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Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
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The jazz bore



It's a striking feature of the human race that no matter how beautiful, how complex, how ethereal an object is, there will always be someone who can succeed in missing the overall point, focussing on the minutiae and boring the pants off you about it.
Jazz, my erstwhile reader, is no exception. Indeed, I'd even go so far as to say that the genre positively breeds and nurtures its own particularly intensive kind of bore.

Fortunately, such people are generally easy to recognise - with the general preference being for an unkempt, grubby white beard, a faded tweed jacket with patches on the elbows, a hat and possibly a pipe (not to be confused with the geography teacher, who seldom sports a hat).
Practically every jazz pub or venue has one - in fact they're so common one might be forgiven for thinking they come as part of the fixtures and fittings ("Sorry Guv, public bar's closed today...we're having our jazz bore installed").

But, I hear you intone, if they're so easy to spot, what's the problem?
Well that's just it really - you can spot 'em a mile off, but you can never seem to avoid them.
I think what it is is that they don't follow the standard rules of human communication.
You would assume, would you not, that someone who spent most of the night either ignoring you, or scowling at you, or turning their back on you as you approached, would be giving off a message that could not possibly be misinterpreted as anything but "Leave me alone!"?
But this is as nothing to the jazz bore, who's often quite happy to converse with your back - presumably on the grounds that it isn't going to interrupt.
And all you rockers can wipe those smug grins off your face - the jazz bore knows no musical boundaries, and will equally hassle the hairiest guitarist if there are no horn players in the vicinity.

My last encounter with such a creature was in a pub where the blues band I was playing with had just completed two sets of rip-roaring r 'n b. Barely a jazz riff in sight, and yet all night long I could see the jazz bore tapping his fingers on the bar with undisguised glee at the sight of three horn players in one band.
Call me crafty, but at the end of the gig I made damn sure that there was at least one horn player stood between me and the bore at all times.

Alas, my cunning plan was foiled - by another horn player with an equally cunning plan of his own.

The jazz bore had made a beeline for the bari sax player. I chuckled with quiet mirth at his predicament as the bore launched into his repertoire of introductory questions ("That's a baritone, isn't it? Aren't they quite heavy? You don't see many of those around these days!") with a view to softening up the victim before delivering the knockout blow.
But no, my mirth was short-lived as I heard the bari player tell the bore " I don't do jazz mate, but HE does! ", and I looked up from packing my horn into its case to see both the bari player and the bore staring at me with equal measures of satisfaction and glee.
I had no time to flee, the bore was upon me in a trice - this time eschewing the opening gambits and getting straight down to the hard stuff. Allow me to share some of this with you...

"Oooh, it's always nice to see a saxophone in a band. Don't see too many of them these days. Mind you, if you know where to look you can still find them. I was at the Pig and Pontif last week, listening to Ray Pooney and the Doug Butter trio - they had Fez Biggins on tenor, you must know him, used to play with Dick Scrottle down at the Scumbag and Rozzer - though they stopped having jazz there after someone set fire to the piano. Poor old Dick, used to have such a lovely vibrato didn't he...until his ex-wife caught him with a floozy outside the Halitosis Arms and flushed his top set down the loo. Have you ever been to the Truss and Whippet? You should go, they have jazz on every Sunday, with Elmo Crappy on banjo - anyone can join in, as long as they're not too modern..hahaha. Of course, back in my day there used to be bands all over the place - I can remember going to see Whiz Fettle and his Po' Boys down at the old Nag's Arse back in '43...back when they had Cooty Bugger on clarinet...now there's an instrument you don't hear much these days..though funnily enough I've always thought Leyton Thickly was our most underrated New Orleans clarinettist, don't you? Never played too many notes, marvellous player. Mind you, I do like a saxophone..."

I mean, I'd never heard of these people - and I suspect that no-one else has much beyond the five square miles outside the pub, but that didn't seem to matter at all. No interruptions are brooked, and even outrageously sarcastic responses are completely ignored ("Fez Biggins? Two arms? Legs? Head? Yeah, I think I've seen him").

I don't mind admitting that I was close to tears - when all of a sudden the bore reeled off a name I actually recognised, and with it came a golden ray of sunshine with the word Hope tattooed all over it. I don't quite know what it was that prompted me, perhaps it was sheer desperation, but when the bore mentioned Humphrey Lyttleton I had a lightning flash of inspiration and piped up with " HE'S played with Humph" and pointed back to the bari player.
The results were practically instantaneous - the bore detached himself from me and bounded over to the horrified bari player, with what looked suspiciously like lust in his eyes.
I didn't stick around to hear the proceedings - I made a dash for the bogs, pausing only to make the traditional rude hand gestures at the bari player over the bore's shoulder. You could have stripped paint with the look on the bari player's face.

But perhaps my most bizarre encounter with a jazz bore came about in a most unexpected fashion.
Living, as I do, out in the middle of the English countryside, I am fortunate indeed to be blessed with a wonderful local pub some three or so miles up the road.
It's an ideal distance, being just about near enough to home to be able to down many (that's slightly more than several) pints of beer and cycle back to my front door before the alcohol kicks in and I fall off my bike. One pint too many and I have to leave the bike behind a hedge about a mile from home and walk the rest of the way, being too inebriated to remember how the gears work...or indeed the whole damn blasted thing.

Anyways, I was safely ensconced in the bar one evening when in walks a stranger. Although off the beaten track the pub is well known, so strangers aren't really all that, er, strange - and having bought a beer and exchanged polite nods with the locals, he settled down to leaning against the bar and drinking his pint.
I'd been in the middle of a natter with the publican, and we resumed our chat about, oddly enough, jazz (though in this case not boring - old Jack was more into the music than the names of the artists, and was a treasure-trove of anecdotes about the dance-band days). A few minutes later Jack nipped off to serve another punter, and the stranger picked up the conversation.
I had no reason to suspect anything - he was middle-aged, casually dressed, clean shaven, and seemed to be quite a fan of the West Coast stuff circa the 50s.

Naturally the topic swung around to the late and great Clifford Brown - and we discussed the lamented demise of the octet in jazz - and it was here that I started to feel that unsettling tingle on the back of my neck.
It wasn't so much what the chap was saying, it made perfect sense, it was more the volume at which he said it. The more we talked, the louder he was getting, and the more excitable. I knew I was getting into something when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the other locals were suddenly taking a great deal of interest in the contents of their glasses, most likely working on the principle that if you avoid eye contact you won't get involved. By now the chap was practically shouting, reeling off names and song titles - and then suddenly he shouted "What's your most favourite Clifford Brown track?". Without thinking, almost a reflex action I suppose, I said "Joy Spring".

What happened next is still talked about in the pub, rivalling even the night that grumpy Bob got barred for farting repeatedly and vociferously in the public bar.
The guy threw his head back, spread his arms, knocked his pint clean off the bar, and started singing it! In scat!
" Bah dah dweeeee, dee ah be daaah de, ba-da dah, be dee-dee diddly bah-do weedlyoohah, biddly deeoppbop-bop, be-do beooby bah do wee do-wah..." bobbing his head up and down as he alternated between the lead line and the answering stabs, giving a sort of ghastly stereo effect to the whole spectacle.

I cringed in horror - and noted that the locals had figured out that this guy was so far down the line that it was probably safe to look up, and were enjoying the show at my expense.
I at least hoped that the torment would only last until the end of the head - but oh no...oooh nooo....having got to the turnaround he launched straight into Clifford's solo - "Byoo be-doodly doodly booby oooby boodoo wahdah weeeee, bada weedy wahoh wahoooh, fee diddblybub...", and I wondered what the hell kind of show he was going to put on when he got to the tricky arpeggio bit...and the bit where it goes up real high.

I soon found out.

I don't recall how I made my exit, but I know I left almost a full pint on the bar - so I must have been bloody desperate to get out of there.
When I returned some days later I was told that my leaving didn't deter the chap at all, and he carried right on until the end - whereupon he was unceremoniously tossed out of the pub on the grounds that he was a loony.

If ever you needed an excuse to check out any of Clifford Brown's artistry, this is it - just try not to sing along, OK?

If you've enjoyed reading this article, you might like to hear it narrated by Clay Ryder. If so, check out his site at jazzstreams.org - where you'll find this article, along with others from the Jazz Etiquette series.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015