About a month ago, my colleague, saxophonist and educator Jeff Antoniuk had posted an educational video regarding parent rhythms and sounding legitimate when playing in multiple styles. During our post-video discussion, I related the following story to him:
20 years ago, when I was in my last semester of graduate school, I got called for a gig with a German band. The trombone player in the band had recently relocated from Romania and was a brilliant player. At the time, I didn’t know him well (since then, we’ve become great friends), but if you’ve ever worked with European players from the old country, you know that they are “efficient,” if not brutally honest, when communicating. The second tune of the first set was a happy German march, and I thought I was reading it down great until he turned to me and yelled in this angry, Romanian accent, “STYLE! PLAY STYLE!” I about crapped my pants! From that moment forward, I opened my ears up really big in order to fit in better. When it was an opportunity to solo, I made sure to respect the music by playing things which were idiomatic to each piece.
So about 10 years ago, I was playing a jazz club date, and the kitchen forgot to make my dinner in time for the first break. In the interim, a fellow saxophonist had shown up and we had invited him to sit in during the second set. Just as we called him up, my dinner arrived, so the bandleader said that I could sit out a couple of tunes to eat. The band kicked off Back at the Chicken Shack, and my friend who was sitting in played an adventurous, extended, Bergonzi-esque solo. While he was still playing, a battle-wearied, local veteran, jazz guitarist came up to me and said, “Paul, do you know why you work all the time?” At the moment, all I was interested in was my bowl of jambalaya, so without looking up, I said, “No. Why?” He responded with, “Because when they call a shuffle blues, you PLAY a shuffle blues!”