I’ve promised you shenanigans, so this counts as my first foray into the goofing side of my music world. I spent part of this meltingly beautiful day as a Button with Patty and the Buttons down at the Aster Café. After many of you shed tears of freedom upon being temporarily released from winter’s harsh incarceration, you wiped your eyes dry and made your way down to meet us. Thank you!
Keith Boyles has been doing most of the fastening of the lowest Button on these Sundays by playing his string bass. On account of how he almost always orders the sausage sampler breakfast, we’ve taken to calling him “Meat Plate.” He told me once that he wouldn’t mind if it got around. I hope he remembers telling me that. The sun, especially bright on the bandstand, caused Keith to don shades. He told us, “I’m wearing my sunglasses today, so I guess that makes me ‘Mystery Meat Plate.’”
A person should know that Patty and the Buttons are definitely not above hokum, and even hilarity. We do draw some lines, but none of us draw very well, so the lines aren’t that straight. Today we pulled off premeditated high hokum with an accomplice even. We’d arranged beforehand with Chris, today’s Aster baristo, to wait all the way until we’d finished the song “Dinah” to shout the question, “What’s the name of that song?” We promptly launched into a super quick reprise with all of us singing the famous repeated line, “The name of that song is Di-nah! The name of that song is Di-nah!” and so on. Several people laughed despite their better judgment regarding encouraging us. After the tumultuous response quieted some, Button Mark Kreitzer went off-script, “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Branson, Missouri!” Patrick added, “You’re steamed peas will be out shortly!” After a few more songs the second set ended with Patrick telling the crowd, “We’re going to take a break from this hot sun up here. It’s like an Easy Bake Oven for jazz players. So if you like blueberry muffins...” He wasn’t sure where to go with that one so he let it die a merciful death.
So what does all of that have to do with jazz? Well, technically nothing. We don’t have to provide antics or great nicknames in order to play good music. I’m sure some people might prefer that we never embark on the train to Zany Town. But I have a firm belief in a healthy mixture of humor and musicianship. Louis Armstrong throughout the last half of his career was often dismissed as a musician because of his “mugging and clowning.” But he replied to such criticism, “showmanship does not mean you’re not serious.” And he had this to say about his own seriousness, “When I pick up the horn that’s all. The world’s behind me, and I don’t concentrate on nothin’ but IT.” Here is a good example of this man perfectly combining both the showmanship and the serious. Listen and watch these two minutes of live playing from the Colgate Comedy Hour:
Now, I’m not trying to get all high and mighty, what with an apparent comparison to Louis Armstrong. We’re just Patty and the Buttons having fun at a brunch. But I take that Louis approach to heart. When it comes to playing the music, you’re going to get your money’s worth out of us. We just have to stop laughing long enough start a song.
Speaking of which, there was the incident in the third set. We’re in the middle of playing the song “Swing 41” when Patrick signals Meat Plate to take a solo by simply looking at him and calling out, “Bass!” After a great bass solo Patrick called out to me, “Fours!” To the uninitiated, this means that soloists play through a song taking four measures each, trading back and forth. I thought he had shouted, “Chorus!” so I started at the top with the melody until I realized my mistake and righted the ship. When we finished I said to Patrick, “I’m sorry. When you said ‘Fours!’ I thought you said ‘Chorus!’” Meat Plate chimed in, “That’s all right. When he said ‘Bass!’ I thought he said ‘Asshole!’” Sometimes the band is laughing at things we can’t repeat to the crowd. But don’t worry. We NEVER forget that you’re out there. The next tune will come soon, and a lot of times we’ll even let you in on the joke.