Jam Down On the Levee

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Here I am, in Baton Rouge with my friend and fellow tribal member, Corwin. We met at a didgeridoo gathering in Oregon back in 2015 and became Facebook friends soon after. Okay, I’m going to tell you a thing or two about the didgeridoo you may not know …

The didgeridoo is known for its signature low drone. For accents and sundry effects, practitioners toot out assorted trumpet notes (typically an octave and a bit above the drone) or “drop” down several tones. But these tend to be transitory and subordinate to whatever is going on with the drone.

Then various virtuosi such as Ondrej Smeykal began seriously messing around above and below. Then a couple of innovators went totally nuts.

Will Thoren, for instance, developed a “drop octave” technique that exploits the didge’s capability to deliver what I can only call subdrones, a full octave below the drone. He makes didges with special mouthpieces to facilitate the process, but mastery of the technique is fiendishly difficult.

It turns out my host not only rocked it in the subdrones, but he could circular breathe down there as well. Knock me over with a feather. This is part of the joy of jamming with another didge player – there is so much experimentation and innovation going on that life is a constant succession of opening presents.

Meanwhile, the wildly creative Dan Flynn has opened us to the possibilities in the trumpet range. Most of us are content to squeak out what we call the first and second trumpets. Dan actually belts out lengthy stratospheric passages. Not only that, he manages to tease out in-between notes.

Okay, independently of Dan, while playing in drum circles, I developed my own trumpet style, albeit far more basic. Very quickly, I realized that if you wanted to be heard in a drum circle, you needed to go trumpet. Drawing from my trombone experience from way back, I would improvise my own horn riffs.

Somehow, though, I never regarded my drum circle didging as part of my “real” didging. That began to change about three years ago. This sets the scene for our jam down on the levee.

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Here’s a pic of the Mississippi and its levee as seen from a small park in downtown Baton Rouge. Early one evening, Corwin and I took our didges down to the waterfront and began honking. Next thing, Corwin is laying down a line in the subdrone range – kind of like a funky bass – and I’m answering with my trumpets, swingband trumpets, no less.

NO DRONE!

“No drone!” I’m exulting in a wildly exuberant fit of unbridled enthusiasm. We’ve just wrapped up a brief duo. Here we are, I point out, both playing an instrument identified by it’s tell-tale drone, two didgeridoo players – and not a single drone between us!

Okay, maybe one or two, but very brief and just for accent. In effect, we turned our didges inside out, and – since I’m the one chronicling this – I’m going to say this is a historical first. In all the thousands of years of the didgeridoo – no drone!

A celebration is called for …

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Southern blackened salmon with asparagus, lovingly prepared by Corwin. The potatoes and avocado are my contribution. All too soon, it was time to go. A new signature and inscription to my travel didgeridoo, then, having made history, on the road, to whatever the future may hold.

Sound the trumpet, sound the trumpet, sound the trumpet!
Sound, sound, sound the trumpet till around
You make the list’ning shores rebound.
On the sprightly hautboy play
All the instruments of joy
That skillful numbers can employ,
To celebrate the glories of this day.

– Henry Purcell

Because you know I’m all about that bass,
‘Bout that bass, no treble
I’m all ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble
I’m all ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble
I’m all ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass

– Meghan Trainor

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