On Jan. 18, a letter to the editor, titled “No tunes for the Jazzman,” shocked the campus with the news that the Jazzman wasn’t playing his jazz anymore. The letter insinuated that the Jazzman had had the plug pulled on his music by higher-ups. I hadn’t been that riled up since General Motors unveiled the H3 Hummer.
For those of you who have not had the good fortune to ride the Jazzman’s Campus Connector, you’re really missing out. The Jazzman, whose real name is Rob Thomson, has been pumping out tunes while driving the bus for years at the University. He has a Facebook fan club of over 300 members
and a handmade Jazzman sign that usually adorns his bus. You can most likely find him in the afternoons, driving the limited Campus Connector to and from the West Bank and St. Paul.
The news of the apparent silencing of the Jazzman led me to drop my soy-ink green pen for a week and take some journalistic action to dig a little deeper into this issue. Whatever reason stopped the tunes – sinister or benign – I had to find out.
I investigated, and I’ll cut to the chase: The Jazzman is still driving, still playing his music. His usual bus was being repaired, and the bus he was driving didn’t have a plug-in for his stereo. While it’s easy to jump to a conspiracy theory, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief on this one.
The University Parking and Transportation Services does not have a firm policy on music playing in the Campus Connectors, according to Bill Stahlman, a University Transit director. At a University where nearly everything seems to have a bureaucratic, 10-page policy attached to it, it’s refreshing that music is left to artistic discretion.
The ride to the St. Paul campus can be a gloomy trip. Waiting for people to shift themselves around the crowded bus and seeing the soon-to-be-demolished grain elevators stand along the connector’s path like out of a war film can make it a painfully slow ride to the “cow campus.” But when you get on the Jazzman’s bus, he is able to make you stop focusing on the annoying freshman’s obnoxious phone conversation and enjoy the sweet sounds of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.
I wanted to talk to the Jazzman himself, so I waited 45 minutes at the West Bank bus stop in hopes of getting on his bus. When he pulled up, the sounds of “Down With It” by the Blue Mitchell quartet floated out of the bus. I asked him about the days of no music, and he told me the same story of the old bus needing repair and the conundrum of the no plug-in on the replacement bus. He has a different bus now, No. 662. It was all there – the stereo, the CDs, the giant piece of foam – but the sign was still gone. Let us hope it will go up soon.
As the Jazzman drove down Washington Avenue, people on the bus seemed calmer, as though contemplating all the things they have left to do in the day don’t seem as daunting. As we rode toward the parking lots,
new people walked on the bus and the Jazzman, wearing his Minnesota baseball cap, tapped his left foot with his right foot on the pedal while giving thumbs up to the passengers.
In short, I’m glad the Jazzman is still playing. When I read the previously mentioned letter to the editor, my thoughts turned to another colorful campus character – Chef Jon. I don’t know if Chef Jon, whose real name is Jon Collins, is still at the University, but I remember fondly the vegetarian dishes he dished up for me and countless others at the Middlebrook dining hall.
For those of you who remember Chef Jon, you may recall The Minnesota Daily article about him and his subsequent op-ed piece where he wrote about unfair labor practices by University Dining Service. Soon after, Chef Jon, either voluntarily or involuntarily, disappeared from the expo station. The rumor on Facebook and in the dining hall at the time was that he moved to the back of the kitchen. Whatever the reason, the daily interaction with Chef Jon at the expo station is gone and is sorely missed.
It took a day or two without music to make me and others realize how the Jazzman brightens up our days. Should it really take an absence to make this happen? Next time you run into your favorite campus character, whether it be the Jazzman, a UDS employee or the seasonal Northrop Mall preachers, give a shot at telling them how they add something to your day.
Although it isn’t exactly jazz itself, the Carole King song “Jazzman” has an opening line that describes what our own Jazzman does every day: “Lift me, won’t you lift me above the old routine; Make it nice, play it clean, jazzman.”
Holly Lahd welcomes comments at [email protected]