Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Monday, August 28, 2006

Pops, the Jazzman

This is Pops, the new Jazzman character from Axtell Expressions.

I've been kicking around dialogues to use with Pops when he arrives, and the big question hit me: How does a white ventriloquist with a black dummy deal with racial material? Or should he?

I've watched Pete Michaels with Mr. Jefferson and Woody D and Jeff Dunham with Sweet Daddy Dee. Much of the material is about the racial differences between the dummies and the puppets. Those guys are good at that. I'm not sure I know how.

I have a preliminary sketch in which Pops talks about innocently wandering into a Klan rally in the woods outside a small Southern town in the 1950s. Later he meets the same guys at his gig at the Fireman's Ball. I think it's a funny premise, but I wonder if others will.

Pops and I have something in common. We're both jazz musicians. White jazz musicians have endured an inferiority complex for years. It's summed up in the Ann Hampton Callaway tune, "I'm-Too-White-To-Sing-The-Blues Blues." Perhaps there's a premise somewhere in there.

But our common interest means that the race card doesn't necessarily have to be played between Pops and me. I'm sure I can find something funny about being a jazz musician.

"Yeah, Daddy, I took so much Prozak, I can't play the blues."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Anne Lindsay's hands

I announced a few days ago that I'm building a little girl dummy. I needed small, delicate hands. Now I have them.

I bet I'm the first on my block to get a pair of these. Mike Brose sent them to me. They're perfect for almost any kind of dummy—small boy, lady, little girl.

They are nicely detailed with curved fingers similar to Charlie McCarthy's hands.

Watch Mike's Dummy Parts page to see when they are available.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Who's Da Dummy Now!!

An old joke but well executed by a very good ventriloquist, Cal Freeman from BC Canada.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Music for Steve Axtell's Jazzman

I've been busy the past week on a project for Steve Axtell. He has a great new puppet called the Jazzman. The project I'm working on creates a musical CD that ventriloquists and puppeteers can use with the Jazzman.

The format is a six-piece band similar to Louis Armstrong's All-Stars that were so popular in the 1950s. Trumpet, trombone, sax, piano, drums, bass.

You can see the real thing in the Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly movie, "High Society." I met most of the guys in that band when I was a young man, including ol' Satchmo, himself, and I worked a few gigs with some of them over the years. Satch used a clarinet player instead of a sax player, but I chose sax because I own one and know how to play it. Not so with clarinet. No better reason than that.

We seleted four tunes for the CD. The tunes are:

  1. When The Saints Go Marchin' In

  2. Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home

  3. Way Down Yonder In New Orleans

  4. Ja-Da

The CD will have two versions of the four tunes. One version has the band playing and the Jazzman singing and commenting. This version is for puppeteers who do not provide the character's voice themselves. The other version has the same instrumental accompaniment but without the vocal and commentary. This version is for ventriloquists who use a voice they create for the character.

This project is a lot of fun for me. I play all the instruments in the band and do the singing, too. The good news is that being a multi-instrumentalist, I don't have to hire musicians. The bad news is that it takes six times as long to record one tune. The other bad news is that I have to rest my voice between takes. That gravelly Jazzman voice takes its toll on the old pipes.

I'll be getting a Jazzman puppet of my own, and I will perform with it. This is a big step for me. I am a traditional ventriloquist with a strong bias for hard figures. But Steve Axtell captured the essence of New Orleans jazz musicians so well in this puppet, that there's no way I wasn't going to use one in my jazz music and ventriloquism show. I already have a script underway. His working name is, "Pops." Because of the voice straining thing, Pops's scripts will probably be about five minutes, and it will be at the end of my show. And will it ever be a show stopper!

If you buy an Axtell Jazzman puppet and need customized audio tracks, perhaps so he can play and sing an original tune or a parody that you like, get in touch. We can work such a deal.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Landon and Harry

With all that's going on, I never got around to posting Landon's first public performance. Here he is with Harry Porter at Junior Open Mic at the VentHaven Convention last month.

The Crisis is Ended

Spencer was released yesterday. He is fine except that nothing tastes good to him, a side-effect of having been feed glucose through an IV for the better part of three days.

Thanks to all who sent good wishes and prayers. We hope this never happens again. But if it does, at least we'll recognize the symptoms and act sooner.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Close Call

The little guy on the left is Spencer, my grandson. As I type this he is recovering in Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. He's had a rough several days. We learned a lot about juvenile diabetes with this episode.

Spencer is usually an active kid, full of fun and enthusiasm. He's six, and he's had diabetes for almost two years, I think. Spencer and his brothers are spending time with us here in Florida. This past weekend he went to visit his other grandmother and a cousin in Orlando. While there he got sick. He wouldn't eat, he vomited several times, and he was lethargic.

When they brought him home Sunday night he had a fever, and his blood sugar was off the scale on the high end. He spent all day Monday in bed and the symptoms persisted. Tuesday morning he was barely able to move or talk. He had this very sick look around his eyes. We called 9-1-1, and they took him to the hospital.

The diagnosis was Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) which, if left untreated for too long, is fatal. One out of fifty cases results in death. It's caused by very high blood sugar for too long. Being diabetic too, I should have known about this, but I didn't.

I visited him yesterday, and his color was back, but he wasn't. He was still very quiet, couldn't eat anything, and didn't smile once. The little guy had tubes sticking out of him everywhere, had been through pure Hell, yet he bravely subjected to the frequent prodings, stickings, and intrusions of the nurses and doctors as they work tirelessly to bring him back to normal. Arnold Palmer Hospital is a very special place staffed by very special people.

Today Spencer looks much better according to Granny Judy who has spent most of three days by his side. Granddad was left home to stay with the other two boys. Spencer's Mom, our daughter, is here, too, and his Dad is on his way. Spencer is eating now and playing video games with his roommate. And even smiling from time to time. They took out the tubes that drip insulin and glucose into his veins. Maybe he can come home soon.

I've been beating myself up about this and saying, "What if..." Then I realized it's a lot better than having to say, "If only..."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Look What I Just Got

This is the new figure head kit from Mike Brose. I just got one, and am I ever excited.

Mike calls this character "Little E" and you can see it at Mike's Little E! page, and buy one, too.

I've had a saucy little girl character in mind for when I do family shows. (Surprise! Al does family shows. Ya' didn't think I had it in me, did ya'?) I planned to sculpt a face, but when I saw Mike's new product, I fell in love with it.

Which is why her name is Ann Lindsey (first name, middle name), after the young lady I fell for in first grade and admired from a distance all through elementary and high school. She's also the first girl I ever kissed. As I recall she was not impressed by ventriloquists, at least not by this one.

I'll be working on Ann Lindsay in the weeks to come, and I'll post her progress here. She'll have a Brose body with shorter legs and arms than the typical Fred figure.

Picture her with blonde tresses, blue eyes, a taffeta dress (whatever that is), ribbons in her hair, white socks, and those little black pumps that little girls wear. Picture her with a sharp comeback to anything an adult says to her and a wise outlook on the adult world that controls her.

Here's a link to an essay I published about her namesake ten years ago:

Anne Lindsay Williams

Friday, August 04, 2006

Let's Try This One

Some folks couldn't link to my video. Let's try this embedded copy of the one on

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Uncle Sweeter's Grand Debut

Here's the video of Uncle Sweeter's first performance. The videographer shall remain unidentified because they don't allow video taping during these performances and I don't wish to get him in trouble with convention management, but I really appreciate his effort in making this bootleg video and getting it to me.

I didn't have a lot of time to prepare, so some of this is rough, but I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Yet Another Animation

I mentioned during the Uncle Sweeter Dabney project that I have one more animation to describe. I decided to wait until after his performance debut. I've had ideas appropriated in the past when I discussed or used them publicly, and I just thought I'd keep this one close until I had it implemented and demonstrated. Surely this is not a new idea, but I've never seen it used nor have I heard ventriloquists or figure makers discuss it.

Here's Uncle Sweeter's left hand as you usually see it.

I can raise his hand in the traditional way that ventriloquists often do.

But Uncle Sweeter can do more than just raise his hand. He can express an opinion.

The mechanism is implemented with linkage in his arm rod.

Here's his palm in its normally closed position.

Here is the animation activated.

The current implementation is a prototype. The rod and linkage are awkward to operate. I had to build one to find that out. The next one will be more elegant with a trigger and a return spring.

I don't use this animation only to register an opinion, although so far that has gotten plenty of laughs. I also use it when Uncle Sweeter wipes or picks his nose, which you can do in a family show.