I knew a guy that learned to play the clarinet, got married eight times, and lived forever, almost. But was he happy? If he’d played bassoon, it would be moot. If he’d played the trumpet, it would be mute, at least on the ballads. The lesson is you don’t sleep with Ava Gardner playing the bassoon. Not at the same time, anyway. And if that’s what makes you happy, be my guest, learn to play the clarinet. You’ll never make a living at it, but then you don’t make a living writing either. But at least writing doesn’t bother the neighbors.
That was a cheap shot. Jazz musicians sit around bars making clarinet jokes till last call and the bouncer escorts them out onto the sidewalk. They lie there, giggling, clutching their instruments. And they wonder why they don’t have more friends. But there was a night at Jax some time ago. I’d gone to see a young clarinet player that Nick Mancini had told me about. I can’t remember who else was crowded up on that tiny Jax stage with him, but they must have been young somebodies, the type you see at the Blue Whale now. John Tegmeyer was that good. He blew my mind that night, playing that ridiculous licorice stick like other guys around town blew their saxophones, with a big, smart, post-post-post-modernist vibe. There was nothing swing about this, nothing nostalgic. Well, hints, maybe, but only hints. A lot of feel, though, and a lot of ideas, and things you can’t play on more technically sophisticated instruments like saxophones and bass clarinets and whatever. I sat right up front watching and listening and afterward I asked a lot of fool questions and thought about a big write up. Thought I’d catch a few more sets first. That never happened. I quit the Weekly not long after, dropped out, lost track of everybody, even the clarinet players.
When Artie Shaw died I pulled out the CD Tegmeyer had given me that night. Can’t Never Go Back Home Again, I think it’s called. You’ve probably never heard of it, since no one pays much attention to our local jazz releases, no matter how great they are. And while I have recordings by living jazz clarinetists like Eddie Daniels and Anat Cohen and a few others (there aren’t many jazz clarinetists anymore), I wanted to hear John Tegmeyer again. It was good. You don’t hear a lot of guys around playing that old thing like that. I wondered, inevitably, what Artie Shaw would have thought. Or if Tegmeyer had met Artie Shaw. Had hung around his home way out there in Simi Valley or wherever and stumbled over books and listened to the old stories and passions and arguments and TMI and caught a glimpse of any of the genius. I doubt they would have played together. I don’t even know if Artie had picked up the clarinet in years.
But I have no idea if this ever happened. In fact, I completely lost track of John Tegmeyer, as I have with just about everybody. I don’t recall seeing Tegmeyer’s name about, but I’m sure he’s done good. Maybe he’s been at the Blue Whale, tearing it up. Or maybe he’s tearing it up in New York City with the rest of the heavies. Maybe he headlined at Monterey. Or maybe he’s starring in a big money Artie Shaw tribute on Broadway. With eight leading ladies. Eight. You can’t do that playing the saxophone.