Jump to content

Please note: You can easily log in to MPN using your Facebook account!

How Jazz Works: Your Laff for the Day

Recommended Posts

(This was forwarded to me from Al Hospers, formerly with Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and one of the main forces at Dr. T's Music Software during its existence)




List of Characters:



Pianists are intellectuals and know-it-alls. They studied

theory, harmony and composition in college. Most are

riddled with self-doubt. They are usually bald. They should

have big hands, but often don't. They were social rejects

as adolescents. They go home after the gig and play with toy soldiers.

Pianists have a special love-hate relationship with singers. If you talk to

the piano player during a break, he will condescend.



Bassists are not terribly smart. The best bassists come to

terms with their limitations by playing simple lines and

rarely soloing. During the better musical moments, a bassist will pull his

strings hard and grunt like an animal. Bass players are built big, with paws

for hands, and they are always bent over awkwardly. If you talk to the

bassist during a break, you will not be able to tell whether or not

he's listening.



Drummers are radical. Specific personalities vary, but are

always extreme. A drummer might be the funniest person in the world, or the

most psychotic, or the smelliest. Drummers are uneasy because of the many

jokes about them, most of which stem from the fact that they aren't really

musicians. Pianists are particularly successful at making drummers feel bad.

Most drummers are highly excitable; when excited, they play louder.

If you decide to talk to the drummer during a break, always be careful not

to sneak up on him.



Saxophonists think they are the most important players on

stage. Consequently, they are temperamental and territorial. They know all

the Coltrane and Bird licks but have their own sound, a mixture of Coltrane

and Bird. They take exceptionally long solos, which reach a peak half way

through and then just don't stop. They practice quietly but audibly while

other people are trying to play. They are obsessed. Saxophonists sleep with

their instruments, forget to shower, and are mangy. If you talk to a

saxophonist during a break, you will hear a lot of excuses about his reeds.



Trumpet players are image-conscious and walk with a swagger. They are often

former college linebackers. Trumpet players are very attractive to women,

despite the strange indentation on their lips. Many of them sing; misguided

critics then compare them to either Louis Armstrong or Chet Baker depending

whether they're black or white.

Arrive at the session early, and you may get to witness the special trumpet

game. The rules are: play as loud and as high as possible. The winner is the

one who plays loudest and highest.

If you talk to a trumpet player during a break, he might confess that his

favorite player is Maynard Ferguson, the merciless God of loud-high




Jazz guitarists are never very happy. Deep inside they want to be rock

stars, but they're old and overweight. In protest, they wear their hair

long, prowl for groupies, drink a lot, and play too loud. Guitarists hate

piano players because they can hit ten notes at once, but guitarists make up

for it by playing as fast as they can. The more a guitarist drinks, the

higher he turns his amp. Then the drummer starts to play harder, and the

trumpeter dips into his loud/high arsenal. Suddenly, the saxophonist's

universe crumbles, because he is no longer the most important player on

stage. He packs up his horn, nicks his best

reed in haste, and storms out of the room. The pianist struggles to suppress

a laugh. If you talk to a guitarist during the break he'll ask intimate

questions about your 14-year-old sister.



Vocalists are whimsical creations of the all-powerful jazz gods. They are

placed in sessions to test musicians' capacity for suffering. They are not

of the jazz world, but enter it surreptitiously. Example: A young woman is

playing minor roles in college musical theater. One day, a misguided campus

newspaper critic describes her singing as "...jazzy." Voila! A star is born!

Quickly she learns "My Funny Valentine," "Summertime," and "Route 66." Her

training complete, she embarks on a campaign of musical terrorism. Musicians

flee from the bandstand as she approaches. Those who must remain feel the

full fury of the jazz universe.

The vocalist will try to seduce you--and the rest of the audience-- by

making eye contact, acknowledging your presence, even talking to you between

tunes. DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP! Look away, make your distaste obvious.

Otherwise the musicians will avoid you

during their breaks. Incidentally, if you talk to a vocalist during a break,

she will introduce you to her "manager."



The trombone is known for its pleading, voice-like quality.

"Listen," it seems to say in the male tenor range, "Why won't anybody hire

me for a gig?" Trombonists like to play fast, because their! notes become

indistinguishable and thus immune to criticism.

Most trombonists played trumpet in their early years, then decided they

didn't want to walk around with a strange indentation on their lips. Now

they hate trumpet players, who somehow get all the women despite this

disfigurement. Trombonists are usually tall and lean, with forlorn faces.

They don't eat much. They have to be very

friendly, because nobody really needs a trombonist. Talk to a trombonist

during a break and he'll ask you for a gig, try to sell you insurance, or

offer to mow your lawn.


Picking the Tune

Every time a tune ends, someone has to pick a new one. That's a fundamental

concept that, unfortunately, runs at odds with jazz group processes. Tune

selection makes a huge difference to the musicians. They love to show off on

tunes that feel comfortable, and they tremble at the threat of the unknown.

But to pick a tune is to invite close scrutiny: "So this is how you sound at

your best. Hmm..." It's a complex issue with unpredictable outcomes.

Sometimes no one wants to pick a tune, and sometimes everyone wants to pick

a tune. The resulting disagreements lead to faction-building and _ under

extreme conditions _ even impromptu elections. The politics of tune

selection makes for some of the session's best entertainment.


Example 1: No one wants to pick a tune

(previous tune ends)


trumpet player: "What the f#@*? Is someone gonna to pick a tune?"


trumpet player: "This s%!* is lame. I'm outa here." (Storms out of room,

forgetting to pay tab).

Rest of band (in unison): "Yes!!!"

(Band takes extended break, puts drinks on trumpet player's tab).


Example 2: Everyone wants to pick a tune, resulting in impromptu election

and eventual tune selection

(previous tune ends)

(pianist and guitarist simultaneously):

"Beautiful Love!"/"Donna Lee!"

Guitarist to pianist: "You just want to play your fat, stupid

ten-note chords!"

Pianist to guitarist: "You just want to play a lot of notes

really fast!"

Saxophonist: "'Giant Steps'."

(a treacherous Coltrane tune practiced obsessively by


Guitarist and pianist (together): "Go ahead, asshole."

Trumpet player: "This shit is lame. 'Night in Tunisia'."

(a Dizzy Gillespie tune offering bounteous opportunities for

loud, high playing.)

saxophonist: "Sorry, forgot my earplugs, Maynard."

(long, awkward silence)

Pianist, guitarist, saxophonist, trumpet player all turn to


"Your turn, Skinhead."

(drummer pauses to think of hardest possible tune; a time-tested drummer

ploy to punish real musicians who play actual notes.)

Drummer: "Stablemates."

Trumpet player: F#@* this! I'm outta here." (Storms out of room. Bartender

chases after him.)


Trombonist: "Did someone forget to turn off the CD player?"


Not only are these disagreements fun to watch; they create

tensions that will last all through the night.


(As an educated audience member, you might want to keep a flow chart

diagramming the shifting alliances. You can also keep statistics on

individual tune-calling. Under no circumstances, though, should you take

sides or yell out song titles. Things are complicated enough already.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 17
  • Created
  • Last Reply

so, uh, Craig - about that sister of yours.... http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/eek.gifhttp://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/biggrin.gif




This message has been edited by rold on 07-04-2001 at 04:33 AM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello, All: I'm the nameless author of this piece. It's not easy being anonymous, looking in the mirror and drawing a big blank...So I'm trying to reattach my byline, which was somehow severed from this piece long ago when people first started sending it around.


For anyone interested: Drop me a note (billanschell@mindspring.com) and I'll mail you the full article from which this was excerpted. Just promise you'll leave my name on it... Thanks. --Bill Anschell

Link to comment
Share on other sites

She approaches the end of the melody. "PLEASE DON'T SCAT! PLEASE, PLEASE!" the musicans silently implore. She scats. There are shooby-doos. There are piercing wails. There are throaty moans. There is writhing and grimacing. There are photo ops. She is smiling at the band, inviting them to feel the spirit. They return blank stares.


This is brilliant... The whole thing is brilliant... and 100% true... Wow! http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/biggrin.gif

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great writing Bill. Amazing how funny the truth can be when so cleverly presented.

Are you a baritone sax player? They always seem to have a great sense of humor. As a matter of fact, I was talking with one the other day and he (76 years old/retired) reminded me of a good one he'd told me years ago:


'Life is like a shit sandwhich. The more bread you have the less shit you taste.'




This message has been edited by lrossmusic@hotmail.com on 07-08-2001 at 07:48 PM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Bill just sent me an e-mail with an attachment containing the whole article from which the above was excerpted. Problem is neither one of us knows how to open it on my PC. All I get is some hieroglyphic type script with this message at the top;


This file must be converted with BinHex 4.0


Can anyone tell me where to get BinHex 4.01 or if it is available in shareware?






This message has been edited by lrossmusic@hotmail.com on 07-28-2001 at 09:29 AM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by lrossmusic@hotmail.com:

Can anyone tell me where to get BinHex 4.01 or if it is available in shareware?[/b]


Sounds like he has a Macintosh and you have a PC... Binhex is a way to get what might normally be a Mac file into a straight ASCII (text) format. (Many Mac files are strange, where they have a "resource" and "data" fork... PC files just have a "data" fork...)


There's a free program available for both the Mac and PC called "Aladdin Expander", and you can find it here:




When this program decodes the Binhex file, it's still not a guarantee that the decoded file will still work correctly... If the decoded file was in a Mac format which has a resource and data fork, you're out of luck on the PC.


Your best bet might be to just copy and paste or save the whole web page here . Hope this helps!




This message has been edited by popmusic on 07-28-2001 at 01:37 PM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thankyou very much Popmusic. I took your advice and just copied and paisted the whole thing from the link you provided. Thanks again and have a great week.




P.S. Chuckle for the day.


What do you call cheese that belongs to someone else?




Nacho cheese http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/biggrin.gif

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...