There is a joke from a category of jazz humor labeled the chick singer file. I hasten to add that there are plenty of non-chick singers to whom the sentiment of the story applies.
A woman asks to sit in with a band. The leader suggests “My Funny Valentine.” She agrees, but confesses that she’s a bit unsure of the bridge.
“That’s okay,” the leader tells her. “You’ll be next to the bass player. He knows it. If you get hung up, just turn to him.”
She approaches a part of the song where she needs help and looks at the bassist. He whispers, “D-minor, C-7, B-7, B-flat major 7.”
The story typifies musicians’ wry amusement and frequent frustration inspired by people without musical knowledge who try to be “jazz singers.” They are especially taken with those who decide they can improvise with their voices in the way that, say, Charlie Parker improvised with his alto saxophone. In her wonderful blog, Carol Sloane writes about the time she was asked to teach at the New England Conservatory and ended up with a brood of would-be scat singers. Here’s an excerpt:
You should not attempt Advanced Calculus (scat singing) until a firm grasp of basic math (chord structure) is achieved. My students much preferred the bungee-jump thrill of diving into wordless versions of “Joy Spring” or “Ornithology”. Yes, I certainly understand the desire to explore improvisational jazz since so many singers with impeccable credentials express themselves in this manner, thereby suggesting to the not-so talented that this activity is easy and without peril. My argument is that scat singing is an acquired attribute developed and nurtured over time. Listening to some blatantly confident but thoroughly unskilled scat singing can be harmful to your health, or (if you’re lucky) hysterically funny.
To read the whole thing go to SloaneView.
Mwanji Ezana says
The joke sounds to me more like two people not speaking the same language, rather than a necessary lack of the requisite knowledge. The woman may well have remembered the melody perfectly, while needing help with the words.
Bill Kirchner says
That joke is a loose adaptation of an actual incident. The singer reportedly was none other than Sarah Vaughan, unsurpassed among musically literate singers (AND instrumentalists, for that matter). As I recall, she received a request for a song and was uncertain of the words of its bridge. The bassist reportedly was Gus Mancuso.
I first read that joke, except I think the song was “When Sunny Gets Blue,” in a book called “Jazz Ancedotes” by Bill Crow, pub. 1990. Apparently, it’s out-of-print, but there’s a vol. 2, pub. 2005, available from Amazon.
(Note from DR. The story has many forms and a long life. The Crow book at Amazon is an updated edition of the original. See:
Chip Boaz says
I think that the humor lies more in several musician “in-jokes.” Instrumentalists often consider singers to lack some of the in-depth theoretical knowledge required to play jazz. So these guys were probably expecting her to loose her way. The joke lies in the fact that they put her next to the bass player – the one guy in the band that hardly ever plays the melody. He of course knows all the chord changes, but that’s not any use to the singer. The rest of the guys in the band were probably getting a kick out of the whole thing. Now, if the singer really was Sarah Vaughan, all bets are off. She probably turned it around into something incredible!
This reminds me of a rather clever joke.
How many girl singers does it take to sing “My Funny Valentine?”
Apparently, all of them.
(Old, but good — DR)