It’s the story of The Tio Family, a New Orleans clarinet dynasty, this week on Riverwalk Jazz. The Jim Cullum Jr. Jazz Band welcomes Evan Christopher, a dynamic New Orleans-based clarinetist and student of early jazz.
The program is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM satellite radio and can be streamed on-demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website. You can also drop in on a continuous stream of shows at the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound.
The Tio family was a dynasty of clarinet masters from New Orleans’ Creole Seventh Ward. In the early days of the 20th century, they taught a first generation of jazz players the value of using classical techniques in their playing. The Tios were all professional musicians on the active New Orleans music scene where they worked as composers, arrangers, and conductors in brass bands, theater orchestras and “society” dance bands. But most importantly, every afternoon there would be a steady stream of music students through their homes.
A long line of New Orleans musicians who would become jazz greats took music lessons from the Tio family. There was Barney Bigard, a mainstay in the Duke Ellington Orchestra; Omer Simeon, hand-picked by Jelly Roll Morton for his legendary recording sessions in the 1920s; Jimmy Noone, whose virtuosity inspired Benny Goodman; and Sidney Bechet, one of the most distinctive solo voices in jazz.
Almost everyone who plays jazz clarinet in a classic style today can trace a stylistic lineage back to the Tio family of New Orleans. There were three key members of the family working when the first stirrings of jazz began to be felt in New Orleans—Lorenzo Tio, born in 1893; his father, Lorenzo Tio, Sr., born in 1867; and his uncle, Louis “Papa” Tio, born in 1862.
Lorenzo Tio, Jr. was a classically trained musician in the same European tradition as his father and uncle, but he also played jazz. Although he did not teach jazz to his students, the classical techniques that he offered—tone production, articulation, sight-reading, and a method of ear training called ‘solfeggio’—were valuable tools that early jazz musicians needed. On the rich and varied music scene in New Orleans, jazz musicians had to be able to play in a wide variety of work situations—from parades and picnics, to dances and orchestras—and even occasionally the French Opera.
Lorenzo Tio, Jr. always told his students, “If you learn the basics, improvising will come naturally.”
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