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All that jazz

© 1999 Duncan R. Fry


If you like trad jazz, then this story's not for you. Stop reading now because it's only going to get worse!

When I was a teenager in Australia, fresh off the boat in a new country, I discovered that young people like myself were divided into two groups - rockers and jazzers. Rockers liked rock music - not rock as in the term for the all encompassing musical genre that we use today, but strict rock 'n' roll as in the 50's. Jazzers liked trad jazz - beats me why, but they would hang around dressed as hipster beatniks in black polo neck jumpers and berets, maybe even shades, snapping their fingers and trying to look cool, while listening to music that even James Last would have balked at

Just where this left me, as a young pom brought up on a steady diet of Rolling Stones, Them and the Pretty Things was out in the wilderness until joining a band of other like minded musicians.

The trouble was, I loathed trad jazz. I must have been born with a very low TJT - that's Trad Jazz Tolerance. Sure, I know that some of it must be good, and that there really are some talented musicians out there playing it, but I just don't like it. Don't know why, but probably because it sounded like music that my parents might like. Why young people would chose to listen to it voluntarily was beyond my comprehension, and still is. The first hint of a trumpet and clarinet lurching into 'When the Saints go marching in', and I'm marching right out of there.

Things haven't got much better in the intervening years, either, and those young wanna-be beatniks from my lost youth are now gangs of geriatric trad jazz players roaming the streets looking to augment their pension cheques by dishing up a steady diet of Dixiebland to all and sundry. Like Chickenman, 'they're everywhere!'

Every bloody shopping centre or street festival you go to, there's always some bunch of jolly red faced old farts beaming away while one of them jabs a trombone in my face, strangling the life out of the Twelfth Street Rag or some other 'classic'.

If one more cheerful chubby old grogan dressed up in a shiny striped waistcoat made from Grandma's old lounge suite and wearing a bowler hat points a clarinet in my general direction while I'm doing the shopping, then he's heading for a golden shower of Mr Well-Shaken-Can-of-VB.

Still, at least there was always one place you could wander around peacefully, secure in the knowledge that the likelihood of being aurally mugged by a group of roving trad jazzmen was lower than the value of a Beta video cassette machine (the world's most expensive digital clock), and that place was - the Zoo. Nothing but animals and the sounds of nature.

Hah! Not any more. Lying in bed listening to the radio the other morning, half awake and at peace with the world, my calm was shattered by an ad for a series of regular twilight jazz and champagne evenings at the Melbourne Zoo!

Is there no end to the depths these musicians will go to? It's cruel enough to play this sort of thing to humans, let alone to subject unsuspecting animals to this kind of torture.

In Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery, he has an amusing footnote regarding what is acceptable limits for animals. I'll have to paraphrase it here from memory since I appear to have put the book somewhere safe; so safe it'll never be found!

'"Before the days of computers, a pharmaceutical company in Sydney had a bird whose job it was to watch the unending stream of pills going down the conveyor belt, and peck out any odd coloured ones that might slip in from time to time. Every time it pecked one out, it would get a food reward. The system worked well; the company was happy and the bird was happy.

"The authorities got wind of this arrangement, stepped in and stopped it, saying that it was a cruel and unnatural process to subject the bird too. The bird got the sack, and the company got a human in to do this boring job, for whom it presumably wasn't cruel and unnatural."

Well now the shoe's on the other foot (or claw). Isn't this just what these twilight shows will be - cruel and unnatural?

Did anyone ask the animals what they thought of the idea? Or did they have a multiple choice questionnaire for the animals, with various musical forms rated on a scale of 1 to 5. "Shake your paw in the air if you want Heavy Metal, grunt for the blues..." and so on, with the default being "do nothing if you want trad jazz." No prizes for guessing which won.

The lion sleeps tonight? Not while they keep playing this crap 


This story first appeared in Connections magazine

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