When Music Is Your Second Job
Engineers, linguists, politicians by day find part-time niche for music they love
BOSTON — `A gentleman," Mark Twain allegedly said, "is someone who knows how to play the saxophone - but doesn't."
By that criterion, as everybody knows by now, Bill Clinton is no gentleman. But he is president-elect of the United States. And the prospect of an unashamed saxophonist in the White House gives aid and comfort to all the other politicians - and nonpoliticians - who play a little music on the side.
This is not a partisan matter. Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond of Missouri is a Republican drummer. So is Rep. Amo Houghton of New York's 34th district. Who will forget Amo and the Swing Voters raising the roof at last fall's magnificent farewell party for Carter Brown, retiring as director of the National Gallery of Art?
Bill Stout of Boston and Savannah, Ga. won't forget. He played clarinet in the band. The other day he recalled the delight of having New York jazzmen join in on the occasion. Hearing his fierce fluency on the clarinet, no one would assume he was anything but a full-time musician, too. But by day he is a marketer of financial services. One night he's playing a Washington gala. Another night he's playing the Christmas party of a Boston senior citizens' center in a band with an engineer, a linguist, a lay m inister, a professor of English, and a magazine editor - all finding time for the music they love.
This is business as usual for the people all over the country who have music as a second career and, in a sense, second language. They know the literature of the jazz, rock, country, or other music they play. When they get together in different groupings they just agree on a key and swing into "Honeysuckle Rose," "All of Me," "Mood Indigo," or whatever else the present quorum or audience wants. Saxman Clinton played "Heartbreak Hotel" on the Arsenio Hall TV show.
There is a similar phenomenon in the chamber music world. I know an eye doctor whose pleasure at professional conventions is to get together with musical colleagues so he can play his flute. A Nobel prize-winning chemist looks for similar opportunities with his clarinet. A national directory helps chamber music players know what's-happening-where as they move in pursuit of their "real" work.
The jazz/pop networking is more informal. Sometimes a woeful mismatching occurs as everyone in a group has the same zeal but not necessarily the same expertise.
Nevertheless, people keep trying. Sometimes they really get organized. "Lausmann's Lousy Loggers," which made a record under that name in 1972, had already been going since 1958 when a leading West Coast lumberman, Anton Lausmann, called on musicians in the industry to form a big band.
Just last year the international Ingersoll-Rand company took note of CEO's and other "jazz moonlighters" in its Washington-based "magazine of applied technology and industrial management" called Compressed Air. "9-to-5 Businessmen Find Being Part-time Musicians Creates Discipline, Teamwork, and a Richer Life," says the blurb. A sample of the musicians:
Jim Benham plays trumpet in San Francisco's long-lived, 19-member Full Faith & Credit Big Band. He's CEO of the capital management group that bears his name - and "fine-tunes $6 billion in funds for more than 200,000 investors."
Steve Duson sings with the Riff Raffs in Houston. He's program manager for Compaq Computer Corporation.
Jim Thompson, also of Houston, plays guitar. He "received a warm glow" when he played with The Hungry Six Band. "We raised enough money to send a church group over to help the Hungarians when that country was opened up," he says.
Many of the moonlighting serenaders contribute their music for good causes. Harvard theologian Harvey Cox plays saxophone in his band called The Embraceables. Besides weddings and student parties, its gigs have included the opening of an AIDS hospice, a church dinner for the homeless, and last month a dance party at the Massachusetts Center for Mental Health.
When a party-giver is prepared to pay for music, many part-timers ask for the going rate. Thus they can sometimes enlist full-time musicians to play with them on an off night. Or at least they don't undercut the market. "I never play for free," says a former full-timer who won't risk taking a job from a musician who would have been paid for it.
Occasionally, the music looms larger and larger in the professional mix. For example, members of the Boston area's New Black Eagle Jazz Band have other jobs, but they're known far and wide as a long-time working band with recordings available and healthy fees.
And, back in Washington, Dave Burns's Hot Mustard Jazz Band has played for hundreds of events since 1974, not least the 100th anniversary celebration of the Chevy Chase Club in November. To many people David Mitchell Burns has been known not as a trombonist and crooner but the US Foreign Service's public affairs officer in Mali or cultural affairs officer in Tunisia - or perhaps director of the climate project for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
After appearing on LP and cassette, Hot Mustard has a new CD out featuring saxophonist Buck Hill, who has recorded under his own name and with stars such as singer Shirley Horn. Who would suppose he was not a full-time musician?
"We have a job December 23, but Buck can't make it," said Dave Burns at Thanksgiving. "He has to stay at his post-office job for the holiday rush." It turns out Hill has kept his job with the post office for three decades while playing first class jazz.
Will Bill Clinton let his White House gig interfere with his sax playing? Maybe he'll be like the other Democrat that both presidential candidates wanted to be this time - Harry Truman - who could and did play "The Missouri Waltz" on the piano. Or like Jimmy Carter who at least managed the lyrics of "Salt Peanuts" - consisting entirely of those two words - when Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach got him to try it at a White House jazz festival. Or will Clinton be like Republican Richard Nixon, who was known t o be a piano player when he invited some of the press to an evening of Shakespeare and jazz. In the receiving line I asked the president if we could look forward to hearing him at the keyboard that night.
"No," Nixon said with a smile, "I never play on the record."