Point of View
We asked multi-talented Australian musician/actor/
to answer the following question...
Is having a sense of humour compulsory for jazz musicians?
by George Washingmachine
Being a jazz musician can be a precarious existence.
There are various levels of success that one can attain within the
business, but every musician is constantly trying to create work.
Ringing up promoters and event organisers, sending information to jazz
festivals, running around playing all kinds of jobs from concerts to
shopping centres. Weddings to Bar Mitzvahs. Rehearsing new material.
The business side of being a jazz musician has become somewhat easier
over the last 15 years or so with the advent of computers. Email &
websites. YouTube & iTunes. But still.
When not doing all this ground work which will hopefully get you a gig,
you are trying to have a life. Just like normal people you attend to
family & home.
But real normal people think musicians are mercurial creatures.
Unless you’re careful with your negotiating, jazz musicians can be
treated as second class citizens.
I remember many times being asked.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a musician.”
“That’s nice, but what do you do for a living?”
“I make a living out of playing music.”
People are dumbfounded!
“Why do you play that old music?”
No one ever asks a classical musician why they play old music.
Jazz musicians must fight for respect all the way. To do this we have to
work at our craft and play to the best of our ability. We must also
become ambassadors for the music. Meeting people and being nice to them,
even if they are annoying.
“ Do you actually get paid for what you are doing?”
“How did you get here?”
“The promoter paid for my flight.”
“You’re kidding. Who pays for your hotel room?”
Normal people can’t believe that jazz musicians are professional people.
By the way jazz musicians can’t get income protection.
Oh here’s a good one.....
“Jazz musician hey? What do you do during the day?”
Oh and on it goes.
So in the face of adversity, these factors contribute to the reason why
jazz musicians must have a highly developed sense of humour.
To put up with normal people’s stereotypical attitudes towards jazz
musicians; rather then go off into the corner and start crying, we
laugh. Ha Ha!!
I can only imagine what it must have been like for black musicians in
America battling racism on top of all the usual musical life stuff.
Hell, except for the fact that the music creates moments of peace and
that the camaraderie of ones fellow musicians enjoying a good laugh over
some stupid incident would help battle the demons of a reasonably tough
Humour though is a great way to diffuse potentially drastic situations.
Humor has always been used as a weapon against those who take life too
For an overwhelming sense of joy and humour, just check out Fat’s
Waller, Slim & Slam, Louis Armstrong, The Rat Pack and many others.
At any jazz festival, or gathering of jazz musicians, anecdotes and
stories are always being hurled around. Jokes & gags are reinterpreted
and revisited, just like any tune in the jazz standard repertoire. These
get-togethers can take on a jam session feel, with the participants
trying to out do each other in the way they perform the story or gag.
Some achieve a sense of status because of their ability to get the rest
of the room chuckling or gripping their sides in fits of laughter.
Often these sessions are lubricated with a glass of alcoholic beverage.
An important ingredient to the level of humour in any given situation.
Now I only say this from my limited experience of working in the
traditional/ mainstream area of jazz.
I’m not sure what the modern jazz and avant guard players get up to, but
by the looks of things I reckon they’d have to have a sense of humour
At a recent jazz festival it was only a matter of moments before the
first drummer joke was regaled. It gave a sense of comfort, like
visiting an old recipe to know that drummers will still get a hard time.
“.... Ah yes, he gave up music to become a drummer.”
I am constantly receiving emails with the latest batch of band leader
gags, back stage requirements and portraits of various instrumentalists.
Now to see how deep humour can go just look up JAZZ MAN on YouTube and
you’ll see some stuff that certainly tickles my funny bone. It’s deeply
disturbing humour, but then I reckon all the best humour has a dark edge
© 2008 George Washingmachine
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