Wait For It… a blog by Andy Ross

Smoothest Jazz

Posted on May 20, 2011

Smooth Jazz

The Lightest Jazz in the World was played on January 12th, 1994 by Freddy Hirschbaum and the Velvet Cats. It happened in the basement of the Horizons Jazz Club and Cigar Bar in Toronto, Canada, and it changed the course of history.

Light jazz had been played before. Of course it had. But never this light, never this smooth. Listeners of that evening’s set described the first note as "whipped margarine gently tilted into our ears."

It was jazz so gentle and inoffensive, so soft and subtle that the tabletop candles no longer flickered---their flames now as still as crystal. Glassware stopped clinking; plumbing stopped clanking; existence seemed to pause in hushed contemplation.

It only got smoother from there---muted trombone, pianissimo piano, a clarinet solo spare and haunting. The beat tiptoed like whispered footsteps along sand dunes. One song blended into the next until it became not a playlist but what the Ancient Greeks called "the gossamer of Arachne."

Soon, jazz flowed so lightly it slipped between the cracks of space and time. The physical laws of our universe could no longer hold a groove this smooth. Specks of blinding blue light tore the air around the Velvet Cats. Freddy "Pudding Fingers" Hirschbaum dissolved into a fine mist. In a quiet “pop” the rest of the band vanished. Slowly, the sounds of the outside world intruded, and the audience wandered out, stunned and solemn.

Fifteen and a half years later, during a beach volleyball tournament along the Chicago lakeshore, a crackling boom split the calm. Dozens were blown off their feet by the shockwave. At the center of a large crater stood the Velvet Cats, or at least what remained of them.

Ropy and muscular, the jazz musicians twitched alertly. Matted beards bristled against hardened, leathery skin. Their black turtlenecks and tweed jackets hung around their waists as shredded loincloths. “Scats” Schulman carried an improvised crossbow crafted from his upright bass. The clarinetist squinted through his one remaining eye.

They told the story of a wasteland they called the Otherworld, where intelligent reptilian insects sought only death and fuel for their pagan pyres. These daemons worshipped the all-powerful demigod Grah’mun-Sep, a beast ten stories tall with eyes of fire and a hundred mouths, each with a thousand fangs.

Lakes of acid boiled underfoot, and nights brought psychic waves of dread. Hidden in their tiny cave, the Velvet Cats had fought off a creature they had named “the wolf fungus.” Freddy Hisrchbaum disappeared during a scavenging expedition. They assumed he’d been trapped for use as a living hatchery for the insectoids’ egglings.

What had been fifteen years here had been only a few months for the jazz band. Only a few had survived, living off what little the daemons left behind during their pillaging. Now, they had returned bringing warning.

Grah’mun-Sep had discovered the gateway torn open by the Lightest Jazz Ever Played. The daemon army was amassing in the Otherworld, fanged berserkers stretching beyond the dark the horizon. Our only hope was to arm ourselves for battle, while Scats Schulman composed some bebop powerful enough to close the breech.

The Earth’s destruction approached, and our world united in prayer for a boogie woogie bass line strong enough to save us...