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 Stars and Stripes as a gif file



Recording matrix number: 9473/4e

Recording date: 15th January 1909

Label: Zonophone X-46275, X-26250, X-86250, 106251

(Also issued on the Gramophone and Cinch labels)

In his biography of Oakley A.P.Sharpe details two months of extensive concert touring in October and November of 1908 while according to Heier and Lotz (The Banjo on Disc) Oakley made no recordings at all during that year. This latter-mentioned fact is remarkable when we consider that he had made recordings certainly every year since 1902 while the next year without a single extant cylinder or disc was 1918. One plausible explanation as to why Oakley at the height of his fame might take a year away from recording relates to developments in his private life - he was  married to Winifred Marsland on July 9th, 1908. Whatever the cause we find him in fine fettle on his return to the studio in January 1909. In two sessions he recorded eight pieces, four of which were Sousa marches.

As many banjoists have recorded Stars and Stripes it is a useful piece with which to compare their various approaches to banjo playing. This is a 2/4 march and so alternates crotchet chords with quaver, dotted quaver and semiquaver movement. Much of the music loses its strong martial character when arranged for the banjo and can tend to sound like a strange and harmonically insipid piece of chamber music. However, of the early banjoists Oakley was one of best equipped to deal with such problems. One of his characteristic fingerprints is the semiquaver triplet roll, in which - in its most general form - the thumb plays an initial note on either the 3rd, 4th or 5th strings, the first finger follows with a second note on the 2nd string, the second finger then plays the third note on the 1st string and finally the first finger plays a final note on the first string to provide an on-the-beat ending to the figure. It takes about three minutes to write out the explanation and about a fifth of a second to play. However the laborious explanation is justified as this device is so central to Oakley’s playing. The final section of Stars and Stripes is littered with Oakley’s triplet roles. He instinctively uses them here to increase the momentum at a place where the melodic movement consists of sustained tones which do not work effectively on the banjo.

Besides some less than accurate semiquavers in the first section on the notes A-G#-A-G#-A and again on G#-F##-G#-F##-G#, this is a technically fine recording. Moreover, our hero successfully adapts a piece composed for a totally different medium, enhancing its strong character with the rich and incisive sounds possible only on the banjo.

Click here to download the recording of Stars and Stripes in mp3 format 



















 Please check back regularly!