Prose Bopsody …
On Jazz and “Sonny Rollins” in The New Yorker
Author’s Note: At the end of July, The New Yorker published in its online edition, as part of its “Shouts & Murmurs” humor blog, a satirical piece called Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words … which, because it was a satirical piece, in a humor blog, was not in fact written BY the great tenor ‘saxophone colossus’ at all.
Unsurprisingly, the jazz community (of which I consider myself a cosmic, small part) went ballistic. Actually, it went apeshit: Fiercely, obtusely, obnoxiously and, in at least one sad instance, racially lambasting the actual author of the piece, Django Gold (a senior writer for The Onion — go figure!) and doing its mother-bear best to protect its young … or in this case, one of its eldest living statesman.
Collectively, jazz forgot to laugh … and I felt compelled, and frankly embarrassed enough, to step up to the mic and blow bars of my own.
What do those four letters, that word, mean to you?
Say it … like a smoke-filled horn player. Like a bassist with a blues and mean streak … a chord progressionist, stiff-fingered note dancer, porkpie soaring lover, man!
Spinning Afro-Cuban top … An ah’s flat, e flat, beepin’ bop, a ballad … songs that never stop …
That word … means what, to you?
To some — to most — “jazz” just means tired. It’s become like classical music, or broccoli: it’s supposed to be good … but I don’t taste it!
To others, Jazz plays b ball (sort of).
To forty or so more — this small but rabid core of devoted jazz music diggers — it absolutely is the Word.
Jazz — the music, The Word — is sacrosanct.
Django Gold found out the hard way. While touring his Onion-esque act in the big city, Django got into a cutting session with still-living legend, Saxxy Colossus … you know who I mean, or would, if you knew …
But if you’re not so imbued, allow me to hip you to that purty one … the magnificent one … the one and ONLY one …
Mr. … Sonny Rollins.
So then Django proceeded to light up the page with this solo he said was played by Sonny … except it wasn’t Sonny, it was Django, dig? And he (“Sonny”/Django) said he hated The Word … felt he’d wasted his long life working to spread it … and never knew what suit to wear!
Man, you shoulda heard the audience howl! Those forty people, right? “JUDAS!” one yelled — this cat, Howie Doodat … hands all clenched in fists of rage, demanding support from the 39 others … He got some.
“As a lifelong fan of jazz, and having worked as a sound engineer on the road and at most of the New York clubs, including the Blue Note (and regularly for the Mingus Big Band) … but also as a writer myself, and all around (I like to think) PHUNNY guy …
“I have to say, I get it: the piece IS funny. Non-sequiturs (‘I hate music. I wasted my life.’) placed in an absurdist context (Sonny Rollins uttering them) … is funny. Absurdity is a foundation of satire, which of course is an element of humor … and humor is comedy.
“Lighten up, people! …
“(U)ntil ‘Sonny gets blue’ about it, why should we?”
Then I traded with Payton, who got all riled up and made terrible noise. Nick’s bars, I soloed, had “race cards littering the table.
“Not at all what the original ‘offending’ piece was about.”
Anyway, the set ended for me when this cat, Howie Doodat, kept putting people down, man. Thanking people for agreeing with him … Otherwise, “Learn about life,” he’d smirk. “No wonder you’re confused,” he teased. “’Django’” (in quotes), he kept chiding Django … suggesting that can’t be the cat’s real name!
“I don’t believe you,” I finally said. “You’re a LIAR!”
… Took my axe, and went home.