Berklee Today

Laughing At Ourselves

How musicians view life, their work, and the instruments others play

  Stravinsky leads a club date

The jokes that circulate among professional musicians present a keen sociological profile of musicians and our culture. Told ritually at gigs with an often wry and self-effacing humor, these jokes poke fun at the realities of life as a working musician and reveal the mindset of the freelancer. They also dish out scathing generalizations about all kinds of performers. Ironically, the jokes that target specific instruments are most often told by those who play those instruments.

Many musician jokes are adaptations of such common setups such as lawyer jokes, question and answer routines, or musicians speaking with St. Peter at the pearly gates. Many situational jokes (such as the conductor jokes or the letters home from composers) are for musical insiders. They require familiarity with the scenario at hand or music history in order for the listener to appreciate the humor.

We chose this material with an eye toward diversity, so we have included jokes that poke fun at various kinds of performers and situations. Obviously, we could have made this article much longer. It barely scratches the surface of the funny stuff in circulation. To remedy that, Berklee's alumni website will host an open-ended joke forum at If you would like to share a good musical joke, send it via e-mail to To be posted, jokes must first of all be funny and, second, must meet the decency standards of the college.

Two Liners
How do you get a musician to complain?
Get him a gig.

How can you tell when there's a bass player at your door?
The doorbell drags.

How do you keep your violin from being stolen?
Keep it in a viola case.

What's the difference between a guitarist and a large pizza?
The pizza can feed a family of four.

What's the similarity between a banjo and an artillery shell?
By the time you hear it, it's too late to run.

What are you likely to hear when you see a rock drummer dressed in a three-piece suit?
"Will the defendant please rise."

What type of calendar does a trombonist need to keep track of his gigs?

How can you tell when a harpist is playing out of tune?
Her fingers are moving.

The Freelancer's Mindset
Two professional musicians who haven't crossed paths in months end up on a gig together.
First musician:
How have things been going for you?
Second musician: Well, two weeks ago my grandmother died and left me a million dollars. Last week I hit the lottery for $10 million. But this week, nothing!

P2P Humility
Two Berklee alumni meet on the streets of Boston years after graduation.
First musician: Hey, man. How have things been going for you?
Second musician: Things are cool. The band I play with in L.A. made a record that went platinum. Did you hear about it?
First musician: No, I didn't hear about that.
Second musician: The producer of the record liked my playing so much that he got me a deal to make a solo record, and that went gold six months later. Did you hear about that?
First musician: No, I didn't hear about that.
Second musician: After that, a movie producer picked up on my solo record and hired me to score his film. It won an Academy Award. Did you hear about that?
First musician: No, I didn't hear about that.
Second musician: I'm only in town for a few days, and last night I went down to sit in at the club where everyone used to jam during our Berklee days. Between you and me, my chops were down a bit and I was really scuffling on a few tunes.
First musician: Yeah, I heard about that.

Dreams of Connecting
This tailor-made gag is designed to make the musician you're telling it to the butt of the joke. Insert his or her name and instrument just before the punch line.

A saxophonist has recently moved to New York. He's been driving a cab to make a few bucks while waiting for the opportunity to break into the jazz scene. Finally, an agent who books some jazz as well as club dates calls him up and offers him a wedding gig.

Saxophonist: Tell me who's on the gig. Is there a good pianist?
Agent: Yeah, a guy named Hancock.
Saxophonist (very excited): Wow, are you talking about Herbie Hancock? He's one of my favorites. It would really be a trip to play a wedding with him!
Agent: No, it's a guy named Frank Hancock. He's a junior high school teacher from Queens-a decent player. You'll enjoy working with him.
Saxophonist: Who's playing bass?
Agent: This guy Carter.
Saxophonist: Is it Ron Carter? I love his time feel and the sound he got on the records he did with Miles! I can't wait to play with him.
Agent: No, it's a guy named Rocky Carter. He works at a bakery during the day and is an OK player. He's got some intonation problems, but he's a super nice guy.
Saxophonist: Who's the drummer?
Agent: DeJohnette.
Saxophonist: Do you mean Jack DeJohnette? I love the trio stuff he did with Keith Jarrett. It's always been my dream to play with him.
Agent: No, it's Bob DeJohnette. He drives a limo on Long Island. He rushes a bit, but he's a cool guy. You're going to like him.
Saxophonist (slighty demoralized): Is there anyone else on the gig?
Agent: Yeah, a violin player named Glaser.
Saxophonist: Are you talking about Matt Glaser?
Agent: Yeah, that's the guy.

The Greatest Lies of Rock 'n' Roll
The booking is definite.
It's a standard contract.
The monitor mix sounds just like the house mix.
The show starts at 8:00.
You'll get plenty of time for a soundcheck.
Someone will be there early to let you in.
Wait an hour; this room will fill up.
We don't need a contract for this one.
The cover art looked fine when we proofed it.
The balance is perfect at the back of the hall.
I forgot my calendar, but we'll have you back next week.
My girlfriend's a pro at running sound.
This is one of Jimi's old Strats.
We'll definitely come to see you play tonight.
Yeah, that outlet is totally safe.

Jazz Musician Haikus
Solo pianist
Freed from all constraints of form
Heedlessly mangles

Best man pays sideman
Leader's greediness revealed
Rebellion ensues

Riffing on "Rudolph"
Musicians in red and green
Learn humility

I'm sending a sub
Not to worry, he'll be fine
He's fresh from rehab

The jam session starts
The bassist calls "Giant Steps"
Cold fear grips my brain

Women crowd bandstand
Lured by my outrageous chops
My alarm clock rings

Free jazz temptation
Strikes during the bride's first dance
What would Wynton do?

Break time is over
Rest of band is returning
Now for that phone call

The drummer helped
Me count the syllables in this

I once had a dream
Big house, new car, big money
Now I play the bass

Variations on Familiar Themes
How many tenor saxophonists does it take to change a light bulb?
Four. One to actually change the bulb and three to show you how Michael Brecker would have done it.

How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one. She holds the bulb and the rest of the world revolves around her.

At the Pearly Gates
Three men arrive before St. Peter at the pearly gates of Heaven. The first says, "During my time on earth, I worked as a doctor doing research, and I found cures for several major diseases. I think I should be admitted to Heaven." "Come right in," says St. Peter. The second man says, "During my life, I was a lawyer and devoted a lot of time to pro bono work to help the poor and disadvantaged. I think I qualify to get into Heaven." "Yes, come in," says St. Peter. The third man steps up and says, "I worked as a drummer my whole life. I played a lot of awful gigs, got paid poorly, and was treated badly throughout my career. I think I deserve a break, I'd like to be allowed into heaven." "OK," says St. Peter, "but you have to go around back and enter through the kitchen."

Composers' Letters Home
From Arnold Schoenberg:

Dear ma and pa:
How are you? I am fine. Love Arnold.
Arnold love, fine am I. you are how?
pa and ma dear. dlonrA evoL .enif ma I
?uoy era woH .ap dna am am dna ap
?woh era uoy .I ma enif

From Philip Glass:

Hello heh heh hello, o-hell o-hell oh ellow ellow heh heh heh hello mama mama muh muh muh-mah, ah ah ah ahhhh! Aye aye aye aye aye yam yam yam yam. Eye yam yam Fie aye aye aye fuh fuh fuh fie un yun yun yun. Hah hah aha hah ow ow ow wow ow wow ow ow ah hah aha haha are are are are yuh huh huh huh yuh you? oooh. oooooh.


From John Cage:


A Sophisticated Audience
A drummer in England opts to drive his own car rather than ride on the bus with the other members of a swing band going to a gig at a rural dance hall. He arrives before the others, and sets up while the audience eats dinner. They're anxious for the dance to begin.
Once he gets his kit set up, the drummer starts quietly playing around the set, lightly tapping on his drums and cymbals to warm up. He looks up and sees that two couples have come to the floor and are dancing. At first, he panics, but then quickly settles into a steady groove as more and more couples flock to the dance floor.
Finally, he determines that the "tune" has gone on long enough. With a drum roll and a cymbal flourish, he ends the piece. The dancers break into applause. At that moment, a waiter taps him on the shoulder and hands him a note that says, "The bus broke down, the band can't make the gig." Just then, a lady from the audience approaches him and says, "That was great! Can you play 'Red Roses for a Blue Lady'?"

The Jazz Player's Reputation
A conductor who is preparing for a performance is having trouble finding a good clarinet player. He calls a contractor who tells him, "The only guy I've got available is a jazz clarinetist."

"I can't stand working with jazz musicians!" says the conductor. "They dress shabbily, they're always late, and every one of them has an attitude problem." "He's all I've got," says the contractor. "OK," says the conductor, "I'm getting desperate, so I'll take him."

The conductor arrives early for the first rehearsal and sees the jazz clarinetist wearing a suit and tie, a pencil rests on his stand, and he's practicing his part. During the rehearsal, he plays the part sensitively and writes down all of the conductor's suggestions. At the second rehearsal, the clarinetist plays even better. At the final dress rehearsal, the clarinetist plays his part flawlessly.

During the rehearsal break, the conductor tells the orchestra, "I've got an apology to make. I was really dreading having to work with a jazz musician, but I must say that our clarinetist has proven me wrong. He's always neatly dressed, comes early to rehearsal, and he really listened to me and learned his part very well."

Turning to the clarinet player the maestro says, "I just wanted to tell you that I truly appreciate your effort and dedication."

The clarinetist replies, "Hey man, it's the least I can do since I can't make the gig."

Special thanks to the many Berklee alumni, faculty, and staff members who submitted jokes.