Professor discusses relationship between weed, music

While there is a stigma that all artists use drugs, professor acknowledges clean performers

BLAINE ROSS, Evergreen reporter

All the cool cats and fine felines were doing it — Louis Armstrong was smoking the jazz cabbage, Dizzy Gillespie puffed the pipe, and even Benny Goodman’s drummer Gene Krupa got busted with Mary Jane. Despite its heavy influence on jazz culture, it doesn’t define the culture.

Marijuana has a deep history in the jazz world, ranging from urban legends like Louis Armstrong smoking weed every day, to songs like Fats Waller’s “If You’re the Viper,” which discusses marijuana use.

Dave Snider, instructor of jazz history and bass, spoke about the deep roots of drug use in music — specifically in the jazz realm — and his personal experience in the jazz scene, where others were using drugs to enhance their sound or to relax on stage.

He reflected on his time playing as a young man in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when jazzy music and drug experimentation were on the rise.

“After the musical sets, some of the musicians were indulging in marijuana,” Snider said. “Through the years studying jazz history, drugs and marijuana have been a part of that culture, alongside alcohol.”

These combinations led to some great jazz recordings. They also led to the downfall of great jazz musicians.

Snider reflected on some of the musicians he knew personally who used marijuana and other substances.

“Smoke some dope, and they were really good,” he said, “but others smoke a joint and they can barely spell their names in the sand with a stick.”

Some of these musicians were amazing at their craft and smoked a lot of weed. Unfortunately, they partied a little harder than just smoking a couple joints, and expanded their recreational horizons to include harder drugs.

Three of the musicians Snider played with were Peter Apfelbaum and the Hieroglyphics Ensemble, Bert Wilson and Huey “Sonny” Simmons.

Apfelbaum was a teenage prodigy and virtuoso on the saxophone and in percussion. Snider rejoiced in his music, talking about the quality of his group’s showmanship despite being absolutely obliterated on stage.

He also spoke very highly of the other two groups and the quality of their music despite partying like rock stars before and, occasionally, during their sets.

Not all jazz musicians — or musicians in general — have partaken in this lifestyle, and many musicians still don’t.

There are many examples of clean musicians, like Bobby Shew, a trumpeter Snider played with in the ’70s. Snider said he never drank, smoked or cussed, and was against many of his contemporaries’ actions.

Clifford Brown was another world-famous player who chose to live clean. Some still believe weed is integral to being a jazz musician, or even enjoying jazz.

Marijuana may help some people to be more creative or to enjoy music, and it may hinder others. Regardless, performers do not need to smoke to be a good musician.