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On White Guys Playing The Blues, and Benny Goodman Practicing Nude

Mort Weiss By

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Yes, I drank muddy water—and slept in a hollow log! Um, hmm! I said that I steady drank muddy water, and slept in a hollow log. Ah huh! An' all I wanna do is tell my story on dis here music blog. Oh, yeah!

The blues. If you can't play them, you ain't never had 'em. If you never had them, you can't play jazz—is this true? Or just some folk jive passed on down the line? For what all that it entails, I believe it's true and I'll broaden the scope to take in grand (and not so grand) opera. Yeah, I think the fat lady singing the part of Cio-Cio San in "Madama Butterfly" had a working acquaintance with the blues.

Fact: Black people created (came up with, invented, found, made it happen—whatever) the blues. It was, originally, theirs. They felt it, and through all the pain and suffering and bullshit that they lived through (at the time), from this quagmire of shit, came a birth—a vehicle, if you will. A zeitgeist of emotion was born, a primal shout arose from a people to a god, to someone digging a ditch beside them—to a humanity. Their own fears and weaknesses contributed to this feeling—I said, feeling—within the very soul of the people who were crying out. Yeah, dems the blues!

OK, let's move on:

Fiction: Only African-Americans can play the blues and jazz. That's jive.

Fact: Us white cats play it just as well. I think y'all accept that by now. I'm coming up on 77 years of age, and I've lived through all of the pejorative and PC labels for whites and blacks. Well, I got off that train of thought about black and white. There are only two races in this world: The decent and the indecent, period. I haven't the productive time to play the PC flavor-of-the-month game. Dig?

Onward: By way of introduction, my name is Mort Weiss. I'm the cat who took a 40-year break from the scene—and came back in 2001. (No, Kubrick had nothing to do with it.) I play clarinet. Are you still with me? Well, you see, it's a long, black musical instru—fuck it. If for some strange and sinister reason, you're not familiar with me, please just Google the name Mort Weiss and stand back!

Back in the day, the great vibraphonist Charlie Shoemake and I were playing a concert in a intimate setting, if you will. Charlie, being a very intelligent and erudite cat, walks up to the mic between tunes and flat out says: "Jazz is in the shithouse"—followed by the words "pardon my French." (I told you this was back in the day.) He then goes on to expound further on the subject, pointing out that classical music was supported by the wealthy—indicating that jazz had little or no financial support from various organizations, etc. Remember, I said that this was back in the day. As you now know, jazz is receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in support and endowments—wait. I'm confusing my thoughts with Lincoln Center. Geez, golly, and other expletives that I can't use. As it's been known to be said in China and other parts of the Orient: Oy. Yeah, I can just see these little old blue-haired ladies (widows most of them) contributing large sums of cash to something—oh, let's say to save the Village Vanguard—not even knowing or caring who Hank Mobley was. (Do you know who he was?) Yeah I can just see it now, the tour guide saying: "Right this year, ladies. Watch out for that first step down; it's a bitch." Ah, yeah, Charlie Shoemake. A great cat, and a real talent. We don't speak to each other anymore, but that's another story.

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