More Weird Instruments In Jazz

Today's totally fun Take Five list by Josh features some of the stranger instruments to pop up in jazz — everything from bagpipes to conch shells. But a quick poll around the office revealed that many of us also have our own favorite odd jazz instruments.

So this time, five (er, six) songs just weren't enough. Here are some of the artists who popped up:

Rudy Smith: steel pan. A transplanted Trinidadian now living all over Europe, Smith approaches his Jamaican instrument like vibraphonist Milt Jackson. His steel pan playing is melodious and light, making me want to simultaneously bob my head and order a margarita. —LG

More instrumental oddities and a Rufus Harley documentary, after the jump.

Michel Godad: serpent. Take a look at the serpent. It might surprise you that its origins are ... French (?). It's an ancestor of the tuba, which is serpent player Godad's main gig. Its tone is dark and murky, and it's used to fantastic effect in this live performance of a traditional Sephardic folk song. —LG

Mark Southerland: horn sculptures. When it comes to strange instruments, Kansas City saxophonist and artist Mark Southerland comes to mind. Southerland is something of a local K.C. legend, leading and performing in various groups like Snuff Jazz and Malachy Papers. He's an incredibly accomplished improviser, but what seems to draw him the most attention are the fully-functional homemade horns that he regularly employs in concert.

These instruments — which often use saxophone mouth pieces before shooting out into multiple trumpet-like bells — not only create interesting sounds; they are truly phenomenal works of art. Watch the video below of Southerland performing with his rather freaky jazz/performance art collective Urban Noise Camp, then watch him explain his craft. —MK

Cooper-Moore: diddley bow. First, watch this video to see Cooper-Moore demonstrate the various aspects of his invention, the diddley bow. It's kind of like a lap fretless bass suspended in air and played with sticks. But I can't help but feature Cooper-More in a free-funk-for-all trio where he lays down some serious walking bass. —LG


(Watch parts one and two of the performance.)

Oh, and Josh already covered bagpiper Rufus Harley, but we wanted to quickly point out a recent documentary we completely missed about the self-proclaimed ambassador of freedom. (H/T to Arthur Magazine.)

Finally, our editor Patrick Jarenwattananon wouldn't let this post fly without mentioning Sidney Bechet's solo on the 1924 Clarence Williams Blue Five recording of "Mandy, Make Up Your Mind" (also featuring Louis Armstrong on cornet), wherein Bechet plays a sarussophone (a what?). And of course, there's the double reed stylings of multi-instrumentalist Makanda Ken McIntyre; Lyle Ritz, the "father of jazz ukulele"; the singular Rahsaan Roland Kirk ...

What other strange instruments have you seen in jazz? If you have a YouTube video, post a link and we'll add to the list.

Additions

Dave Ellis: The Owl. Davis Ellis is the mad scientist brother of saxophonist John Ellis. A few years ago, he devised The Owl, a percussion instrument that uses a piano roll to fire contacts to a variety of found objects - paint cans, soda bottles, etc. Is it jazz? Probably not. Is it completely rad? Well, yes it is. —Josh Jackson

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