Cart 0

Dance with the One That Brought You

David Berger



I only wanted to do two things in this life: play for the Brooklyn Dodgers and be a jazz musician. Obviously, I only got to do the latter, but that hasn’t stopped me from being a rabid baseball fan. With the Yankees’ crushing defeat last night at the hands (and bat) of 5’6” José Altuve, it was classic David (Altuve)and Goliath (Aroldis Chapman, the biggest and baddest pitcher in baseball history). And so ended my 8-month 162-game investment in the 2019 New York Yankees, my home team. I have the next 4 months to nurse my wounds and focus on the rest of my life. My first thought when I woke up this morning was how different baseball and jazz are, and yet, how similar they are in some ways.


The statement that America’s three great contributions to humanity are the Constitution, baseball, and jazz has become a cliché. I’ve never questioned it, even as each entity has undergone serious existential challenges. On the surface, jazz and baseball seem to have little in common. Jazz is an art form. Baseball is a sport.


For some of us, baseball is unquestionably the greatest sport ever invented, but it is a sport, which means that it is a contest—a substitute for battle. We are too civilized to go around killing people who don’t live near us. So, each city picks its champions to represent it and do battle with the champions from the other cities. At the end of the season, the best teams play each other. The last team standing is the winner. All the other teams (and cities) are losers. Losers! Ugh!


It’s clear who wins and loses—after nine innings, the team with the most runs wins. There are thousands of rules. The umpires are the judges. What they say goes. If a player or manager argues with them, the ump will toss him out of the game.


Besides wins and losses, baseball is a game of infinite statistics. Players are now rated by wins above replacement. There no longer is any question who the best players are—the numbers tell all. When I was a kid in the 1950s, my friends and I would argue endlessly about New York’s three great centerfielders: Mickey, Willie, and the Duke. All three went on to the Hall of Fame. Willie Mays had the longest career with the fewest health issues. Both Mantle and Snider were ultimately hobbled by their ailing knees. It was magic to watch them play.


Between 1951 and 1957 New York was the capital of baseball. We had three great teams that were vicious rivals that dominated both leagues. They were so competitive that at the end of the ’57 season, when the Dodgers told Jackie Robinson they were trading him to the Giants, he told management, “I hate the Giants. I quit.” And so, he retired.


From the 1920s through the 1950s baseball was America’s pastime, while jazz was our popular music. Professional basketball and football were in their infancies. Rock ’n’ roll began as teenage music in the ’50s, but didn’t become the loudest voice in the room until a few years after the Dodgers and Giants broke the hearts of millions and moved west. For us Brooklyn fans, the Dodgers were our religion.


But baseball, being a sport, is, at its root, a metaphor for war. We are either overjoyed when our team wins or depressed when they lose. About 40 years ago my friend Dan Meltzer wrote a column in The Westsider, our local weekly newspaper, about how he was giving up baseball. Dan was a long-suffering Mets fan. He came to the conclusion that he couldn’t ride the emotional roller coaster any longer. He no longer wanted to give the Mets control over whether he was happy or sad on any particular day. Understandable, and maybe even logical. However, this is not an option to us addicts.


In the arts, it’s not about winning and losing, and there are no stats to determine if Miles Davis is better than Dizzy Gillespie. We can have our favorites, but at the end of a piece of music or concert, everybody wins.


Trombonist Alan Ferber wrote that “baseball players and jazz musicians both strive for a perfect balance between disciplined practice and spontaneity.” This can be said of all the performing arts, but jazz demands more improvisational skill than any other art form. Many years ago, Wynton Marsalis and I set out to define the characteristics that are essential to jazz. What we came up with was:



The Blues


Improvisational Interplay


More than mere improvisation, the essence of our music is the democratization of everyone’s contribution. We improvise our parts within the conversational structure that enables us all to express ourselves while respecting and even encouraging all the other players. No other music that I know of is so highly structured and at the same time so flexible to allow spontaneity from all its artists.


I tend to think of ensemble playing in music as a team sport. It involves coordination and discipline. The proportion of individual and team contributions varies from sport to sport as it does in various genres of music and even from one jazz band to another.


It can be argued that baseball has the most integrated relationship between the individual and team play of any sport. It begins with the pitcher and catcher deciding on a set play (pitch selection--fast ball, curve, slider, etc.), then the batter decides whether to swing or not. The result of that swing puts the other eight or more players on the field in motion, improvising in response to the ball and baserunners. This requires split-second decisions and dependence on all the members of each team on the field. In jazz we decide on the tune and the pre-set arrangement. Following the count-off, the ball is in play.


At every moment the jazz musician (and composer and arranger) must entice the listener to be able to predict what will happen next, and then, at the last instant, throw him or her a curve ball. This cat-and-mouse game is as much the essence of the pitcher/catcher confrontation as it is at the heart of comedy and music. When this element of set-up and surprise is at its height in jazz, we recognize the delight we feel with a smile or in extreme cases, an audible laugh. Timing, manipulation, and humor. I’ve read that other animals and even plants love jazz. Do they appreciate the humor? I’ve never seen a dog laugh, let alone a tree, but who knows?


Like sports, music gets better with repeated playing by the same personnel. Aside from Duke Ellington’s compositional genius, much of his success can be attributed to his loyal personnel. It takes time for a team to gel. This year’s Yankee team was picked to win the World Series before opening day. On paper they were the favorites, but you know the old saying: Man plans, and God laughs.


Injuries ensued starting in spring training. I mean injuries on a Biblical scale. It was like Job and the plagues on Egypt rolled into one. In response, the Yankees purchased undervalued players from other teams and promoted youngsters from their farm system. Miraculously, these fill-ins excelled, and the Yankees kept winning. All the while, the fans, announcers and journalists kept wondering what would happen when the stars came back at the end of the season. Wouldn’t this team be unbeatable?


This past week we got our answer. The stars came back from their injuries, and they didn’t gel. On paper, this should have been one of the greatest Yankee teams in history, but with a few exceptions, they hit a speed bump—they slumped—Mighty Casey has struck out. I’m not sure that the Yankees could have benched their stars and played Voit, Ford, and Maybin (Tauchman and German were not available), but these were the guys that got them to the dance.


In jazz we are often enticed by all-star groups, but for all the talent on the stage, those groups can lack the cohesion of a well-oiled, seasoned band, even if those bands don’t have the star power. It often comes down to choosing between great solos and great ensemble playing. Ideally, we want both, but realistically, financial constraints prevail.


A few days ago, my buddy Bob Keller asked me for my personnel for the greatest all-time jazz big band. Obviously, this is silly, but it made me think. Here is what I came up with. Mind you, this is primarily a swing band and also represents my personal taste:


Saxes: Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan

Trumpets: Snooky Young, Louis Armstrong, Clark Terry, Miles Davis

Trombones: JJ Johnson, Tricky Sam Nanton, Bob Brookmeyer

Rhythm: Wes Montgomery, Duke Ellington, Oscar Pettiford, Elvin Jones

Singers: Billie Holiday, Nat Cole

Leader & Arranger: Duke Ellington


It was hard to not include Ben Webster, Dizzy, Lawrence Brown, Charlie Christian and Thelonious Monk and Joe Williams. I might have to start a second band. Try assembling a similar All-time baseball team. When I was a kid, I had a book that did that. There wasn’t one player that played after 1950. No Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Nolan Ryan, Yogi Berra or Derek Jeter, let alone Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Complete reverence for the distant past.


As great as my All-star band might be, if we could assemble it in heaven (assuming heaven exists), would it compare to Basie’s Old Testament or New Testament bands, or Duke’s Blanton-Webster band or his late ’50s group? Who can say? The playing would be great, but would they gel? Or would they make four errors in one game and leave dozens of men on base? As in love, chemistry is a powerful component. And now the Yankees must consider all this and move on to next season. Will this be a team of stars or an evolving, working team? We shall see.

Older Post Newer Post

  • 카지노추천 탑슬롯먹튀 on

    はむぉんだぴちてずん 카지노추천 탑슬롯먹튀 바카라분석법 더킹카지노 비바카지노 온라인바카라 잭팟시티 에그벳슬롯 바카라게임사이트 온라인슬롯사이트 sm카지노 생중계카지노 퍼스트카지노 메리트카지노먹튀 온라인카지노 바카라검증사이트 포텐슬롯사이트 바카라게임사이트 포텐슬롯사이트 카지노다이사이 온라인블랙잭 마카오카지노 비바카지노쿠폰 바카라게임사이트 식보게임주소 비바카지노 슬롯머신 코인카지노 비보게이밍 바카라잘하는법 카심바슬롯잭팟 카지노슬롯사이트 카심바슬롯생중계바카라 온라인카지노슬롯머신 바카라잘하는방법 포텐슬롯사이트 트럼프카지노 카지노슬롯머신 메가슬롯먹튀 온라인바카라게임 더나인카지노먹튀 바카라잘하는법 모바일바카라 인터넷룰렛 FM카지노 포텐슬롯사이트 카심바코리아 생중계바카라 텍사스카지노 카지노블랙잭 바카라검증사이트 온라인블랙잭 카지노슬롯사이트 포텐슬롯사이트 타이산게임 우리카지노계열사 슬롯머신 라이브카지노 마이크로게임 카지노사이트추천 바카라 카지노사이트추천 안전카지노 카지노슬롯머신 온라인카지노 블랙잭사이트 오공슬롯먹튀 바카라사이트 온라인바카라 인터넷슬롯머신 바카라잘하는법 마이크로게임 카지노검증사이트 카지노게임 카지노슬롯사이트 카심바슬롯 포텐슬롯주소 카심바슬롯 포텐슬롯 우리카지노 포텐슬롯사이트 포텐슬롯 오공슬롯 프로카지노 트럼프카지노먹튀 메가슬롯먹튀 필리핀아바타카지노 바카라사이트 포텐슬롯 바카라배팅노하우 온라인바카라 아바타바카라 카지노사이트 슬롯머신777 mongoangulam998 에볼루션게임 바카라사이트 파라오카지노카지노슬롯사이트 온라인슬롯사이트 에볼루션게임33카지노 안전카지노 애플카지노 카심바주소 스핀슬롯 온라인바카라 바카라배팅전략 바카라그림보는법 카지노블랙잭 mongoangulam998 COD카지노 안전카지노 카지노사이트주소 카지노추천 탑슬롯먹튀 강원랜드다이사이 슬롯머신추천 바카라룰 바카라타이 온라인카지노 온라인카지노 플레이텍게이밍 포텐슬롯 포텐슬롯주소 카지노사이트주소 mongoangulam998 온라인카지노 카지노추천 탑슬롯먹튀 바카라추천 카지노게임 포텐슬롯 바카라검증사이트 플레이슬롯 온라인바카라 카지노커뮤니티 온라인카지노 온라인바카라 카지노게임사이트 온라인카지노 바카라사이트추천 포텐슬롯사이트 스핀슬롯 온라인바카라 온라인카지노 더킹카지노 온라인바카라 홈카지노 바카라시스템배팅 ろひさけつ 포텐슬롯사이트 바카라사이트 트럼프카지노먹튀 카지노사이트추천 리조트월드카지노 우리카지노계열 카심바카지노 のぽぽさゐなばてざく

  • Robert Washut on

    Addendum: The obvious commonality between jazz and baseball is swing. No swing, no ding (ding-a-ding).

  • John Greiner on

    Elvin Jones as your “primarily swing band” drummer? Alrighty then….

  • Dave Glenn on

    Great one David!!! I second Bob Washut’s recommendation of Fred Sturm’s piece. I got to see it performed several years ago by the Seattle Symphony with Dave Winfield doing the narration – real thrill, especially with the hang with Fred afterwards! If you don’t have a copy of my CD “National Pastime” email me your mailing address and I’ll send you a copy. Keep writing, man – I always enjoy hearing what you have to say!!

  • Bob Washut on

    Very nice, David. It brought to mind Fred Sturm and his Baseball Music Project:
    Fred loved both jazz and baseball dearly. And I loved Fred, despite his being a Cubs fan. Go Cards!

Leave a comment