Roger Blows His Horn – The Squeaky “X” Syndrome

It’s Saturday morning and while doing some chores around the house I turn on the TV and select the Music Choice Jazz Station. Soon, a solo erupts from the speakers that garners the comment “oh boy, another squeaky sax solo.” Another descriptive phrase I have heard likens the sound to “strangling a goose.” Sometimes it is followed by the equally popular extended drum solo, but that’s for another article. 

Although saxophones are particularly well suited to squeaking, honking, rapid fingering maneuvers, and other discordant sounds, the idea and similar effects can be done on any instrument whether it be the piano (the forearm smash), clarinet (max blow above high C), violin (screech bowing), guitar (max distortion) or even trumpet (real high and loud). Therefore, to partially mitigate the anger and resentment of all those saxophonists out there, I will simply label it the squeaky “X” syndrome, and you can fill in the “X” with the instrument of your choice. So, how does this squeaky “X” syndrome fit into the world of jazz we all love and promote. Where did it come from? Why does it happen? What can we do about it?

First, jazz musicians did not originate the squeaky “X” syndrome. Classical musicians really got into this around 1910, continuing to the present day, with practices like increased dissonance, atonality, serial/twelve tone composition, use of not-usually-considered-musical sounds, free/spontaneous performance and many other innovative techniques. Such methods can produce a squeaky orchestra, opera, or other classical ensemble. This was good because music was art and artists were supposed to express themselves and create art and pleasing the audience became a lesser consideration. The same phenomenon happened in modern visual art and sculpture. Jazz didn’t get far out until the late 1940s and early 1950s, about the time that jazz also decided to become “art” music. Jazz coincidentally also became more of a concert music rather than dancing and social music.

Another source of more strident sounds in jazz comes from some musical practices by tribal Africans, which then of course became part of the mix of ingredients to form the musical gumbo we call jazz.

Therefore, the squeaky “X” syndrome happens in jazz because, in the context of contemporary music practices and principles of music making in general, it is a justifiable tool in the performer’s arsenal – especially when it comes time to kick it up a notch. Emotional contrast or contour – excitement versus tranquility, tension versus release, storm versus calm – is what makes music interesting and captivating. Honks and squeaks can definitely increase tension and excitement. Five to ten minutes of honks and squeaks will kick it way on up there. Could it be that it comes down to considerations like how much for how long and who is listening and where.

So, in your jazz listening experience you perceive an instance of the squeaky “X” syndrome— what can you do? First, you most quickly conclude that this performance was not meant to be background or easy listening music. If you are at home or in your car and wish for background or easy listening music, you can take appropriate action, such as manipulation of the on-off switch, channel selector, or other audio control device. In a conversational club environment, legs can take you to a different place. If seated in a huge auditorium having paid big money for the tickets, keep in mind that the performer is attempting to elevate the excitement level and express emotion and produce an art jazz listening experience. I say give the performer a chance to make his musical point and then decide whether the overall show gets a thumbs up or thumbs down. Remember that John Coltrane did great ballads and lots of accessible jazz in addition to his more far out renderings.

So, there you have it, a totally scientific treatise dealing with the squeaky “X” syndrome. You may now consider these thoughts on the matter as you chose your level of acceptance of the squeaky “X” syndrome in your world of jazz. See you at Jazz Jam and Jazz Gumbo.

Prepare for JazzFest 2019

Do you hear that?

Jazz…..here it is! The 36th Pensacola JazzFest, presented by Jazz Pensacola!

There will be middle, high and college jazz bands! The best of the best from the Gulf Coast. It’s going on this weekend. Bob Sheppard, sax great…this weekend. Food….arts…crafts….kids jazz area….music. This weekend!

Did I mention it is a “Free” festival? Yes, it’s here, this weekend, April 6-7!

Truth is, Jazz is always here……..Jazz Pensacola.

Peace

Fred Domulot
AFM 389
“Give Peace A Chance”

Drum Roll, Please: A great, new Student Competition

Greetings!

On March 19 we had our latest Student Jazz Competition! It was an awesome event. Congratulations to all of the wonderful students! The new format, using a monthly Jazz Gumbo slot to present our student competition, worked! The venue gave the students the feeling as if they were playing in more of a “jazz club” environment. Well done!

What’s next? Pensacola JazzFest! Get ready friends … get your blankets, lawn chairs, cameras, sun screen, smiles and ears! Check out the lineup …both days are guaranteed to bring the best of jazz from the region. It will be another event that you do not want to miss.

See you at JazzFest!!!

Fred Domulot
President
Jazz Pensacola

CD Review: ‘Tenormore,’ Scott Robinson

SCOTT ROBINSON; TENORMORE
Arbors Records

Some reviews almost write themselves; this is a prime example. Scott Robinson has produced a CD about his longtime love affair with his 1924 Conn tenor saxophone. Excellent liner notes by longtime jazz author and critic, Doug Ramsey, also make this CD special for me.

Robinson assembled an excellent small group which included Helen Sung on piano and Hammond B3; Dennis Mackrel on drums; and Martin Wind on string bass. Scott’s wife, Sharon, appears as special guest for one number on flute. About half the numbers are originals by Robinson with a lovely original, Rainy River, by bassist Martin Wind.

Sanford Josephson, in his excellent book about Gerry Mulligan, tells the story about Mulligan’s papers and his baritone saxophone being deposited posthumously at the Library of Congress. Robinson was selected to play one number on Mulligan’s baritone saxophone at that ceremony. Scott brought his own mouthpiece and reed to use when he played Mulligan’s horn. In the transfer from rehearsal space to stage, an L of C assistant helped to transport the horn and set up on stage. Much to Scott’s anxiety and disappointment, Mulligan’s mouthpiece and 25-year-old cracked reed was on the horn; and, there was no time for Scott to rescue his own mouthpiece set-up. But, trooper that he is, Scott got through the piece satisfactorily!

Tunes that most readers will recognize are Lennon and McCartney’s And I Love Her; The Good Life; and Hoagy Carmichael’s The Nearness of You. Bassist Martin Wind’s Rainy River has a lovely melody and the tenor sax and Wind’s bass blend marvelously. Scott’s original The Weaver is an excellent showpiece for a duet with wife Sharon’s flute.

This CD should be especially appealing to reed players but also to the casual fan who likes good music.

Thanks to all who helped make this CD possible, including Rachel Domber of Arbors Records. Scott gives special acknowledgment in the liner notes about her encouragement of the project.

This CD will be available for check-out by patrons in the Jazz Room of West Florida Public Library, downtown Pensacola.

Note: The hat worn by Robinson on the cover of “Tenormore” was created by him from some of the many reeds with which he’s performed over the years.

Movie Review: ‘King of Jazz’

KING OF JAZZ
A Film of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra—1930

The movie, KING OF JAZZ, featuring Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, was recently shown on Turner Movie Channel. This 1930 movie was groundbreaking in a number of ways. It was one of the first movies to be shown in the newly developing Technicolor. In fact, it hadn’t been fully developed and some of the scenes have a greenish tint to them. Also, this was the first movie in which animated and live characters interact; Whiteman and an animated character do a — mercifully — brief dance together.

The sets are gorgeous. One of the most impressive begins with a giant grand piano with extended keyboard at which four pianists pretend to perform. Then one hears the sound of the Whiteman orchestra. The giant piano lid opens and one sees the entire Whiteman orchestra within the confines of the piano. There is no plot. It’s more like a vaudeville show; that is, one act follows another—lots of good-looking women dancers in skimpy outfits. All are impressive for the time period.

The backstory also is fascinating. For that time-period, Whiteman’s orchestra was the most successful both musically and economically. Also, most jazz scholars wouldn’t classify Whiteman’s music as strictly jazz; the orchestra hired outstanding jazz performers. Cornetist Bix Beiderbecke had been an off-and-on performer for Whiteman. Alcoholism was a problem with Bix and by the time the movie was finally made, Bix would die of pneumonia and alcoholism in less than a year. Bing Crosby got his start with Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys and he has several appearances in this movie. However, he was absent for part of it, having been arrested and jailed for drunk driving on a downtown Los Angeles street.

Another backstory tale, it took two trips to Los Angeles to make the movie. The band arrived by train and was scheduled for one month in LA to complete the movie. Whiteman had arranged with the Ford Motor Company to supply Model A Fords at discounted prices for the band members to purchase. Each car had Whiteman’s image and logo on the spare-tire cover in back. When the band arrived, there was nothing for them to do for a month except one studio broadcast a week for radio transmission. The rest of the time was devoted to partying with the movie people. And party they did!

On the second trip, of course, the movie was made and distributed. Unfortunately, this expensive movie didn’t make any money because it was released in the early years of the depression.

If you missed the TBS movie recently, you’re still in luck. The Jazz Room at downtown West Florida Public Library has the DVD. Also, there is a large book made to accompany the improved DVD with many superior photographs and details about how the movie was made. Plus, there are two large encyclopedic volumes about Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, which were compiled from many years of research by Don Rayno. Those volumes, of course, do not circulate but are available for reference. Rayno tracked down those musicians still living for interviews in person, by telephone or letter.

Original “King of Jazz” window card featuring Paul Whiteman, 1930.