Since 1992 Mike has been a published writer and music journalist in the Kansas City area. From time to time this page will feature selected excerpts and articles, old and new.
HAD TO BE THERE
I've debated about whether or not to write about this in JAM, simply because a) it might be misunderstood by the good people who provided some useful work, and b) it could come across as a snooty dig at innocent folks just doing their jobs and/or having a good time.
But the incident in question keeps coming to mind as one of the more bizarre and incongruous things to go down since the many surreal episodes chronicled in "Adventures of a Jobbing Jazzman" (JAM, April/May 2000). Maybe writing about it will serve as a cleansing purge.
When playing a "jazz brunch" in any of the area's casinos, it's a given that the music will be background and merely part of the din. On the bright side it's a chance to shed, play with respected colleagues, and get paid for doing it. But there's also the drone of clanging slots with which to contend (no ballads on these gigs, for sure), the unexpected eruptions of jackpot-induced cheers (that can be coincidentally timed to reward the high point of an inaudible solo), and the overall mysterious "tonality" of the casino itself, making it necessary to play most tunes in D Phrygian in order to harmonize with the room.
On this fateful day, our jazz quartet -- huddled in a protective circle on the mezzanine overlooking the cacophony below -- was sailing through breezy versions of "Desafinado" (a serendipitous title), "What Am I Here For" (the musical question du jour), and "Blues for People Who Shouldn't Be Gambling On a Sunday Morning" (I made that one up). It was a routine job, we were enjoying each other's playing, and few if any were paying attention to the whimpers of a flugelhorn backed by tasty guitar, bass and drums.
However, toward the end of the first set I noticed a nearby security guard giving me the evil eye. "Could he be a former trumpet player?" I worried. "And has he been counting all the clams?" Or worse yet, "Are we about to get busted for playing a tune in a conflicting key? And ruining the concentration of that one guy down below who hasn't moved from his favorite slot for an hour and a half?"
As the guard approached during our break, my heart filled with trepidation. I prepared to be cuffed.
"Hey buddy, do you think you guys could turn down a little? We've had some complaints."
That's right. Our humble jazz combo had become a distraction in a sonic maelstrom where ten trumpeting circus elephants would have gone unnoticed.
But, remembering my years as a "wedding band warrior," I knew The Right Thing To Do.
"No problem, kind sir. Down the volume goes." Friendly nod, warm smile, and (to myself), "I wonder if it's too early for a beer."
And what, you may be asking, was the first tune of our next set? It's all a blur now, but I'm pretty sure it was a jazz rendition of "4:33" by John Cage.
But, I could be making that up, too.
c) 2000 Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors
Reprinted with permission
ANOTHER TWO CENTS
(from JAM, April/May 2001)
One of the most stunning revelations to come from Ken Burns' "Jazz" was how jazz (then swing) once accounted for nearly 70% of record company sales, but less than 3% today.
PEEING INTO THE WIND FOR DISTANCE...
(from JAM, April/May 1999)
When KC Star music writer Timothy Finn called in early February wanting some input for an article on problematic noise in restaurant/jazz clubs, my first reaction was to duck the issue altogether, not for lack of an opinion or two, but because I've learned over the years that no amount of ink about this contentious subject has much of an impact.
ON ANNIVERSARIES & EXTRATERRESTRIALS
As a grade school kid growing up in (then rural) Lee's Summit 40 years ago, my young imagination was captured by a book called Flying Saucers Have Landed by George Adamski. I haven't seen it since and have a feeling that, by current standards, it probably wouldn't measure up to more credible literary works.
Still, I will never forget how it first caused me to consider the possibility that we weren't alone in the cosmos, especially on those warm summer nights when I'd look up at the stars through the bedroom window screen and wonder what kind of truth might be "out there."
Today, years of sightings, unexplainable phenomena and tantalizing "X-Files" later, it's tempting to believe that we have indeed been visited, even though the chances of such contact still seem remote. Call me a hopeful agnostic, with an eye toward the infinite sky.
There is one thing, however, that seems certain. If we have been observed by beings smart enough to get here from there, once they had a chance to look us over and see how we seem hell-bent on self-annihilation, they would surely sigh a collective sigh, shrug a collective shrug, and say something like, "We have nothing to learn from these people. Let's move on." (And how fortunate for Gort, Klaatu, and E.T. that they have that option!)
We, on the other hand, remain faced with the daily challenges of earthbound survival as the variety of ways to destroy each other continues to advance beyond limited gray matter and combined common sense.
History doesn't lie. There are the dates we all know "that live on in infamy," when humanity showed its uglier side and took things another step closer to the edge. No matter your age, they are the milestones that shaped generations and forged new destinies.
December 7 remains an anniversary that has been rightfully acknowledged since 1941, when a surprise attack drew the U.S. into World War II. The first nukes brought that bloody battle to an abrupt end, albeit with foreboding results.
Late October of 1962 is forever stained into the memories of those who recall when "the other side blinked." For a period of several days that autumn we were closer to World War III than anyone could have imagined.
And November 22 has been giving pause since 1963. It was on that sunny afternoon in Dallas, also nearly 40 years ago, that the murder of one man literally changed the mood - and direction - of an entire country.
September 11, however, is something altogether different. On a clear Tuesday morning, nearly one year ago, ordinary civilians just trying to do good work and take care of their families were suddenly thrust onto the front lines of an unwanted war, a war that would begin with thousands of innocent, defenseless people brutally crushed and incinerated as a disbelieving world looked on.
And so, now we have a new date for the history books.
How will present and future generations mark this somber anniversary? On 9/11/02, we will begin to find out.
Will there be more tawdry football halftime shows? Will there be slick theatrical releases that trivialize the horror by reducing it to a profitable "entertainment vehicle?" Will frowny-faced talking heads temporarily give up the guffaws before returning to rim shots and "happy talk" on 9/12?
Maybe an entire day of nothing but total silence would be best. A Day When the Earth Stands Still. A day of contemplation, and a day when the value of a deep breath of clean, crisp air is fully appreciated. And, yes, a day when every occupant of this tiny dot in the void gives serious thought to longterm consequences.
Because, like it or not, the approaching 9/11 will also be a day when we will again be forced to wonder not if, but when and where the next shoe will surely drop, as we savor each and every moment of a finite existence. And, as the millennium of our new discontent continues to unfold.
I don't know about you, but the next time one of those saucers lands, I think I'll be thumbing a ride.
(c) 2002 Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors
Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2001
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