Put-on in Podunk

Fifty years ago, early in 1970, my “weird band,” the Masters of Deceit, performed in concert at Hanover College in Madison, Indiana. It didn’t go well. but it went well.  

That is to say, we played quite well, I thought, and I have recordings to back that up, but we were enthusiastically disliked by much of the townsfolk.  

They were probably expecting a trio playing what we used to call cocktail jazz, which would have been a reasonable expectation. What they got was something else: a group of artists intent on making a statement, kicking ass, and working hard to be avant garde

There was a review in the Madison Courier the next day. There was an editorial on the front page of the Madison Courier the next day. Both were extremely critical, but, strangely, the editorial was a stroke of good luck for me.  

The headline was “Put-on in Podunk,” and its focus was on our aggressive attitude about the nature of our art, and our perceived lack of respect for Madison’s traditions. But, luckily for me, they chose to express that by comparing me to, of all people, Andy Warhol. That was surely intended as an insult, but when I went to New York with that editorial in my pocket, we got some unexpected attention. Andy was a hot commodity at that time, and if I was compared to him, I must be good. Or something. In fact, we ended up signing with Vanguard Records, whose president, Maynard Solomon sensed impending greatness in us, just as he had with Beethoven. The Madison Courier was right about one thing: we didn’t sell many records, and a few months later I got out of town, leaving Indiana for Los Angeles. That move turned out well for me, and it turned out well for Indiana, which got along fine until it had the misfortune of electing Mike Pence as its governor, after which things got messy. But I couldn’t be blamed for that, because I had already made my getaway.  

One more gift from the Madison Courier: a rare photo of the final incarnation of the Masters of Deceit, shown here. Left to right:

Gary Potter, trombone—Gary has retired from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he had theories about teaching and was theaching about theory.  

Jamey Aebersold, saxophone—I’ve written about Jamey before. He is a certified NEA Jazz Master, and created an entire ecosystem of learning about jazz,  

Stan Gage, drums—Stan would have been a major jazz artist, had he not passed away in 1992. He had already worked with Jackie and Roy, and Mose Allison, Oh, and he was the subject of Sacha Feinstein’s poem Sonnets for Stan Gage (1945–1992) as well as the subject of Royce Campbell’s recording “Elegy to a Friend.”  

Dick Straub, bass—I lost track of Mr. Straub after me moved to LA. Recent sleuthing reveals that he had a lengthy career teaching bass in the Las Vegas area. Dick, if you see this, post a reply.  

So that’s what we were doing half a century ago, and we got away with it. I even got away with the outfit I'm wearing in that photo.