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Thread: Drugs Abuse and Jazz Musicians: Why?

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    com281's Avatar
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    Default Drugs Abuse and Jazz Musicians: Why?

    I used the search function to see if any previous threads were started on this subject, but I could not locate any. Well, here are my thoughts:

    While browsing Amazon.com for some jazz CDs, I came across a small threaded discussion of the similar above title. Many of the participants were asking themselves and others: "What do you think is really the reason that in particular, many of the jazz greats of the past used drugs?" I read a variety of answers. One participant stated that he practices about 7 hours a day on the saxophone and he routinely develops finger and wrist pain. He said that this is not uncommon to many professional sax players and that this could be an explanation as to why many got their start (pain relief). Still another said that the lifestyle of traveling, lack of respect for the music, the lack of financial rewards for the artform, etc allows one to fall into depression easily. It was funny that no one mentioned plain old "peer pressure".

    I would like to hear what the members of the forum think as to why the jazz greats of the past, as well as some of our jazz comtemporaries (who may be hiding their drug abuse well) get involved in drug abuse. I ask this in particular because my nine year old son is developing an interest in playing the guitar and wants to play the saxophone as I do. He listens to many artists in my collection, including: Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Jackie Mclean, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Art Blakey. It's unfortunate that they all had at one time or another in their careers, a serious drug problem.

    If you have a personal story, I would like to hear it. I will not judge you and I trust that since this forum serves as an exchange of ideals for the promotion and enjoyment of the saxophone and players alike, no one else will judge you. I'd just like a point of reference to use when I explain this to my son when the subject comes up. Thanks in advance.

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    What about rock musicians, soul musicians, etc etc. I think the life of a musician on the road is filled with chances to fall into drug and alcohol addiction. I'm not sure Jazz musicians have a higher rate then say hard rockers, or punk rockers, or even pop stars like Spears.

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    Forum Contributor 2014 Pete Thomas's Avatar
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    I believe any discussion on drug abuse should include alcohol.

    And I think the term "abuse" should be defined. It could be:

    1) Any use of illegal substances

    2) Any use of substances (legal or illegal) which causes damage or has any negative effect to the individual (and/or those around that individual).

    I'd prefer to discuss (2), which does include alcohol and as such the whole issue is much wider and maybe there is maybe an argument not to single out jazz musicians.
    Last edited by Pete Thomas; 01-05-2008 at 10:52 AM. Reason: missed out a couple of words

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    What about exploration? If you were offered something that might make you a better or more spaced out performer, you might find it difficult to resist.
    Never touched anything except music and alcohol, getting off tobacco was hard, so I knew I had an addictive personality but I was the only not-high guy in our 60s and 70s folk group. Now sax is enough.

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    Quote Originally Posted by playitfunky
    What about rock musicians, soul musicians, etc etc. I think the life of a musician on the road is filled with chances to fall into drug and alcohol addiction. I'm not sure Jazz musicians have a higher rate then say hard rockers, or punk rockers, or even pop stars like Spears.
    My intent was not to single out jazz musicians, as I know drug and alcohol abuse crosses all genres of music and even other professions. The reason I asked specifically about jazz musicians was that I know a significant number of forum participants are jazz musicians or are consumers of jazz music. I'd like to draw from those who have the jazz experience.

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    Dexter Gordon has mentioned that it was awfully hard to be a choir boy in the jazz clubs in his time.

    Charlie Parker no doubt influenced those looking for the secret to his genius.

    I really believe that was a different era, an era that actually had a lot of active clubs you could play in. I'd imagine it to be a party scene and no doubt the musicians joined in on the party.

    Todays musicians by and large are out of the universities. The vast majority are clean cut and slick as a whistle, the drugged out jazz musician is a thing of the past. Maybe Coltrane helped ushered in the straight edge lifestyle when he regained control and kicked his habit. Sonny Rollins could also be held up as an inspiration as he's still going strong with a clean lifestyle after being a junkie.

    I suspect there are still an number of musicians that drink and smoke dope, but I would assume most of them wouldn't start into the hard stuff, at least none that I've been around.

    And the list is long of IV drug users. Michael Brecker was the shocker for me, as I assume by looking at the guy he wouldn't have been the type.

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    I may be wrong on this (a lawyer may need to correct this) however.

    Could it be that it wasn't really illeagil, until the 60's. With the Vietnam War, and the protest that acoompined it?
    So if it wasn't illeagil, it would be like taking Advil today (except you get high). Their certainly wasn't anything wrong with it, in their society.

    Also could it be, that they used Drugs that their "Hero's" used. I did a report on John Coltrane last year, and one of my sources said that he got into drugs because of Charlie Parker.

    My .02

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    I can't stop laughing thinking about how this thread evaluates subjects, then posters run tests, then come back and report their findings.

    I can't help picturing someone posting something like this:

    Ok I just scored some really good stuff from Amsterdam. It's been hard but I have located the exact type of needle Bird used to use. I got it off ebay for 30 bucks, stupid guy didn't know what he had.

    I will now make a recording of me playing without being whacked out on smack. Then I will try this stuff and play another recording under the influence.

    Well after waking up 4 days later I have listened to my recording. I couldn't quite remember what I had done this for but my roommate reminded me. Turns out I don't sound like Bird in either recording.

    So I would have to conclude that heroin doesn't make you play better. You can make your own conclusion because like mouthpieces and ligatures everyone is different.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Carbs
    I may be wrong on this (a lawyer may need to correct this) however.

    Could it be that it wasn't really illeagil, until the 60's. With the Vietnam War, and the protest that acoompined it?
    So if it wasn't illeagil, it would be like taking Advil today (except you get high). Their certainly wasn't anything wrong with it, in their society.

    Also could it be, that they used Drugs that their "Hero's" used. I did a report on John Coltrane last year, and one of my sources said that he got into drugs because of Charlie Parker.

    My .02
    I'm no attorney but you're wrong. Heroin and marijuana and cocaine have been illegal long before the 60's

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    All people are human. To be human is to be with flaw.

    Brecker, Parker, Coltrane, Adderley, they were still human too. How great those guys were... when they weren't playing, they were just regular human beings trying to live and blend well within their surroundings.

    How do you mingle with a party after giving them some Skunk Funk? It's hard
    especially if you never really "tested" your own will power. A lot of greats that were leaders on stage, were really followers in life.

    This may become a very big can of hypocritically debatable worms.... but here it goes....

    Honestly, drugs are drugs and everybody uses them. The U.S. Government determines which ones to be illegal, and thus isolates and associates those particular drugs with being extremely bad for you.
    Then the U.S. Government will also kill you slowly just for a dollar, by legally allowing the sale of alcohol and nicotine cigarette drugs.

    Now a days the U.S. Government is trying to stabilize the advent of a prescribed pill that incorporates the main active ingredients of marajuana. This way, they (the U.S. Government) will have effectively derailed the illicit trade of the number 1 cash crop in the United States....
    But wait if the happy tree is bad for you and illegal, then why would they be trying to make it in pill form?
    Ooohhhhhh, so it does have medicinal purposes! I knew it!

    Boy their greedy (the government).

    Back on topic:

    If you stare at something long enough, see something everyday, or are basically forced to play in that type of surrounding to support yourself; the contact alone is probably enough to spark your interest; if you are a follower.

    Just food for thought fellas. Please don't blast, do research if you are a non believer.

    For the record: I don't do drugs that are bad for me or my health.

    Peace always,

    Sneeky

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    Dexter Gordon, on hearing Jackie McLean playing sometime in the 80's:
    "You should have stayed a junkie."

    (anecdotal but from a trusted source)
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    Quote Originally Posted by heath


    Maybe Coltrane helped ushered in the straight edge lifestyle when he regained control and kicked his habit.

    I heard from some one that played with Elvin that this wasn't exactly true about Coltrane and stopping his drug habit. Of course this is hearsay.

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    I remember hearing a bebop musician (I think it was Max Roach) discussing heroin use among his colleagues, and he mentioned that the feeling of separation and insulation from day-to-day concerns allowed the players to concentrate more on music and individual expression. But, of course, however wonderful it may have been in Xanadu, eventually Kubla Khan had to go back out on the streets and get money for a fix, maybe pawn his horn — or someone else's in Parker's case.

    I also remember reading that Parker was introduced to junk in Kansas City in the Thirties from the musicians playing in the swing bands. Considering that usage was not uncommon in the Twenties and Thirties, had heroin really been a causal influence on the harmonic and rhythmic development of jazz, you'd think bop would have emerged sooner, from multiple sources.

    By the way, contemporary classical musicians aren't squeaky-clean either:
    In the world of classical music, beta blockers such as Inderal have become nearly as commonplace as metronomes.
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    I don't have the info to my finger tips, but working on a module last year I found some research published in a Scientific America article that stated that when listening to music the same areas of the brain light up on a MRI scan as do when u are having sex, taking drugs or eating sugary snacks .....I think it's referred to as the 'reward centre' ......so maybe the act of creating music makes the brain more prone to needing this reward centre stimulated .........I know I'm more prone to addictive behaviour than my friends
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    I am a sociologist and criminologist who teaches, among other things, a class on drugs and crime. I also have quite a bit of experience with drug use (mostly alcohol and marijuana) and drug counseling (working with at risk youth in a variety of settings). I also come from a large family of musicians and drug users. So, I think I have some interesting insights into jazz and drug use.

    Let me first address a little bit about the history of drug laws in the U.S.
    All manner of drugs were legal in the U.S. until the early part of the 20th century. With the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act (I want to say it was enacted in 1914, but I may be off on the year), previously legal drugs--including morphine, cocaine, heroin, cannabis, etc.--were effectively made illegal. Until then, these drugs were widely available in many over the counter concoctions! Doctors and others recognized that some people misused drugs (that is, used them excessively, developed dependency, etc.), but such people (often middle class white women) were not considered criminals, deviants, or the like. Instead, these folks were seen as suffering from a medical problem. They needed help and support to clean up, not punishment and shaming. However, folks like Harry Anslinger (first Director of the Federal Burean of Narcotics) and others used propaganda and racism (fear and hatred of blacks and Mexicans, for example) to scape goat minorities. Draconian drug laws were passed that are still with us today. The U.S. Constitution was even amended (i.e., prohibition), in large part, to control the political influence of Irish Catholics. Put simply, our drug laws are not based on public good, but rather on pure politics. There are many good books on the history of drug laws in the U.S. (James Inciardi's book, WAR ON DRUGS III, is one such book).

    I share all of the above so that any discussion of drug abuse is viewed in light of this sorry history of nativism, racism, and propaganda.

    However, drug abuse (a loaded term, no pun intended) is a real problem. Musicians in general, not just jazz musicians, are probably at an increased risk for drug abuse. Why?

    There is no single reason or simple answer. It is probably best to think of drug abuse like many other ailments. That is, there are risk factors that increase the probability of drug abuse (just like there are risk factors that increase the likelihood of someone getting cancer).

    These risk factors include:

    -family history (you have both nature or genetics and nurture or learning operating here)

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    Idiots take drugs. That's it. I have never imbibed any illegal substances, am not alcholic (I rarely drink alcohol anyway, maybe a couple pints a year) I have never smoked and have no addictions at all.

    Drugs, be they so-called 'soft' or 'hard' (even though all drugs should be considerd 'hard') do not make you a better player, they screw your brain up and can lead to your demise. Those who take drugs are probably the ones who insist on having the same saxophone as their hero or buy into a myth that they must have this sax or this mouthpiece blah blah blah...

    Then you get the morons such as John Sinclair, quoted in Ashley Kahn's book The House that Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. Speaking on the distinctive orange and black gatefolds of the original LPs, he says 'Those gatefolds were a wonderful development because they served as a deluxe rolling tray to manicure your marujuana. The best Impulses had the most seeds stuck in the middle', meaning those were the ones out most as the records played on the deck. It's morons like him who promulgate the drug culture.
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    My last post was prematurely interrupted as I had a computer problem.

    Other risk factors include:

    peer pressure
    cultures or subcultures that glamorize drug use
    social isolation
    depression
    stress

    Musicians, I believe, use and abuse drugs because they are part of a subculture that glamorizes drug use. Drug use is seen as hip. Some believe, mistakenly, that drugs make them better players.

    I agree with those who posted above and make the point that today's jazz musicians are less likely to abuse drugs than jazz players of the past. The jazz subculture or scene has changed.

    I disagree with the statement that idiots use and abuse drugs. Drug abuse is an illness (both a mental and a physical illness). So while a drug abuser makes bad decisions (you know this is true if you have been a drug abuser yourself or know drug abusers), I would not call them idiots. This seems awfully judgmental and narrow minded.

    I know so many talented players who have harmed themselves and shortened their careers because of drug abuse. I know many more, however, who have cleaned up their acts and are now living and playing better.

    We should show concern for drug abusers and help them, not call them names and condemn them.

    Best,
    Tim Wolfe

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    Quote Originally Posted by Saxplayer67
    Idiots take drugs. That's it. I have never imbibed any illegal substances, am not alcholic (I rarely drink alcohol anyway, maybe a couple pints a year) I have never smoked and have no addictions at all.
    Is it lonely up there on your pedestal? Are you calling everyone who has ever drank too much, smoked a joint, or whatever, an idiot? I don't think most people would take kindly to that. You must not have many friends.
    Stop bombarding me with your facts and sciences!

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    • We are self-employed with no one standing over us saying, "You do that, you get fired."
    • Controlled substances are readily available, and they make people feel better, if only for a short time.
    • It's the only occupation I know of in which you are encouraged to drink on the job. Alcohol impairs judgement about itself and all other things.

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