Thursday, January 15, 2009

Joining the Ranks

I've tended to think of myself as young, though--heck, I was born in 1942, and that makes me 66. But I still think of myself as young. But, playing in the bands I'm playing in, I'm starting to adapt to the reality that I'm one of "those" people--people whom the really young, like I used to be, back in the day, looked at and hoped they would never become. I confess--I looked at old people and subconsciously thought, I'm not one of them, and they make me uncomfortable because they're old. Even some musicians, who are now friends, I looked at with suspicion--they were old, and I didn't want to be associated with them.

But I've become nicer to old people, more considerate, more supportive--I cheer them up (I think), I'm friendly, I listen to their tales. And I've discovered more of a fellowship with them. Some guys I thought were pretty alarming are funny. They may not be physically as spry as they were, and some move pretty slowly, but they're quick, witty, they want to be liked (just like me), and they appreciate being appreciated and treated like real people, not "old" people.

Truth to say, a number of them (especially the musicians) have been better than I will ever be--they've been first call studio guys, played with the likes of Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton. Now they do any playing they can just to keep playing, and they often still sound very good. A couple lament the loss of their chops--they sound good now, but when I tell them so, they say I should have heard them 20-30 years ago. I bet. They were monsters.

I used to think, wow, these guys are way older than me. But they're not. Maybe 10-20 years, and that's not sounding like much any more. I'm not that far behind them chronologically, though they out-experience me by light-years. The best I can do is keep my chops up to their current level and don't make mistakes they're going to look down on me for. But then, maybe they wouldn't anyway--they've been there too, and they're pretty generous-spirited. Maybe they've gone through the same transition I'm going through.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Superseding Commandment

There's always a big to-do about the Ten Commandments. Put them in courthouses, make public displays, blah blah.

But few people commit murder, and coveting isn't necessarily detrimental to mental health--it often leads to achievement. Not all fathers and mothers deserve to be honored. The name of the lord is taken in vain all the time without much effect one way or the other except to vent the speaker's frustration, which might be beneficial.

So let's try an eleventh commandment: gain a benefit, return a benefit. This is for the edification and moral/ethical instruction of all people who are continually takers and rarely givers, who, if they see an opportunity to get something, seize it without regard for their own obligation to be honest and decent. This might be considered a version of "do unto others," but stating it this way adds a dimension of reciprocality. "Do unto others" has the doer always doing; gain a benefit, return a benefit makes it possible for the doer to get some benefit from the world; the do-gooding is not one-sided.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Minotaur with a Steel Plate

"Hey, get me a coke . . . "

That was the cordial greeting I received the first time I met Joe Vento. I was subbing on a gig, he was eating dinner, I introduced myself, and that was what he said. No more, no less. No, "Hi, glad to meet you, welcome to the band. I'll be through in a minute here."

And the evening went downhill from there. His claim to fame is that his accordion stopped the bullet that would have terminated him with extreme prejudice in the military (I don't think he was being shot at because of his playing, but I can't guarantee it).

Now, years and crotchety, crusty years later, he has a dilapidated big band that plays Wednesday eves. at Los Hadas Mexican Restaurant in Northridge.

He conducts this band with a baton.

A woman dressed in her finest plumage--she used to be some kind of dancer--flits and cavorts fitfully in front of the bandstand.

He tunes up the women, but not the men.

The fourth trombone part is played by a man with an amplified bassoon.

A high school kid in the trombone section made a mistake, and Joe humiliated him publicly.

I mentioned Joe Vento to a trumpet player friend, and he said, "Everyone has a Joe Vento story."

If someone calls me to play Los Hadas on a Wednesday night, I know whose band it is, and I'm always busy. There are certain labyrinths I refuse to venture into--I know the minotaur already.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Music as Mayhem: New Year's Eve with Zing Zany

Music is the garden, where we should be able to wander and thrill to the sounds, the sights, the inner excitement, serenity, beauty, sense of spiritual uplift, joy.

Then there's the labyrinth: Zing Zany and His Musical Mobsters of Mayhem

Mayhem gig, where there's no intonation, where the trumpet plays way too loud--all the time--or tries to squeal every hit instead of just hitting the note clean--sounds like mice in heat; and the drummer crashes away, unaware that he's driving the band off the cliff, and the leader tells Wanda Warbly, an invited guest singer--old but not wise beyond her years--he's got a chart of a tune she knows, and she should sing it, and Wanda says she doesn't know the chart or the key, and he says, you know the tune, don't you, you can do it, wait 8 bars and come in, so she stands there not sure how to count 8 bars, or what her first note should be, and the band slams mercilessly ahead in its fanatical devotion to music while she stands there waiting for something that might be a cue, but the chart is over, and she maybe tried half a verse somewhere in the middle. And she bitches at the musicians, but it's not their fault--it's the leader's and hers, because she didn't bring any charts for herself. Who said a chick can just stand up and sing--hey, that's for the movies, not pretenders to stardom. This is the real world--the world of Zing Zany.

So Wanda says, I'll do "My Foolish Heart" in F, okay? And she looks at the vibes player, who has the Real Book but the tune is in Bflat, but he figures he can sound it out--after all, how many notes are there in the dumb tune anyway--and he does, more or less, but the bass player doesn't know the tune in that key, and the rest of the band is at sea without life jackets, the fog has settled in and the radio's broke, and the drummer, chewing on strands of his beard, brushes blithely along blinking into the disco ball, and the trombone player tries a few notes in various keys to see if anything works, and nothing does so she ducks aft, and the singer is humiliated and leaves early because the one song she called disintegrated under her and she sank in it like quicksand, or she ran aground in the fog, and the band cut itself loose from its moorings and drifted into a perfect storm, and that's the leader's fault too--when he told the vibes player the singer would sing a few tunes, the vibes player warned him that if she didn't have the music in her key, it was going to be a problem, but the leader ignored that, and when the singer told the leader the first tune, with the band, sounded awful, the leader said, "Well, I liked it." It should have been a warning sign that the leader had a shirt with flames on it because the gig went up in smoke--where's there's fire, smoke ensues, and the Latin tunes got kicked off at "Cherokee" tempos--they were in the key of frantic frenzy, eyeballs blazing like stunned bunnies in the cartoons. The whole gig was a musician's nightmare. But this is the kind of thing Zing Zany loves. It's such a release from life in the Zing Zany motor home.

And then it was six minutes to midnight, and the band riffed through a countdown by the DJ, until 1 minute to 12, when the Zing Zany suddenly screamed, "Auld Lang Syne in F!!!!!" and started playing the tune too soon, and the male singer said, no, no, wait until midnight, and the Zing, who was playing so loud he couldn't hear, blasted ahead anyway, and the rest of the band started at midnight on the dot, and the band was in two places simultaneously, as though Charles Ives had written "Auld Lang Syne," and the party horns tooted, and the DJ put on Frank Sinatra's "Come Fly with Me," craftily mixing it with a rap song with f words, and some disco, which was all drums and thunder, and the band wondered whether they should take a break or pack up, and Zing said, "We're going to play a couple more," but the band, assessing the determination of the DJ and the flagellations of the dancers, said no, they were packing up, and Zing saw his musicians drifting away, putting their instruments in cases. And the leader, who owns a piece of Chinese junk in the shape of a motorcycle, is looking for the straitjacket he wears off the stand and wondering when the attendants will arrive, but the gig is the asylum, except for the guests, who by now are dancing to a DJ whose equipment would beat a DC-7 at arm-wrestling. And everyone at the party is happy! The bari player, after 11 drinks, says he's fine to drive--he only lives 5 minutes away; and the tenor player is glad her husband is on the gig, because she needs someone to drive her home, and he's so focused on the way that the van never strays one inch from its center positioning in the lane no matter what. And a musician friend who came as an onlooker and opined that the band might be a little loud, the leader told him to "Shut up."

And so here we are at home, drinking to forget, or wondering about smoking, except that it hurts one's throat, you know, so beer calories--at least you can work them off. Hopefully, however, not by playing another insane gig with Zing Zany and his Musical Mobsters of Mayhem.