“Oh wait! You have to hear this!” There we were, comfortably ensconced in the post-prandial, wine-sipping candlelight of my dining room, and instead of my friend being able to finish a sentence in a story of meeting a medicine man in the mountains of Guatemala, she has to listen to what Louis Armstrong does with his vocal at about 1:40 in “Hotter Than That.” Afterwards comes my excited response. It might be brief. Sometimes I’ll merely emit a sort of punched-in-the-gut noise when a musician achieves something that is unfair to all other musicians for the rest of time. The people who know me probably feel lucky when all they get is that visceral response. But many times a single moment in a recording acts upon my brain like the last left turn of a spanner wrench on a fire hydrant, and from my mouth streams a history of the recording, the musicians responsible, what the temperature was that day, and about the time they injured their leg. In this instance, to my meager credit, I remembered all on my own to wander back to the previous conversation and bid my friend to continue HER story. My etiquette, however, does not always rise up to being so barely adequate. Fortunately for me, my friends seem to love me despite this “charming” trait of mine.
I have decided to call this DCD, the DeVore Compulsive Disorder. I should probably ask my mentor’s permission before naming a disease after him, but I think he may understand. Do you suffer from this malady? This is a disease who’s chief characteristic is that no matter where a person is or what they’re doing, their ears will hear any and all traditional jazz no matter how faint, and said sufferers will commence struggling, or not, to squelch the urge to illuminate it’s presence. Charlie is stricken with an advanced case, wherein he displays all of the above, but also the symptom of providing music from his own head if there is none in his immediate ambient vicinity. He’ll also provide a song if you happen to string three words together that almost match one of the thousands of lyrics he stores in his noggin. I'm well on my way to this expression of the disorder.
"O-81, O-81. That reminds me of that Gershwin chestnut, 'Oh, Lady Be Good.'"
Despite all of that, I consider myself a good listener. In my previous career as a reflexologist working with patients in a hospital, my years of experience taught me to just be quiet and open my ears. That it’s best to not even tell your own stories of how you can relate to a patient’s pain and suffering. Doing that, in it’s own way, can diminish a patient’s narrative, and most patients want you to know what’s happened to them. The advantage in those circumstances was that in my twenty-four-year career, I think traditional jazz was playing within earshot maybe a total of four times. I almost never had that itchy feeling fever up my brain, making me want to ask questions in the middle of a session like, “Which Fats Waller is that?”
But I no longer do that work, and have been released into the world on my own recognizance. Maybe I’m sitting in a restaurant and my left index finger spasms up in the air, demanding the attention of those at my table as I stare into the middle distance. The middle distance is where I keep all my jazz esoterica. Somewhere buried in the noise of cutlery, other diner’s conversations, ice being restocked at the bar, and that patron yelling at the umpire on the overhead tv, the thread of a Sinatra tune reaches my ears. “That’s from his Columbia years,” I might let slip out of my piehole, while I nod appreciatively. Then I’ll oh-so-smoothly come back, my eyes refocusing. “You were saying?” I ask, as if I were the one waiting. I have actually perpetrated a version of the above scenario on an anniversary dinner. Again, I want to point out how I am a lucky man, having married someone with a high degree of tolerance for my disorder. Her tolerance is partly born of her own love of the music, but still, at our anniversary dinner? I guess, darling, I only have middle distance eyes, but not ears for you, as it were.
The same happens with soundtracks for television and movies. One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1998 film, The Impostors.
Throughout this fantastic farce, they use a 1962 Eddie Condon release of the song “China Boy” for the chase scenes. Other jazz recordings populate the soundtrack, including a brilliant use of an Armstrong recording of “Skokiaan.” The movie knocks me out every single time I see/hear it. Now that I've taken in about seven viewings, I largely restrain myself from comment, but that first time? I wonder how many times I said, “Are you hearing this? What a soundtrack!”
Yet another classic presentation of the illness may occur with live performances, especially those that are part of a party. In this case, based on true events, a musician—I’ll call him McHenry Henryson—thought it a lamentable state of affairs that another musician on the bandstand—whom I’ll call Sam Miltich—wasn’t being given full attention, despite his stellar playing on the song “Swing Gitan.” Understand that when I say “bandstand,” it was actually the space in a basement rumpus room formerly occupied by a ping pong table, and that same rumpus room was elbow to elbow with happy, happy wedding guests shouting, drinking, hugging, and otherwise celebrating the nuptials of good friends. Also understand that when I say “rumpus room,” I’m saying it pretty much so that I can use the phrase “rumpus room,” which makes me laugh. At any rate, McHenry’s desire was that one of the grooms be dragged from the middle of the fracas and planted directly in front of Sam’s guitar, so that he could know what kind of genius music was being played right in his very own rumpus room. I don’t really blame him. Many a time I’ve asked someone at a club if they heard the way the band did this or that, only to be given the I’m-sincerely-trying-to-remember look before they answer, “I must have missed it.” But I had to stop him from insisting.
His motivations are noble. This is not a man who bases his self-esteem on how many people at the party are paying rapt attention to the band. He is not an Artiste demanding, “Silence!” before a performance. We sufferers of DCD see our actions as a sort of public service announcement. For instance, there exists in our world the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Their whole purpose is to bring awareness to the little buggers, essentially so that those folks who live in Hedgehog Land don’t run them over. There is even a Hedgehog Awareness Week in May.
I didn't know they carried bindles.
This makes two blog postings in a row where hedgehogs have come up. I think I have an infestation. Anyway, whether it’s me at a candlelit table, or Charlie in a movie theater, or McHenry Henryson at a rumpus room reception, we’re just providing the same service. Jazz Awareness. “Look! Jazz!! Don’t run it over!” Where our nobility falls flat, however, is in our utter disregard of the etiquette of each situation. A man shouldn’t oughtta drag his friends away from their lives every time he hears the Bix and Tram recording of “Singin’ The Blues.” Of course, those of us with terminal cases of DCD believe that it’s everyone else in the world that is failing to observe proper etiquette for when jazz is crossing the road.
As the years go by, it occasionally occurs to me that there are some areas of my behavior in need of improvement. In the case of my DCD, I have had to develop a conscious ability to be aware of my surroundings and maintain a state of repose when confronted by the tunes about which I’m so keen. I once had to actually tell myself, “No, Tony. Right now you don’t need to mention how amazing it is to hear the Bechet/Spanier ‘Four Or Five Times’ in a coffeeshop. Let your friend tell you about his seasonal depression.” To my friends, I would have you all know that I truly do value your conversation and your company. My distraction has nothing to do with a boredom brought about by the stories of your days. I always want to know what’s going on in your lives. It’s purely a mechanism of my brain and spirit that automatically lights up when I hear this music I love. But I love you more. Really, I do. Really…Oh! But check out Barney Bigard on this trio recording! Zutty Singleton’s on drums and…
Here are the other links to the highly distracting soundtrack for this post: