There’s this jazz band I discovered back around 1985 while listening to WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s indispensable radio station. The host was interviewing a couple of musicians who were not only impressing me with their dry, self-deprecating humor, but were also describing influences upon their work that made me stop and pay attention. The host played a couple of cuts from their new album, and I was a fan of The Microscopic Septet.
I got quite a few plays out of the vinyl copy of Let’s Flip!, a raucous live recording, before I realized I had better dub it onto cassette before the LP began sounding like Thomas Edison’s gastritis. I evangelized this band to anyone who would listen, and bought copies of Let’s Flip! for friends. And I went out to see them perform, in part thanks to the fact that most of the venues they performed in turned out to be (a) downtown, (b) relatively inexpensive, and (c) far less formal and far more comfortable than their uptown, “serious” counterparts. The old Knitting Factory on East Houston Street became a place I couldn’t wait to return to.
The band’s eclectic, polymorphous, precisely silly music merits better description than I can provide. In brief, if you grew up hearing Carl Stalling’s wild orchestrations behind the Bugs Bunny cartoons of the 1940s and 50s, you’re well prepared to appreciate what these guys did. Suffice it to say that I’ve rarely had more consistent amounts of joyous fun listening to anything else. They threw the entire 20th century into a blender and arranged the results for piano, four saxophones, bass, drums, and the occasional tuba. More on their history can be obtained here.
I’d of course seen live music performed elsewhere. But seldom had I experienced the close-up, visceral thrill of seven talented musicians blasting cacophonous jazz directly at me within a confined space. There was nothing to compare.
* * *
Personal circumstances eventually intervened with my once-diligent pursuit of the Micros’ efforts. Sometime after recording the theme music for NPR’s Fresh Air in 1990, they ceased performing together. Their members dispersed and took up other interesting projects. Four years ago they put together CD compilations of their four albums and toured together again, an event which I only learned about the following year. I finally got to see them again this past winter, along with the Wife (whom I had been rhapsodizing about them to since we’d met) and a new friend of ours. As if to make up for the long deprivation, they had another gig the following week, which I attended with another friend from my office. The double-dose was impossible to shrug off. After decades of consideration, I could finally admit that The Microscopic Septet, despite the fact that their most active years were long behind them, were — and had been for years — my favorite band.
* * *
It was in March that an email from the band’s co-founder Phillip Johnston advised recipients that The Micros were funding production of a new CD through Kickstarter, an interesting web-based service which identifies arts projects for public support. It was mere hours before I’d happily pledged a sum I felt I could afford as a laid-off graphic designer. It was only a few weeks before the band reached their funding goals, which I’d attempted to help publicize in my own small ways. My contribution qualified me for several CDs of the band’s work, including unreleased material, and I was content.
But unbeknownst to my easily distracted attention span, someone very close to me had already begun conspiring to perpetrate a fiendish scam upon my person, with the intention of celebrating my imminent 50th birthday. And with the newfound knowledge of the possible availability of my favorite band to support this scheme, this diabolical operator began making inquiries across state lines and international borders, much as she had done during a previous project.