Todd Hildreth.

By Todd Hildreth

A few years ago I had a band that played a steady gig on a riverboat in Indiana. (I'll mention no names here.) All in all it was a good gig, but the boat was the type of place that had its share of troubles. Once they ran out of food and had to have a different boat bring them some more. Despite these problems, their business meetings often involved larger concerns such as whether or not the band should wear bow ties.

Anyway, once the boat ran out of gas (another minor detail) and we suddenly lost all power. As our instrumentation consisted of electric bass and electric keyboard, we had no choice but to take a break. After about ten minutes, the manager came running up to us and asked us if we could play anything. We told him that we couldn't play without power, but he insisted.

"You still have sax and drums, can't you play something on that?" So the bass player got behind the drums and the sax player picked up his horn and they launched into some very loud and free jazz. The people, puzzled from the power failure, were now trying to figure out what was happening on the bandstand.

After about ten minutes of this, the manager changed his mind. "That's okay," he said, "I guess we don't need any music right now." So the music stopped and we drifted silently down the Ohio until a tugboat came and pulled us home.

The moral is: If you don't have your [stuff] together, don'texpect the band to bail you out. They'll just play free jazz and ruin it for everyone.

Several months later, we got to meet the head captain for the first time. Although we had been playing on the boat about six months, we had never cruised with the head captain because he did most of his work from a desk. On earlier cruises we had captains under his command. The first thing that the captain did was to become very flabbergasted at the notion of the band on his ship playing jazz ("that d— jazz," as he would call it).

Although there was a phone on the bandstand that he could call us with, he chose to send a mop boy to tell us to stop playing jazz. I asked him why and he said that he didn't know and that he was just relaying the message. I said to this mop boy, "You know, we've been playing jazz on this boat for six months without any complaints." The mop boy replied once again that he was just relaying the message. We continued to play the jazz. When a second message came, this time through a waitress, I said, "We've received several compliments on the music today and twice we were written about in The Courier-Journal with favorable reviews. On top of all this we were originally hired to play jazz. Please tell the captain this and have him call me if he would like to talk; he can call me on this phone here." This time the message was relayed, but we received no word from him.

We found out at the end of that cruise that the head captain couldn't dock the boat without considerable trouble. While the lower ranking captains brought the boat in easily, much like you would parallel park a car, the head captain would drive straight into the dock and then try to swing himself around.

It took about twenty minutes and we were only twenty feet from the dock. Although he never got any better at this, he continued to assault us for the jazz, even on nights when it was clearly a hit. He never spoke to us directly, always sending a messenger instead. It got to the point where the more he screwed up, the more he tried to take it out on the jazz. One night on one of his fiasco attempts to dock the boat, he bumped the dock so hard that he knocked someone down the steps.

The moral to this story is: If you're in a position of authority and you're a complete idiot, you won't fool anyone into thinking otherwise by taking it out on the band.

All of life's most important lessons can be learned through jazz. Join us, won't you, as we continue our journey.

See you next time.