1981: The Federal Jazz Commission In Session

Chattanooga Stomp

Baby Won’t You Please Come Home

All The Girls Go Crazy About The Way I Walk

Oh Daddy

Bugle Boy March

Down In Honkey Tonk

Terrible Blues

Memphis Blues

Empty Bed Blues

Buddy’s Habit


In July 1976, a public notice caught the gaze of scores of Washington area fans.

“In order to promote,” said the blushing pink manifesto, “Uncompromisingly traditional NEW ORLEANS JAZZ in and around Washington, D.C., a FEDERAL JAZZ COMMISSION has recently been established.”

In the area a number of very good traditional jazz bands play the music as filtered through the horns and psyches of the West Coast revivalists of the ’40s; and sever others preach the truth as it was laid down by the Condon gang over sizzling steaks at Nick’s of evergreen memory. There is even an excellent local group playing old rags and such esoterica from the first decade of this century. But there was little attempt being made to reach back directly to the Founding Fathers – when jazz seemed to spring full-clothed from the brows of Buddy Bolden, Freddy Keppard, King Oliver, Bunk Johnson, Johnny Dodds, lke Rodgers, and the rest,…

“Hold it a minute,” we hear you say. “Who the hell was lke Rodgers? Ike Rodgers was an early trombonist in the southside Chicago of whom it was said, “He can play only two notes; but he plays ’em good.” Al Webber, founder, leader, and Commisioner for Trombone of the FJC finds artistic and spiritual sustenance in the memory of this great pioneer.

As we were saying, the Federal Jazz Commission set out to fill a pereived gap: to recapture the sound of two decades bounded by Buddy Bolden at Funky Butt Hall in New Orleans (1903) and King Oliver at Lincoln Gardens in Chicago (1923).

Since that halcyon day in 1976, the Commison has undergone great changes, as what Federal agency has not? Personnel shifts have taken place. A seventh man – a drummer – has been added the original 6-man roster. Even, for the purposes of this album, a girl singer (and what a girl singer) has been added. But the Federal Jazz commission has continued throughout on its self-assigned task of bringing the unadulterated message to the thirsting millions – well, thousand.

Today, only Al Webber remains of the original commissioners. If there should be any out there who are in some doubt as to the meaning of the musical term “glissando,” we recommend listenening to Commisioner Webber. The meaning will be borne in upon you with all the urgency of an overworked sump pump. Commisioner Webber is an exciting musician; not a subtle one. But then, how subtle were kid Ory and George Bruins? Or Ike Rodgers?

The Other Commissioners are as follows:
Cornet – Marty Frankel. Marty rations notes like David Stockman rationing Federal grant money. Those notes he does play are often squeezed past a plunger mute. marty played in a campus band at the University of Maryland, then took a15-year break. In 1978 he heard the Commision at a noontime gig in downtown Washingtton, went home and rummaged around in the attic for his old horn. The rest is history.

Reeds – Bob Thulman. Bob lusts after the Chicagoan sounds of Buster Bailey and Jimmy Noone. He’s a dead ringer for ex-Congressman John Anderson, and took a ribbing about it during the recent presidential campaign. Bob is a thermodynamics engineer, and pilots his own airplane while not swinging on his clarinet and soprano sax.

Piano – Dave Littlefield. Dave doubles on a guitar ( a useful skill when the band rhows up for a gig and finds the promoter neglected to provide a piano) and features a driving damn-the-torpedoes approach on both instruments. He is the discoverer of Stevi Banks, of whome more later.

Banjo – Don hennebery. Don is junior member of the Commission in point of service. He signed on in late 1980, and brings a solid consistency to the rhythm section in addition to singing – lustily and sometimes on key.

Tuba – Jay Converse. Jay is the youngest Commissioner, “the only one,” according to Al Webber, “who is not spaced out on Geritol.” He commutes to gigs in the Washington area from his Charlottesville, Va., home, often with his tuba strapped to his motorcycle.

Drums – Bill Riddle. An antiquarian who worships at the shrines of Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton, and Cie Frazier, Bill is a strong, silent type who sits unflappably at his drums, never seeming to mve a muscle as he the beat surges arund him.

Vocals – Steve Banks. Stevi is a newcomer to the jazz scene, and on the evidence herein presented seems a sure bet to stick around for a long time to come.

This, then, collectively and en banc, is the Federal Jazz Commision, a band which in its short history has played such diverse gigs as a Congressional lawn party at the White House; a picnic for zoo-goers at the National Zoo; a benefit to rescue a bar from urban redevelopment in downtown Washington; a bal masque at the Cor-coran Gallery; and a depression party party at the National Portrait Gallery. The thunderous strains of the Commission in fully cry have wafted down the pristine corridors of the Doral Country Club in Miami, and echoed through the French Market district in New Orleans. On a chilly day in February 1981, the Commissioners journeyed to a hotel in Alexandria, Va., to play a benefit performance for crippled children.

The hotel ballroom gave through its picture windows a breathtaking view of the Potomac River, and, on the opposite shore, the soaring cinderblock gothic architecture of the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Plant. But few people were gazing out ht window; most had their attention firmly riveted on the bandstand. The occasion was, as we said, a benefit. With this record, the Commissioners hope to benefit jazz lovers who couldn’t be there that afternoon.

written by Ted Chandler

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