The double B flat sousaphone is one of the most difficult instruments to master. Many, many are called, but few, friends, are chosen. It’s one of the most difficult instruments to master for a number of reasons. First of all, you have to learn cross-wind landings at an early age. Try to play “Semper Fidelis” in a spanking, forty-five degree cross-wind that’s making maybe fifteen or twenty or twenty-five knots, gusting to forty knots.
I remember Schwartz was also a tuba player and he made the switch to sousaphone. He was a bit too little. The point is, to play a good sousaphone, ya gotta be big, because, when you’re wrestling with a sousaphone, man, when that wind is blowing hard out of the north and you’re trying to play “Semper Fidelis” and the wind is blowing at you—you know, the sousaphone is the only instrument that plays back. It’ll actually play you. If you’re not careful, that horn will start blowing you, and the next thing you know, high, thin notes are coming out of your ears.
And with all that, try to go into the coda and keep up that steady hundred-and-sixty-beat march! We used to have about three different tempos, and our band would switch from one tempo to the other to gas ‘em all in the stands! We’d come out, we’d do our slow step, Drump! Pump! Pump! Pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pum! Drump-pum-pump pump pump!
You see, all bands go for the fast step. You ought to try the slow one. That’s the tough one. Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! We’d come on and all of a sudden Stinky Davis, our ace, fanatical, maniacal, Nazi-like, top drum major, would go Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Waa waa with his whistle. We’d go Rump-pump,pump,pump,pump,pump,pump,pump,pump—we’d shift tempo in mid-step. The crowd would roar! And then he would give two short blasts on the whistles Weeeee! Waa! We’d crack into that “Semper Fidelis”!
And there’s Shepherd. On the end. Eight marching double B-flat sousaphones! Hitting into a spanking wind! And these were not plastic sousaphones. These were magnificent—gold-plated—deluxe Khan—B-flat sousaphones catching the light, moving against that sharp, spanking wind and cracking “Semper Fidelis”! Pumpapapumpapapum! Here we go now! All together now! The torches light up, the crowd is going ape! Bababapooombapoooom!
More Table of Contents
INTRO—THE MUSIC WALL I’ve a tin ear, but I love music all the same.
GUITAR What is the form that produces the function? Student luthier takes on the challenge.
FLUTES—Flutes galore! Breath of life on the fingertips.Shakuhachi and a hose clamp.
SUZANNE FARRELL Farrell, Balanchine, and signed ballet slippers.
SUBWAY VIOLIN BUSKER Classical violin amid the subway roar.
EMOTION OUTRANKS TECHNIQUE—DYLAN & DIEGO Why would anyone prefer Bob Dylan to Andy Williams and Josh Grogan? I’ll tell you why! How could a self-effacing, solemn, gypsy guitarist supplant Sabicas, Paco de Lucio, and Manitas de Plata?
JEAN SHEPHERD AND BOB DYLAN Not music to his ears, even if the guy’s now a Nobel Prize winner.
PRINCE Honey, I think you and I were wrong! What was it about Prince that, for all these years, we missed?
PLASTIC HARMONICAS Variations on a theme. Surely the world’s greatest museum-worthy collection. And one of the artifacts is a real mouth organ.
SPAIN & PERU
GRANADA I’m falling under you spell. “Pomegranate,” “hand grenade,” and the city of Federico Garcia Lorca–all important parts of an obsession “…no hay en la vida nada…”
BULLS I’ve gone to the bulls on three continents. How deal with the line between barbaric and civilized? How can a gentle, passive soul be such a passionate aficionado de los toros? Ole!
PERU The intihuatana, flight over the Nazca Lines with no altimeter, no gas gauge. And especially, the truth/fiction of Rio Amazonas.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SPECIAL DELIVERY!—Whitman, Bosch, Louis Kahn—three of my favorite creative people all have articles devoted to them in the same issue of the NYT. Oh, the ecstasy!
MEMORABILIA— Dickinson & Hemingway—tidbits from creative forces!
FULL COLOR NEWSPAPER WARS Has anyone else ever noted—and collected—artistic depictions of human disasters?
COMPOSED HERMAPHRODITE –Sometimes the NYT likes to tease us before eventually satisfying our curiosity.
BOOK ILLUSTRATION and ELEPHANT ART —It’s so easy to glance at and dismiss illustrations in a newspaper, though I try not to do so. A masterpiece of a kid scrawl and a herd of elephants.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Astro Turf & “Muriel”—what momentous artsy matters! Yet, both are matters of great concern—at least to some of us.