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
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
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
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
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
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
- where you'll find this article, along with others from the Jazz