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A man, a horn, a graphic novel: Dave Chisholm's Instrumental

I’m going to do something different here. A review of sorts, which is something I don’t do very much on JazzRochester. Why? Because one of Rochester’s jazz musicians, trumpeter Dave Chisholm, has pulled together a project that brings together sight and sound in a unique and compelling way and I wanted to share it with you. I’ve been acquainted with Dave since he was a student a the Eastman School of Music. He used to play with the pick up band of ESM jazz students who had a regular hit years back at Havana Moe’s (my local haunt due to an affinity for the occasional cigar). I remember Dave “trading fours” one night with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt when he came by Moe's after a gig in town (and the sidelong glances of admiration Dave got on his playing….). 

Instrumental_coverThe project is Instrumental, a graphic novel and accompanying CD of music that Dave wrote and recorded with a great band, which accompanies the story as it unfolds on the panels. As the publisher's squib for Instrumental sets out, the story is about Tom, who is:

A solid, but not great, musician. While his bandmates are happy to play gigs for themselves at their own clubs, drinking free beer and shooting the breeze, Tom aches for the next level, whatever that is. And as musicians are wont to do in magical fables, he meets a mysterious stranger with a seemingly simple offer: take a battered old trumpet for free, and just enjoy it, no exchanges and no strings. Whenever Tom plays it, the extraordinary music blows away his growing throngs of fans, and deadly mishaps start to follow. Tom may not have sold his soul for the music of the heavens, but he seems to have bargained away something much more serious. Created by jazz musician Dave Chisholm, Instrumental is a high-spirited, suspenseful, formally inventive, visually musical graphic novel, an epic yet intimate riff on our longing search for what’s next.

I never was much of a comic book reader in my youth (except for Mad Magazine, I guess).  I’ve known about graphic novels since 1986’s Maus by Art Spiegelman, but somehow had never actually experienced one. I say “experienced” as my encounters with novels have been a text-only experience (sometimes with a few accompanying images). I’m an editor in real life, a recovering lawyer working with authors who write books for other lawyers, which are decidedly text-based, and are often quite a boring experience. As a graphic novel (I hesitate to use the word “comic” as the story is not comedic), Instrumental takes the genre one step further by including a CD of music that is meant to be listened to while reading the text and seeing images.

After receiving a review copy from Dave’s publisher Z2 Comics, I sat down to “read” it. I consumed Instrumental in a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon and the experience was new and compelling. The story is dark, the images full of motion, becoming dream-like as Tom plays the horn and his playing becomes more like what he's hearing in his head, the crowds come out to hear. It turns supernatural and lethal to some of those who hear the horn, who start coming apart in a Salvador Dali sort of way, leaving Tom with a choice.


In addition to the great images (see a panel of the band playing below and the aforementioned melting listener), the story and accompanying jazz “soundtrack” written to go with those images made the experience come together through every sense but touch (other than turning the page...).  It is a unique reading experience. Instrumental is coming out in late May and in the Rochester area, you should be able to get it at Comics Etc. or Pulp Nouveau in Canandaigua, or you can order it on Amazon (affiliate link).  Check it out!

This post was originally published on JazzRochester.


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