Nick’s Olly Oakley Record Review of the Month

Every month a review of an Olly Oakley recording which readers can download in MP3 format.

Click here to download the sheet music for The Coloured Major as gif files

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Recording matrix number: 928-X

Recording date: September 1916

Labels: Coliseum 1396, Tower 294, Aco G-15018,

Guardsman 646, Meloto S-1062, Beltona 207,

Gennett 4726, Apex 4611, Leonora 4611

Between the years 1907 and 1927 Olly Oakley recorded S.R. Henry’s Coloured Major March at least eight times. One might be tempted to infer that the number of record labels under which this recording appeared was evidence of the high quality of the playing. In fact it only leads us to another Oakley conundrum, namely, that he was capable of producing both excellent and poor recordings in the very same session. His performance of Poppies and Wheat on the same day in no way matches his achievement with the Coloured Major and is, indeed, far less accomplished than his previous attempts at that same piece. Interestingly, Oakley recorded both Coloured Major and Poppies and Wheat for Zonophone during one of his most fruitful sessions in January 1907. That earlier version of Poppies and Wheat was a truly definitive recording while the Coloured Major of 1907 seemed to be nothing more than a mad gallop.

Perhaps each of Oakley’s changing moods suited different pieces or perhaps his level of interest in particular pieces changed through the years. Whatever explanation we might consider, this recording of Coloured Major March has to rate as one of his best. Aside from the banjo, the four-bar piano introduction sounds so casual one might almost imagine that the great jazz saxophonist Lester Young had suddenly learned to play the instrument (at the age of seven) and had flown over from Mississippi.

Then Olly leaps in. His playing throughout is wonderfully percussive and he is able to generate a sense of rhythm without any help from the accompanist (who by now seems to have his foot jammed on the sustain pedal). It is always difficult to know from these early mechanical recordings what Oakley really sounded like. Differences in sound between say his Zonophone and Winner recordings may be less to do with his playing and the set up of his banjo than with the differences in the recording equipment used by the two companies. Maybe the machines used by this recording studio produced a staccato sound better suited to Coloured Major March than to Poppies and Wheat.

In spite of all these provisos we can safely say that Olly plays with great verve throughout. His triplet rolls (see last month’s review) come out with military precision, especially those repeated on the note G in the second section. The steady tempo aids this sense of being bang-on the beat. His syncopation in the Trio section always serves to build up a rhythmic tension which finds its release in the wonderful machinegun-like delivery of the reprised first section.

Click here to download the recording of The Coloured Major in mp3 format 



















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