The New Saturday Night

There is this old joke about two musicians catching up on the latest news, and the conversation goes something like this:
Musician One: Did you hear about Joe? He died!
Musician Two: No! What did he have?
Musician One: He had the ballet, and first call for all the Broadway shows, and a steady on Sundays at the jazz club and….

So when New York City drummer Giampaolo Biagi asked New Orleans pianist David Boeddinghaus “what he had,” David replied, “Well, on Sunday nights I have a gig at the Can Can with Chris Tyle’s band, Monday nights I’ve got a gig at Fritzel’s, Tuesdays and Wednesdays I’m at the Maison Bourbon with George Finola, and Thursdays and Fridays I have a double on the Steamboat Natchez during the day and the Palm Court at night.

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“And what about Saturday”? Giampaolo asked.

“Oh, Saturdays I have off,” David told him. “You’re off?” Giampaolo asked surprisingly. “You’re OFF?” he repeated. “That’s the one day we all work!!!”

That is the norm. If you only have one gig for the week, it will probably be on Saturday night. So now in the “new normal,” all musicians have Saturday nights off.

When people outside of the Gulf Coast talk about the “new normal,” a slight smirk starts to take over my face. After dealing with Katrina, we can spout chapter and verse on the “new normal” down here. All I want to say is “we gave at the office.” I don’t want to have another “new normal,” But like it or not here we go again.

I’ve watched musicians all over the world try to figure out what to do on “the only day of the week we all work” in “the new normal.” There have been different emotional reactions to the new Saturday night depending on your occupation. If you’re a musician there is a strange combination of emotions ranging from “I never have a Saturday night off, this is GREAT!” to guilt and panic about having your income stream disappear. The latter leaving musicians with only one thought, “now what?”

Some musicians are now performing online concerts and hoping to generate income using a virtual tip jar. Just like hurricane Katrina taught everyone in the Gulf South how to text, COVID-19 has necessitated the download of PayPal, Venmo, and Zelle apps.

If you’re the fan who goes out every Saturday night to listen to live music, there is an emptiness and loss of not spending up close and personal real time with your favorite band. The joy of finding them online seems to be a mixed blessing. The fan is happy to find them on Facebook but the voyeuristic viewing with online busking can feel like new uncharted territory.

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It’s bad enough that the tip jar has taken a VERY prominent place at some live performances, but having the request for moola during these cyber performances can sometimes feel a bit awkward. Some musicians verbalize “the ask” better than others. Andy Schumm’s virtual tip jar goes to keep the whole band afloat and to help fund their next recording project, and is usually accompanied by the phrase, “Not expected but much appreciated” which lets us just relax and listen to the music.Champagne

The cyber concerts coming from venues with no customers feel like a Twilight Zone sci-fi movie where the last man on earth just happens to be a piano player. The performers talking into the emptiness seems so other worldly. I keep expecting to hear “Hal” the computer voice from 2001: A Space Odyssey saying, “That was nice, but can you play ‘Bicycle Built For Two?’”

I have taken to sharing my “new normal” Saturday nights with 60 to 90 of my closest friends, half of whom I have never met before. We all show up in Andy Schumm’s Chicago basement on Facebook.

I met Andy in 2008. He sat in playing cornet with David Boeddinghaus and myself at Donna’s, a venue on Rampart Street. Andy and David met a few years earlier in Racine and bonded over their love of Bix Beiderbecke. Andy was also my birthday present from me to me two and a half years ago.

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I flew him down to play with Tom Saunders on bass sax and David Boeddinghaus on piano, at my house for my big birthday with a zero at the end of it. Obviously, I’m a big fan. Since he first sat in with us those years ago back on Rampart Street, he has also learned how to play clarinet, alto and tenor sax, bass sax, and guitar. Andy was already proficient on piano and drums.

When I found out via New Orleans music fan extraordinaire Don Keller, that Andy would be playing piano on a Saturday Facebook live stream every week, I decided to tune in. Don has also become my human alarm clock reminding me when it’s Saturday and that Andy will be coming on shortly.

Andy dresses up for his live streams, and we viewers do appreciate that. The last concert in May, Tim Laughlin thanked Andy for not performing in Nike shorts and a wife beater. Andy told me wearing a suit made it feel more like a real gig. Though once when he was playing without his shoes on, I confess I did spend a chorus looking at his socks.

Andy plays as comments scroll by on the screen. Jenny, his wife, reads the requests coming in, keeps him posted on the time, and passes on appropriate wise cracks from the comment section that seem repeatable. There is also an occasional appearance by Mona the dog. One Saturday there were a number of comments about the haircut that Jenny gave Andy during the week.

The songs Andy chooses to play and the songs that are requested are mostly rarefied gems. I even like how Andy plays songs I don’t like! I was making song requests that I thought he might know, but they were all ending up in Andy’s “hmmm, maybe next week” pile. He proclaimed you had a much better chance of hearing a song he didn’t normally play if you sent him the sheet music. So, that’s what I did. I sent him the sheet music to Harry Warren’s “Sweet and Slow,” and that process got my request onto his playlist and it came up in the rotation.

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Another Saturday night Andy featured the piano styling of Arthur Schutt. Andy mentioned that Schutt always wore a fresh carnation in his boutonniere. Unbeknownst to Andy one of his neighbors Kathleen and Bob had been tuning into the live streams. They reached out and introduced themselves. Kathleen told Andy she was a florist, and offered to supply Andy with a carnation each week. These days those little kindnesses will turn on my waterworks and start my lower lip to quiver. It was also heartwarming to be online the Saturday it was Andy’s mother’s birthday and watch all the posts roll in wishing her a Happy Birthday.

On top of Andy’s upright piano is an eight by ten framed picture of Bix Beiderbecke along with current event items. At the May 30th live stream, a rocket made by Jenny sat on the corner of the upright to commemorate the space launch that occurred earlier in the day. When Suzanne Gekker saw the rocket on the piano her comment was, “Is that a rocket, or are you just happy to….?” Halfway through the night it made a short flight from one side of the basement to the other. Elon Musk would have been proud.

Beginning May 3, a bottle of Jeppson’s Malört shared the space and is now a permanent fixture. Mid concert is a toast with a shot of the bäsk liquor. It was introduced in the 1930 by a Swedish immigrant Carl Jeppson and it is known for it’s bitter taste. To quote Andy, “It’s like drinking hairspray while licking a 9V battery.” Cheers!Andy Schumm & Jenny

Andy plays for about two hours. It’s a schizophrenic event as people comment on the song he’s playing and request others. It’s as if you’re at a concert where everybody’s talking but you can’t hear them. There have also been “laugh out loud” moments for me. Jenny coughed during one of Andy’s solos and New Orleans pianist Kris Tokarski typed in, “Jenny….Ssssssssh!” Since I’m living at home alone, I’m wondering what my next-door neighbor’s think when they hear these Saturday night guffaws emanating from my occasionally open nearby window.

On May 15 Andy’s basement flooded with an inch and a half of heavy Chicago rain. Our N’Awlins response would have been, “When it gets up to your knees, call me and we’ll talk.” So, that following Saturday after the unwanted water visit, we got to see the Schumm basement from a new angle. The carpet had been pulled up and removed and luckily for us we didn’t have to inhale the musty post carpet removal smell. Everyone commented that the sound quality that evening had more resonance. Since there was no carpet to soak up the sound and the piano was moved out from the wall, we all agreed we liked the sound much better.

Andy has also been experimenting with overdubbing. We were favored with a pre-recorded version of “The Blue Room” where he had recorded all the other instruments and then played cornet live with the recording. True tour de force!

On the second half of Andy’s Saturday night tribute to Arthur Schutt he accompanied the Buster Keaton Movie “Cops.” Accompanying a silent film is a completely different skill set. You are creating the ultimate in mood music. Days later I kept thinking about the mechanics of Andy’s accompaniment and it set me on a Google quest for “how to score music for a silent film.” I found a wonderful site with Jon Mirsalis using “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to show it’s not what you play but how you play it.

Mirsalis also talked about how the studios would send out a “cue sheet” with musical themes or well-known songs to use. The scenes would be listed in order with notations like “beach scene – one minute’. I don’t know if Andy had fun doing it, but it was a real winner for those of use who had tuned in that night.

I have also tuned into Kris Tokarski’s one-hour house concerts and his online performance at Hilton Head’s Jazz Corner. The in-house concerts are socially interesting to me. Just as interesting as the in-home news reports on TV from political pundits and politicians talking about the issues “de jour” from wherever their computers live in their homes. I’m always noticing the background and the books and the art on the walls. I’ve said out loud a few times, “Wow, he’s making a good salary, I’d like to visit that house!”

On Saturday June 13, 2020 Andy escaped to his own backyard joined by John Otto on clarinet and alto sax, Natalie Scharf on tenor sax, Leah Bezin on banjo, Dave Bock on sousaphone, and Andy on piano. The temperature was chilly but boy the music was HOT! What an excellent combination of musicians.

We can only hope we can get some more repeat performances.

I miss my extended musical family. So, my “new normal” Saturday night is joining friends that I know, and Andy’s fans, and others that I am beginning to recognize by their requests, for a shared community of OKOM. The inside jokes are great and whether I’m toasting with water, an 8 oz. glass-bottle of coke, a gin and tonic, or a flute of champagne, I know my new friends and I will enjoy the hospitality of Andy and Jenny and a nasty shot of Malört. Cheers!

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