Ali Affleck's Storyville Roots of Jazz – Hot Jazz and Cool Blues at The Jazz Bar in Chambers Street was my last Fringe performance of 2018, and probably one of my most educational. Ali Affleck is not only a fine singer and interpreter of jazz songs, but also an historian of Jazz, and this all too short (1 hour) trip back to the formative years of Jazz music in the New Orleans regulated “Red Light” area of Storyville gave everyone in the audience not only the music, but the people and the times of those formative years of jazz.
Jazz, of course, was not invented in Storyville. No musical form ever develops in isolation from another, but as musicians from the wider New Orleans area came to Storyville to find employment in the many bars and brothels of the area, Storyville became a major formative force on this new music form whilst it was in existence from 1897 to 1917.
Ali Affleck has a particular interest in the “ladies” of this early Jazz period, and their personal lives were often as colourful (probably more so actually) than much of the language and many of the stories in their songs. Through song and informative insights we follow Ali on a musical trail through Storyville and out to the wider world, encountering along the way women like Lucille Bogan, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Mahalia Jackson and many more. Some of these names will be well known to Jazz music lovers still, but others have surprisingly been overlooked, notably Alberta Hunter.
What of the music though? Well, that is where Ali Affleck always shines, bringing to life in her performances these wonderful songs. Many of them, like “The Black Eyed Blues” are to modern ears politically incorrect stories of violence and domestic abuse to women, but they are often true records of the daily life and struggles of the performers and the world around them, and they should never be left unsung for the sake of modern political correctness. Other songs like “Tricks Ain’t Walking No More” leave no doubt as to what the song was about, and others were far more explicit in their lyrics.
Part of what always makes Ali Affleck special on stage is her obvious love of not only the music, but of the women behind the music, and those qualities are always obvious in any performance. Somehow, Ali Affleck is giving a voice once more to many of these women of yesterday. Probably my favourite of the evening though was a little tribute to the great Mahalia Jackson and “I’m On My Way”, showing how effortlessly Ali can move into jazz/blues gospel music too. Not to be forgotten in this musical history trip are the individual and combined talents of the band - Steve Hamilton (piano), Ross Milligan (guitar), Martin Kershaw (reeds) and Roy Percy (double bass) in providing Ali Affleck with the perfect sound that she needed to bring Storyville back to musical life for all too short a period of time.
The names of many of these singers (often working women in Storyville’s bars and brothels) may have over the years been largely forgotten, but the music they sang and the stories they told in their songs still live on.
Review by Tom King
Ali Affleck's Storyville Roots of Jazz – Hot Jazz and Cool Blues
The Jazz Bar - Partially Seated
Country: United Kingdom - Scotland
Group: Ali Affleck and the Gin Mill Genies