Last Friday was such a nice day we decided to head down to Tarrytown and take in some jazz in Pierson Park for the Friday Evening Concert Series. If you’re in the mood for it, a little jazz can be just the thing. Much of it is instrumental, so you don’t even have to sing along. Every time I see a rock band these days, they start the song, get to the chorus and then stick the mic out into the audience and expect us to sing it. NEWSFLASH: that’s what we pay YOU for. With jazz, the band handles all the details by themselves, and nobody sticks a saxophone out into the audience expecting me to solo.
Jazz is pretty freeform, so you don’t really have to obsess about playing the right notes all the time. If you play a real clunker, the best thing to do is stop abruptly, take the horn away from your mouth, stare into the crowd, then play the same wrong note twice more, and people will think you’re a real artist. Try to look tortured by the banality of playing correct notes all the time. When I make four mistakes in a row playing bass in the rock band, the rest of the guys look at me like I’m an idiot. But if I was in a jazz band I’d be so far ahead of my time that I wasn’t even born yet. I just want to take the opportunity to tell those guys right now that in a few years, perhaps they’ll understand the significance of the wrong notes I played two years ago.
Even if you’re a singer in a jazz ensemble and don’t know the words, you can fake it. Ella Fitzgerald was the best at that. She would sing, “A tisket, a tasket, a brown and yellow basket...” Lose her train of thought, then start singing, “Scoodly-bip bop bap bip doo-WAAAAA!” And everyone thought she was a genius. If she ever got back to finish the tisket and the tasket story, it didn’t make a whole lot more sense than “scoodly-bip bop,” anyway.
I was actually in a jazz band with some guys from Katonah a few years ago. We would get together every other Wednesday, and to fit in, I would look sullen and suck on a reed for a half hour before we started, until they reminded me that I was the drummer. “Do you know how to use brushes?” they asked. “Take a look at my hair and decide for yourself.” End of conversation.
I’m a rock and roll guy from way back, most of us Baby Boomers are. Jazz wasn’t really on my radar until my first year at college, which I spent at the University of Hartford. My roommate Mike was a sax player on scholarship at one of the premier music schools in the country, and rooming with him taught me the first and most valuable lesson I learned at college, which was that I had better open up my eyes and my ears and start absorbing the world, not just Clinical Psych 101. I would sprinkle in some jazz during my shift as a disc jockey at the school radio station. I knew which tune would last exactly the length of time it took to announce the song, “hit the post,” visit the restroom, rush back to my chair, drop my headphones on the floor, kick them across the room and still have four seconds left to cue up.
My mom wasn’t a big jazz fan. She would scrunch up her nose if she heard me playing some Miles Davis. “I don’t like that ‘cool jazz,’” she would say. “Or is it the ‘hot jazz’ I don’t like?” I never knew what the hell she was talking about, but I told her not to get out that thermometer and check. She was famous for taking your temperature in an impolite place when you had your back turned.
She thought that every jazz musician looked like they were “on something.” Yes, Mom, it’s called unemployment. She was an opera nut. Every time I came into the room she had it playing on the radio, and she would wave her arms toward me. “Mom, what are you doing?” “I’m wafting!” She thought if she fanned it over to where I was sitting that I would be intoxicated by its charms, but I never liked it. Why can’t they sing like normal people? Plus the whole thing was in German, and it sounded like a meeting of the Gestapo put to an impossible-to-sing melody, and that was just the love scene.
With jazz you just absorb it by osmosis, and it’s like wallpaper you can tap your toe to. Anyway, down by the train station in Tarrytown on a Friday evening is a great place to plop a couple lawn chairs, open up a little wine and cheese and take in some great views of the Hudson. The music will just make all those things seem a little better. And if anyone plays a few wrong notes, start clapping like crazy and everyone will think you are an aesthete of the highest dimension.
The Jazz Forum Arts Summer Concert Series is sponsored in part by the Westchester Community Foundation. Please join Rick and the No Options band, Saturday evening, July 21, 9:30PM at Lucy’s Lounge, 446 Bedford Road in Pleasantville. Say hello at: firstname.lastname@example.org