From Joel Press, the Swing Explorer, a deeply informed meditation on the possibilities and the depths of the real, as well as the attainable ideal:

Your essay, (A LITTLE SOFTER, PLEASE?) which I read late at night, made a great impression on me and brought forth the reminiscences below.  They who eat, drink, and indulge their senses whilst we play, know not what they are missing . . . . 

Art Farmer played at Lulu White’s in Boston in the early 80s with a band that included Akira Tana and Fred Hersch.  When I met Fred at Smalls last month, I recalled Art’s going to the microphone and telling the audience that this quartet had been on the road for several months developing the sound and repertoire they were offering that set.  He said that it was difficult to concentrate given the volume of conversation and laughter from the large group of people sitting near the bandstand.  Art, ever the gentleman, asked them to allow the musicians to concentrate on the music they ostensibly had come to hear.  Sadly, Art was reprimanded by the management and was never engaged again.

When I lived in New York in the 1960s, there was a little club in the Fifties off 8th Avenue.  Barbara Carroll and Billy Taylor’s trios often played there.  One night, an inebriated middle aged couple came in, probably thinking this was another 8th Avenue bar.  They ordered drinks and became loud and unpleasant.  When they were asked to be quiet, the woman in a booming voice said, “What the hell?  You think this is a Goddamn church!”

I had an LP bootleg of Lester Young live at The Savoy Ballroom. While Prez was spinning out a soulful improvisation on a medium tempo standard, he was inadvertently accompanied by a foul mouthed argumentative couple, who were seemingly oblivious to the wondrous melodic invention emanating from Lester’s tenor.

The Sahara Restaurant in the town of Methuen, Mass.,  north of Boston, is the scene of a weekly Tuesday night concert, curated for many years by Jocko Arcidanoco, a dedicated lover of our music.  The room has a stage, lighting, and a sound system.  The audience is attentive, responsive and respectful.  Eating and drinking is done quietly if at all.  Musicians love to work here, given the fact that there are few venues left in which music is not a a background to general conviviality.  When my quartet was invited to play there last month, the musicians treated the engagement as something special and made an effort to rehearse our program despite the demands of teaching and other commitments. Playing in a concert situation has became a rarity.

The private jam session in a musician’s studio has become more prevalent as opportunities for serious playing have diminished.  Without monetary compensation, players travel to join in the pursuit of musical excellence.  Their reward lies in the interaction with and inspiration from their cohorts.  The only sounds in the studio come from the instruments and an occasional brief appreciative comment after a solo.  As has always been the case the chief supporters of jazz music are the players.


  1. Hi Michael and Joel, I gather the music scene in NYC is different from the scene here on Cape Cod and in Boston. I am performing five or six nights a week year round and almost never see fellow jazz musicians at my gigs. Perhaps 50% of the patrons at the venues I perform at are knowledgeable jazz fans who listen intently, make intelligent requests, and respect the musicians’ right to perform without rude interruptions. The other 50% are there for other reasons, to eat, drink, socialize, whatever. But I always play for the audience, not for myself or the other musicians and I can usually win some of those people over to our side, not all, but I always feel pretty good about the complimentary comments from complete strangers who were not there for the music in the first place. And I have to quote the great jazz pianist from this area, Dave McKenna, when asked about noisy, rude, and perhaps obnoxious audiences, said, “Hey, I’m just a saloon piano player.” Yeah, right Dave! But he had the right attitude and, of course, everyone loved him. If a musician wants to just play concerts, then he/she should expect some respect from the audience, but if the musician really wants to work full time, he/she has to work some restaurants, bars, nightclubs, whatever, and one has to expect some blockheads and chuckleheads along with the more enlightened customers. Joel, do you remember pianist Jack Bumer here on Cape Cod? I worked with him for years in the seventies and eighties and I know you played with him a few times in that period and he absolutely loved your playing. He used to rave about you. He passed away in 1994. Best regards to all, Lee Childs


  3. While the chief supporters of jazz are the players, there are still a few
    hundred of us seniors who fully support jazz and the players. We attend
    concerts, go on jazz cruises, and buy jazz recordings. (We have more than
    We go to listen to the music and throw dirty looks at the talkers. We like
    to talk to the musicians but find only a very few who respond. We hope
    that jazz can continue to live and grow, but wonder what will happen when
    we and our fellow senion jazz lovers are no longer around.

  4. “The private jam session in a musician’s studio has become more prevalent as opportunities for serious playing have diminished. Without monetary compensation, players travel to join in the pursuit of musical excellence. ”

    Speaking of which Joel deserves fulsome praise for having opened his home (and beverage cabinet) to regular daytime playing sessions throughout the years. Some of my fondest memories of living and playing in the Boston area consist in having participated in many of them.

    Thanks Joel!

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