Question: What do you call a girl on a trombonist’s arm? Answer: A tattoo.
Question: What does a drummer say at his next gig? Answer: You want fries with that?
Question: What do you call a guitarist without a girlfriend? Answer: Homeless.
It’s possible these gags are funny only to musicians, and not even to all of them. One suspects trombonists, drummers and guitarists may not think they are such great knee slappers.
Jokes, we know, are no good if you have to explain them. It has happened in my experience that a certain deadness of expression sets in on some non-musicians’ faces upon hearing them because they aren’t in tune (if you’ll pardon the play on words) with the punch lines. They don’t get them.
Hint: The one about the trombone player and a tattoo of a girl on his arm refers to how un-cool an instrument the trombone is. I can say that because baritone horn (my instrument) players suffer the same fate, only more so.
Drummers and guitarists, on the other hand, leave puddles of cool wherever they go because they overflow with it. They couldn’t contain it if they tried. To say “cool drummer” or “cool guitarist” is to utter a redundancy.
If cool was currency, they’d be rich. Unfortunately for them, it isn’t. Their weak point is that 99.9 percent of them – and there are some truly great amateur drummers and guitarists around – don’t make a living at it.
The biggest reason is the fact there are so few opportunities to be paid for playing. And if there aren’t many for drummers and guitarists, it doesn’t take much imagination to imagine how few there are for baritone horn players.
Another reason most drummers and guitarists don’t make money with their talent has to do with the fact that playing music for a living is not 9 to 5 stuff. It is a hard life almost always requiring a great deal of travel and plenty of night work that can extend into the early morning hours. Because of this it isn’t long before musicians’ spouses begin to think they may as well have married alley cats. To put it mildly, this line of work is not generally conducive to a great home life and raising a family.
It seems to me baritone horn players have gotten the better end of the deal. Never have we dreamed of playing in large venues with thousands of rabidly screaming fans. A few solo toots from us and the room would clear out.
That’s okay. I am completely satisfied being allowed to sit in with my church’s orchestra each Sunday, play a summer concert with Ada’s Community Band, and occasionally even help out with a junior high school band as I did this past week for eighth grade graduation at my wife’s school. These are places to play, which is all folks like me want.
True, baritone horn players aren't cool, but no one jokes about us being homeless either.