Jass

18 Jan

They used to write that on their bass drums. More than a hundred years back. It was quite naughty. They got a big kick out of it. And sometimes they played in blackface. Even though they, themselves, were black.
How I got into them was, I was stifled by Mahler. When I was six.
Seven.
Eight.
It was Mahler and Beethoven, although later I loved both of them. Later. No kid can truly get Mahler. No matter how often the goddamned Bohemian is shoved down his throat.
But there was this one time my mother took me to the American embassy in Bucharest, and we watched a gig. It was my first time seeing musicians work like that. It was jazz. The only thing I really remember vividly is the drummer. Big black man sweating and cooking like I’ve never seen before. He was so incredibly physical with his instrument, and all the while he played, I could hear him grunt in time with the hi-hats.  Or the ride.
Or maybe out of time.
Or around it all.
Ungh, ungh, ungh, unhgh-ungh.
It’s how I learned to count measures. I didn’t know it then.
Everything is connected.
Twenty years later, back at Patsy’s in Georgetown I’d get paid in shots of whiskey. That was the gig. Three sets, all the whiskey I could muster, without fucking up “Salt Peanuts.”
Salt Peanuts, Salt Pea-Nuts.
Uh. Uh.
Salt Peanuts, Salt Pea-Nuts.

That was the test. If you could still play Dizzy’s “Salt Peanuts” you got invited back. Of course that came at the end. The tune, I mean. It’s how the boys found out what you had. All the whiskey you can take, and “Salt Peanuts” to close.
Kenny Clarke did it first with Dizzy in forty-two. You go on the two and four, kick out the weak beats in a 4/4 measure. It’s early bebop. Basie preceded Dizzy, though, with something like Peanuts. July first, 1941 “Basie Boogie” came out on Columbia. Only the Count did it as a six-note instrumental phrase played on piano.
July first.
My birthday.
Twenty-eight years later.
So What.
What’s New.
What Stays.
We got a Duke and a Count.
We got dizzy.
All kinds of art.
Blakey and…
Tatum too.
We got miles.
Miles smiles.
Miles to go.
Maybe.
They ain’t playing in blackface anymore, though.
At least there’s that.
Jass.

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2 Responses to “Jass”

  1. Slyboots 18/01/2008 at 8:34 PM #

    I am so looking forward to seeing how you spin all of these together. Because I just can’t visualize. Probably not enough coffee yet to think that clearly. But seriously, dude-how you going to do it? (once again, she isn’t patient enough to wait and find out…)

  2. (S)wine 18/01/2008 at 8:57 PM #

    Ha, I cannot visualize either. Things are moving…but very slowly.

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