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Australian singer/guitarist and composer, Tony King asks and answer the following question...

Tony King

April 2010

The Question:
What is the correct number of notes to play in Jazz?

Response by Tony King share this - email, favourites, social bookmarks and more

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 gratitude?

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 discomfort.

“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 for.

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 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

Have Your Say
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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

Tony, 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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