Monday, June 6, 2011


A while back my friend Bob (aka DJ Thor, because he brings the thunder) and I were talking about the tune Joshua fit de Battle of Jericho. Pretty much everyone knows the version by Sidney Bechet--it's been overplayed for years and years. As I understand it, it's true pretty much all over the country, which is impressive as overplay often tends to be a scene-specific phenomenon. Like all perennial favorite tunes, it is overplayed for a reason--it's a really killer track. The tune itself is a big part of it, I think. It's a great, moving spiritual, the lyrics and music in combination are quite dramatic, and it has an almost hypnotic rhythmic patter.

For fun, I thought I'd go through all of the versions of the tune in my collection, and add some commentary of my own. Next time you're thinking of hitting play on the Bechet version, perhaps you could consider one of the others I list here instead. From least to most favorite (for the moment):
  • Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho - Thelma Carpenter - Seems Like Old Times - 2:30 - 155. This version is pretty straight--Thelma's enunciation is impressive but maybe detracts from the performance. Together with the male back-up vocals and instrumentation, the recording sounds a bit too stagey to me. Borderline for playing at a dance.
  • Joshua Fight The Battle Of Jericho - GĂ©rard Messonnier And The Hot Kings - The Best Of New-Orleans Vol. 1 - 3:15 - 165. This sounds to me like a Bechet rip-off. Or to be charitable, the group is very inspired by Bechet. A little plodding.
  • Joshua (1940) - Stuff Smith - Time And Again - 3:22 - 200. Typical Stuff Smith nonsense. He diverges from (forgets?) the original tune after about 8 bars, but man does this group swing like the dickens.
  • Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho - Delta Rhythm Boys - The Best Of 1940-50 - 2:32 - 215. Nice male vocal harmony version. It's just the Boys and a piano, so too mellow for dancing.
  • Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho - Kid Ory - In the Forties - 2:58 - 155. This version has a very folk-gospel feel to the vocals, but the instrumentals are chunky and driving like the rest of Kid Ory. Quite danceable.
  • Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho - Mahalia Jackson - I Wonder If I Will Ever Rest - 2:02 - 175. Bob played this version at a dance a while back, which is what got me thinking about the tune. Mahalia has an amazing voice (to make the understatement of the year), and sings this tune like she's leading the charge, or at least Joshua's second-in-command. Accompanied only by piano and snare drum.
  • Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho - Josh White - Josh White Vol. 5 (1944) - 2:32 - 105. Solo male vocal, self-accompanied on guitar. Very nice voice, intimate recording. This recording has some less well-known verses in it. It gets faster as it goes on, which adds to the drama.
  • Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho - Milt Hinton - Bassically With Blue - 3:19 - 215. This is a super groovy, deconstructed instrumental version, featuring amazing slap-bass from Hinton. He also has a virtuosic recording called simply "Joshua" for solo bass, on the album The Judge at his Best.
  • Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho - Sidney Bechet - Sidney Bechet: 1949 - 3:20 - 175. The version that everyone knows. Driving riff, great solos, great group improvisation. The moment that always gets me is right around 1:20, where everybody really starts to wail.
  • Joshua Fit the Battle - Gordon Webster - Live In Philadelphia - 3:57 - 180. Current favorite. The tune is familiar enough to catch people's attention, but it has lots of interesting twists, a wide variety of voices, and a TON of energy (it's a live recording). The clarinet solo is sweet sounding (not quite so grating as Bechet's soprano sax). I love the moment around 1:45 that has a sort of second-line feel, and then around 2:20 when the rhythm section drops out.
And, as an homage to Hey Mr. Jesse, I'll even throw in a BONUS! Check out this video of a bunch of kids singing the tune with multi-part harmonies, on a subway somewhere.

Do you have a favorite version that I haven't listed? Leave a comment.


  1. Here are 2 others I found:

    "Joshua" - Ben Webster - Big Ben - 3:04 - 175
    This version is similar to many others as it has multiple voices that come in, but Ben Webster does what he does best.
    (I think there's a version of it on jazz online as well to check out)

    "Joshua" - Ralph Flanagan and his orchestra - 3:14 - 140
    This is not my favorite version or close to it, but it's an interesting stereotypical big band version.

    - Bob (DJ Thor)

  2. Joshua fit the battle of Jericho - Marcel Loeffler - Source Manouche - 2:30 - 236. a gipsy jazz alternative.

  3. Just found another version, by Kid Ory off of "Ultimate Greats 1922-55." It's available on Emusic.