Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Jammed!

As with just about everything I do, this seems to have started out with the best of intentions behind it only to sit on the shelf and collect dust for a month. Seasoning, I call it. Like those people who buy a cymbal and then bury it in the backyard for a year.

*pin drops*

Here's a summary of what I may have written about in the last month:

  • I now have health insurance. As a freelancer, even. Yay!
  • Dr. Lonnie Smith had me come up to his apartment and jam. Cathartic? Maybe yeah. To be continued...
  • Hustling gigs is a real pain in the ass. I think the only people who are good at it have no concern for pushing thresholds of annoyance.
  • I really need to get out of the apartment a little more.
  • Winter should end now.
  • Finally, I'm part of a cool, original-music-and-otherwise organ trio. We had a gig. Soon we'll have more. In a year, we will battle the Bush administration for world supremacy.
  • They tore up my street and put in a new one. I thought about writing a song called "They're Gonna Tear Up My Street Today" but didn't. They will soon tear up the siding on the front of my house, which shares a wall with my bedroom and leaks. The anticipation is killing me.
  • I built shelves. Does anyone know a woodworker in NYC who might want to hire on someone of reasonable intelligence with plenty of curiosity but only two seconds of experience?
There's also a partially-written post about a very strange subway occurrence. Like those ever happen. Maybe I'll finish it. Or post it as is, half-baked and runny. French style.

Today I subbed in a big band rehearsal, which was a lovely opportunity to get out of the apartment and meet cool new musician people. Turns out that it ended up being neither a big band nor a rehearsal due to the large number of late cancellations, but a rather large band jam session. Unfortunate, as I was looking forward to playing what had been hyped up to be some well-written original charts in a large-ensemble setting, something I don't think I've really done at all since leaving Michigan. I think that these days, big bands only exist in colleges, high schools, and towns where people generally pay less than $500 in rent. It would not surprise me to go to what had been advertised as a big band concert here in the city only to find two horns and a piano.

It's at moments like these, playing standards in a windowless, fluorescently-lit, tiled-floor, white-walled room when I think that maybe jazz has offered up its final rosebud. Daylight couldn't get into this room even if it were armed with the knowledge of a master lock-picker and the Jaws of Life. Vibe? Forget it. Can't even get past the doorman. What's with fluorescent lights? Who's bright idea was it to put them in every institutional setting around the country? I insist that fluorescent lights are a tool of The Man, designed to sap us of all of any creative momentum that may have been present at the beginning of the day, to reduce us to drooling, lethargic, compliant automatons who like Maroon 5 and play bingo. Who needs to put LSD in the water supply? Think they have fluorescent lights in the White House? I doubt it!!

Beyond the fact that this room would be much better suited for . . . for what? I don't really know what would be appropriate for this setting. Chinese water torture, maybe. Perhaps the raising of a feral child. Anyways, beyond the fact that this room would be much better suited for something not to be discussed here, we entertain the idea that as soon as a space is designated as a rehearsal space, it is virtually ensured that no music will ever be made there. Much like the practice rooms at UMich, almost exactly the one described above except about 1/20th the size. Has anyone ever experienced a moment of sheer inspiration in those airtight cannisters that wasn't derived from the touch of another? Why did we all scramble for the empty classrooms, or even head to the stairwells? I guess things like 'good lighting,' 'fresh air,' and 'leg room' aren't ever really considered as factors that make for a suitable practice space. Nay, just give 'em a piano (tuned twice a year), a music stand (hopefully functional), about 36 square feet, and, of course, a couple fluorescent lights in the panel ceiling (really trippy when one of them is flickering). Couldn't be better, let's GROOVE!

Now I have never been party to a jam session of this instrumentation. We had the standard piano-bass-drums rhythm section, joined by vibraphone, with the most intriguing cast of horns: trombone, euphonium, french horn, tuba, mellophone, and baritone sax. Wot!? Orchestrational issues aside, let's deal with magnitude. Two horns at a jam session is easy: "How about you take the melody on the A, and I'll play the bridge?" "Ok." "Groovy, baby." Three horns requires a little more coordination and the willingness of at least one to shut the hell up now and then, but generally goes off without a hitch. When it comes to four or more, maybe it's the fascist in me, but at this point, we should probably have charts. When five horn players try to make up backgrounds on the bridge of "Have You Met Ms. Jones?," even Stockhausen would cover his ears and pray for a swift and merciful demise. In the absence of charts, the situation can be remedied slightly by one with a strong (fascist) personality who isn't afraid to tell people not to play for the next five minutes. Just call it management.

Having addressed magnitude-inflicted organizational difficulty, we move on to the issue of tune selection. Let us say, for argument's sake, that one person knows 500 tunes. If he's paired with another person who knows 500 tunes, maybe they have a shared repertoire of 250. Add a third, and the rep drops to 125. Continuing with this logic, the repertoire of a ten person jam session consists almost entirely of "Blue Bossa," "All The Things You Are," and "Happy Birthday," all of which were beaten bloody, robbed, and left for dead in a back alley 40 years ago, long before we dug up the cadavers and gave them the same treatment in jazz school. Needless to say, one can pretty much predict the fare at a jam session. Corn flakes again? But we had that last week...

Imagine a world in which everyone takes a one-chorus solo and then moves on to the next tune. Observe, cherish, and release; this world does not exist even under a theory of infinite universes. In all fairness, though, two choruses are about what it takes to Really Get The Juices A-Flowin', except in the case of ballads and tunes with extended forms, where one is enough, and blues/way-uptempo tunes, where three or more are standard fare. Based on the two-chorus universe model, a ten-piece version of "Have You Met Ms. Jones?," complete with a few choruses of trading fours, would last about 23 choruses, and about the same time in minutes. By the end of this tune, at least two or three people have fallen asleep and the bass player's fingers have worn down to bloody stumps of bone. Had I my lappy with, I probably could have written this posting and a couple others. But... Sadly, even the two-chorus universe rarely manifests itself, as there are often one or two people who happen to be "feeling it." Epic. Simply epic.

All things-endemic-to-jam-sessions-worldwide considered, I had a lovely time and was happy to be out of the house, where I would have sat for the majority of the afternoon, pretending I had a lot of work to do and not surfing MySpace. I met some great musicians, and saw a couple that I hadn't seen in a minute, plus I got to ride the subway. Maybe next week I'll go to Coney Island.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Ben said...

Wow, that was a heck of a first post, Dave. Careful you don't blow your wad all at once!

10:30 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Definitely epical. I have two comments. 1) A lot of your musical links have two first names, reminiscent of, well, anyone with two first names *and* Michael Scott, of the office. Creepy. 2) Speakin gof Michael Scott, that guy in Spaceballs looks A LOT like Steve Carell. It's not, though, is it?

11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave!! Mark Kieme here!! Excellent blog, my friend. You are one funny guy. The practice rooms at umich were designed in part by Revelli, which resulted in the uniformly small, dark sound that worked so well in the symphony band, the group that used to be coin of the realm. Interesting comments about large ensemble events. How true! It occurred to me the other day that the A2 jazz scene is entirely supported by volunteerism, from the cats,to the club owner, to the radio station. Peas be unto you and yours.....
Mombar

12:34 PM  
Anonymous SRoot - Root with a Smile said...

Interesting observation on the two first names...hmmm. If I ever have a kid I think I'm I'm gonna name them Bublath Root.

4:31 PM  
Blogger David said...

I can't say I'm sold on the two first names bit, either. There are maybe three. That's not a lot, is it now? Maybe more than to be expected in the average sampling, but...

Steve Carell in Spaceballs? hmm. He woulda been like 15.

What else can we blame on Revelli...?

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Root said...

By the way Dave, I was suprised at a SERIOUS ommission from the intrests you listed in your profile. There is nothing in your list of intrests that gets really hot, glows, goes boom, implants schrapnel, or burns down Garwold's lab. WTF?????????

2:06 PM  
Blogger David said...

hmm. you're right. I shall have to remedy that, but beware the tentacles of homeland security...

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Root said...

Trust me, if they arrest you without telling you what for and hold you indefinitely without a lawyer it's for all of our safety. Cause you might be nookyoolerr.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous schrock said...

your beautiful description of the U of M practice rooms made me nostalgic for my days as a music major at another big university (they must all use the same interior designer). just about the only thing the USC practice rooms were good for was a [mostly] soundproof nap.

3:53 PM  
Blogger chris g said...

Dave - this is chris gorski. 9 posts, and no one is asking for more details about playing at Lonnie Smith's house. I'm here to say - tell me more. Maybe it was routine, but I need to know.

10:14 PM  

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