SPECIAL THANKS to reader Peter Simoneaux for these comments regarding the history of this tune:
"The song, I Ate Up the Apple Tree, was written by pianist Dave "Fat Man" Williams in 1963 (so they say), but apparently went unrecorded til 1974. I've never been able to locate the Williams original. However, I can say that the tune was first popularized in the N.O. brass band scene by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band in the early 1980. It was then covered by the Rebirth Brass Band on their first Rounder LP, and since then, it has become a brass band standard. The Dr John version was recorded only after it became a popular brass band tune, and it's likely that the Dr John version hews closer to the Fat Man original as a mid-tempo tune. There are several recordings of Apple Tree as performed by Williams with various trad groups, from the 90s & 2000s, I think."
For a brief period, I played trombone in an aspiring northern suburban brass band, along with other college-aged music nerds. The band had a few original tunes, but most of the repertoire consisted of Mama Digdown's Brass Band tunes, and Digdown covers of Rebirth Brass Band tunes. Additionally, we had a couple "original" arrangements of some Michael Jackson songs that we tried to develop.
But my heart wasn't really into the material. At the time, I did not want to play in a brass band cover band. And ever since leaving that group, I have seen a handful of other up-and-coming brass bands perform the same material, the same traditional arrangements. It comes across to me as a gag.
What I admire most about bands like Youngblood Brass Band is their desire to progress the music away from tradition. Yet the more important aspect of their music is that they never lose sight of the tradition, usually giving props by playing a New Orleans standard as an encore to a show. There is a fine line between original material and playing covers, between being artistic and selling out, and oddly enough, the way to progress music forward is to look backward through its history.
What we are dealing with in New Orleans music is the idea of folk music, or "roots" music. And in the end, all music is music. If it moves the people, then what does it really matter who wrote it? Because within that moment, the music belongs to everyone.
That being said, if you want to rip-off this trombone solo then focus on the [ahem] 6ths & 9ths. The melody uses the major pentatonic over the bluesy form, while the solo relies on the minor pentatonic (no 6th, flat the 7th) with an added 9th. Hey, it's the blues. If it feels good, do it.
Alright, this week it's a two-fer for educational purposes so that you can form your own opinion on this topic. Here is a YouTube video of the Free Agents Brass Band from New Orleans covering this cover, as well as a YouTube video of Minneapolis' Jack Brass Band covering this cover, too. You make the call.
Recommended Reading: Improvise.: Scene From The Inside Out by Mick Napier. Published by Heinemann Drama.