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How I Got Fired from the Jazz Police
An extract from an unpublished interview
Extract from an unpublished interview:
Ted: (the tape starts in mid-sentence) …and you should’ve seen the squad leader’s face when that Kenny G album started playing. He looked like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Those frat boys were lucky he didn’t have an axe….
Interviewer: I have one last question.
Ted: Sure, what is it?
Interviewer: I’d like to hear your account of how you got thrown out of the Jazz Police.
Ted: Oh, man, do we really need to talk about that? I don’t want to get into all that…
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Interviewer: You did promise to answer all my questions.
Ted: But this Jazz Police stuff is just so painful to talk about. What if I showed you my collection of rare jazz ticket stubs instead? I’d really rather….
Interviewer: So many rumors are circulating. They even say that you were forcefully evicted from the Village Vanguard one night by a squad of jazz cops led by Stanley Crouch….
Ted: That’s total BS. That never happened. If you want to know the truth, Stanley had his own problems with the Jazz Police…
Interviewer: Well, this is your chance to clear things up. You can tell your side of the story.
Ted: Okay, okay. I’ll talk about it. But it’s long and painful. Are you sure you want to hear the story?
Interviewer: I’m all ears.
Ted: Well, I always knew that my position with the Jazz Police was in danger. Even going back to my training days. There was the Norah Jones incident….
Interviewer: Norah Jones incident? What’s that?
Ted: They were doing random checks on our lockers—you know, the Internal Affairs officers. They found that Norah Jones album in my locker, I’m sure you’ve heard it [hums a bit of melody], and I got called in to talk to my supervisor.
Interviewer: Why? What was wrong with having a Norah Jones album.
Ted: You gotta remember, this album sold millions of copies. In fact, that was the first thing my supervisor said. ‘Ted, are you aware that this record is even worse than gold or platinum? It’s gone fucking diamond—it sold 27 million copies. We work all day long to keep this stuff off the street, and here you’re guilty of possession yourself.’
Interviewer: How did you respond?
Ted: My first impulse was to say that just selling a lot of records wasn’t a jazz crime. And that’s technically true—there’s no law on the books about sales. But I knew better. Back in Jazz Police Academy they always told you: ‘If it sells, it smells.’
And my supervisor had actually made his first promotion back during The Köln Concert crackdown—one of the force’s big success stories.
Interviewer: The Köln Concert crackdown? What was that?
Ted: This was a big win back in the day. A legit jazz dude put out an album that sold millions of copies. In a situation like this, with contraband product flooding across the border, you go back to the source, and crack down hard.
In this instance, the musician got the message. He never even tried to get on the Billboard chart after that. He actually worked to stop publication of the music—hell, the way he treated audiences after that, you’d think he was the bloody founder of the Jazz Police himself.
This wasn’t just a success story but a teachable moment for new officers. Attack the supply chain at the top. You can’t go after consumers. There are just too many of them, and they’re mindlessly seeking illicit pleasures of all sorts. Millions of people had this stuff in their homes back then…
Interviewer: But back to the Norah Jones incident. What happened to you?
Ted: I got off easy that time. I told my supervisor I had confiscated the Norah Jones album from a family member, and just hadn’t got around to burning it yet. So it didn’t even get written up on my permanent record. But I should have learned my lesson.
And I did, for a while. But a few years later, I made a bigger mistake.
Interviewer: What was that?
Ted: We were sitting around Jazz Police headquarters one day, and I was talking with some of the Jazz Bros. They always seem to be hanging out there even after their shift is up. Don’t they have some life to live outside the force, maybe a family or something? You’d think jazz enforcement was their whole damn life—and maybe it is.
Anyway, I was chatting with the Jazz Bros. And I made the mistake of saying I liked the movie Whiplash.
Ted: Yeah, you know it, don’t you? That movie about the demented college jazz bandleader? He keeps insulting the students, especially the drummer.
Well, I said I enjoyed Whiplash, and there was dead silence in the room.
I knew right away I’d made a mistake. So I tried to pass it off as a joke. But what I said next made it worse.
Interviewer: What did you say?
Ted: I laughed and said that the maniac bandleader in the movie even reminded me a little of the higher brass running the Jazz Police. I mean, the way they get in everybody’s face, full of themselves with no sense of humor.
But that just made it worse. I should have shut up from the start. If only… [Long pause]
Interviewer: Go on.
Ted: Well, a few days later I get called in by the Captain. He’s a scary guy, let me tell you. Of course, he’s getting on in years—deep into middle age by now. And there’s a big paunch in his belly. He can hardly fit into the uniform anymore. Some of the higher up Jazz Bros call that big belly of his the Shape of Jazz to Come. Hah! But none of us junior cops would dare make a joke like that.
Anyway, even with gray hairs and that out-of-shape body, Captain was a guy to fear. I’d never even been in his office before, and it dazzles you when you first see it. You could fill an arsenal with just the audio gear. And Cap’ is surrounded by all these first vinyl pressings—New Thing at Newport, My Name is Albert Ayler, Machine Gun—all that cutting edge stuff. I mean this guy is totally hardass.
And he says to me, ‘Ted, you’ve been doing good work on the street, and if you keep your ears clean you might move into a desk job here at headquarters some day. But I hear you’ve been praising the movie Whiplash. Is that true?’
What could I do? I couldn’t deny it. Everybody heard me say it. I just bowed my head and told the Cap’ that I’d made a mistake and would accept the consequences.
Interviewer: So what happened to you? Is that how you got thrown out of the Jazz Police?
Ted: No, that time I just got a suspension. The Captain told me that Whiplash was an embarrassment to the whole force. It feeds stereotypes about the Jazz Police that run counter to our mission, and all that kind of stuff.
So I was suspended for 60 days—I couldn’t even go to a record store in civilian clothes—and sent to a re-education program.
Interviewer: Re-education program? What was that.
Ted. Oh, all sorts of things—but very intense. The first day, we listened to the Willem Breuker Kollektief all morning long. Then there were various group exercises—you know, torching smooth jazz albums or seeing how quickly you could spot a contraband fusion album in a vinyl lineup.
Finally, we spent three entire days memorizing Anthony Braxton geometric song titles. It was absolutely brutal. They called it education, but by then we all knew it was really just punishment.
But I served my time. And I got reinstated. I thought my troubles were over. But then I stumbled again, and that’s when I got tossed off the force.
Interviewer: What did you do?
Ted: I was so stupid. I wasn’t thinking. I’d learned to be very careful about what I said at the HQ. I knew those Jazz Bros didn’t mess around. So I kept quiet and did my job.
But one day I was at my locker, just humming a song while getting into my uniform. And one of the Bros came up to me and said: ‘What song are you humming?’
And I really didn’t know what song it was. It was just one of those melodies that comes into your head. You know? So I said, ‘It’s just something jazzy, a melody I like.’ And then it hit me like a lightning bolt.
Ted: I realized I had been humming a song from La La Land. I was in deep trouble now. Junior officers aren’t even allowed to see that movie, unless they’re working in the Vice Squad. And here I was practically singing the damn soundtrack.
Interviewer: Wasn’t there anything you could do about it? Maybe an apology….
Ted: It was too late for that. The next day, I got called in by the Captain and dismissed from the force. I had to turn in my badge and my copy of A Love Supreme. It’s a shameful moment. I wish I could forget it. I really don’t like talking about it.
When I go to the jazz clubs now I try to sit in a dark corner where nobody will recognize me…
Interviewer: Any last thoughts? Do you ever wish you were back in the Jazz Police?
Ted: Back with the Jazz Police? Oh, yeah, there are some days that I miss my time on the force. And there was a day when that uniform got you some respect on the street. But not anymore.
The future was then, let me tell you.
If I can be bluntly honest, I’d like to defund all those bastards.
[There’s a chuckle here that turns into a kind of howl, followed by the sound of gentle weeping. Then the tape cuts off.]