Morgan Murray will be blogging about the Wreckhouse International Jazz and Blues Festival for The Scope from July 13-18.
Do you remember that episode of Freaks and Geeks when Nick’s dad takes away his 29-piece drum set because he’s flunking out of school, so he moves out, sleeps on his friends’ floors, wears out his welcome, and ends up being taken in by the Weirs?
Do you remember that particular scene in this particular episode when the Weirs are settled in for Quiet Hour–doing homework, reading the paper and whatnot–only to be disturbed by Nick blasting Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”?
Then do you remember when Mr. Weir asks Nick why he’s not doing his homework, and Nick tells him he’s a drummer so this is his homework, and Mr. Weir tells him that drumming is a drummer’s homework, and Nicks tells him his dad took away his drums, and Mr. Weir tells him that he should get two sticks and beat them on a rock?
Then Mr. Weir tells Nick that the drummer in this song is terrible.
Nick: (disgusted) “That’s Neil Peart, he’s the greatest drummer alive!”
Mr. Weir: “Well Neil Peart couldn’t drum his way out of a paper bag. You wanna hear drumming? Come on, I’ll play you drumming.”
Cut to: Nick being blown away by a Buddy Rich record.
Is any of this ringing a bell?
It amused me when I re-watched it recently but, after seeing the Griffith Hiltz Trio last night at the Yellow Belly Brewery, it took on a whole new meaning: Rock n’ Roll is for children, jazz is for grown-ups.
Not in a rock-n’-roll-is-wild-and-crazy-and-will-have-too-much-fun-and-drink-too-much-pop-and-pee-the-bed versus jazz-is-old-and-boring-and-reads-books-and-goes-to-bed-at-ten sort of way. Not at all. Rock n’ roll might be loud and rambunctious, but it is just child’s play. While jazz, when done right, means business.
Even though his name isn’t on the marquee, Sly stole the show. He is like one of them super-cool top-secret spy-assassins from the movies. He’s dressed to kill and cooly, effortlessly, creates a sound that I could only create in a one in a million chance if I threw a 29-piece drum kit down a really long and steep flight of stairs. He’s not beating the drums, or even playing them. This is his craft, his trade, his profession. It’s his life’s work–something that only a grown-up can have–being lived out.
A grown-up drum assassin doesn’t smash things to hear them go bang. He’s not interested in playing games. He’s not interested in fireworks. He’s interested in dynamite and earthquakes. He doesn’t want you all shook up. He want’s you dead.
And Sly kills.
With him are two equally talented musicians: Nathan Hiltz on guitar and Johnny Griffith on two types of sax. (Sometimes, get this, he plays both at the same time! I’m not kidding you. God gave us two lungs, two hands, and a mouth big enough for two reeds, I suppose it only makes sense that someone would eventually think to play two saxophones at the same time. I never thought such a thing was possible until Johnny Griffith showed me how.)
In their respective solos all three take you places and show you things you never imagined possible. But their best bits are the bits when they all tear into a song together. Sly killing you with his assassin drums, Nathan throwing daggers with his guitar, and Johnny blowing you away with double sax.
This isn’t a kind of jazz that washes over you like some simpler, safer, softer, over-the-hill–as in goes-to-bed-at-ten–jazz sound. This isn’t background dinner music. This throws a bag over your head, throws you in the back of an unmarked van, and you’re never seen again. Because these grown-ups mean business.
The Wreckhouse International Jazz & Blues Festival runs until Sunday, July 18. You can find out more information on their website.