well rewarded. Smoke and Rick came to learn,
and they got proper teaching. They learned the
playing style of Jeff’s band so well that they
should have been known as members-at-large.
This playing style is worth some going
into. Jeff’s band didn’t play from music, though
they could all read music. They had two styles
of playing, known to the present trade as
Memphis style and New Orleans style. The
difference between the two is something like
the difference between the two styles of chow
mein: in one you get the noodles and the sauce
served separately, and in the other sauce and
noodles are mixed before they are served. Likewise, Memphis style is sometimes called “take
your turn,” and New Orleans has everybody in
at the same time. In Memphis the theme is established in the first chorus, and then each man
takes a separate crack at a variation on it. This
system has the advantage of encouraging competition in virtuosity. It was a point of honor
in Jeff’s band for each man to get more into
his chorus than his predecessor had in his. It
made for a terrific heightening of interest on
the part of the players themselves, and it left
Smoke and Rick, the impartial unseen judges,
choking with the excitement of the chase.
But the way they did Memphis was just
child’s play compared to the way they did New
Orleans. Here they were all in on it from start
to finish. Each man went his separate and
uncharted way, and first thing you know, you
had two and two equaling at least five. They
achieved, you never could say how, a highly
involved counterpoint. No accident, either, because they did it on tune after tune, and never
the same way twice. Seek out the separate
voices, and you’d find each one doing nicely,
thanks, and then let your ear out to take in the
whole, and there it was. It sounds like black
magic, three horns and a piano ad-libbing a
fugue, and not only that but fugue after fugue,
night after night, except Sunday.
The explanation is not simple; it’s as hard
as a nice explanation of what a “sixth sense” is.
The only thing you could say is that in this case
it was a matter of esprit de corps. Jeff and his
band had played together so much and so long
that they had developed psychic responses to
each other. They were a team using signals that
they followed perfectly without even knowing
c. 1920: Paris
Which do you prefer:
Music or ham?
It seems this is a question one should ask
oneself when the hors d’oeuvres arrive.
In many places sweet and excellent silence
has been replaced by bad music. It is thought
smart by most people to hear falsely pretty
things, and listen to silly, vaguely churchy ritor-nelli, while they drink a beer or try on a pair of
trousers; to appear to appreciate the sonorous
tribute of basses and bassoons, and other ugly
pipes, while thinking of nothing at all.
Peuh! All this is pretty painful for a man
of my age; this kind of musical Dufayelization makes me choke.
The remedy? Heavy taxes, terrible vexations, severe repression. Cruel torture, even.
Should people be allowed just to go ahead
and make our poor life ugly?
Look at these publishers with no human
dignity, no shame; look at the grotesque arrangements in which they dress up the purest
works, which have been submitted to them,
confided to them, and which they deck out
with their filth. Take one or two catalogues
of modern works, some of the most delicate
ones, and look at what these filthy creatures
subject them to.
Just wait, they will be shamed yet.
“Trade!” You may say.
“Business!” you say again.
Well! It is all pretty painful for a man of
my age; this kind of musical Dufayelization
and putrid moneygrubbing makes me choke.
Which do you prefer:
Music or ham?
Erik Satie, “A Simple Question.” Enrolled in the
Paris Conservatory in the early 1880s, Satie was
called by teachers “the laziest student” and “gifted
but indolent.” He dropped out, took work as a café
pianist, fell in love with a trapeze artist who kept
a pet goat, and by 1898 had isolated himself in a
Paris suburb. Though he preferred to call himself a
“gymnopedist” or “phonometrician” rather than
a composer, his avant-garde pieces, often irreverent and parodic, had far-reaching influence on
twentieth-century music. He died in 1925.