‘Shake It and Break It’

Russ Tarby, Staff Writer 10/11/07More articles
They may be named the Chicago Hot Six but the band’s style is sheer New Orleans.
“We aim for a very old New Orleans sound,” says bandleader/trombonist Roy Rubenstein. “That’s the music I most enjoy playing and listening to and it’s really the most authentic jazz.”
The Chicago Hot Six will perform from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at Le Moyne Manor, 629 Old Liverpool Road, in Liverpool. The concert is hosted by the Jazz Appreciation Society of Syracuse.
Admission costs $10 for JASS members or $12 for non-members. For information, call 469-7034 or 652-0547.

Unusual tunes
A quick glimpse at Hot Six discs shows that the combo eschews evergreens in favor of less-commonplace tunes.
“Right,” said Rubenstein, “It’s not the usual stuff. We’re inclined to play more obscure New Orleans tunes. That’s more interesting for the audience and more interesting for us as well.”
Some of the sextet’s more atypical tunes are the spiritual “Lead Me Savior” and Artie Matthews’ 1915 multi-strain ragtime composition “Weary Blues” first recorded in 1919 by Yellow Nunez & The Louisiana Five and often known by its other name “Shake It and Break It.”
Other Chicago Hot Six specialties include “Bugle Boy March,” a tune based on “The American Soldier,” and “Panama Rag” recorded in 1923 by Kid Ory’s Creole Orchestra. Every now and then, the Hot Six will jam for six and a half minutes or more on “Special Delivery Blues.”
“But never fear,” Rubenstein said, “we’ll also play some tunes that people are familiar with.” Those include numbers such as “Swing That Music” or “Mobile Blues.”

Head arrangements
“We lean toward tunes that the audience seems to enjoy,” Rubenstein said in a recent telephone interview. “When you’re a leader you don’t want a totally pre-set idea of what you’re going to play. We’re always drawing from a much larger repertoire than what you’ll actually hear.” Then the band tailors its set list to fit the occasion and its listeners.
All of the group’s tunes are head arrangements. They don’t use charts.
The Chicago Hot Six features Roy Rubenstein on trombone, Sarah Spencer on tenor saxophone, John Skillman on clarinet, and a rhythm section of banjoist John Kuncl, bassist Art Hovey and drummer Mike Albiniak.
The sextet has no trumpet or cornet player.
“In the more than 30 years that this band and its predecessor existed, we’ve had only two trumpet or cornet players,” the bandleader said. “One died after many years with the band, and the other retired from music and moved away from the Chicago area, again after many years with the band. So far we haven't found anyone else who fits in so well with the style of jazz that we play, so we started to play without a trumpet player, and we liked the sound.”
While the musicians all take leads, the bandleader stresses ensemble work. “I much prefer playing ensembles, two people playing together, that sort of thing,” he said.

British beginnings
Although he lives and works in the Windy City, Rubenstein is far from a Midwesterner.
He was born and raised in Darlington in Northeast England. He took piano lessons at age 10, but dropped them after a year or two.
“I became interested in traditional jazz at about age 16, and bought an alto saxophone since I wanted to make music, not just listen to it, then soprano sax, then clarinet, and finally trombone.” He settled on the ’bone when he went to college because, he said, “there were many good clarinetists there and very few trombone players.”
“In my teens, trad jazz was very popular in England,” he recalled. “Trad tunes were always in the Top 20.” He remembers artists such as trombonist Chris Barber and clarinetist Acker Bilk whose retro-jazz records sold millions of copies.
“That lasted, oh, a half-dozen years or so,” he said. “Fads take over.” Once The Beatles arrived on the pop music scene, it was over.

Kid & Big Jim
After moving to the United States, Rubenstein he took a job at Cornell University as an assistant professor of physics in the early-1960s. While in Ithaca, he joined a Dixie group called the Muskrat Ramblers. Roy left Cornell for Long Island in the mid-60s, and in 1973 he moved to Chicago where he holds down a day job as a nuclear physicist.
Rubenstein cites two primary musical influences: trombonists Kid Ory and Big Jim Robinson.
“I heard both of them live when they toured in England when I was a teenager and later saw Robinson at Preservation Hall a few times,” he recalled. “Both were very rhythmic players who bridged the gap between the rhythm section and the frontline. They really pushed the frontline in a rhythmic fashion and that’s the style I like.”

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