I’m a pretty good looking guy. I don’t think that’s an outrageous statement. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to see me anytime soon on a Calvin Klein billboard sporting their latest line of briefs. But I think it’s safe to say in the spectrum of hotness I’m a little closer to George Clooney than to George Costanza.
I know, I know, this article is certainly not the platform for me to wax lyrical about my superficialities. I am meandering my way to a point here, folks. And that point is to register an official complaint.
Let me explain. When I was a teenager, I would read the stories about how Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were pop superstars, with untold fame and fortune, and women lining themselves up to be with them. Now, Artie seemed like a handsome gent, but Benny? C’mon. Not exactly your Hollywood leading man. He had the appearance of someone more comfortable handling your tax-return than your daughter.
But by reading about it, it seemed like clarinet was the key to sex appeal. I was seventeen when I picked up the clarinet. Not one to ever really have success with the young lasses at school, surely this was the fast track to superstardom and subsequent romantic attention. It seemed obvious to me that after a few months of practice, the girls would flock from their football-playing boyfriends’ arms to hear me squeak out a few high notes on “Sing Sing Sing” with the school concert band.
Unfortunately, and little did I know at the time, I was 50 years too late. Clarinet was no longer the icon of super studliness. Electric guitar had adopted the role of chick magnet sometime between the Swing Era and my conception. Bad timing on my part.
But…and let’s be honest here folks, objectively speaking was it ever really a sexy instrument? Guitar I can understand: it’s loud, and looks good when you play it wearing leather pants. If you play clarinet while wearing leather pants you look like a pedophile.
Even if, for argument’s sake, you take guitar players out of the race, saxophone players still get all the chicks. Lester Young switched to the tenor sax from drums because he noticed the horn players were getting the ladies while he was back stage packing up his kit. If speed of instrument dismantlement is correlated to sex appeal, I’ll start playing piccolo.
Nowadays it’s hard for me to believe the history books that write of these clarinet players being sex symbols. But on reflection, I’d propose that it wasn’t the clarinet that gave these swing icons their appeal, but rather the fame and fortune. In which case, as a jazz clarinetist in the 21st century, I’m pretty much doomed.
Have you ever met a clarinet player up close? They’re tall, lanky, pallid, and smell vaguely of mothballs. Form an orderly line, ladies.
Furthermore, the sort of personality that chooses to play clarinet is…someone that needs help with his personality. If you buy a clarinet, it should come with a free sports car to at least give you a fighting chance in the dating scene.
So basically, I’d like my money back please. I bought this instrument and for years have been playing it under false pretenses. My Australian accent is the only thing giving me any social traction. Crikey. But perhaps it’s not too late, and I could turn things around for this maligned instrument. Perhaps I could become the bad-boy of jazz clarinet? Have some inappropriate body parts pierced, and burn my clarinet on stage a la Jimmy Hendrix. Then again, rather than being controversial, I think burning a clarinet would just bring a lot of people relief.
Perhaps there are other ways to bring it back to popularity? A nude calendar perhaps? A tasteful photo shoot of yours truly lying on a bed of roses playing “Memories of You?” (Advance orders can be made c/o Syncopated Times).
Until that day comes when it all turns around and the clarinet once again tops the pop charts, you can catch me at a gig, in the corner with the other clarinetists, cowering from the bright lights and complaining about our reeds.
Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his Old School Jazz Band, based in New York City. His most recent CD is Jazz Speak issued on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit his sites on the world wide web: adriancunningham.com and professorcunninghamjazz.com.
The Professor is delighted to field your questions regarding jazz and a variety of other germane topics. Write him at email@example.com.
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