Franklin_Street_Blues.html

TIGER RAG

as played by


BUNK JOHNSON

February 17, 1945


Transcribed and commented by Tom Pauli


First published in Bunk Information, Number 5, Spring 1995




This version of Tiger Rag is one of the numbers recorded by Gus Statiras on February 17,

1945 (Metronome B530). The other numbers from this session are Weary Blues, Make Me A

Pallet On The Floor and Careless Love. In my opinion all these numbers have always been

underrated, even by Bunk freaks. I hope that this transcription of Tiger Rag will give some

contribution to change this situation.

It is very interesting to compare this version of Tiger Rag with the more wellknown one

recorded by Bill Russell on AM July 31, 1944 (MX213). The personnel is the same on both

occasions with the only exception that Baby Dodds is replaced by Abby "Kid" Williams

(sometimes erroneously called "Kid Collins") on Statiras' 1945 version. (The others are

besides Bunk Jim Robinson, George Lewis, Lawrence Marrero and Alcide "Slow Drag"

Pavageau.) Yet they are very different, both in character and performance. On Russell's 1944

version Bunk and Jim Robinson seem to be a little tired and uninspired and they play much on

routine. But on Statiras' 1945 version every note they play is inspired. Jim Robinson's solo

(chorus E2, bars 88-119) is one of the best he has ever recorded. That is one reason I have

transcribed that too. (On Russell's version Big Jim has no solo.) The other reason is to show

that Bunk quotes one of Big Jim's phrases in his own improvisations. In his solo Big Jim

plays two phrases consisting of the tones f - e flat - c - a flat (concert key A flat major) in the

bars 107-108 and 109-110 respectively. He also plays such phrases in chorus E4. Then Bunk

himself plays such a phrase (g - f - d - b flat, transposed key B flat major) in the bars 185-186

at the very beginning of chorus E5, quoting Big Jim. Immediately after that, in the bars 188-

189, Bunk quotes the beginning of Louis Armstrong's tune Strutting With Some Barbecue.

When Big Jim has finished the first half of his solo with the break in the bars 103-104, he

begins the second half with his favourite phrase (bars 105-106), a phrase that he always uses

in every faster number as a kind of autograph or signature, whether solo or in ensemble. Then

he closes the second half of his solo with exactly the same phrase (bar 120) as he did in the

first half (bar 104), but one octave lower. The concluding phrase (bars 119-120) is a very

common march clichО, but here it is used in a rather ingenuous way, referring back to the

break sixteen bars earlier.

The sign "+" over the notes in the bars 96 and 97 in Big Jim's solo indicates that the pitch

is somewhat higher than the noted one, in this case somewhere between g flat and g.

As for Bunk he seemingly keeps rather close to ordinary standards when presenting the

different themes of the number in the first eightyeight bars. But he uses a lot of subtle and

ingenious variations. Note for example that in the phrase occurring in the bars 4, 12 and 28

his legato phrasing is different the second and third times from what it is the first time.

In the choruses D and E1 (bars 41-88) the sign "x" written over a note indicates that Bunk

plays that note with a peculiar "howling" sound. (I don't know how he produces that sound. Is

there any reader who knows?)

After Jim Robinson's wonderful solo Bunk leads the ensemble choruses E3 (bars 120-152)

and E5 (bars 184-216) with marvelous improvisations. Note the dissonant tones e in the bars

120 and 122 and f sharp in the bar 121.

In E4 Bunk drops out while the rest of the band continues as if nothing had happened.

Bunk often used this way of dropping out in a deliberate way, and it used to annoy Sidney

Bechet very much.

It is a sign of mastership to be able to conclude a number in a convincing and tasteful way.

It is always fascinating and instructive to study the phrases Bunk uses when concluding a

number (the two or four last bars of a number). Look at the bars 212-216 of this transcription!

Ingenious but still simple, and above all effective!!

To avoid misunderstandings I want to say that I do not simply declare, that Gus Statiras'

version of Tiger Rag is a better one than Bill Russell's. The situation is of course more

complicated than a simple "better-worse"-relation. The amateur Abby "Kid" Williams is of

course not a substitute on a par with the genious Baby Dodds. But we know about the

personal relations between Bunk and Baby Dodds. Furthermore Statiras' recordings were

made under rather peculiar circumstances that are described in Christopher Hillman: Bunk

Johnson - his life and times, p 73f. Maybe these circumstances forced Bunk and his fellows to

make the best out of a bizarre situation. Anyhow I do contend that Bunk's, Big Jim's and

George Lewis' playing is not only much more inspired but also much more stringent and

concentrated on this version of Tiger Rag than on Bill Russell's.

Tom Pauli (copyright, all rights reserved)

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