Many, many years before the origin of The Clown School Dropouts and the creation of Cranky. Ur-Cranky or Proto-Cranky, lets call him, discovered the early jazz trumpeter Jabbo Smith. Interestingly enough the discovery wasn’t made through music but from a written story, a comic book, to be precise. The eye opening moment came from reading Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor.
Ur-Cranky had a devoted interest in alternative comics that were booming in the 90s and American Splendor was a natural find for him at that time. Pekar’s Cleveland based memoir-comics had gained national distribution and so Ur-Cranky discovered it on one of his weekly forays to the local comic book store to get that week’s pile of comics. [interesting connection, Cranky’s fellow Clown School Dropout co-creator, Moische, also hailed from Cleveland.] Pekar was a curmudgeonly every-man and the stories in American Splendor reflected that. He also wrote jazz reviews, and championed some of jazz’s unsung heroes. And many folks now know of Pekar from a movie of American Splendor in 2003 which starred Paul Giamatti as Pekar.
A mid-90s one off issue of American Splendor the Music Comics gathered together several of the jazz commentary comics. Pekar wrote the stories and Joe Sacco illustrated these little gems of early jazz history, most of which originally appeared in the Village Voice. Ur-Cranky was made curious about this overlooked jazz trumpeter, but it would be years later before he was exposed to the music.
Over the years Cranky had digested hundreds of recording of 20s and 30s jazz and Jabbo Smith never really registered. Mostly because there only a few recordings of Smith’s group available at the time, and hard to find. Then, about seven or eight years ago Cranky, in a late-night online search of cool tunes, got it in his mind to look up Jabbo Smith, and found the CD from the Jazz Classics Label which compiled most of Smith’s recordings.
The time was right. Cranky had listened to and learned enough about the ‘hot jazz’ period and was technically prepared to really hear this music. It was a natural gravitation for Cranky towards Jabbo Smith’s music and his tendency for frenetic, flying-by-the- seat-of-your-pants arrangements, which is right up Cranky’s alley. Though Cranky has yet to incorporate one of Jabbo Smith’s songs into his repertoire (the arrangements are not conducive to solo sax transcription) they are still an influence in the riffs and improvisations which crop up in Cranky’s other tunes.
The gist of this story is how some seemingly casual exposure to something can work it’s way into our subconscious and stay
lingering in us like a retro-virus and then, all of a sudden, under the right conditions, come to full bloom.
[While this little story is about how Cranky first became aware of Jabbo Smith, upon digging out a copy of the original comic book, Cranky noticed that there was also a story on Slim Gaillard, another critical figure of influence in Cranky’s style. Cranky often performs a cover of Galliard’s Vol Vist Du Gally Star.]