Swingin’ At The Cellar, The Importance of a Good “Hype-man”, and Benny Goodman … overrated?

Thanks to everyone who came down and made our Cellar show a success last Thursday! Despite the added stress of not having rehearsed the music with our pianist (Miles Black is, as I learned this time, a very busy and somewhat elusive man!) we all had a great time and Miles and Joe Poole (drums) played their asses off. Personally, I was sweating profusely 10 seconds into our first song of the night because this trio instrumentation, sans bass, is so exposed! After one or two songs though I started to get more comfortable with this uniquely spacious sonic texture, and I thought to myself “I’m sure glad we didn’t needlessly waste time rehearsing this stuff! What a cakewalk!”
Well, … not quite.

Also awkwardly embarrassing entertaining to some was my opening address to the audience, which is usually done by a “hype man” (usually the club owner), and for good reason: You look pretty stupid talking yourself up at the outset of your own performance! So there I was standing on stage with my back to the crowd, innocently warming up my clarinet when all of a sudden the canned music is turned off, the stage lights turn on, and you could hear crickets chirp. After stumbling through a “Umm, … hello. Guess there’s nobody to announce us so we’ll just start playing…” the energy level was so far through the floor I was half expecting a wispy tumbleweed to blow ominously across the stage.

Anyways, if you missed all this excitement on Thursday, don’t fret, we will perform again. I’ll get back to you with an exact date later but I intend to spend more time studying the music of Barney Bigard and Johnny Dodds and then compose some music for trio with these influences in mind. Who knows, maybe I’ll even see if Cory Weeds is interested in recording it at his club.

And to everyone who thought I was slamming Benny Goodman when I said he was “overrated”, I wasn’t really. What I probably should have said is that there were a number of underrated clarinetists of the same era (ie Barney Bigard) who were just as good as Benny but didn’t enjoy the same popularity. I think Goodman was an amazing clarinetist and I have lots of respect for his music.

Alright, have I set the records straight now? Hopefully no one was too put off by that remark?

Okay, … so here’s why I think Benny Goodman is overrated:

I love checking out Benny’s recordings but it’s more because he always had such a great band playing slick, swinging arrangements. Now that’s a skill, no doubt, and yes, he could play the hell out of the clarinet but The King? Come on! Buster Bailey played just as much clarinet, Barney Bigard was more soulful and creative, and Artie Shaw swung harder! Benny Goodman’s kind of like the Justin Timberlake of classic jazz clarinetists, talented, hard working, knew to surround himself with talent, business savvy, but not the most soulful or creative guy around. In the words of Artie Shaw “… listening to Benny talk about the clarinet was like listening to a surgeon get hung up on a scalpel.”

Moving on.

The next two projects pressing on me are:

A.) to put together a little introductory video for my last album Accelerated Development. I realize this should’ve been done when the album was released a year ago, but so what. I’ve got some nice video clips of Shanghai and I think it’ll be fun to put that together with some of my Shanghai inspired music.

B.) to dive back into the electronic music project I started a few months ago. Some of you will recall that I committed to having this very different music ready for debut in early April. Well, I don’t know how I’m going to manage that but … here goes!

As always, feel free to send me your comments/questions/concerns. Thanks for reading and have a great week! JD

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