Frank Carmickle frankiec at
Wed Jun 27 14:32:19 EDT 2001

HOW JAZZ WORKS List of Characters:

Piano: 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 

Bass: 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.

Drums: 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.

Saxophone: 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: 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 trumpeting.

Guitar: 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.

Vocals: 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."

Trombone: 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) (silence)
trumpet player: "What the f#@*? Is someone gonna pick a tune?" (silence)
trumpet player: "This s%!* is lame. I'm outta 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 saxophonists.) 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 drummer: "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?"

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