Skip to main content

The Yankee Express

All That Jazz at Apple Tree Arts

By Patricia Roy

Apple Tree Arts at One Grafton Common, will feature a concert of popular jazz tunes of the 1920s and early ‘30s by Alexander’s Jazz Time Band on Sunday, June 30 at 6:30 p.m.

The 11 piece band under the direction of Alexander Lane will take you on a toe-tapping trip back in time with familiar standards by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael in authentic arrangements of the Jazz Age.

Along with the famous and still-familiar tunes, there will also be a several nuggets of gold that Lane has mined. 

Admission is $20, $16 for students and seniors.  

Alexander Lane is the Minister of Music at the First Parish of Bolton and has given four performances there in Davis Hall, the church’s performance venue with his professionally seasoned band. The Apple Tree Arts concert will be the first of what is hoped to many in the area.

With a PhD in Musicology from Brandeis University, Lane was a classically trained musician, but with a deep curiousity about the original arrangements of jazz and ragtime tunes and how they have changed over the decades. His programs with carefully chosen standardized arrangements have a real authenticity to them.

“Some of the pieces like Alexander’s Ragtime Band, will be familiar [to audiences] ,” he said. “There is a lot of Irving Berlin, including two waltzes.” These are “All Alone” from 1924 and “The Song is Ended, but the Melody Lingers On,” from 1927.

“Even though the foxtrot was the standard in the 1920s, the waltzes were relatively slow compared to it,” he said. “It gives the dancers or the audience or the dancers a chance to rest their ears and their feet a little.”

The Song “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael was written in 1927 while Carmichael was at law school in Indiana. His original arrangement was pretty fast, Lane said. 

“The arrangement we’re going to play is by Jimmy Dell who was an active arranger in the 1930s. It’s moderately fast,” he said.

Lane gives his band member the option of playing the transcribed solos as is or doing paraphrases of them.

“I would like them to be historically accurate as possible,” Lane said.

He got interested in jazz era and ragtime music very early. Lane began taking piano lessons at age nine, and at 15 years started playing the organ. He went on to study organ performance at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey.

After that, he got interested in musicology, the scholarly study of music, and went on to earn a Master’s degree and PhD in the subject.

 “When I was 10 years old, may father gave me a book of simplified arrangements of Scott Joplin rags. A couple of years later, I started learning the original versions of those rags, and by the time I was through high school I had learned a significant number of Scott Joplin rags,” he related.

 In college, he gradually started discovering popular music of the jazz age, largely through online resources. 

 “There was a great website at the time that I stumbled upon called Red Hot It was an online archive of streaming audio files of jazz recorded in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s,” he said.

At that point, he became very curious how this music was notated and had a difficult time finding any printed versions of it.

It wasn’t until the pandemic with its hug swathes of free time, that Lane made a serious attempt to track down the arrangements through helpful music librarians at universities throughout the country.

Luckily, some of the archivists were willing to send scans of the arrangements for a nominal fee. At times, the old arrangements even turn up on Ebay, he said. 

As a musicologist, he was uniquely qualified to evaluate the old arrangements and discovered that somehow, arrangements and recordings never paired up exactly as written. “Every jazz band or hot dance band that was worth its salt altered the arrangements to suit the instrumentation of the band and to showcase the players,” Lane said. “I’ve been doing the same thing with arrangements that I have my own band play. I transcribe the bits that I like.”

There are 11 musicians in Alexander’s Jazz Time Band are what he terms a pretty standard jazz line-up.  There are three saxophones comprising two altos plus a tenor. Saxophonists are expected to double on other instruments, often playing soprano sax and clarinet as well, he said. A clarinet trio is one of the characteristic sounds of a 1920s jazz orchestra.

There are also two trumpets and the trombone. All the brass players are expected to use various mutes that change the “color” of their instrument, according to Lane. This is also authentic to the period. One brass player may use as many as three different mutes in a single tune. A straight mute was the most often used,  or a derby hat could be placed over the bell of the instrument for a hollow, muffled sound. Occasionally, trombones would have a megaphone mute which was probably just as alarming as it sounds. Using kazoos and plungers as mutes was not far-fetched, he said.

Alexander’s Jazz Time Band has a rhythm section made up of piano, drums, tuba and guitar. In the 1920’s double bass and banjo were also popular.

The banjo was a more popular instrument than the guitar at first, “because it had such penetrating tones and it could be heard clearly on early recordings, said Lane.

Electrical recordings came into use in 1925 and the guitar began to gain in popularity. That period even saw some banjo/guitar hybrid instruments.

The band also has a violinist. In many arrangements, the violin plays the melody line, which is usually played by the first saxophone or trumpet, but the fiddle plays it an octave higher. 

“That acoustic reinforcement can be very welcome,” he said. On the other hand, it can also be a dead weight, since it can make it difficult for the trumpeter to improvise.

Lane chooses the band’s programs, “but every once in a while he gets suggestions from band members.”

With so many arrangements available, he’s eager to try them all.

The band members are seasoned musicians from all kinds of backgrounds. The first saxophone in the band, Dr. John Clark Jr. has trained as a musicologist and wrote his dissertation on the use of stock arrangements by the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra (that a young Louis Armstrong played for) and is published in the field.

 “If you’re a good musician and a good leader, it doesn’t really matter that you don’t have a jazz background,” he said. “If you have a good arrangement and listen to what everyone else is playing, you’ll be a great contributor.”

About one third of their program features vocals. They have a great vocal soloist in Chris Welles, Lane said, who plays rhythm guitar and will be singing lead in the Grafton concert. He is also with a band called Outrageous Fortune out of Boston.

So grab your best feather boa and or straw boater and shimmy over to Apple Tree Arts in Grafton on June 30. Admission is $20, $16 for students and seniors.