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Fly Fishing Jazz: Dizzy’s Cheeks

by Kirk Deeter
Fly Fishing Salmon Head
Eating machine. Photo John Gremmer

I’VE BEEN TO A LOT of great concerts in my life. I believe that the live performance trumps any recording one might hear through speakers or earphones. It’s one thing to hear it; it’s an entirely better experience to see it and hear it at the same time.

One of the best live shows I’ve seen happened many years ago (mid 80s) when I dragged my then-girlfriend (now wife) to the Bird of Paradise nightclub on a frozen winter night in Ann Arbor to see Dizzy Gillespie, who along with Charlie Parker, was one of the greatest “Be-Bop” influences in history.

Granted, by that point in his life, Dizzy’s best notes were well behind him. But when he took that stage, picked up his distinctive trumpet with it’s up-turned bell and started to play, the energy in the room swelled, metaphorically reflecting Dizzy’s billowing cheeks in the smoky haze under the stage lights.

Today, there isn’t one band instructor, music teacher, or trumpet player who would encourage a young player to blow a horn like that, with cheeks puffed. There’s no market for factory-produced trumpets with a 45-degree upsweep. Maybe those were trademarks, even gimmicks, that died with Dizzy in 1993.

But I cannot help but feel, especially as I continue to make the rather large leap of transposing the jazz mindset to fly fishing, that Dizzy Gillespie’s stage presence should encourage all of us to find our own beat, style, and identity.

As I write these columns, I constantly find myself balancing desires to reinforce the need for practicing fundamentals and respecting standards against encouraging free expression, losing the parameters, and improvising for effect.

I’ve decided that I don’t think great things can happen—in jazz, nor in fly fishing—unless you’re willing to do both… ultimately at the same time.

Learn the fundamentals. Respect your elders. Practice to the point of nitty-gritty dirtiness, with all the sweat and toil that entails. But by God, play your own music, wherever that ultimately leads you.

If that sidearm cast with a funky giddy-up puts the fly in the money spot for you more often than not, then who am I (or anyone else, for that matter) to tell you to change that delivery? Who dared to tell Dizzy to quit puffin’ as he played?

After all, the puffin’ was the legend.

Your style is your style. Sure, there are ways to get better, and there are recipes that can help correct problems.

But when you find what works for you, stick with it, fish it, and live with it.

Indeed, it’s always about the live performance, and if the audience (the fish) respect and respond—there isn’t anybody in the world who can or should steer you away from that.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and a frequent contributor to MidCurrent.
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  • “the puffin’ was the legend.” sez it all Mr. D, sez it all! Nicely done!

  • Truchacabra

    Thanks, Kirk. Especially since some moves are simply born and not taught, and for certain individuals, there’s simply no better way than one’s own. I suppose it’s hard enough to inflate your head like a basketball if that’s not how you were put on earth to do it.

  • Ray Higley

    My experiences as a former high school teacher and wrestling coach confirm Mr. Deeter’s sentiments on developing the individual talent with each student and athlete. My coach in high school taught us to wrestle according to our personal strengths, and to recognize and adjust to our mistakes. We were taught the fundamentals and he enhanced that with conditioning and drills, but when he worked with each of his wrestlers; he encouraged that young man to develop his own style. When opponents had to prepare for duals with us, they could not identify one move or strategy that would give them an advantage from match to match. His influence followed me in my career as a coach, and into the classroom where I looked for and encouraged each student to discover there own special talents. As I developed my own fishing approach, I spent considerable time watching those around me, and learned that reading the other fisherman can be as beneficial as reading the water. I quickly realized that the sport has many successful approaches, and the best is the unique style one develops for him or herself.

    • Cherriflyfish

      Well said Ray,
      I to am a former teacher (band director).  While noticing the puffy cheeks, I also noticed the flat chin and firm lip corners of Dizzy’s mouth and lips.  This can be attributed to watching the other great trumpet players of his time and I’m sure, many hours of practicing fundamental exercises focusing on those particular muscles.  It’s fun to read about the techniques and watch videos of all the great fly casters, while noticing that the rod loads the same, wether it be Joan Wulf or Lefty Krey.

  • Tiernan32

    one of your best, kirk!

  • Skywayra

    Excellent reminder.  How many times have we strayed from the conventional either by intent or accident, only finding that the change in presentation nabbed a strike from a fish that had totally ignored the preceding conventional efforts.