Top 50 JAzz Blog

Friday, June 20, 2014

Where are the Vuvuzuelas?

Did FIFA ban vuvuzuelas because of noise pollution? I doubt that. The decibel-meter already pins out at international soccer matches; maybe because of their potential usefulness as bludgeons? Whatever the reason, I'm missing those gaudy plastic tubes and to honor them, I offer this revised piece

In my day, these horns (at that time, just red) stuck out the top of the carts dragged along by vendors working the crowds at parades and ballparks. They also had banners, mylar balloons and the industrious ones also sold popcorn. But the horns were the most expensive and highly-prized tchochkes. Browbeating a parent into buying one was an all-day effort. 

So, is it cheesy sentimentality that makes me care? Do I think that people who have explored the vuvuzuela and experienced its melodic limitations will flock to study the trumpet? Sure, just like I believe that sampling say, Miles, in hip hop tracks will bring the kids around to listening to jazz. NO. This infernal device is powerful for other reasons, like the power of limited means. Wha? 

Listen: I had a friend who played the piano. 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 with steam coming out of my nose as I remember all the music I've heard made on crappy pianos by Tatum, Bud, Willie the Lion, any great jazz pianist. Of course 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 start channeling Cecil Taylor.

People act amazed at the great music played by folks 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 tube, so vive la viv!

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