One big problem jazz musicians face is dealing with people who are hostile to their art. While jazz is certainly not for everyone, some people are just plain jerks about it. Most of the time we just have to deal with it, but every once in a while we get the last laugh.
Jazz musicians don't have a problem taking requests but they do sometimes have a problem with being told how to play it. Once a lady asked my band to play "Mack the Knife" for her. We complied, playing the melody a few times. But when I started to take a solo, the woman stopped the band and demanded to know what I was doing.
"I'm taking a solo."
"Well, I can't dance to that," she cried.
"The beat hasn't changed, I'm just soloing over it. You dance to rhythms, not melodies." You should have seen what she called dancing.
"Well, I asked for 'Mack the Knife,' not that weird stuff you were doing," she replied.
We started up again, but this time I played the melody using only my index fingers, raising my arms high before hitting each note, like Frankenstein's monster. The whole band joined in playing the most smartass version of the song we could. But she knew something was up.
"Hey, that's too slow!" she cried.
We stopped and started again, at a tempo she liked, but gradually we began picking up the pace. She and her friends tried keeping up as long as they could. They protested, "That's too fast!" but it was too late. We brought the speed up to Sex Pistols level, determined to give them heart attacks, when one by one they sat down and didn't bother us again.
At another club, we were on our first tune of the night, when some drunk guy stopped us, saying, "Ah don't want no jazz, ah don't want no fusion. Ah want blues and rock 'n' roll!!!" He was pretty nasty about it too. What can you do? If they won't even let you finish your first tune, you know they mean business. We launched into our rock set, and pretty soon they had forgotten all about how mad they were before. On our closing tune, "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll," I decided to improvise a new chorus that I thought was appropriate:
Don't you try to play no jazz for me
I'll be the biggest jerk that I can be
You know I'm gonna be a real asshole
Until you play some goddamn rock 'n' roll!
The sad thing is, they liked it. We got a pretty big tip out of that.
The best way I've ever seen someone deal with this type of hostility was at a small club that was attempting to expand its musical entertainment to jazz. When a screaming redneck woman told us she hated what we were playing and wanted "something I can move my ass to," the drummer looked at her and said, "Take a look in the mirror. Do you think anyone here wants to see you move your ass?" Cruel, but effective, and a little too true.
The stories go on and on. I like rock as much as the next guy, but there is life beyond Bob Seeger and Billy Ray Cyrus. Getting the upper hand in these situations may not get you called back to the club, but it sure is fun!
See you next time.
(Too bad our readers missed Todd's performance at a recent private bash where he sang a gravelly version of "Stormy Monday Blues," complete with armpit solo. — Editor.)