Don’t Shoot Yourself, You’re the Pianist

Somebody got me Ronnie Scott’s Some of My Best Friends Are Blues for Christmas. It’s a fun little read, and there are bound to be some anecdotes that will be new to you, even if you think you know all there is to know about that long-ago scene. (Incidentally, the shabby downstairs hangout used to be known in my day on the nudge’n’wink as The Groovers’ Bar).

There’s an interesting bit discussing how the late great Stan Tracey felt about playing with the big stars of the day, which is instructive.

Stan was the house pianist at the Club during the heady ’60s when the union blowhards had finally started allowing US-UK exchanges. His schedule would have made a veteran rep actor weep – he played with all comers for nigh on six years without a break, seven nights a week, twice on Sundays.

He was often asked whether the prospect of dancing with the big boys made him nervous, and replied that it’s a good job it didn’t or he’d have had a nervous breakdown….

He would also point out that the visiting demigods were actually used to playing with local rhythm sections all over the States, and he and the guys certainly weren’t any worse than some of the outfits the big boys would have encountered out in the boondocks.

Stan keeping up with Ben Webster.

Stan keeping up with Ben Webster…


No offense to the Littlepoke, Arkansas musical community, but even then, in the days when the visitors were held in awe, the notion that somebody is in a different league just because they have an American passport was starting to break down…

Jazz is rather more democratic than most other performing arts, in that the greats really do breathe the same air as the rest of us. Members of a local amateur dramatic society just aren’t going to get to work with Benedict Cumberbatch, but the equivalent happens quite frequently in the jazz world.

Some tips for playing with a famous firebreather:

  • Enjoy it
  • Playing with a good musician can lift your game – let that happen
  • Focus extra-hard on keeping the form – starstruck people often become incoherent when speaking, never mind playing, so if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, just make sure you keep things solid
  • Remember, these people go to the toilet too
  • When your solo comes, be yourself

Regarding being yourself – take a leaf out of Stan’s book. As Ronnie observed, he was always a very individualistic player. On one occasion, a stellar guest hissed at him: “if you’re going to play crap, at least play it quietly.” Stan thought for a moment, and then replied with that classic retort that has made Londoners the formidable internationally admired philosophical debaters they are:


PS One of my favourite Ronnie gags: “Somebody phoned the club earlier to ask what time the gig started. We said: ‘what time can you get here?’” Some things never change…

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings, i) Reviews
2 comments on “Don’t Shoot Yourself, You’re the Pianist
  1. Pete Cook says:

    …and you’ll be pleased to know the chef’s rash is clearing up nicely…

  2. Adam Cole says:

    Great stuff! I was wondering what to do when my big break came…and went. In all seriousness, though, a good solid post.

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