By Tom Carten
Just as WVIA-FM now has three channels for your news and information needs, so did Spike Jones with his City Slickers; the Band that Plays for Fun; and the little known Other Orchestra. As with many movies which are critically acclaimed but box-office disasters, Spike’s attempt to dabble in fine pop music with a little jazz touch just didn’t make it with the public. If potential audience members wanted jazz, they “went uptown” to the famous clubs, not to a black-tie and well-behaved group with a cornball reputation. He ended up paying the Other Orchestra’s costs out of his own pocket.
So it was with Jan Garber: square, down home, “The Idol of the Airwaves” (or “Airlanes”). The man who could make Lawrence Welk sound like Bill Haley and the Comets. So what did this former classical violinist do with his highly successful dance band? During WW2, he turned it into a swinging jazz band. That’s right, Jan Garber right up there with the King of Swing himself. Problem was, Benny Goodman knew what he was doing and Jan made a big mistake, which he immediately corrected by going back to where his fans (and the money) were.
You don’t learn how to play jazz; you live it and the notes come out of your fingers into the instrument of your choice. If you are running a dance band, you can’t get an arranger to work up some songs that will change you into the swinging group of your dreams. Anyone can play the notes, but they can’t play the spirit. I once tried “September Song” as Dave Brubeck recorded it and was happy for only one reason: nobody heard me. I hit the right notes, but not the essence of jazz.
Or, if I may quote these esteemed gentlemen:
“One thing I like about jazz, kid, is that I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you?”
(Credited to Bix Beiderbecke)
“That’s the thing about jazz: it’s free flowing, it comes from your soul.”
(Credited to Billy Crystal)
[Tom Carten is a broadcaster who formerly worked at WJZZ-FM in Fairfield CT, where Dave Brubeck was the music director.]