Musical sprinting

I enjoyed some live jazz at The Elephant Room in Austin, Texas last night. Our one true jazz venue in Austin was recognized by Wynton Marsalis as one of the ten best jazz clubs in the U.S. It’s also a good place to watch jazz calisthenics. The John Blondell band was at it last night. John is a Texas phenom on trombone and bass, and his shows are always part music, part theatre. He’s quite an entertainer.

I cut my teeth in the central Texas jazz scene playing with John in the early 1980S, and his crazy tempos were often my undoing. I remember one gig at an Austin cigar lounge called Cedar Street where the band was just a live juke box to add atmosphere for the crowd that gathered nightly to suck on imported stoggies the size of Sequoias. I had just return to town after a long absence and this was my first time with John in years. The evening reached a peak of tension when Steve Zirkel, our eccentric vegetarian bassist, cut off John’s trombone solo on What’s Goin’ On?, ending the tune prematurely. The big man would have none of that and turned around furiously exclaiming, “DON’T EEEEEVER CUT OFF A F***ING TUNE BEFORE I’M DONE! DON’T EVER DO THAT!!!” Without pause he then shouted, “CHEROKEE!!!”and counted off the traditionally fast jazz standard at a tempo that would have easily made pole position at Daytona. I couldn’t even straight stick quarter notes and resorted, first, to two-handing the ride cymbal, and finally, to simply playing all my favorite grooves hoping that I would occasionally land on a down beat. Zirkel lost a bar about every three and Clay Moore, our guitarist, did his best to land a whole note chords, all as Mao Tse Bone blazed through the changes as if he was strolling through a one-chord ballad. He knew he was the only one able to play that tempo.

The few in attendance sat open-mouthed. After three choruses the rhythm section was completely shipwrecked and the tune was cut off sharply with, “THAT’LL TEACH YOU SONS A BITCHES! DON’T EEEVER DO THAT AGAIN!!!” I laughed so hard I could hardly breath. We had just been thoroughly scolded musically.

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