Sunday, July 11, 2010
The Infernal Vuvuzela, Scarcity and The Breath-by Steve Provizer
The World Cup has resuscitated the vuvuzela, formerly known to us boomers as "can I have one of those big horns?" These horns (always red) stuck out the top of the 2-wheeled carts dragged along by guys working the crowds at parades and ballparks. They also had banners, mylar balloons and the industrious ones had cut deals with other vendors to sell popcorn. But the horns were the most expensive and highly-prized tchochkes. Browbeating a parent into buying one was an all-day effort. To quote myself on Facebook: "I'm sure now that people have experienced the melodic limitations of the vuvuzela, they will flock to study the trumpet." Of course, this is the same category of cluelessness inhabited by people who are sure that sampling say, Michael Henderson, in your hip hop track will bring the kids around to listening to jazz. But this infernal device did evoke thoughts about the power of limited means. Wha? Listen: I had a friend who played the piano. He came from a rich family. He refused to go to a gig where they wanted him to play any kind of piano but a grand. No electric, spinet or upright for him...I'll just sit here for a few minutes steaming as I remember all the music I've heard made on crappy pianos by Tatum, Bud, James P.-basically any great jazz pianist. It stands to reason you don't want to sit down to play a piano with no F# above middle C, with the top octave sounding like the broken works of a cheap music box, or with a sustain pedal that sounds like it's harboring a family of mice. But that's what you got. You take it as a challenge to figure out work-arounds. Maybe it forces you to use new patterns and you discover a riff you never knew existed. Maybe it pisses you off so much you give up trying. Of course, that would mean no payday-and no music. People act amazed at the great music played by people who made banjos out of cereal boxes, or drums out of spackle containers or oil drums. Not me. The investment almost pre-determines that if the music's in you, you'll work hard enough to get it out. Now, you ain't making great music with the infernal vuvuzela, but you are putting enough breath into a column to agitate the standing waves and engage the harmonic series. That puts you closer to the many musicians who made somethin' from nothin' than to the people who buy Martin Committee horns and hang them on their den walls. Breathing is always a good thing. And you gotta breathe to work the vuv.