Ear witnesses to the twenties recount lengthy jam sessions, beyond the reach of period technology, under the radar of that era’s commercially oriented record companies and now just stories about what the musicians “really” sounded like. It makes a record like The Jim-Dandies’ “Shake That Thing” something of an anomaly as well as an echo:
This is the loosest of the (issued) quartet sides organized by pianist, composer and mystery man Lemuel Fowler. Fowler’s other records with trumpet, clarinet, piano and drums for the well-known Columbia label make room for improvisation between arranged sections; some passages even sound like stripped-down section parts for a big band. “Shake That Thing,” on the budget Harmony label, consists almost entirely of trumpeter Seymour Irick and clarinetist/saxophonist Percy Glascoe trading solo statements.
Those solos work off melodic embellishment rather than complete reinvention of Papa Charlie Jackson’s song. The stamp of individuality might be a sudden but brief departure from the tune, for example Glascoe’s double-time sleight of hand on the first chorus, slight but signature paraphrase like Irick alternating staccato pecking with muted cries, or simply ripping up to an introductory phrase, bending a pitch, widening or narrowing vibrato, playing two notes in place of one or anything else from the arsenal of inflections that a jazz musician could use to instantly sign their name to a tune. Rhythmic recasting also allows them to have their way with the song without having to toss out its melody (and one can almost hear dance band arrangers scribbling things down to craft some snappy part for a brass section or clarinet trio). Irick switching between open and muted sounds and Glascoe doubling soprano saxophone and clarinet on the same record add another layer of variety, all the more remarkable considering it unfolds over just three minutes.
This unrelenting ornamentation is far removed from the elaborate improvisational flights now associated with jam sessions or jazz in general. The opportunity/challenge for these players seems to have been making the tune theirs while keeping it up front, perhaps as much for themselves as the audience. It’s easy to imagine this type of dialog taking place after a venue’s doors have closed, with the musicians sticking around to play for one another and the variations continuing to all hours of the night and into the morning, with excitement building from a musician’s ability to say something original with just part, or even all of, the song. In some way that makes a tidy (if admittedly reductionist) metaphor for jazz itself.