Jazz Professional               


Newspeak, Oldspik

By Ron Simmonds

The famous trial [1] that now has us yawning in our chairs every evening, when we are not otherwise engaged in shouting with rage and frustration at the TV screen, has introduced millions of people all over the world to the new, delightfully short, rapid and crisp language known as Lawyerspeak. Inhabitants of the Third World will not find these words written down anywhere, not even in the American dictionary. They are izzatkrekt, izzatyertestimny, yaronner, and anseryeserno. Here is a sample...

Defence Lawyer:   This izza bag you saw, izzatyertestimny?

Witness: Uh–huh.

DL: Izza same bag, izzatkrekt?

Witness: Uh–huh.

DL: Tell me—izzada Guccibag?

Witness: Idunno.

DL: Anyone here know watta Guccibag lookslike?

Judge: Dohnlooka me. (Laughter in court.)

DL: Thankyou yaronner. So—issa samebag, izzatkrekt?

Witness: Uh–huh.

DL: Please anseryeserno.

Witness: Sure.

...and so on, seemingly forever. I have been told that the paperwork for this case already reaches a height of 40 feet. Half of that consists solely of those four words.

This style of cross–examination could be applied in our own business to some advantage. 

District Attorney: Now then, sir: I refer to the libellous magazine article in which you wrote, and I quote: ...on the stage a hairy musician fumbled his way drunkenly through incorrect changes of Funky Blue Midnight Spasm. Izzatkrekt? 

Music Critic:
I’d like to point...

Please look at the plaintiff. Does he look hairy to you?

Not now he doesn’t, but...

DA: Are you perhaps a tonsorial expert? You appear to be as bald as a coot yourself.

MC: How d...

DA: The plaintiff is a saxophonist of international fame. Youagreeonthat?

MC: I suppose so.

DA: On the other hand—no one has ever heard of you, izzatkrekt?

MC: Well I...

DA: Tell me sir, when was the last time you played a musical instrument, if ever?

MC: Oh I...

DA: About this word drunkenly. Are you a doctor, sir? Did you take a blood sample? Be so kind as to explain to the jury, in your own words, the correct chord sequence of Funky Blue Midnight Spasm.

MC: Well er...

DA: Thank you. No further questions, yeronner.

One of the most delightful numbers on the CD BuJazzO Volume 2 of the German Youth Jazz Orchestra is Ancient Song, composed and arranged by Thorsten Wollmann. This beautifully haunting melody is played on a Taragot. I don’t know the history of the particular instrument played by Claudio Puntin on this, but I do know that the Taragot, or Tarogato, is a simple conical pipe of wood furnished with a single piston and terminating in a globular bell something like that of an English–Horn.[2]

In German it was better known in olden times as a Holztrompete, or wooden trumpet, and it is a non–transposing instrument used with a clarinet reed. It was used in some opera houses to play the shepherd’s air in Tristan, apparently without much success. On this remarkable recording the Taragot sweeps and soars; strong, commanding, plaintive, and beautifully in tune at all times. Heavenly music indeed. To resurrect this old lump of timber and transform it into a thing of such charm and grace is a remarkable feat: surely an encouraging sign of progress at a time when people on the other side of the world are unashamedly mangling our language almost out of recognition.

German television recently showed a short black and white clip of the old Kurt Edelhagen band, featuring Derek Humble, who back in the 1950’s was responsible for getting me into Jack Parnell’s small band. Later on Jack led a big band, then a television orchestra filled with studio musicians, but, for me, that small band was the best ever. The line–up was Derek Humble, alto; Joe Temperley, Pete King, tenors; Harry Klein, baritone; Ken Wray, Mac Minshull, trombones; Ron Simmonds, Jimmy Deuchar, Jo Hunter, trumpets; Max Harris, piano; Sammy Stokes, bass; Phil Seamen, drums; Jack Parnell, drums, vocals, leader. I replaced the brilliant trumpeter and arranger Jimmy Watson, who had been taken ill.

Shortly after I joined Jack’s band most of the guys left, not because of me I hope, and Jimmy Deuchar, Ken Wray and Derek went off to join Kurt Edelhagen’s band in the Cologne radio station. Jimmy and Ken could be seen on the clip in the background, together with a young and beardless Milo Pavlovic and, on trombones, my old pals Jiggs Whigham and Otto Bredl. Otto had such an engaging personality that, in the pub, drunks made their way unerringly towards him to pour out their troubles. He was with Kurt’s band at the time they worked in radio Baden–Baden, and even before that when the radio band was run by Eddie Sauter. Otto is, sadly, no longer with us. Jiggs is now the bandleader at RIAS, Berlin.

The only ex–member of the Edelhagen line–up still in the Cologne radio band today is Rick Kiefer. Rick came to Germany from the Maynard Ferguson band in 1965. He is the only man I know who was ever allowed to take a trumpet solo on one of Maynard’s records. He played it so beautifully, that, as far as I know, Maynard never let him take another.

Derek was, of course, one of the founder members of the Kenny Clark/Francy Boland band, promoted by Gigi Campi, who had an ice–cream parlour just around the corner from the radio station. Francy lived in Berlin at the time, and I knew him quite well. He was a very quiet person, and wrote arrangements from time to time for the bands up there. When he started his band with Kenny he blossomed out and became a different man; an arranger and composer of enormous stature. They made great music with some of the finest musicians in the world, including whom I believe to be one of the most exciting jazz trumpet players of all time, Benny Bailey. I was working with Benny regularly in other bands in those days and he flatly refused to play any first trumpet parts when we were together. With Francy he stamped his personality on the band, making it sing, an absolutely brilliant lead player, perhaps unique in our time.

Also living in Berlin was another member of the Boland band, trombonist Åke Persson, who came down from Sweden to take a job in the RIAS band. Åke had worked for a while with Quincy Jones, then played with me in the Radio Free Berlin band with Leo Wright, Carmell Jones and Slide Hampton; later on joining Peter Herbolzheimer. An unfortunate road accident ended his life in the 1970s. A very colourful, wonderful, unforgettable character, Åke’s name has gone into the folklore of Berlin’s jazz musicians, together with those of Eric Dolphy, Leo Wright, Herb Geller, Joe Harris and many others.

I have a friend who lives in Cadillac, Michigan. On my map this place is on the east side of Lake Michigan, about four inches up the main highway north of Grand Rapids. It is a five hour drive to the nearest airport. His name is John Wheat, a good wholesome, homestead, covered–wagon, pioneering name. John has bought a tiny ruin near where I live in Spain, and converted it into a dwelling. Back home he would have a shack like this at the bottom of the garden to keep his tools and junk, but he travels all the way over here every year from his luxury mansion in Cadillac and rolls around moaning with pleasure in the tiny house as if it were Buckingham Palace. At first there was no water in the place, and to shower it was necessary to hang something like a large hot water bottle from a tree in the garden, stand underneath and pull a string. Other amenities were at the whim of the occupier, but I understand that, after fearful battles with the authorities, he now has water and electricity. He has a huge white beard, and one could easily imagine him playing a Taragot, but John has connections that go back in time even further than that.

Just around the corner from him, in Wisconsin, is the 1st Brigade Band of the Heritage Military Music Foundation. It could be argued here that the previous sentence has no place in the pages of an international jazz website, but in this case it is the instruments themselves that are of interest. There are over a hundred brass instruments in the band, from Eb cornets, Alto and Tenor horns, Basses and Baritones down to an ancient Ophicleide in C. All were manufactured around 1860, many of them in Europe. They were discovered in barns, junk yards, dug up by accident, rescued from bogs and rivers. Loving hands reconstructed and renovated them, polishing them until they now shine like new. Some are quite complicated to play, and very many of them are Over–The–Shoulder models, which means that they blast right into the faces of the people behind them.

 About a hundred dedicated souls, aged from 12 to 75, play these instruments. To do so they dress up in the bandsman uniforms of the American Civil War. The music they play has also been rescued and reconstituted, and there seems to have been an amazing amount of Dixieland going on at the time. One of the favourite tunes during battle was Amazing Grace, although how that one could inspire a death–defying charge escapes me. Those wartime bands were used much as the bagpipes were in later wars, shoved right up into the thick of things, playing dixies and doodles while the shells and deadly missiles burst all around them. This would have constituted a danger to the players on a level with that experienced in the old days by the big touring bands during Glasgow week in the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, or while playing a Sunday concert in the Odeon, Newcastle.

During the Siege of Atlanta a band called the Georgia Sharpshooters went along to lift up the spirits of the men in the trenches. Their lead cornet soloist became such a hit with the opposing Union army that the soldiers asked him to come over and play for them as well. He refused at first, saying that he was afraid a bullet might destroy his horn. ‘We’ll hold our fire,’ they shouted, which was rather gallant of them, so he climbed up in full view and gave them an hour’s concert of operatic selections. The Union boys applauded feverishly, after which he climbed back down and they got back on with the normal business of trying to kill one another.

The Union Army was cursed with the 6th Wisconsin Infantry Band, which was perhaps the worst band in any army in any war. They only learned how to play one tune, and did so very badly. Old soldiers were to recount, many years later, of how the very recollection of that tune was enough to strike a chill in the heart. Things have not changed an awful lot, then, as I can think of several tunes that do the same to me, notably the third trumpet part of a particularly dreadful arrangement of the Third Man I played in Oscar Rabin’s band back in 1949. (See part)

The Brigade Band has made 12 CDs of which I am aware. I have a couple of them and they are great. There was nothing wrong with the instruments of those days. Strange to say there were no trombones in those army bands, although the trombone was most certainly around at the time. Probably its predecessor, the Sackbut, was still more popular. A little–known medical advantage of playing the Sackbut should delight our modern trombonists. It comes from Elyot’s Castel of Helthe, a medical journal published in 1533.

 “The entrayles, which be underneath the myddreffe, be exercised by blowyng, eyther by constraint, or playeng on shaulmes, or sackbottes, or other lyke instrumentes, which do require moch wynde.”

 In case that should raise the ego too much allow me to end on a low note, with another quote from Forsyth, where he says, “...the piano octaves of two trombones always need caution in treatment. The sound of the instrument is naturally so full of a certain threatening purpose that the slightest variation from the serious, the majestic and the pompous becomes vulgarized almost to the level of a personal insult.”

Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell them for years.

[1]  Ron is referring to the O.J. Simpson trial. =

[2]  Cecil Forsyth, Orchestration. =

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved