The Free Jazz Player’s guide to Romance

Q; What do you call a jazz musician without a girlfriend?
A Homeless.

Dear young player.
Welcome. You have finally become a minority among minorities. Feeling musically inauthentic because you are a white boy, and therefore not soulful? As you know, “ soul is based on experiences of suffering”. CONGRATULATIONS! You will suffer a lot, and besides being broke, you will most likely spend a significant amount of time alone. You will be obscure, unheard. You might even get soul!

You are probably interested in romance, and want to connect to the opposite sex*. ( * I  discussed this aspect with my expert friend Ruben about gay male jazz relations… and there are similar issues)Here are a handful of tried and true suggestions which may give you an advantage.

1. If a woman looks at you while you are taking a solo, try not to become desperate . While abandoning the chord changes and making shrieking sounds matches your inner angst, this will usually not bring about the desired effect. It is likely that, she is just looking around. Try not to draw attention to yourself.

2. Do not expect women to look at you when are taking a solo. Do not expect women to be at your gig. It is highly likely that they do not care.

3. Become grounded in something. Becoming “grounded in the blues” is perhaps a bit too ambitious. Consider something attainable like “ grounded in British Synth pop of the early 80’s”, or “grounded in the Seattle Grunge sound of the early 90’s”. Becoming  “ grounded in the 1970’s Soviet theatrical Avante-garde” may not get you as many dates as ” grounded in the Afro-pop of Zaire”.  Be careful, be choicy.

4. Some instruments are sexier than others. Saxophone can be. Emulate the ” get down” sound of  David Sanborn, instead of  the harmonically expansive Ornette Coleman. Tenor Sax is a good bet: but think early Coltrane, BEFORE 1964. Coleman Hawkins,Lester Young, good. Learn the “ get down sound”. Alto sax is good, but soprano is… well getting very close to… sopranino. No, you still can’t play it in tune, no matter how hard you try!

5. Avoid the soprano saxophone,( unless you can practice every day) Although you may hate Kenny G, he made more money last month than you will for your entire life. Stop listening to Steve Lacy. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT get a sopranino saxophone. Or a musette, or Shenai. They are for going to war. Dewey Redman pulled it off with the musette, but you won’t. The more shrill your instrument is, the more often you will be sleeping alone. Joe Venuti on violin: LeRoy Jenkins might not be the “booty ticket.”

6. Cello is a good bet. You probably had to learn to read music, and control your tone. Women tend to like musicians who actually know how to play their instruments, more than beginners like you. Although you might be a fantastic bass player, you might be passed over for that arrogant, brash idiot with a trumpet.

If you are a” free jazz drummer” consider playing in time occasionally.

7. Get some technology. But only use it if you do not sound screechy.

8. Do not loan out all of your Mingus albums on the first date. You won’t get them back.

9. Suppose a young woman wants to come to your gig. Amazing! Don’t blow it. She may be the only woman in the club, surrounded by Old Crusty Jazz farts, who might bathe infrequently and have been high every day since 1974. O.C.J.F’s  rarely have an internal edit button, and usually say the most inappropriate thing at the most crucial time.  While they look scary, they are mostly harmless, as they haven’t had an original  thought since defending Mile’s electric music to Wynton Marsalis back in 1984.

10. She is your date, not your roadie. Even if the drummer shows ups 5 minutes before the gig, it will not impress her if you ask her to “ help Eric unload his drums”. She is not interested in packing up your shit either.

11. Give her special consideration if she is alone. At one gig, a C.O.J.F. named “Gumby” came up to my date at the time and said “ You Harper’s Old Lady?” “ I guess I am” she said. She was 22. For some unknown reason, we were married for 22 years. But not any more.

12. Many restaurant owners will treat her like merde… for instance, being seated away from the stage, in another room while you are playing. Be ready to apologize.

13. If she comes to your pad: Play Bill Evans. Avoid Cecil Taylor, unless you would like to end the relationship at once. Pat Metheny is a good bet, as is Milton Nascimento, especially the album ‘ Native Dancer” with Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter. “ Free Jazz” by Ornette might not bring about the desired effect.

14. If she likes Eric Dolphy, you have a chance! Don’t scare her away by asking for her hand in marriage just yet.

15. If you are “ getting lucky” do not try to time the ‘moment of clouds and rain’ with that one part of “ upper and Lower Egypt” by Pharoah Sanders. She will hate you.

16. For another date, avoid going to another jazz gig by your friends. She is not interested in hanging out while you talk about tritone substitutions and the new, hip voicings you just discovered.

17. Don’t go to a jazz concert, until much later.But later on, take her to see older jazz musicians ( like Pharoah Sanders) who have weathered the storm and created beauty. She might love you.

18. See a movie, a museum, pretend that you are even slightly interested in a bigger world. Avoid catty remarks about the pop music she listens to. This will rarely impress her.

19.You should  pay, at least your share, on dates. Do not give an indication to her that she is your next ” meal ticket”. get a damn job. Even if it is washing dishes, picking trash.



The Jazz world is often a lonely world. Perhaps these suggestions will save you some heart-ache. Or, since you are young and know everything, you probably will ignore these sage words… I can honestly said I tried….

– the man who was once a young man.

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  1. So, so funnny. LOL! I especially like the soprano sax segment; those high notes are akin to the high pitched squeak hit at the opening of that first word of self-intro. Lower your registers, please, and breathe maestros. Ha! Musicians are so cute:)


    1. Yeah, like even though one might love Coltrane’s solo on ” my favorite things,” interrupting a ” kissy-face” moment by singing the entire solo might destroy the momentum.!


  2. Truly funny, sage, interesting and worth trying to publish more widely. Fix the spelling and get rid of the extra spaces between words. But as for the writing; it’s just fine, really good!!!


    1. Thank you, Doug. I am compiling these essays, and following a loose idea of a…. I am not sure what to call it. But we will have an idea after a year. The key idea is pacing, during the school year, which starts tomorrow…..


  3. Well said. Especially after a night at the Black Dog where the band outlasted the entire audience. The guys in the other room discussing Aristotle said they enjoyed us, tho.


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