Austin McBride’s piano comedy hour

Monday, 23 March 2009 — 6:27am | Jazz, Music, Pianism

It’s difficult in the age of YouTube, weblogs, self-publication, and the Cult of the Amateur, but I try my level best never to crap all over people who are bad at what they do. Not everybody has the talent to be worth their salt in what they like doing, but people on the cusp of development have room to improve, and it doesn’t do any good to put them down. I’m sure that by strictly professional standards, I’m not very good at what I do either. In fact, I believe quite strongly that one of the essential steps to the mastery of a chosen skill—creative, competitive, or otherwise—is when you reach a stage where you understand how far you have to go before you can honestly consider yourself among the experts, even (and especially) if the casual observer can’t tell the difference.

When a shockingly incompetent amateur poses as a professional source of wisdom, is oblivious to said incompetence, and puts it on display for everyone to see in the form of an instructional video—well, that’s comedy, and it is my duty as a responsible citizen to point and guffaw as hard as I can so no poor fool gets suckered.

Meet Austin McBride, the worst “jazz” “pianist” on the Internet.

Ever wondered what it would be like to hear Sarah Palin deliver a lecture about foreign policy? That’s Austin McBride.

There is a very real possibility that he’s a sick comic genius. The timing of his musical offences is almost too perfect: the consistent pattern in his minute-long videos is to begin with a mangled explanation that might sound plausible to the absolute beginner, and follow it up with a punch line of an “experimental” demonstration.

Who else could come up with gems like this:

But I’ve seen intentional jazz parodies. (Hans Groiner comes to mind.) Intentional parodies are musically literate enough to be deliberate about straying as far from the elements of jazz as possible, and leaving a trail of stylistic breadcrumbs to make it obvious. This fellow—well, I suppose he also offers tutorials on breakdancing and bouncing golf balls on clubs, but I’m still not convinced it’s a joke.

More likely, Austin McBride is a tone-deaf scrub who’s never heard a bar of jazz in his life. And if anything he’s doing is reflective of the general perception of what jazz sounds like—a bunch of nonsense licks and blues scales over repetitive block chords—we, as a civilization, are in a serious heap of trouble.

[Edit (9/29): Given the amount of traffic this page gets from people curious about Mr McBride, it behooves me to acknowledge that it has since become clear the whole shebang was a joke. If you are still on the fence, please consult this video, where he sports a deliberately ridiculous beatnik outfit and plays in five while counting in four.]


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15 rejoinders to “Austin McBride’s piano comedy hour”

  1. As someone who makes the tone-deaf seem decidedly talented, I can’t really comment on the majority of his playing, but thanks for the link to the video on 5/4 timing. Those two minutes of pure genius certainly brightened up my day!

    Monday, 23 March 2009 at 7:42am

  2. “Scrub”? I’m only familiar with this term of opprobrium from two sources, the Narnia books and the Aubrey/Maturin books, where it means “coward”. What did you mean by it here?

    Monday, 23 March 2009 at 9:04am

  3. That’s a very good question. Like most epithets, I used it because it sounded neat, not because I gave its etymology any thought. I use it here to refer to someone who hasn’t a clue what’s he’s doing, and now that I think about it, I’m almost certain it’s World of Warcraft slang. I wouldn’t be surprised if that, in turn, was derived from the use of the word to indicate cowardice.

    Monday, 23 March 2009 at 2:32pm

  4. Here’s one perspective: “A Scrub is a player of a competitive videogame who adamantly believes that his or her ‘house rules’ should apply to everyone to promote his or her view of ‘fair play’. If a scrub sees a move or strategy he doesn’t like (or can’t beat), he bans it (if only in his own mind), and complains that anyone who uses it is cheap.”

    Not being aware of that definition, I diverged from that somewhat, although I think there’s a similar sense of someone who makes himself look like a big fish because he keeps the pond small.

    Speaking of definitions: I’ve thought about this further and wondered if Mr McBride’s videos would be any less ridiculous if he never used the word jazz, and never made up baffling terms like “slip notes” and “rub notes” and whatever he’s talking about when he speaks of “experimental jazz”. But I think his lexical deficiencies are a secondary problem. The primary problem is that he hasn’t the modesty to understand that he has a beginning student’s grasp of the instrument, and is in no place whatsoever to teach.

    Monday, 23 March 2009 at 2:52pm

  5. here, here!

    Monday, 13 April 2009 at 9:57pm

  6. I would pay good money to anyone that can get me Austin McBride’s contact information. I have to find this guy, and take him out to lunch. (While sending someone into his house to set his piano on fire)

    Sunday, 19 April 2009 at 2:42pm

  7. Mike

    I think you’re wrong. Austin McBride is in the White House right NOW. He’s the Chief Executive with NO executive experience whatsoever just like McBride’s jazz experience.
    He has help from the little McBrides in Congress that don’t even READ the trillion dollar pork packages and Obama care legislation that they sign.
    Austin McBride is the same kind of Con Man.

    Friday, 17 July 2009 at 8:20am

  8. Mike – I think there’s a pretty substantial difference between Austin McBride and, uh, Barack Obama. My criticism here is not of McBride’s lack of an extensive pianistic CV, it’s of his transparent inability to speak convincingly about the music and demonstrate he has an idea of how it works. I honestly don’t think a similar claim can be made of the standing president, regardless of the soundness of his present economic policy or his prior executive experience (or lack thereof).

    Obama stands up to scrutiny when it comes to the coherence of whatever he says about politics: to you he may be leading the country in an undesirable direction, but it is a coherent direction.

    I’m assuming your comment was a response to my little jab at Ms Palin. I think my comparison remains absolutely fair, and completely independent of ideological allegiance.

    Friday, 17 July 2009 at 8:36am

  9. Al

    Have you guys seen these? Looks like he’s still out to make a fool of himself 😀

    Thursday, 6 August 2009 at 12:52pm

  10. Okay, I stand corrected. He’s messing with us.

    Thursday, 6 August 2009 at 1:53pm

  11. Gavin

    Here’s another interpretation of the situation. Austin McBride is intentionally trolling with those videos, it’s called ‘parody’. The parody is on a level of intelligence & wit well BEYOND yours, which is why you’ve unknowingly been trolled, your raging blog post shows you were owned, hook, line & sinker.

    I mean some of it is subtle, but the beatboxing, if that’s not a giveaway, nothing is? Come on man, use your brain. I’m sorry but you’re the one that looks foolish here, not Austin McBride.

    Tuesday, 15 September 2009 at 3:33am

  12. Gavin,

    If you’ll read my comment just above yours, you’ll see that I’ve already conceded you’re right. After seeing the second set of videos, I agree and admit I’ve been played.

    Tuesday, 15 September 2009 at 11:45am

  13. Hello there, Happy Fool’s Day!!!

    A policeman was interrogating 3 blondes who were training to become detectives. To test their skills in recognizing a suspect, he shows the first blonde a picture for 5 second and then hides it.
    “This is your suspect, how would you recognize him?”
    The first blonde answers, “That’s easy, we’ll catch him fast because he only has one eye!”
    The policeman says, “Well… uh… that’s because the picture shows his PROFILE.”
    Slightly flustered by this ridiculous response, he flashes the picture for 5 seconds at the second blonde and asks her, “This is your suspect, how would you recognize him?”
    The second blonde giggles, flips her hair and says, “Ha! He’d be too easy to catch because he only has one ear!”
    The policeman angrily responds, “What’s the matter with you two?? Of course only one eye and one ear are SHOWING because it’s a picture of his profile!! Is that the best answer you can come up with?”
    Extremely frustrated at this point, he shows the picture to the third blonde and in a very testy voice asks, “This is your suspect, how would you recognize him?” He quickly adds, “…think hard before giving me a stupid answer.”
    The blonde looks at the picture intently for a moment and says, “Hmmmm… the suspect wears contact lenses.”
    The policeman is surprised and speechless because he really doesn’t know himself if the suspect wears contacts or not.
    “Well, that’s an interesting answer… wait here for a few minutes while I check his file and I’ll get back to you on that.”
    He leaves the room and goes to his office, checks the suspect’s file in his computer, and comes back with a beaming smile on his face. “Wow! I can’t believe it… it’s TRUE! The suspect does in fact wear contact lenses. Good work! How were you able to make such an astute observation?”
    “That’s easy,” the blonde replied. “He can’t wear regular glasses because he only has one eye and one ear.”

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

    Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 10:01pm

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