An inside look at some of the things you might overhear the Desperates say, and even some of the strange signs they make to each other....
Code wordsWhen I was first introduced to learning to play some jazz, it took more than a little while to understand what all the strange chords names meant, let alone play them. But having made a bit of progress with that, it’s nice to think you can join in with other people. That’s when you learn that jazz people aren’t normal.
For example, when jazzers talk about a chorus, they don’t mean the bit in between successive verses of a song. They’ll say things like “Take a solo over two choruses”. So what are you supposed to do? Keep quiet in the verse part and solo on the middle bits? No, what jazzers mean by ‘chorus’ is the whole caboodle, the whole tune. Unlike normal folk, they talk about the A section, the B section and often several other letters. So a tune consists of maybe A, followed by another A, followed by B, followed by another A. So a tune has a ‘form’, such as AABA.
What’s worse, you might hear them talk about a verse. “Are you doing the verse?” they might ask the vocalist. And what they mean this time, is the bit at the front of a song that is only done once. So for example, in “At Last”, you’ll hear some freely sung (no strict rhythm), scene-setting words:Then the band starts in rhythm and we are into the song “At last, my love has come along....”. So that’s what a verse is. But it’s not part of the chorus of course...
You know, even the Beatles did this. You remember “Here, There and Everywhere”? It starts “To lead a better life, I need my love to be here.....” I bet they didn’t call it the verse though!
Even more confusing to me when I first played with a jazz enthusiast, he started talking about a “C part” for me. What’s he talking about? Doesn’t he realise I can play in other keys than C? And then, slowly, from my school days, I remembered that wind instruments, trumpets and saxophones were set up in different keys. Don’t ask me why. I’ll leave that as your homework. So if you were to sneak a peek at the Desperates’ music stands, you might see the same tune written out in different keys on each one. And occasionally you might hear a plaintiff voice saying “Has anyone got a spare B flat part?”
Oh, and if you hear someone talking about a vamp, they mean a simple repeating chord sequence and they are not referring to our female vocalist. Usually.
Secret signsMaybe you’ll see the band leader rotating his finger, or even his whole hand at a band member, usually while they are soloing. This could well mean the band leader is thinking “What’s this guy’s name again?”
In fact, it usually means “Carry on doing that, it’s great!”
Sometimes you might notice someone tapping their head as band members are performing solos.. “Ah”, you might think, “they’ve just made mistake - it can’t be musical (this is the Desperate Measures!) - maybe they’ve realised they left the gas on at home...”In fact they are indicating “go to the head”. The head is the beginning of the tune - so they are telling the band to stop soloing and play the tune from the beginning, for the last time.
Maybe we should publish an ‘I Spy’ book....or Jazz Band Bingo.