By Eric Johnson
that, most would have agreed it really didn't matter what came next,
so to speak. How we sounded -- our ability to swing, for instance,
or the competency with which we hit our notes -- was pretty much
immaterial, but since most of us had braved hypothermia to get there,
we figured we might as well play out.
Our judge, however, did care, which proved he was either
sexually confused or he'd transcribed a few too many scores over
the years and was too blind to see the stage. Either way, he was
a very bitter man. Long before Simon Cowell made savagery a form
of pop candor, Dickie DuLane was shoving high school jazz bands
through the Quisinart of his four-to-the-bar soul.
We had history with Dickie DuLane. He was one of a handful of guest
directors Mr. Kent brought in over the course of the school year
to whip us into shape. A bonafide professional musician (he and
his combo played weddings and the occasional mall opening between
their standing Thursday night gig at the Brownstone Brownie Factory),
Dickie DuLane considered himself a role model for all young musicians,
and he took our musical futures far more seriously than any of us
did, including even our bass trombonist, whose ice cold Aryan eyes
continually glared at him as if he were contemplating a seriously
invasive application of his trombone slide.
In any other venue, this familiarity might have constituted a conflict
of interest, but that's the thing about musicians. As far as music
goes they're above reproach. Nothing matters but the music. Black,
white, purple or mauve - so long as you blow a righteous ax, nothing
else matters, and I think our poor showing there at the Westlake-Slocum
Jazz Band Contest pretty much proved it. Musically speaking, justice
really is blind. And quite possibly homosexual to boot.
Still, the foreknowledge of what to expect had to have influenced
Dickie's judgment. Certainly it at least prepared him for the more
shocking elements of our performance, like our solo trumpet's impressive
imitation of a trumpet solo. How could he of all people forget the
rehearsal when he'd heard the same solo and incredulously suggested
our boy might have missed a couple of chord changes.
"Oh, I don't do chords," our soloist responded matter-of-factly.
He didn't do chords; the rest of us didn't do solos. You know, it
was something we'd learned to live with.
Dickie DuLane, though. He lived in a world just a little bit more
demanding than ours. A solo without chords
it was like words
without meaning. Function cabin wrote said dirt to telegraph
was Penelope fortune casaba toga. Sure they were notes,
but they didn't say anything. Truth be told, neither did
the words Dickie DuLane tried to string together there in the band
room that night.
On the judge's tape, though, which provided real-time commentary,
he was focused and direct. "No chords," he said, "no
music. No music, no point. No point, no score. No score
He left the "no problem" to those of us he knew could
properly say it.
Our solo trumpet wasn't the only nit he had to pick. Though he was
too far away to appreciate the cost of all those high Cs (to this
day I still can't hear the final stratospheric climb to glory at
the end of "In the Mood" without conjuring up the singular
tang of Billy Taylor's farts), there was no way he could overlook
the stubborn delinquency of the male members of the rhythm section,
members for whom jazz was merely a form of rock and roll without
They were like missionaries, these fellows. At every opportunity
they urged us to the river and tried to dunk us in the swift, redeeming
waters of speed metal and stadium rock. Give him four bars and the
drummer gave back an approximation of the Siege of Leningrad (with
only slightly fewer rounds fired). Four bars to the guitar player
gave us a head-shaking tribute to the hair bands that undoubtedly
rocked his world. As for the bass player, his years in juvie had
given him a fearlessly badass certainty. He just picked a tempo
and forced the rest of us to follow him, upping the volume on his
amp when we didn't.
To the bombastic drum soloist, Dickie DuLane suggested Ritalin.
To the guitar riffs he said nothing, letting the ear splitting dissonance
of the whammy bar do all the talking for him. To the bass player
he passed no judgment whatsoever. Clearly intimidated by the kid's
curriculum vitae, he offered only benign suggestions like
"tempo perhaps a bit slow," and "bass might pick
it up a notch, but that's just me."
Overall, we received a low score. It might even have been the lowest
of the competition, but none of us ever got around to checking.
After all, what was the point? We weren't really much on legacy
back then, except maybe Deena, who upon graduation felt honor bound
to sign the raw spot she'd made on the piano bench. "Obviously,"
she wrote, "Deena was here."
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