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Take note

Posted by Sid Langley on Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Not banjo-related as such, but of of interest to all musicians.
 Legendary American guitar player Joe Pass is sitting in the back room of a club taking a break. He’s waiting to go on for his second set of the evening.
 For all I know there’s an ice-filled drink beside him and film noir-style smoke curling up from a cigarette in a large cut-glass ashtray. That bit may not be true as I know that by this time Joe’s a cleaned-up drug addict and not in robust health, so at this stage in his late-blossoming career he’s probably careful about stuff like that.
 What is certain is that he’s performing solo, cranking out background chords, melody and basslines all on his own and all at once – the type of total jazz playing he developed which earned him his legend status.
 Sometimes he plucks the strings with thumb and fingers, sometimes with a plectrum. When he’s not using this pick he pops it into his mouth and lightly bites down on it, giving his mouth and face a tense appearance at odds with the freeflowing music that pours out, as natural as a clear spring of water.
 But, hey, he never loses a pick.
 As usual, there’s a queue of people outside the door who want to talk to him – aspiring players, journalists, fans, people he knows from previous visits. The usual suspects.
 An affable chap who appreciates only too well how lucky he is to still be alive, let alone performing, Joe makes a point of trying to see most of the young players or students who turn up.
 There are not many minutes left before some handler needs to clear the room for Joe to get ready to play again. This usually involves him simply putting on his jacket, straightening his tie, taking his guitar out of the case and walking out. He’s old school and spent most of his early life having to wear tuxedos to perform, so smartness is all part of his professionalism. He has too many years as an unreliable junkie to live down.
 Anyway, at this point a young man clutching a folder of manuscript paper is ushered in. He’s a post graduate student at one of the big music schools, Julliard or something.
 Can Mr Pass – Joe, please call me Joe – have a quick look at it and talk him through a couple of points? Perhaps just play a couple of sections?
 The legend looks over a couple of immaculate pages of music, all handwritten. He smiles and shakes his head. Sorry, he says, this is way beyond me. Probably impossible for one person to play on one instrument. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who could play this, even Jim Hall, and (an old musicians’ joke, this) he can read the marks left by a fly crapping on a tablecloth. You ought to try writing something simpler.
 It may be, of course, that Joe just wants to get rid of the student and this is his way of doing it.
 But, the young man explains, this is not something I’ve composed, it’s a transcription. That’s what I specialise in. A friend of mine recorded this on a little tape recorder when he was in the audience in a club some months back and I’ve spent weeks working it out and writing it down.
 My friend has been trying to play it and I thought you might be able to help with the fingering and phrasing.
 No way. Sorry, says smiling Joe. You need to talk to the guy who played it.
 But I am, says the student.

3 comments on “Take note”

Joanchek Says:
Tuesday, July 3, 2007 @10:42:23 AM

Great story, Sid.  Much to be said for humility. 

HoosierGal Says:
Tuesday, July 3, 2007 @2:33:55 PM

Thanks for sharing that Sid.. it is a great story.

arabella Says:
Tuesday, July 3, 2007 @4:50:55 PM

Thanks Sid!

What a great story!  Thanks for sharing it with all of us!

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