Saturday, January 31, 2009


Once maybe twice I've attended operas in which one of the principal singers had lost his voice. In neither case was there a substitute available to perform the role on stage.

Instead, they found substitutes who could sing in the orchestra pit while the original performers would go through the motions on stage.

I don't remember if the on-stage guy actually lip-synched, but only those closest to the stage could tell anyway.

Nothing fake about it.  The work-around was announced to the audience beforehand.  This seems to be not completely uncommon.


At the inauguration, however, they did a little fakeroo.

We saw Yo Yo and Itzhak going through the motions but the audience heard a recording.  This was the equivalent of unannounced lip-synching, which for folks like Yo Yo and Itzhak must have been humiliating.

A brief announcement and a video of the quartet playing the piece indoors for Barack, which is, like,  the truth, would have been perfectly acceptable. The four musicians would have received the same ovation if they had merely waved from the balcony, instead of pretending to play.

Later Obama's people appeared to be admitting to a fib.


Last week in my stage band class I heard a couple of astounding admissions about jazz improvisation.

Our teacher, a working jazz guitarist, gave the following advice about improvising:

If you hit a really wrong note, don't ignore it, repeat it. By repeating it you make the audience think that the note was intentional and might be conveying some new subtle harmonic insight.

I don't know if this boils down to "Shit sells," or "Sell shit."

The other piece of cynical advice:

When in doubt, go chromatic.

Exactly as I suspected.

[Chromatic means using all the piano keys, black and white, in a scale, or, if you use both forearms to bang down on as many piano keys as possible at the same time, that is a chromatic chord.]

I don't feel so bad about not being able to "get" most jazz improvisation. Rather, I congratulate myself for not pretending to.

I'm not a particularly honest person, but I am extremely lazy.  When I look for possible solutions to a problem, I at least consider the possibility of simply telling the truth, not for moral reasons but because it might require less effort in the long run.

Back in the 1950-60's there was an improvisational acting troop in San Francisco called "The Committee." It seemed to appeal to the same audience that listened to improvisational jazz.

To me it seemed like a lot of waiting around for something good to happen, then ooing and ahhing when it did, like a meal of California cuisine with long waits between courses.

I got the impression that much of dramatic as well as musical improvisation was made up of pre-formed shtick-bits, or riffs or whatever, which makes it less improvisational.

The purpose of jazz improvisation is to disguise the repetition of musical ideas.

A typical song contains two musical ideas: the verse and the bridge. The verse is played twice, then the bridge, then the verse is repeated. AABA.

So, once-through a song can take as little as a minute or less. For most purposes this is not long enough, so the basic AABA has to be repeated multiple times.

In the above clip, Work Song doesn't even have a bridge. The tune consists of eight bars, played straight once at the beginning and once at the end, then each soloist goes through the eight bars twice.  Even with all this repetition, the number lasts less than four minutes.

Big bands had to improvise in order to keep the dancers dancing. Whorehouse pianists had to keep playing jizz music nonstop.

Bob Dylan bulked out his songs with additional lyrics, but he is an extraordinary poet.

I don't see how improvising music should be any easier than improvising lyrics, and almost no one tries to do that, unless you include the nonsense syllables of scat.

Recently taxpayers sunk another million bucks into a pipedream called the Fillmore Jazz District.


There used to be a real Fillmore Jazz District but the rich people bulldozed it and put up stucco buildings with aluminum-frame windows.

Ashamed of their handiwork, the rich are constructing a cultural Potemkin Village, about as genuine as a Las Vegas theme-hotel, to show their concern (with our tax dollars), and to show San Francisco's supposed jazz-hipness.

In the 1960's even us dirt poor college students could afford a hot cider at Both/And, a club on Divisadero, where, supposedly, Janis Joplin first heard Big Mama Willie May Thornton singing Ball and Chain.


We went there because it was cheap, sort of avant garde, and kids were allowed. I was way too stupid to know what I was hearing.

The jazz clubs in the faux Fillmore Jazz District are mostly unaffordable for all but the affluent, part of why they need infusions of public cash.

Ball and chain, indeed.

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The Blue Elephant said...

Yeah, saw Big Mama Thornton at the Both/And!

Sweet Melissa said...

"I'm not a particularly honest person, but I am extremely lazy. When I look for possible solutions to a problem, I at least consider the possibility of simply telling the truth, not for moral reasons but because it might require less effort in the long run."

Oh, I just love you! Thank you for this gem!