Sunday, June 30, 2013

Up Jumped Spring

I teach a number of jazz combos at Portland State University. (Listen to, I always hated that word. I always associated COMBOS with the phrase "Really Cheeses Your Hunger Away." I guess time changes everything.) One of the combos is called the Contemporary Combo. Instead of passing out music from, say 1960 and beyond(which in jazz is somehow considered contemporary), I decided that we would compose collectively based on certain chords changes or structures or other criteria which I would provide. The Winter Term class was very interesting in that we usually completed a song by the end of each class; we might create melodies by ear, so I would make a phone video of the completed piece, then take it home and score it on Sibelius. We came up with a book of cool tunes. Deciding on the title of each piece became a class exercise as well. (One of the students would basically try to title each song by looking at random objects in the rehearsal room."Filing Cabinet!" or "Music Stands!" were some of the possible titles. I think we actually used "Big Windows" for one tune.) I tried to make it a true group effort, although I did steer the compositional process towards areas which I thought would be good for the class. We performed some of the tunes during our Winter Term Combo Night and the tunes seemed to be as good as anything else we could have played.

The Spring Term class was a little different. We couldn't seem to finish any tune during our allotted
class time. The students would end up finishing the tunes in their own unsupervised rehearsal time. I was pleasantly surprised when the final result turned out to be really a really nice tune. There were some pretty cool yet not too wacky titles like "Lizard City" and "Hangin' Tough." But there was one tune which really surprised me. It began in class as something which was based on the structure of Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring." "Why don't we change the key and alter the harmonic rhythm, and instead of 3/4, let's make it 5/4," I suggested. Slowly but surely, it morphed into something which could not be linked to it's original inspiration. However, we didn't really have a good melody, so I figured that once again, the class would come up with something on their own. The next class, I got to hear the fruits of their labor. The melody was not what I expected, but unique and interesting. However, the title was even more intriguing. I noticed that their manuscript paper had, at the top the page, the title "Up Jumped Pimp."

In the spirit of creative thought, I didn't protest much. It was not the more tasteful of names, and yet it did show brutal originality. I inquired as to the reason for the title, and the best answer I got was "It's a song about friendship." Nevertheless, I decided to allow it, and we went on with the business of composing another tune.

When the time came for our Combo Night performance, I was asked to play trumpet on "Up Jumped Pimp." I actually found the chord changes to be challenging, so I agreed to play. I admit, I was thinking more about the chords than the title after a while. As to be expected, the time came during the show for the song to be introduced. This was at a point in the evening when, I'll admit, most of the audience had left, and it was not even clear whether there was an audience at all. One of the students, the designated MC of the group, delivered his intro of the tune with a humble yet deliberate speech, during which time, the weight of the silliness of the title hit me; I turned away from the audience in order to hide my giggling:
We would like to perform for you now………a piece.... which we have composed as a group…………It's a song about friendship……..It's based on Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring"………..It's called ………"Up Jumped Pimp"………

All of a sudden, a voice from the darkened hall shouted: "WHY?"

I couldn't control my laughter at that point. Neither could anyone else. After collecting ourselves, we performed the tune and ended the show. Indeed, why? Well, I guess great art always has a mysterious ambiguity to it……..Perhaps this was a song title which Charles Mingus might have been proud of. We'll never know for sure.

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