Mothers, Don't Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Jazz Musicians.
By Dave McElfresh
THERE WAS A time when a young person stating that he/she was intent on becoming a jazz musician might as well have announced he/she was taking up residency in a whorehouse which, as it turns out, was where some of the first jazz pianists practiced their trade. Jazz and jazz players were once considered dangerous--not the PBS stars, high school educators and flowered-shirt popsters they are at present. Jazz once held a despicable reputation that can still match, if not surpass, that of rock and roll.
Here are 13 unlucky reasons why mothers once thought jazz would rot souls:
1. Jazz will make you slothful. Charlie Parker, god of Bebop saxophone, had gargantuan appetites for alcohol, heroin and women. His tendency to surrender to all three and miss club gigs resulted in a brainstorm: He decided to arrive early at the night's job and get loaded at the still-vacant club, guaranteeing that he would be present for the show he was to head. Unfortunately, he passed out underneath the bandstand and slept through the rest of his band's efforts to carry on without him.
2. Jazz will make you old before your time. The doctor who attempted to resuscitate Parker at the time of his death believed the hard-living jazzman to be somewhere between 50 and 60 years old. He was 34.
3. Jazz is hard on your teeth. Trumpet legend Chet Baker missed one too many payments to his drug dealers, resulting in a few heavies knocking out all his teeth--not a good thing for a horn player. With the help of dentures and several years spent relearning how to play the instrument, he reestablished his career. Evidently, he hadn't learned his lesson. In 1988 his corpse was found on the sidewalk of a hotel in Amsterdam, most likely having been helped out a window by an unpaid drug source.
4. Jazz leads to the misuse of guns and sharp objects. Bassist Charles Mingus had a bit of a problem with aggression. As a member of Duke Ellington's band, he instigated a fight with another player, Juan Tizol. Mingus chased him with a fire ax, and Tizol pulled a machete on him. Ellington delicately fired Mingus by telling him he couldn't afford to pay him what he was worth. Mingus remained a hothead. In the 1966 documentary, Mingus, he tests out his shotgun for the cameraman by blowing a hole through the roof of his apartment.
5. Jazz will make you hold grudges. Trumpeter Miles Davis was unjustly arrested for loitering outside a jazz club in New York City while smoking a cigarette in between sets. To make matters worse, Davis, somewhat critical of white people who were not jazz musicians, was arrested by a Caucasian policeman. The arrest was overturned, but the policeman later died of mysterious causes.
6. Jazz will make you say mean things. Once, when asked what he would do if he had only 15 minutes left to live, Miles Davis told the interviewer he would "strangle a white person slowly." And, although he would have been more than welcome on the Tonight Show, he refused to appear, the reason being, "I'd have to tell (Johnny Carson) what a sorry motherfucker he was."
7. Jazz results in expensive doctor and attorney bills. Saxophonist Stan Getz, best known to the average music fan for having introduced bossa nova to America in the mid-'60s, was nowhere near as cool as his suave sax playing suggested. For 10 years he drank two fifths of scotch a day, regularly beating his wife and children as the booze took effect. After becoming sober, he divorced his wife on grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment, based on her having secretly sprinkled Antabuse on his food in hopes of decreasing his reliance on alcohol.
8. Jazz makes grown men want to ask young girls to the prom. Getz recorded "The Girl From Ipanema" in 1963 on Getz/Gilberto, only the second jazz album to have ever topped the pop charts (an earlier bossa nova album by Getz was the first one). The song had been written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vincius de Moraes about a 14-year-old girl the two middle-aged men saw daily walking to the beach in Rio. They noticed her because they were always seated at the same street-side bar.
9. Jazz is hard on the complexion. Big band leader Jack Teagarden is considered the best trombonist in the history of jazz. The pressure of constantly touring throughout the '40s resulted in his permanent grasp on a flask, and the new young members of his band were greeted with a bottle as a welcoming gift. When Teagarden died in New Orleans in 1964, his face was so ravaged by alcohol that his family chose to have a closed casket service.
10. Jazz does not help you be all that you can be. Saxophonist Lester Young is responsible for the breathy, melodic approach to the instrument that nearly every jazz movie and beer commercial has utilized as the quintessential jazz sound. Young was as delicate a person as his playing, and his brief encounter with harsh Army life in 1944 did not turn out well. He was court martialed in 1945 for using drugs. Young was completely open during the court proceedings regarding his affinity for Marijuana, which was not at all helpful to his case. He lost, and both his career and personal life hobbled from that point on.
11. Jazz keeps you from a balanced diet. Although he never lacked a faithful audience, the ailing Lester Young preferred to sit in his hotel room overlooking New York's 52nd Street and drink gin while watching jazz fans enter clubs that were begging him to play. Young's body was found in his room in 1959. He had given up eating and died of malnutrition.
12. Jazz results in cruelty to animals. Bass legend Jaco Pastorius passed out after crashing a motorcycle in the lobby of a ritzy Japanese hotel. An octopus was found stuffed in his shirt.
13. Jazz stains your clothes. When a prestigious music magazine asked Pastorius what had been his most significant moment in music, his response was that he had once played just the right note in front of a huge bank of speakers and shit his pants.
Mothers of aspiring musicians are advised to check Consumer Reports to identify those jazz artists who are health and environmental risks--at least until the Parents Musical Resource Center gets the surgeon general to require warnings on jazz CDs.
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