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How High the Moon

Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius By

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With Moon in place...the Who now had possibly one of the most revolutionary rhythm sections in history (with the exception of George Washington's band, Delaware Surprise Party, which featured Thomas Jefferson on bass and Patrick Henry on drums)
"The man is a drummer. Everything he plays, he contains it." —Elvin Jones on Keith Moon

"Waahaa! Dibbabo, nuggle fidigum. Relafoon, mate. Yeee!" —Keith Moon on rum, codeine cough syrup, Jack Daniels, mushrooms, Guinness, some Necco wafers he mistook for blotter acid, brandy, horse tranquilizers and 246 Geno's Pizza Rolls

As the Dean of American Jazz Humorists®, I am often called upon to offer my opinions in a wide variety of jazz-related matters. Recently, the directors of the Jazz at Lincoln Center program called me in to settle an ongoing dispute that had been brewing between Vice Chair Shahara Ahmad-Llewellyn and Wynton Marsalis as to who would win a fight against a 30-foot tall, firebreathing Duke Ellington and a 2,000-pound Louis Armstrong who has chainsaws for hands.

I assured them that Duke and Pops would not fight each other, but would team up to defeat a hideous, gigantic Boney James and Eric Marienthal who have been fused together by a nuclear accident.

Moving forward.

Another intriguing query recently found its way to the Provisional Geniusdome. "Who, in your opinion, are some non-jazz musicians who deserve respect from jazz circles?" wrote little Nat, age 82, from New York.

The obvious answers, such as Willie Nelson (whose love of the herb rivals that of some of the greatest names in jazz history) and Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis (who is hotter than Bix Beiderbecke's solo on "Singin' the Blues"), should be immediately apparent to even the most casual student of Our Music. But one answer might come as a surprise to all but the most astute jazz aficionados, if they can be distracted from debating whether or not Miles Davis could shoot laser beams from his eyes long enough to consider the issue.

Keith John Moon (which is a lot of fun to sing to the tune of "Sloop John B." Try it. Now.) was born on August 23, 1946, in London, a tiny hamlet somewhere in England. Growing up an imaginative, hyperactive child, Keith frequently found himself at odds with the British public education system. Though it was these personality traits that would later contribute to his innovative drumming style and his hallowed place among rock legends, his teacher regarded him as "Retarded artistically. Idiotic in other respects." It is fortunate that Moon was born when he was or he would have been loaded up on Ritalin, subjected to endless self-esteem programs and this article would be about legendary country guitarist Roy Clark.

Moon began his musical career at age 12, playing the bugle. He abandoned it for the drums at age 14, when he realized that the ladies weren't exactly lining up for bugle players. Joining several local bands, including The Escorts (for which Ford would later name a small car that also tended to make a cacophonous racket) and The Beachcombers, Moon began building his reputation as one of the loudest drummers in the entire British Isles including that creepy little island where they filmed The Wicker Man.

At 17, Moon joined the Who which had already begun to establish a reputation as one of the loudest bands in all of the parts of Europe where they had electricity and running water. The story goes that Moon showed up at a Who gig and announced that he was better than the Who's (Whose?) current drummer, a wind-up clown. Who guitarist Pete Townshend tells the story of Moon, with hair dyed ginger* and wearing a ginger suit while drinking a ginger beer, approaching the bandstand with his cheeky boast and earning the job on the spot. In honor of that moment, I'm going to have a ginger ale and stare at pictures of ginger-maned Jenny Lewis until Mrs. Genius hits me in the cheeks with a pair of sticks.

So then.

Early on, Moon played a traditional five-piece kit (snare, bass, hi-hat, floor tom, and beer tap). He made the move to a double-bass kit in 1965, which was coincidentally the Chinese Year of the Double-Bass, before finally settling on a kit that was essentially two regular drum sets combined with a well-stocked wet bar and then-fashionable fondue set. This was to be Moon's signature set throughout his career, except for a brief period during which his excessive drug use caused him to believe he was Tito Puente.

In an era when most rock drummers were little more than human metronomes with good hair, Moon immediately stood out for his approach to the drums as instruments unto themselves. Not content with the standard boom-chick-boom-chick background drumming that permeated early-sixties rock, Moon drew on inspirations from the American surf music and R&B scenes to create a style that has been described as both "busy" and "orchestral." While no one will ever accuse him of being one of the greatest technicians of the instrument, Moon understood both his strengths and limitations and rightly proclaimed himself "The greatest Keith Moon-style drummer in the world."


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