for his audience.

Artist Margo Mensing organized Stoptime. Her impetus for this festival originated in her year-long study and response to Louis Armstrong’s music, life and influence. To learn more about Armstrong and Mensing’s take on Armstrong’s attitudes and life, visit her blog, louisarmstrongdeadat.blogspot.com. This program is funded in part by an Artist Grant awarded to Mensing by the Saratoga Program for Arts Funding (SPAF), New York State Council on the Arts, administered by Saratoga Arts.

Soon the website will be up with a full listing of participants and events. I return now to a brief discussion of STOPTIME for those who may be unfamiliar with jazz lingo. As mentioned in the news release, stoptime is a break, a pause that makes room for a soloist to improvise. This simple definition can be misleading as it implies that the music, the beat, the rhythm, everything, in other words, except the soloist, stops. Better to say, the other players pause. Even that is too exaggerated. Some or all of the rest of band may play as the soloist improvises. Giddins puts it well in his explanation of stoptime in “Oriental Strut”: “the soloist improvises freely while one or more members of the band seems to stop the flow of time with a unison stomping on the certain beats.” The non-variable is a space cleared for the soloist to improvise.[1]

Any jazz textbook provides a definition and discussion of stoptime. There are several good texts but I always end up with Jazz by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux because I started with Giddins’s Satchmo, a great short biography of Armstrong, when I started listening to Louis Armstrong. Jazz is a whopper of a book, almost 700 pages. The four CD set that accompanies is most helpful. The notes for each entry list each new element with the precise second it occurs. For example, “Cake Walking Babies (from Home)” with The Red Onion Jazz Babies and Louis Armstrong, cornet; Charlie Irvis, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano saxophone; Lil Armstrong, piano; Buddy Christian, banjo; Clarence Todd and Alberta Hunter, vocals, was recorded December 23, 1924 in New York. The form is ABA’CA”—verse/chorus; chorus is 40-bar popular song. To find where stop-time occurs listen at 2:06 for “Stop-time: Armstrong improvises a complex syncopated line in his upper register. At 2:14 “At the end of the passage, Armstrong plays his last note with a growl.” [2]

Louis Armstrong, obviously, is not the only early jazz instrumentalist and vocalist who made use of stop-time. Nor is stop-time limited to early jazz. On page 407 Giddins and DeVeaux chart “Concerto for Billy the Kid by George Russell recorded in 1956 by Art Farmer, Hal McKusick, Bill Evans, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, and Paul Motian. But for now, maybe for always, I am sticking to Louis. Other Armstrong recordings where stop-time occurs are “Oriental Strut” and “Hotter Than That."

[1] Satchmo, Gary Giddins, Da Capo Press, 1988, 64.
[2] Jazz, Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux, New York: W.W. Norton, 2009, 109,110.

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