[Dixielandjazz] All Star Band Sets

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Apr 25 23:48:52 PDT 2004

Following is a primer for audiences at Festival "All Star", Sets. I
apologize in advance for its length.

Steve Barbone

Festival Manager: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce the
members of tonight's all star band.

On piano is Michael Mulgrew Smyth, the Third.

But first,  a few words about pianists in general, they are
intellectuals know-it-alls. They studied theory, harmony, composition
and abnormal psychology in college. Most are riddled with self-doubt.
They are frequently bald and wear toupees. They should have big hands to
span 10ths 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 be condescending.

On bass we have Duke "Fisty" Malone.

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 while slapping the instrument. 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.

On drums we have Eugene "Traps" Curtis (a/k/a Kurtocenski)

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 badly. Most drummers are highly excitable and when
agitated, they play louder. If you decide to talk to the drummer during
a break, always be careful not to sneak up on him.

On clarinet we have Irwin "Woody" Livingston

Clarinetists think they are the most important players on stage.
Consequently, they are temperamental and territorial. They know all the
Dodds and Goodman licks but have their own sound, a mixture of Dodds and
Goodman.  They take exceptionally long solos, which reach a peak half
way through but they don't stop. They practice quietly but audibly while
other people are trying to play. They are obsessed. Clarinetists sleep
with their instruments,  forget to shower, and are mangy. If you talk to
a clarinetist during a break, you will hear a lot of excuses about his
reeds and his mistreatment by women.

On trumpet we have Enos "Screech" Wocksaw, from Crakow, Poland

Trumpet players are image-conscious and walk with a swagger. They are
often former college linebackers or soccer players. 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. You
may get to witness the special trumpet game. The rules are play as loud
and as high as possible. If you talk to a trumpet player during a break,
he might confess that his favorite player is Maynard Ferguson, or Ernie
Royal, depending on whether he is white or black,

On banjo we have Joe "Hannibal Plector" Masterson

Jazz banjoists are never very happy. Deep inside they want to be rock
stars but they're old and overweight and wear bow ties. In protest, they
wear their hair long, prowl for older groupies, drink a lot, and play
out of tune. Banjoists hate piano players because they can hit ten notes
at once, but banjoists make up for it by playing as loud as they can.
The more a banjoist drinks, the louder he plays. Then the drummer starts
to play harder, and the trumpeter dips into his loud/high arsenal.
Suddenly, the clarinetist'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 banjoist during the break he'll ask
about dating your sister.

Our feature vocalist is the lovely Lorraine "Big Momma" Thrush.

Vocalists are whimsical creations of the all-powerful jazz gods. They
are placed in all star 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 "I've
Got What It Takes,"What a Wonderful World and  "I Want To Be Loved By
You".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."

On trombone we have Big Bill "Slide" Scaggs (a/k/a Guilermo Scaglione)

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, and smear 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 at the All Star session

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 with which they 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: (previous tune ends) No one wants to pick a tune (silence)

Trumpet player: "What the &%#@*? Is someone gonna to pick a tune?"
(silence) Trumpet player: "This s%!* is lame. I'm outa 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: (previous tune ends) Now everyone wants to pick a tune,
resulting in impromptu election and (pianist and banjoist
simultaneously): "Carolina Shout" / "Coney Island Washboard Blues"

Banjoist to pianist: "You just want to play your fat, stupid ten-note
chords!" Pianist to banjoist: "You just want to play a couple of simple
chords really fast!"

Clarinetist. "After Youve Gone."
Banjoist and pianist (together): "Go ahead, jerk."
Trumpet player: "This s--- is lame. 'I Can't' Get Started."
Clarinetist: "Sorry, forgot my earplugs, Maynard."  (long, awkward
Pianist, banjoist, clarinetist, trumpet player all turn to drummer:
"Your turn, Traps."
(Drummer pauses to think of hardest possible tune; a time-tested drummer
ploy to punish real musicians who play actual notes.) Drummer: "Cornet
Chop Suey."
Trumpet player: %3%& this! I'm outta here." (Storms out of room.
Bartender chases after him.)
Trombonist: "Did someone forget to turn off the CD player?"

Not only are these disagreements fun to watch; they create tensions that
will last all through the night. (As an educated audience member, you
might want to keep a flow chart diagramming the shifting alliances. You
can also keep statistics on individual tune-calling. Under no
circumstances, though, should you take sides or yell out song titles.
Things are  complicated enough already.

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