There’s a part near the beginning of the most recent biography of Louis Armstrong, “Pops,” written by Terry Teachout that discusses how much awareness Louis may or may not have had about what the press had to say about him:
“I never read no write-ups,” he claimed, though he owned several fat scrapbooks of press clippings and was well aware of what Gillespie and others were saying about his onstage demeanor… “The people expect all that from me-coming out all chesty, making faces,” he said. “That’s me and I don’t want to be nobody else. They know I’m there in the cause of happiness.”
In my soapboxing—if I may take liberties with the language—of February 13th, I made clear how I feel about that beautiful combination of entertainment and serious musicianship. Louis may have been the ultimate distillation of the two. Today, however, I’m going to give my climbing muscles a break and stay down off my soapbox. No, his response to write-ups reminded me of another story.
Now, I’m a clarinetist who has spent most of my clarineting time without much in the way of notice from the Fourth Estate. (Once again I’m taking liberties with the language. Though commonly used, clarineting is not really a word. My spell check tells me I should use “chlorinating” instead. Maybe for poolside jobs. Charlie DeVore tells me he’s always known I was in the swim of things.) This state of relative anonymity has it’s blessings, one being I haven’t had to actually assess how my ego would respond to negative press. I’m such a fragile flower. But the Wielders of the Pen can also go far “in the cause of happiness,” usually by providing a good review, but even sometimes unintentionally. This is what happened:
For a few years in the mid-Oughts I had the great pleasure of being a part of Connie Evingson’s exploration of Django Reinhardt’s Hot Club music. Nights at the Dakota, participation in a couple of recordings, and even a Midwest tour.
On July 24th, 2008, I joined the Clearwater Hot Club, which consists of Sam Miltich, guitar; Matthew Miltich, bass; and Mark Kreitzer, rhythm guitar, in backing her up for a concert in front of 4,000 people at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. Imagine a giant green sward—the back yard of the museum—spread with blankets and lawn chairs, wine bottles and picnic baskets, and a whole bunch of Omaha-ans. Our concert was part of a thirty year history of what they call “Jazz On The Green.” We managed to comport ourselves respectably at the show, and Connie, Mark and I awoke the next morning to go in search of breakfast.
We found ourselves at Lisa’s Radial Café,
which offered up greasy spoon fare tilting a good ways toward the yummy with sunny, hole-in-the-wall atmosphere. Connie noticed a fellow patron reading the Omaha World Herald. In the cap of the Living section was her own face looking back at her, with the words, “Night, grass, jazz-Vocal stylist Connie Evingson sings on the green.” We quickly purchased our own copy.
The inside headline read, “Jazz singer’s pipes jingle, Django, jingle.” The chuckling began. Connie said she was looking for new press to put on her website, so she hoped it would be a good review. Indeed she got a great review, but more important than that was how damn funny some of the compliments sounded in the open air. The writer rhapsodized about Connie’s “staccato scat,” her “chesty alto,” and her “milky soprano.” “There’s the quote for your website,” I said as I spread my hands in front of me in the universal gesture of imagine-a-heading-here, “Chesty!”
We began to fall about the place. Mark wondered aloud if the use of chesty and milky in the same sentence came from the writer’s subconscious. Tears of laughter. But it didn’t stop there. “Miltich’s virtuoso picking dovetailed seamlessly with Evingson’s scat.” Eww… And finally, not as funny, but still one of my favorites, “Rhythm guitarist Mark Kreitzer, clarinetist Tony Balluff, and bassist Matthew Miltich provided thumping, insistent rhythms.” I always aspire to play the clarinet insistently and thumpingly.
To be fair, the writer did demonstrate knowledge of jazz that would allow him to make well-founded criticism, and most of his phrases didn’t contain such easy double entendre. I have to admit the notice felt good. But what felt even better was laughing nigh on to pulling abdominal muscles. It’s not unheard of for a person to deflect compliments with a healthy sense of humor, which is certainly part of what we were doing that morning. I hope my ability to laugh, however, remains intact the first time some jazz-ignorant, libelous, why-I-oughtta, hack of an ink-slinger doesn’t take a shine to my playing.