Point of View
singer/guitarist and composer,
asks and answer the following question...
What is the correct number of notes
to play in Jazz?
The inhabitants of the asteroid Alpha Cad 5 had been tapping their
little feelers to Jazz for 300 million years. They were, by any time
signature, the oldest and hippest Jazz enthusiasts in the Universe. They
had seen it all come and go but had finally settled on a form of jazz
that had stuck, at least it had for the last hundred million
years. It consisted of 3 notes per piece. What really mattered was how
you played the notes. It was all about the intent … It was not unusual
for a musician to spend a couple of weeks puckering his lips into the
right embouchure to tease out the next dotted semiquaver in the
sequence. Rapt audiences would sit waiting, webbed dorsal fins all
aquiver with anticipation…will he go for the F, like he did last year
and leave the audience in a puddle of enthusiasm in which they would
swim around in circles with their single flipper to show their
The other thing remarkable about the AC5 jazz audience was their
incredible attention spans. Unlike on Earth, they could hold that
expression you get on your face when someone tells you that Jesus is
coming to dinner, for 3 years before scratching their noses out of
“War and Peace” would be considered a short tweet on their asteroid.
….So when they were invited to the Montreux Jazz Festival on Earth they
nearly drowned. At least they thought they had been invited. The thing
is, on their planet, the traditional invitation to anything, was a small
nuclear explosion, a couple of megatons, nothing big but it meant you
were expected to turn up. Drop what you had been staring at for the last
6 months and get your arse into gear.
They had been keeping an eye on Earth for a while. It had been getting
harder to see as an opaque smoggy cloud had formed around it, which had
only whet their appetite further. It was hard not to keep an eye on it
when you were born with 360 eyes facing towards every degree of the
compass. They were incredible at reading charts and could follow 120
pieces of Jazz at the same time, which is where they learnt “the
expression humans get when they hear that Jesus is coming to
dinner”….You try forming the right expression not to offend 120 artists
you are listening to simultaneously, especially as some music was at a
poignant low ebb, some were peaking, while other artists were playing
something sneaky and subversive. They only had one face with which to
display all their reactions.
So when a mushroom cloud puffed up from somewhere in the Middle East
lighting the place up very clearly for a few seconds, the AC5 got very
excited and started to tune up their instruments and ready their space
ships, called Pea Shooters. So named because they were literally shot
out of a tube very quickly like peas. When I say quickly, they sometimes
shot out so fast that they actually arrived at a place before they were
born and had to wait for a long while to do whatever they went there
The other thing about the AC5 is that they are very small. When they
arrived at Montreux they were discovered accidentally by a scientist
studying the Anopheles mosquito. He was convinced he had discovered a
new species that could hum 3 notes instead of just the one.
After a farcical interview by Border security involving a lot of arse
scratching and paperwork being scrunched up a number of times, the AC5s
were put on the bill after Keith Jarrett.
The AC5 had never heard so many notes. The notes beat them up like a
boxers speed bag…Badoonk badoonk badook badoonk Badoonk badoonk badoonk
In fact he played more notes in 20 minutes than had been heard on AC5 in
the last 200 million years. Despite the fact that Jarrett is a genius
and clearly having a good day, one of the aliens tried stuffing a feeler
into his ear and only occasionally pulled it out to test the water over
the 20 mins but it still didn’t make sense. The AC5 did however love the
grunting Jarrett was now warming to while he played, and they had their
joyous little “epiphany faces” on now. They had surmised that this was
the actual music and the piano was what they considered to be the
“Grunting”. This made more sense to them because it didn’t happen that
often and it had a chewier enigmatic quality that was more up the AC5
alley. It was very hard to block out the piano though, which was
relentlessly intrusive, so the “epiphany face” was mixed with the look
Earthlings get when they find out Stalin is coming to dinner. This was
the point when Joni Mitchell floated onto stage followed by a green
cloud from the joint she had been sucking on, and started some vocalese.
The grunting, vocalese and piano fought each other…with a sound not
unlike trying to get a bit of rope back off a poodle…… nobody giving an
inch…while an audience of goatees and cheesecloth swayed in perplexed
approval, followed by the inevitable lonely yelp of someone on acid
exclaiming “YEAHHHH!!!!!” who had apparently unearthed a meaning in it
all that would normally have taken a team of German Archaeologists.
The AC5 were now stoned as well as confused, 360 little bloodshot eyes
staring at a giant Hershey bar some 500 kms away and no realistic way of
being able to eat it before they had to perform. Then something happened
that completely terrified the AC5. Winton Marsalis had joined the others
on stage and was pointing at them the largest Pea Shooter any of them
had ever seen and if loaded would transport them all back before their
Grandmothers were born.
This was when the PA blew up. They had 120 eyes on the little puff of
smoke coming out of the amps, which they interpreted as a tiny
invitation to something?? 120 eyes on the Pea Shooter, should immediate
evasive action be required and 120 eyes still on the Hershey bar as the
munchies took a deeper hold.
Complete silence….then a whistling kite flew down low over the
crowd…..with a pure single hauntingly perfect tone.. a sound more
beautiful than the AC5 had ever heard. So deep in it’s intent and
profoundly moving, the stoned little Aliens were now paddling around
doing something in a distinctly Esther Williams/Gary Larson oeuvre.
They had spent 300 million years trying to reduce their pieces down from
3 notes whilst maintaining an over arching narrative…to no avail…and now
here at Montreux they had heard it. “They were there!” they would tell
their Grandspawn!!! “The day Whistling Kite performed”.
Now they knew what all the Montreux fuss was about. They also knew they
couldn’t possibly follow an act like that.
The last thing the audience heard was the little fzzzzzzzzzz of the AC5
Pea Shooter heading for home before the PA came back on…
© 2010 Tony King
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I have to agree, the whistling kite is a far more beautiful sound than most music.
Posted by Bill Risby on Thursday 1 April 2010
Most of the time, probably too many. I was guilty of that some of the time too...
Listen to Louis Armstrong - truly a great jazz originator - and his solos were always beautifully constructed, but often quite sparse.
But always swinging!
And surely that is the point?
Posted by Eric Holroyd on Thursday 1 April 2010
Great stuff, Tony . . . and Coops.
My simple point of view; it ain't a matter of how many notes, rather, where you put 'em.
I've never subscribed to the faster/higher/louder concept.
However, had I been able, I probably would've succumbed.
Posted by Bob Henderson on Thursday 1 April 2010
I went to AC5 once. The jazz was good, but the bar staff sucked !!
Posted by Al Davey on Thursday 1 April 2010
That's really good shit you're smoking, Tony, where can I get some? I'm sure that I've been to AC5 but not since hydro.
Posted by Ian Beddows on Thursday 1 April 2010
The general rule of thumb is that A Jazz musician plays a hundred thousand notes to one person. A Rock musician plays one note to a hundred thousand people.
Posted by Ian Cooper on Thursday 1 April 2010
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