Author Archives: Andre Sudol

Little People’s Village

Context:

The informant – my dad, RS – is a white man in his early 50s, born and raised in Cheshire, Connecticut, but living in South Florida now. He was raised Catholic on a farm with two siblings. He’s skeptical of the supernatural for the most part, but is pretty familiar with a lot of the Connecticut’s many ghost stories. The following conversation took place in person during a larger conversation in which he told me a number of his favorite Connecticut ghost stories. It was, for the most, part a classic storytelling situation, but at times felt more like a sharing of childhood memories than the dramatic performance of a ghost story.

Piece:

RS: There are a lot of places famously considered haunted in Connecticut, but one that was always really interesting and really stood out to me is the Little People’s Village. If you hike out into this wooded area off the road in Middlebury, you’ll find all these crumbling concrete structures. There’s the foundation of what looks like a small house… there’s these structures built into a hill, one of them sort of looks like a throne, but mainly there are all of these little concrete dollhouse sized houses, scattered all around the area, maybe six or seven of them.

The story I always heard growing up was that there was a couple – a husband and wife I guess – who lived in this little house in the woods. One day, the wife started hearing voices. She claimed that little people – fairies, demons, whatever – were talking to her. She started going crazy and made her husband build all these little houses for the fairies.

She grew more and more obsessed with the little people – they were telling her that she was their queen, so she made her husband build her a throne so that she could properly… rule over the little people I suppose? (laughter). The little people began to feel threatened by the husband, so one day they told the wife to kill him. She did – I can’t remember how the story goes from there. I think she goes crazy and eventually kills herself. But the old legend is that if you go to Little People’s Village and sit in her throne, you’ll die in seven years

Me: Did you ever pay Little People’s Village a visit?

RS: Oh yeah, me and my buddies would go there a few times when we were teenagers. It’s a bit creepy, especially at night. No sign of any little people though. I wonder if any of it’s there anymore.

Me: Did you sit in the throne?

RS: Yeah I did… I’m still alive though!

Analysis:

Upon doing some research, I discovered that the structures behind the story of Little People’s Village were part of an amusement park that featured a trolley line that went out of business in the early 20th century. The “house” was likely a gift shop and the concrete dollhouses were part of a display. Ghost stories are very common in Connecticut, since much of the state isn’t in constant renovation like many other parts of the country, and old buildings and structures are often left to decay, making for both many creepy sights and a more direct connection to the past.

Given the appearance of the structures that inspired the story of Little People’s Village, it’s fairly obvious how the legend developed, since the strange structures out of context beg a more unique and specific explanation than an ordinary old house. I find it interesting that the story features specifically a woman going insane and murdering her husband, since the story could have easily gone a number of other ways while still featuring the little people. However, developing likely in the 1960s, it’s not surprising that stories would lean towards including this somewhat sexist stereotype/archetype of the hysterical woman.

 

 

Shed: Jazz lingo

Context:

The informant – AB – is a 20-year-old white male and is a sophomore at the USC Thornton School studying Jazz Guitar. The following excerpts/quotes are from a conversation with AB and some other jazz majors during the break of a music industry class. After class, I asked him to explain some of the jazz lingo that took place during the prior conversation. The conversation from which the quotes were taken was the most natural context possible, as the students – all jazz musicians – were simply having a conversation, and I was taking note of their use of lingo. Asking AB to explain the lingo after, he knew he was explaining to the readers of the collection and not to me, since he knows that I myself am a jazz major and am familiar with the slang.

 

Piece:

AB/Other students: “Yo, have you shed for your jury yet?”

“I’m gonna be hitting the shed all weekend, I haven’t even started learning my transcription.”

“Have you shed this Herbie Hancock album, The New Standard?”

Me (after class): In our conversation earlier, I heard the word “shed” come up a lot. What does that mean in this context?

AB: Umm, shed just means, like to practice something or check something out. Like if I say, “shed my scales,” it means “practice my scales,” or if I say “I’ve been shedding this album,” it means I’ve been listening to that album a lot.

Me: Do you know where this slang comes from?

AB: There’s a story that… ah fuck who is it…? I think Charlie Parker…? locked himself in a woodshed for months to practice after folding hard at a jam session. So some people say “hit the woodshed,” but most people just say, “hit the shed,” or just, “shed.”

 

Analysis:

As a jazz major myself, I know that the idea of holing up and practicing for hours, or even days, is highly romanticized. People often brag about how much they’ve been “shedding,” and there are a lot of legends and stories about the countless hours that the most famous jazz giants spent practicing without any social contact. Slang within any clique is a way of creating an exclusionary environment. Knowing and using jazz lingo that non-jazz musicians don’t understand creates a feeling of unity and cohesiveness within the community, as does the slang of any social group.

 

Vibe: Jazz slang

Context:

 

The informant – AB – is a 20-year-old white male and is a sophomore at the USC Thornton School studying Jazz Guitar. The following excerpts/quotes are from a conversation with AB and some other jazz majors during the break of a music industry class. After class, I asked him to explain some of the jazz lingo that took place during the prior conversation. The conversation from which the quotes were taken was the most natural context possible, as the students – all jazz musicians – were simply having a conversation, and I was taking note of their use of lingo. Asking AB to explain the lingo after, he knew he was explaining to the readers of the collection and not to me, since he knows that I myself am a jazz major and am familiar with the slang.

 

Piece:

AB/Other students: “Peter vibed me soo hard in my lesson the other day for not having my transcription written out.”

“Man, Aaron is super killing but he’s such a vibe.”

“I was at the mint jam session last night… It was hosted by the Monk Institute cats… I basically got vibed off the stage haha… it was dark.”

“The red vest over a t-shirt… that could be a vibe!”

Me (after class): I keep hearing the word “vibe” pop up in jazz conversation. Could you explain what that means?

AB: Sure. It’s kinda hard to explain. It pretty much means to condescend someone at a jam session, but it’s used pretty loosely now, like it doesn’t need to be exclusively in a musical context. Or if someone “is a vibe,” that means that they’re kind of a dick.

Me: That’s interesting, since most people say vibe to mean, like, positive vibes.

AB: Yeah, and it could mean that too. Like saying that something is a vibe could also mean that it’s hip. It depends on the context I guess.

 

Analysis:

As a jazz musician myself, I know from experience that “vibing” at jam sessions is a pretty big part of jazz culture. Jazz culture is very elitist, and jazz musicians like to maintain the somewhat cutthroat environment that you hear about in old jazz stories. Condescending people at jam sessions and letting people know that you know you’re better than them is one of the primary ways that this dynamic is maintained. Further, slang within any clique is a way of creating an exclusionary environment. Knowing and using jazz lingo that non-jazz musicians don’t understand creates a feeling of unity and cohesiveness within the community, as does the slang of any social group.

 

The Lick

Context:

The informant – AB – is a 20-year-old white male and is a sophomore at the USC Thornton School studying Jazz Guitar. The following conversation took place after a music class we had just finished, in which I asked him about any folklore/traditions/inside jokes in jazz culture. Knowing that I am a jazz major and am likely familiar with any traditions he may mention, I record AB explaining these traditions as if he were explaining to an outsider.

Piece:

AB: I mean, probably the biggest meme in jazz is the lick, which is this, well, lick that people play as a joke.

(AB sings “the lick,” which goes, in terms of musical scale degrees, 1 2 b3 4 2 b7 1).

When jamming, people will sneak in the lick as a joke, and everyone else playing with them will, I don’t know, probably roll their eyes at them. It’s definitely a stale meme by now.

Me: Why is this lick such a joke among jazz musicians?

AB: If you listen to old jazz recordings, you’ll notice the lick being played everywhere. It’s just a super common phrase that soloists will play. And then, a few years ago, someone made a video on YouTube called “the lick,” and it was like a montage of a ton of different famous musicians using the lick, and it’s just been like a huge meme since then.

Here is a link to the video referenced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krDxhnaKD7Q

 

Analysis:

The lick seems like a way for jazz musicians to prove that they’re in the know with jazz culture to the musicians that they’re playing with, or simply a way for musicians to make each other laugh during a jam session. Quoting other songs (like other jazz standards, timeless songs like “pop goes the weasel,” or simply pop songs) at a jam session has always been a part of jazz culture and is a way for jazz musicians to crack subtle jokes at each other while playing. But, the lick is special, since it’s so steeped in jazz culture and is so exclusive to jazz musicians: quoting a pop song, for instance, might make a non-musician audience member laugh, but quoting the lick goes over non-musician’s heads. Inside jokes like this help to maintain a level of unity and exclusivity within different social groups. The lick, in the jazz world, – a social group that is particularly elitist and exclusionary – is a way of separating the outsiders from the insiders, filtering the young musicians who “don’t take the music seriously” from the insiders who are familiar with the phrase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jo Jones Cymbal Story

Context:

The informant – N – is a 20-year-old white male, born and raised in Los Angeles. He is currently a sophomore at the USC Thornton School of Music studying jazz drum set. He is my roommate and one of my closest friends. Because N has studied jazz for a long time and currently studies under jazz legend, Peter Erskine, I asked him if there were any legends or stories that he’s heard that could be considered jazz folklore.

Piece:

N: Well, I think the most classic jazz legend is the story of when Jo Jones threw a cymbal at Charlie Parker’s head during a jam session. The story goes, a sixteen-year-old Charlie Parker shows up to a jam session where Jo Jones is part of the house band. Charlie Parker’s been shedding a bunch of “groundbreaking” hip harmony shit (said sarcastically), but when he goes up to the band stand, he folds on the changes and loses the form. Then, apparently, Jo Jones stopped playing in the middle of the tune and threw a cymbal at Parker’s head. Parker left the jam session, swearing that he’d be back. And apparently that’s what motivated him to lock himself in the woodshed for a year, and that’s why he’s such a legend now.

Me: Do you think that story really happened?

N: Well the movie Whiplash made that version of the story famous, but I’ve heard versions where he just threw the cymbal at his feet, or where he threw his stick bag at him, and the whole audience laughed. I’m sure some version of the story probably happened, but I doubt it’s as dramatic as everyone says.

Me: Why do you think the story has gained so much popularity?

N: I think probably because of Whiplash mainly. And since it’s so dramatic, people always love the stories that make the old cats seem badass.

Analysis:

In addition to its inclusion in Whiplash, I think this legend is likely so popular because it provides lore to the elitist and cutthroat atmosphere of jazz culture. I think it’s a legend that band directors will tell students to ensure that they practice sufficiently before going to jam sessions. Also, it’s a nice story of someone letting an embarrassing situation motivate them, acting as a catalyst for them becoming a legend. I also think it’s interesting that N sarcastically referred to young Charlie Parker as groundbreaking, seemingly implying that the music has come so far since then that it’s humorous to think of Parker’s bebop playing as groundbreaking.