Recently, Williams students have had the smooth, sweet, buttery treat of listening to the coolest cats in town have their trombone lessons just outside of Chapin Hall each Thursday. We loitered around Johnathan Roth’s ‘24 lesson to catch a quote from him before he strutted away. “Hey daddy-o!” he greeted us, tipping his fedora. “Did you like my hot licks? My chops are just beat after all that noodlin.” When asked if he was happy to be able to continue lessons this semseter, he replied with “scrat diddly do-do wop scrittly de da da chow!” while snapping his fingers in black and white. Before we left, he made sure we wrote his name down as Johnathon “Baby Sweet Fingers” Roth.
Roth’s teacher, Dr. Hackney, invited us to come observe Roth’s lesson, as if the invite made a difference in our ability to document it. “Man, we should get some other cats to jam with us, someone on the tubs, or a bassist doing some Bose-bouncin,’ a finger-zinger on the jazzbox, said Roth, who swears to not be imitating Louis Armstrong. Dr. Hackney, puffing a cigar, nodded wisely and didn’t say anything in response.
We spoke with residents of first-year dorm, Lehman Hall, who live in close proximity to the lessons, “It’s just fucking scales, all day,” said Justin Cohen ‘24, not looking up from his WebWork assignment, “But honestly, it’s less them playing music and more Johnathan throwing out words he made up about jazz and seeing what sticks.”
We reached out to Sonia Nealson, a Professor of Jazz and Music studies at Williams, who told us that not only is Roth not playing jazz, but also that Dr. Hackney is not employed by the College. “I suppose it’s nice to see people showing excitement about music,” she said. “But I don’t think you can call what he’s doing jazz, per say. I’ve also never seen either of these people before in my life.”
“Yeah, from time to time I screw the Pooch, other times I’m really wailin’, puttin on the schmaltz. But I know this crowd doesn't mind the woodshed,” said Roth, stroking the goatee he’s trying to grow. “Gotta split, hope to see you cats at my next gig,” he said, sauntering away to the rhythm of “10 Hours of Smooth Walking Bass Line” playing from his bluetooth speaker. Dr. Hackney clarified that there is indeed, no gig to miss, but that we were welcome to come watch Hackney improvise on the bass alone in his garage if we wanted to.