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Jazz Musician Pseudonyms

AAJ Staff By

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Compiled by Jack Woker

Although it receives little support by the record industry, the media, and society at large, jazz- though not thriving- is still managing to survive. There is no shortage of young musicians flocking towards the music, and new CD releases are certainly not in short supply. And though jazz represents a relatively small market, there is still a listener base, and jazz discs are (contrary to what record executives tell their artists)still being sold. The reason for this is not hard to understand. Aside from the obvious high level of art found within the music itself, one finds every cog in the jazz wheel; it's history, it's linage, the colorful personalities, the tragic heroes, the unsung geniuses, the fables, legends, and war stories; the totality which makes up the art form, to be utterly fascinating. One of the many honors and pleasures a jazz musician receives is the occasion to hear first-hand stories about the jazz musicians he or she admires the most. Many stories are long held secrets only spoken by people deep inside of the jazz community: stories of racism, battles with drug addiction, individual quests for musical expression, the problems of creating in the face of adversity. And while some stories are sad, others are uplifting, and very inspiring to many, many a jazz musician. Stories of the obstacles and challenges that the masters of this music so bravely faced, can be extremely motivational to a young artist wishing to pursue a career playing jazz. It is a reason to continue the struggle to make this music, when it seems nobody else gives a damn.

Of course, not all of the stories are so dark. There is a lot of comedy in jazz as well. Some of it is intentional; most of it- like the music, is improvised. Of great interest to many a jazz fan- player and listener alike- has been the usage of pseudonyms by many prominent jazz artists. The reason behind the deception appears to be relatively simple: When an artist is under exclusive contract with a particular label, but wishes to record a session for another label either as a leader or as a sideman, he must first be granted a release from the label for which he is under contract. There may be other reasons as well, such as an artist may simply wish to remain anonymous for personal reasons, but the former explanation is a more common scenario. Just contemplating the notion that these players would think that by using an alias they would fool anyone is hilarious in itself. Most prominent jazz musicians get to a point where their playing style becomes like their DNA ; a musical fingerprint that unmistakably identifies who they are.

Did Cannonball Adderley, a player with a highly discernable sound think that he would fool anyone with the name Buckshot La Funke ? What about Stan Getz? Everybody knows his sound! Did he think he could get away with the name Dju Berry ? And if that weren't silly enough, what about the pseudonyms Ken Stanton, Manny Shell , and Phil Forest ? Are these identities so hard to figure out? The long list of jazz pseudonyms below is bound to turn heads and elicit chuckles. Exactly why Mel Powell came up with Shoeless Joe Jackson is beyond me. Did Shoeless Joe play a mean horn, or did Mel at one time consider a career in baseball? The answer to this, and other puzzling questions regarding the secret identities of our jazz super heroes may forever elude us.


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