Mothers, Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Jazz Musicians

By McElfresh, Dave | IAJRC Journal, December 2012 | Go to article overview
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Mothers, Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Jazz Musicians

McElfresh, Dave, IAJRC Journal

Demon Downbeat

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 mf 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.

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