The Art of the Vibe

Lost Vibe Illustration by Frank Page
Illustration by Frank Page

With the relatively recent advent of formal education in jazz, coupled with the endless resources provided by the internet, I am excited and heartened by the development of today’s young musicians. I’m hearing a lot of young cats in New York, and around the world for that matter, with great technique and strong musical ideas. How encouraging for the future!

However, with that said, there’s something I feel is lacking in the young generation’s playing. All these youngsters sound great, with a positive and inspired attitude, but nobody knows how to vibe anymore. Vibing is part of a long and rich tradition of intimidation and of asserting dominance over those around you on the bandstand. Everyone is too bloody nice these days. And I for one think it’s time to bring back this great and noble jazz tradition.

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So for those budding young cats who are looking to make those around them feel insecure and inadequate, here we go with the Professor’s Guide to Vibing.

Here are a few ways for you cats to shed your “vibe chops”:

Tip #1: General countenance. A simple grumpy facial expression can work wonders to create a vibey atmosphere. Think of this as laying the undercoat over which you will paint your masterpiece. But subtlety is the key, folks. Don’t overdo it. It’s best to emanate a vague feeling of discomfort, so everyone around you will feel the same. To create this feeling, I like to wear underpants that are one size too small.

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Tip #2: Pretend you’ve never met the person. If a cat comes up and says “Hi,” say to them “Sorry, have we met?” I like to practice this on my mum. (She doesn’t like it at all). This can also be practiced on roommates, spouses and girl/boyfriends. If can convince your girlfriend that you’ve never met, your vibe chops are solid.

Tip #3: Staring Competition. Nothing’s better than a good stare down to vibe out another player. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out any Kung fu movie ever made.) I like to practice this on goldfish. Don’t laugh, goldfish can be pretty vibey. When you feel like you can dominate a goldfish, try vibing out small children. If you make them cry, then you’re on the right track. (NB: Don’t do this in public playgrounds. People WILL call the police.)

Tip #4: Backhanded compliments. This is my personal favorite because it seems like you’re being nice, but really, you’re giving them a sneaky vibe. Here are some great backhanded compliments:
-I like what you’re trying to I do.
-Nice playing. Is that your first instrument?
-You’ve never sounded better.
-That’s as good a solo as you’ve ever played.
-You don’t hear singing like that anymore.*

Tip #5: Advanced Vibe. (Nota Bene: not for beginners. It’s most effective if you’re a trumpet player in your…say…mid 60s, at a festival in…say…New Jersey.) Step one: If you happen to be on a set with no appointed leader, even though you’re the most experienced, defer responsibility to a younger less-experienced musician and show no interest in choosing songs. Step two: stand off to the side and spend the whole set with a sour expression (see Tip #1) whilst criticizing the young cat to whom you deferred leadership. And then play the melody to the songs you don’t know, both loudly and incorrectly. (This is some top notch old-school vibing folks and takes many years to execute smoothly. Not for the rookie.)

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Well, I hope that gets all you spirited and fresh-faced young cats on the right track. C’mon guys, don’t you think it’s about time we treated each other with less respect? Why can’t we all get along a little less? So, I hope to see some of you soon, out at a gig and strutting your vibe chops. But be warned: I WILL pretend that I don’t know you. Don’t take it personally. It’s part of that long and beautiful jazz vibe tradition.


*props to David Ostwald: king of the backhanded compliment.

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