Agony Column
Ask Doctor Jazz anything...

Dear Doctor Jazz, I am a trombone player in a well- known Dixieland band and I have a problem. Every time I play in a dance hall I get beaten up in the interval by angry men who accuse me of flirting with their girlfriends. This is not good for my lip. What can I do about it? Signed, Anxious, Brentwood.

Doctor Jazz answers: Dear Anxious, It is obvious that you are suffering from a rare disease known in the trade as vibratum positivus, or, in the original German, Nickkopf. There are three recognised methods of obtaining vibrato on the trombone:

a) By moving the slide in and out, in and out, at the speed of light.
b) By saying ‘Yo, yo, yo’ into the mouthpiece.
c) By having an attack of nerves just before playing a solo. Very useful one, this.

People who suffer from Nickkopf get their vibrato by vigorously nodding their heads up and down, up and down, while they are playing. As a Dixieland trombonist you will already be staring mad-eyed all over the place while you are playing, and this, plus the nodding, can almost certainly give the wrong impression to jealous boyfriends.

You can solve the lip problems caused by all this by utilising the style of obtaining vibrato, perfected by the late Ken Wray, and known as the Oh my God what am I doing here? method. This consisted of him slowly shaking his head from side to side while playing, as if permanently amazed at what else was going on in the band all around him, as no doubt we all were. No gawking ladies can mistake that: it’s Not tonight Josephine, and no doubt about it.

Dear Doctor Jazz, I am having terrible trouble with the trumpet which you sold me last year by mail order. The valves stick and let me down at the most embarrassing moments, e.g. in broadcasts and so on, while some of the high notes are just not there any more. I crack the last high ‘D’ of ‘In the Mood’, for instance, every time. Whatever shall I do? Signed, Dead Nervous, Midlothian.

Doctor Jazz answers: Well see here, you snivelling wretch. I myself have personally promised each and every trumpet that passes through my hands that it will never ever be forced to play Glenn Miller music. By your letter it is clear that you have broken that vow. Don’t you ever read the small print? That is what the ‘NGM’ engraved on the bell means, fathead.

You have obviously deeply offended the trumpet, which can now only be appeased in the following manner: by candlelight, in an intimate setting, reverse the horn and speak these words softly into the bell three times: NNEL GRELLIM, YARG YR REJ, DOOM EH T’NI, ON ON ON.

This will soothe it, and drive out the evil spirits, unless you have a broad Aberdonian accent, in which case it will probably not understand you.

Now, in future, turn your parts upside down if you really are forced to play the you-know-what music. The trumpet will be confused, as I myself am already, and you can sneak the high ‘D’ in at the end there before it’s really aware of what the hell’s happening.

Here’s a tip for all of you out there who have problems with that high ‘D’, or even with the one above it. If you miss it due to an attack of over-exuberance, simply turn the result into a shake, or, as my colleagues so kindly used to put it: a controlled crack.

If, however, you feel that you are going to miss it completely because your lip disappeared half an hour earlier on, it is a good idea to faint just before the note comes up. This gains you enormous . sympathy, and I have seen this ploy exercised more times than I would care to number.

If some other hooligan in the section, or even, as in a case I know of, one of the trombone players, gets the note for you, good luck to him. He can play it the next time as well. Don’t forget to crumple forwards, by the way, so that your weight crushes the trumpet completely flat beneath you. Take a few colleagues down off the rostrum with you. No point in doing things by halves.

Dear Doctor Jazz, I have a very long, thin, pointed nose, rather like one of those drawn by Boz. From your picture I see that you, too, have one very similar. My problem is that when I play the saxophone my nose bends downwards like a parrot’s beak and obstructs the octave key. This gives me only a limited range, and has earned me the nickname, given to me by my fellow musicians, of ‘Pollywanna- cracker’. Please help me. Name and address supplied.

Doctor Jazz answers: You are wrong about my nose. What you see is the false nose which I always wear in public to avoid being besieged by autograph hunters. I actually have a rather sweet, Doris Day-type nose, of which I am inordinately proud.

Now, to your problem. As you neglected to send a sample of your nose I can’t imagine what it looks like, unless you mean like that of Mr Wackford Squeers. Why don’t you lay your nose on a piece of paper and run a pencil around the outline for me? Apart from that: I can’t see at all how it can be hitting the octave key like that.

Did you make the saxophone yourself? Maybe you need surgery, or an even longer mouthpiece. Meanwhile, try putting the mouth- piece cap over your nose when you play. This will cheer up the onlookers so much that they may no longer notice that you are only grovelling about at the bottom end of the instrument.

Sir, I have only recently bought this castle, and would like to have your comments on a rather curious phenomenon which occurs in the Great Hall every Saturday night. At around nine-fifteen the strange ghostly sound of a trumpet is heard. After about forty-five minutes the sound is cut of abruptly, and is not heard again until the following Saturday, when the sequence is repeated. This is slowly driving my wife, the Baroness, right around the bend. What is to be done? Castelforte, Runcorn.

Doctor Jazz answers: Ah yes! You have unwittingly stumbled upon the Legende of Thomas Harteforthe, practically unknown outside of the Runcorn town boundaries. A most interesting story.

It seems that the worthy monarch King Henry VIII stayed the night in Castelforte with Ann Boleyn in the summer of 1534. During the course of the banquet some of the local minstrels were called upon to entertain; amongst them young Thomas, who was foolish enough to ask if His Majesty had any requests.

The song ‘Who’s Acumen Amucken?‘, which bore an uncanny resemblance to today’s ‘Il Silencio’, was asked for. Unfortunately, young Harteforthe was playing on the most modern instrument of his day, the sackbotte, which, according to Elyot, ‘be an instrumente which do require moth wynde’. Henry asked for the tune fifteen times in succession, after which poor Thomas didn’t have moth wynde left.

Apart from that, the sackbut was fearfully out of tune, especially on the 11th harmonic, and after Thomas had finished King Henry handed him his head on a plate. Since then the ghost of poor Thomas has wandered the castle, trying endlessly to get that ‘F’ in tune; hardly possible with his head tucked underneath his arm.

I am sending you one of my NBG (always in tune, cash on delivery) trumpets and I suggest that you leave it somewhere in the Great Hall next Saturday with an explanatory note. It would have to be in Old English, of course, and should read something like: ‘Thou presseth the fyrste valve downe, the musyck goeth arounde and arounde...’ etc. You know what I mean.

That should do the trick.

Ron Simmonds is Doctor Jazz