With the Annapolis Dixieland Jazz Band dance coming up this Saturday, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the history of Dixieland jazz. Most people think of the 1920s with “King” Oliver, a young Louis Armstrong, and Sydney Bechet when you mention Dixieland jazz. Dixieland didn’t end with the advent of the big bands and swing in the 1930s. There are a couple of guys who kept the Dixieland sound alive, and we owe them so much. There is one in particular that I’ve been trying to rescue from relative obscurity, Matty Matlock.
Julian Clifton “Matty” Matlock was a clarinetist, arranger, and band leader. He started out by replacing Benny Goodman as the clarinetist in Ben Pollack’s band in 1929. Later, he worked with Bob Crosby, Bing Crosby’s younger brother, before finally starting his own band. He wrote many arrangements for television shows and movies. Essentially, Matty Matlock was the go-to guy in Hollywood whenever you wanted that vintage sound. He recorded several albums with his own band, and four of them were recently released digitally on iTunes and Amazon. All four of them are stunning.
Together, Matty Matlock and Bob Crosby have left behind a legacy of Dixieland Jazz that is both traditional and modern. The recordings of their bands benefit from all of the improvements in recording technology that weren’t available in the 1920s when Dixieland was first being recorded. Matty Matlock, in particular, was a great arranger, and would write arrangements for his band that maintained the loose feeling of that dixieland sound while being orchestrated for a larger ensemble. The recordings are lush and full while still retaining that easy playful sound.