[Dixielandjazz] Re: THE ARTISTIC GRIMACE

Dan Augustine ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu
Thu Jul 22 08:17:04 PDT 2004

DJML and others--
     Nah, this idea is OK, but short-sighted.  It's not only the 
'grimace', but additionally other body-contortions intended to 
suggest acute abdominal distress, or great artistic parturition (one 
or the other).  They're missing the boat by concentrating only on the 
     For just one example, just in dixieland, off the top of my head i 
immediately thought of one physical move: the knee-jerk, which has 
been perfected by at least two splendid players:
     1) the clarinet player with the Buck Creek Jazz Band, John 
Skillman, who uses it in combination with some wonderful melodic 
improvisational figures;
     2) the trombone player with Denver's Queen City Jazz Band, Mark 
Janicki, who (presumably to be able to force out the requisite tricky 
articulations) also exhibits a slightly different knee-jerk.
     Both moves appear to be involuntary, a reaction concomitant to 
and coeval with the improvisitory figure played.  In less artistic 
hands these moves are consciously forced out to distract the audience 
from the fact that the player doesn't have the slightest conception 
of how to play a respectable melodic improvisation.  (Much like 
Ambrose Bierce's reflection that handkerchiefs are chiefly used at 
funerals to conceal the lack of tears.)  These guys think that by 
"selling the move" they sell the solo, and too often, unfortunately, 
for some inexperienced audiences, they're right.  The audience might 
respond to a grimace, or a knee-jerk, or a squat, as if that move 
were the physical analog of great playing.
     This, of course, does not exhaust the players or the moves. 
Trumpet players have their own set of moves (the 'squat' while 
hitting a loud or high note, for example).  Drummers of the Louis 
Bellson school of showmanship like to hit everything in sight, and 
look _underneath_ the cymbals while doing so, combined with an 
expectantly surprised expression; they hope to cover up the fact that 
they can't play as well as Bellson with similar or even greatly 
exaggerated moves.
     Charlie Callas the comedian used to be a drummer, but he made the 
rest of the band laugh so much that in self-defense they took away 
his drums and put him in front of the band, but that didn't work 
either, as he would still break up the band by making hand-motions 
behind his back (like trying to wave away a particularly noxious 
flatulence).  When playing a drum solo, he used to hit the cymbal, 
then pick up the edge of it and look underneath, saying, "My laundry 
ready yet?"
     I could go on, but you get the idea.

>Date: Thu, 22 Jul 2004 10:23:39 -0400
>From: Stephen Barbone <barbonestreet at earthlink.net>
>Subject: [Dixielandjazz] THE ARTISTIC GRIMACE
>List mates:
>I think the Rocker's stole the artistic grimace from us jazzers. And we
>stole it from the classical artists. In any event, if you are playing
>jazz, you should either have that "grimace", or a spaced out blank face
>stare. How many of us remember the Pee Wee Russell grimace? I copied it
>for a while and then added Lionel Hampton's "Eh" grunt with every breath
>plus a slight pelvic move. Very effective with the ladies when I was
>under 30.
>Then Jimmy Hendrix and Elvis stole it from me, garnering fame, fortune,
>fans and all my women. ;-) VBG
>Say, how about a National "banjo-face" contest and/or "washboard face"
>contest. Winner to be announced at Sacramento Jubilee in 2005? First
>prize, an off season trip to Pismo Beach and all the clams you can dig.
>;-) VBG
>Steve Barbone
>PS. Personally, I always thought Sir Thomas Crapper was responsible for
>the artistic grimace. (all you ex-fighter pilots out there know what I'm
>talking about, having been taught to use it to avert G-force blackout)
>July 22, 2004 By RANDY KENNEDY - NY Times
>He Can Play Guitar, but Can He Grimace?

**  Dan Augustine     Austin, Texas     ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu  **
** "Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from **
**  from the foolish their lack of understanding." -- Ambrose Bierce  **

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