Chinatown

Jazz geek that I refuse to admit that I am, my favorite thing about the classic flick Chinatown is Uan Rasey‘s trumpet tone. It’s perfection. Not that it’s pure–you can hear the breath in it–but it’s one of those utterly human sounding things that defies a digital replacement. You cannot create that sound again artificially. You can only create that sound with the exhalations of Uan Rasey. Alas, he stopped exhaling in 2011, and trumpet players being such fragile and irreplaceably analog things, you’ll never hear a sound like that again. You’ll hear re-creations–you can re-create anything digitally–but you’ll never hear Uan Rasey’s breath coming through the brass like that and creating something new and as haunting. Not that his breath itself was special, it was the same as the air we exhale too, 78% nitrogen, 16% oxygen, 5% carbon dioxide and a little argon, at 100% humidity. But our breath will never create that trumpet sound in the theme from Chinatown. We just breathe. He blew trumpet. And while there are zillions of trumpeters still torturing themselves on that miserable little horn–it hurts, a trumpet, a lot of pain–and some absolutely magnificent ones, each is an utterly unique analog thing. Some of those trumpeters are very special and a select few are uniquely perfect. And that is what I hear every time I watch Chinatown. I don’t even always watch it, I sit and write like now, or whatever, and listen. I hear Jack Nicholson says something noir and nasty, then an oof as the cop hits him. There’s a scuffle, shots, and the long, pure, disturbing tone of a car horn cut through the middle by the harsh soprano shrieks of a young girl. Forget it Jake, a voice says, it’s Chinatown. Then the room fills with Uan Rasey’s trumpet and I melt.

Faye Dunaway, looking like the theme sounds, her lines softened, worried and tinged with blue.

Faye Dunaway, looking like the theme sounds, her hard lines worn, haunted and tinged with blue. One of the great films about my town.

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