Jazz Professional



Continuing the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order

Music is my mistress, and
she plays second fiddle to no one.
Duke Ellington

Chapter Sixteen

Hats and Beards

Stan Reynolds once took on a gig without first carefully checking the time, the place, and the action. We all know that is a big mistake. On the morning of the gig he phoned up just to make sure of the place and the guy told him oh boy you're going to have a good time tonight because the place is sold out and it's going to be the biggest jazz bash of the year. OK, so it's a big band, right? Wrong. Small group. Top players. Think of how much jazz you'll get to play tonight. Stretch out, like, you know, multiple choruses, man.

Stan got into a panic at once, because Stan, great lead trumpet, beautiful on slow ballads, superb on everything else, does not, can not, do jazz bashes. No one else was available, or else they said they weren't, because it now became revealed that the rest of the group consisted of a whole bunch of big boss jazz hooligans.

Wandering down the street in despair he bumped into trombonist Harry Roche. Now Harry was what you might call an old soldier of the business, been there, done everything, got the memories, haven't we all.

'What am I going to do?' cried Stan, clutching Harry by the throat. 'Help me, for God's Sake help me!'

'Buy a hat, big brim, stick a tin mute in the horn, hunch down, sway about, play lots of notes. Piece of cake.'


'You heard.'

'Are you sure?'

'Never fails. Trust me.'

'Oh, thank you, thank you,' sobbed Stan, and he went and bought the biggest black hat with the biggest widest rim he could find, roughed up the cork on his tin mute with sandpaper so it wouldn't fall out suddenly, tied a scarf around his neck, Zigeuner fashion and then he went along to that gig and he slayed them, he really did.

With the weird hat pulled right down over his eyes and hunched down Quasimodo fashion he lost a good foot in height, became completely anonymous, and learned all about several new kinds of backache. With the mute in no one could hear him, so he lost all his inhibitions as well, and Stan suddenly found that he could play great jazz! Hey! Playing jazz was easy! The people loved him, even though they couldn't hear a note of what he was playing, but it looked so good and the rest of the hooligans on stage there had a lot of trouble getting him to stop.

Anyway, that's the secret. If you want to get ahead, get a tin mute—wear a hat.

If Stan had asked me I'd have said wear a beard as well. Goodness! Have you seen how many great trumpet players have got beards now? Why is that? Buddy Childers, Bobby Shew, Al Hirt, Chuck Findley, Chuck Mangione, Marv Stamm—think of a name and it's a hundred to one he'll be wearing a beard. There must be something behind this, I mean, they must have got together on it, a sort of beard forum, but I haven't been able to find out anything about that.

I saw dear old Jimmy Maxwell on television recently, playing with Benny Goodman's quartet. He stood there, very tall and elegant, awaiting his turn. Bearded, of course, a very dignified one, grey and grizzled. Then he lifted up his trumpet to play and damn me if he didn't have a tin mute stuck in the end as well. Now there isn't a microphone on this planet that can pick up the sound of a tin mute properly. If you can hear it at all it sounds like a can full of angry wasps. That's maybe why Miles and Dizzy used it in their later years. You can't hear it. That's why Stan used it, and that's why I'm going to use it if anyone around here asks me to play jazz. I'll have to get permission from Conny for the beard first, though. Now that could be tricky.

Tommy McQuater, another bearded gentleman, once got booked to play a wedding party in London. When he arrived he was shown to a chair in a corner of the room. 'Where's the stage?' said Tom. 'This is it.' 'Where are the others? You know, the other musicians?' 'Oh that, hahaha, there's no one else. You're it.' So Tom played his little tunes, on the trumpet, banged his foot for the dancing, and entertained the guests royally for three hours. They kept him well supplied with the hard stuff, and he obliged by playing every request they could come up with. Right at the end the bridegroom staggered over and asked him if the orchestra could play Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for his new bride, so Tom obliged. He didn't get much further than the first da-da-da-daaa bit before he ran out of ideas, but by then the bride was so overcome with emotion upon hearing her favourite piece that he was able to segue smoothly into Darktown Strutters' Ball without anyone being the wiser.

Drummer Dave Clifford had a similar experience on another occasion. He arrived at the gig, screwed his drums together, and sat waiting for the rest of the band to arrive. When they didn't turn up the hostess told him to start without them.

'But I'm only the...yes, yes, yes. All right. What would you like first? Any requests?'

'Don't be silly. You have to play along with some of the records we've got here.' She gave him a portable gramophone and a pile of very old 78’s, prewar stuff by Jack Hylton and Roy Fox. “Well, what the hell?” he thought, so he put one on and played along with it. Musicians' Rules. Get the money and get out.

Dancers thronged the floor at once. Whatever he played, they danced to it and a good time was had by all, even Dave, who actually began to enjoy it after a while. He had to stop every now and then to wind up the little portable, of course, and have a little taste. After a while he didn't even bother to change the record. Then he lost the winder-upper of the portable, don't ask me how that happened, so he stopped playing records altogether. What the hell? Drums were enough. Nobody noticed. But all good things must come to an end and finally the hostess swept over.

'We're finishing now,' she said. 'The party's over. Play the National Anthem and we'll all go home.'

'Right. Where's that record?'

'Oh, we don't need a record of that!' she trilled. 'Don't you know it?'

So he did the drum roll. Everybody stood to attention, waiting for the Anthem to start. Dave kept rolling on the drums; they were looking at him, and he was looking at them. Then he thought well I could do this all night. How about me starting 'em off and we'll have a singalong.

God Save our gracious, he piped up, feeling very self-conscious...nobody joined in...long live our noble...still nothing...send her victorious...nothing...happy and glorious...still nobody sang...they were all standing stiffly there, staring at him, deadpan. He gathered strength for the finale...long to reign... At that moment the absurdity of the whole thing, of the whole stupid evening welled up inside him and he began to titter.

'...long to reign...long to r-r-r-r-reign...oh....heeheeheeheehee...o-o-o-ver ...HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!' ... finishing up with a couple of tiddley-diddlies, a bang and a wallop.

'We are not amused,' said the hostess, acidly. They weren't either, standing there now with their mouths open. Some people have absolutely no sense of humour. He gave them a curt bow, she gave him the money and he got out.

Chapter Seventeen >>>

Copyright © 2004, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved