"Jumpin' The Buck" - Youngblood Brass Band

"Jumpin' The Buck" (PDF) from the Youngblood Brass Band album, Word On the Street.
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Have you ever heard the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf?  You know the one, a young shepherd pulls pranks on his flock of sheep because he is utterly depressed with the choices he has made regarding his professional career.  Even before the onset of adolescence, he watches all of his dreams and future potential wash away for the more lucrative, but less fulfilling, opportunity of herding sheep.

Then one day, the boy decides that in order to shake himself out of the day-in-day-out routine, he constructs a series of pranks to keep the flock on its toes.  He randomly sheers off all the wool from his flock of sheep, and then uses the fresh fleece to reconstruct a badass mask in the likeliness of the head of a London wolf that he found lying dead on the side of highway; roadkill.  He waits until night falls to don the mask to terrify the sheep as they sleep naked and vulnerable.

Everything goes accordingly to his plan, even the shadows from the moonlight diffuse in the fog from the loch to create a creepier vibe across the land.  The boy sticks his head into the wolf's mask and dances around the sleeping sheep for a full hour in the cold night, hollering and growling, prancing and gyrating, kicking up and splashing the collected dew on the blades of grass beneath him.  But it was all for naught.  He forgot that sheep are deep sleepers, which is where the phrase "to count sheep" comes from when we want to mimic their snoozing abilities.

At some point in the night, the boy grows tired, tired of everything.  His body hurts, he is weak, and he desperately needs some shut-eye.  The boy lays down beside his sheep, looking up into the dark sky, as the distant stars form constellations in his eyes.  Instead of seeing mythological figures, the boy watches the stars take the shapes of all the things he could have done with his life: the basketball hoop from the championship game, the jet that he would fly in the war, the rigid face of the farm woman he would one day marry.  He looks in every direction of the sky and only sees these mirrored images into infinity.  He realizes that his damned destiny in this universe is on that tiny hill, watching over a flock of miserable, shivering sheep.  Through the shrinking eyeholes of the wooly mask tears begin to trickle out where the ducts should have been, and inside the wolf boy cries.

Or something like that.  Honestly, I never learned how that story actually ended because I was too busy interrupting its telling with my own clever plot points and spoilers, until everybody stopped listening to me.  Regardless, I think that we can all agree that the lesson learned from this story is the importance of saying, "Hey!  Shut up!"

One of the unwritten rules of my blog is to avoid harsh criticism of the music that I transcribe.  It is an easy and destructive sentiment to assert myself to be in a superior position, when in fact I simply write about the music rather than perform it, a much more daunting task.  Instead, I try to find something useful within a transcription, an idea or truth that is communicated in the hopes of creating something bigger.  This is a challenging task, but a constructive one.  And it is with only the best intention that I say to this trombone solo, "Hey!  Shut up!"

Before I progress, let me explain that my criticism is not directed toward any specific trombonist, being that the liner notes of this album do not indicate who is playing this solo, but rather my comments are targeted to the masses.  Also, consider the fact that this is the first album by the aptly-named Youngblood Brass Band, recorded in their early twenties from a small town in Wisconsin.  We all had to start somewhere, and we all had an inexperienced way of playing at some point.

My first reaction to this solo is that there are lot of notes in it.  For instance, the longest note that I could find was a quarter-note, if played for its full duration.  There are, however, a couple quarter-note triplets, but one could argue that it is the effect of a flexible metronome within the player, which leads me to my next comment.  Because there are so many notes being crammed into a tight space, something has to give, and in this case it is the rhythm or the groove.  The solo does have some Fred Wesley qualities, such as syncopated rhythms, but the reason why Mr. Wesley can play a lot of notes is because his rhythm is solid.  He knows how to sit in a groove and where to place those rhythms to tighten up the groove, even repeating the same phrases many times.  The lesson from Mr. Wesley's playing is that if you ever loose the groove, then you lose the audience.

So instead of trying to play a lot of notes, why not just play one really good note?  Let your solos breathe and give them a chance to sing.  If you think about it (or don't), it is easier to let a melody play itself than it is to force the instrument to work.  This is a different way of thinking and playing, especially if the groove is high in energy, but it is a simpler and more mature way of performing.  So, "Hey!  Shut up!"

The title of this tune, "Jumpin' The Buck," refers to the style of dance in New Orleans.  But I can not say that I understand the true origin of "buckjump" or to what it refers.  Also, the structure of this tune includes a section where the horns play behind a soloist at the top, so as to launch him into the actual solo.  I want to say that I have heard of a term for this technique, such as "launch pad," but if anyone has any more definitive information regarding either topic, please drop it in the comments or send me an email.  Thanks.

Here's a YouTube video of some people playing an arrangement of this tune, somewhere.  It starts around the 2-minute mark.  Dig the hard hats!

Recommended reading: Improvise.: Scene From The Inside Out by Mick Napier.  Published by Heinemann Drama.