For whom does the caged clam sing?
July 25, 2008 2:08 AM   Subscribe

Musicians and slang collectors, your attention please! What, in musical terms, is considered a "clam"?

In context, it was apparently something Buddy Rich definitely didn't want his band members doing on stage...he says so repeatedly and at length on some of the infamous Buddy Rich tapes that were surreptitiously recorded many years ago. Anyone have any ideas as to what he meant, or is this a Buddy Rich-specific term? Or a term some clam applied to Buddy Rich?
posted by motown missile to Writing & Language (11 answers total)
Ir's a mistake. A wrong note.
posted by Wolof at 2:16 AM on July 25, 2008

I're make 'em sometimes too.
posted by Wolof at 2:18 AM on July 25, 2008

As a recovering French Horn player I can most certainly assure you that "clam" is not by any means Buddy Rich-specific. Yeah, it's a wrong note.

As in, "Hey, could you believe that rotten horn section? Sheesh, what a clam bake!"
posted by Opposite George at 2:59 AM on July 25, 2008

I always associated it's origin with brass players and kinda thought of a ball of phlem getting stuck in their horn. I'm not sure if that's true or not, just what I always thought.

Buddy Rich would have a lot of brass players in his band, but that doesn't make it true. I just can't imagine a bass player having a clam. Although they probably use it to, it doesn't make as much sense to me.
posted by sully75 at 3:10 AM on July 25, 2008

According to The Word Detective:
But another, and to my mind stronger, possibility is that the “mistake” sense of “clam” derives from a completely different “clam.” In the 18th century the sound of two bells (in a bell tower) rung simultaneously (usually a mistake by the bell ringer) was known as a “clam.” This “clam” was probably “echoic” in origin, intended to mimic the dissonant, unpleasant sound itself (the same way “clang” and “slam” were formed), and actually appears to be the source of our modern “clamor,” meaning a jumbled roar of noises or voices. It seems entirely logical that “clam” as a term for mistake in a bell tower could have become a generalized musicians’ term for any sort of embarrassing flub in a performance.
posted by pracowity at 3:12 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's an obviously wrong note that sticks out like a sore thumb. As Opposite George said, French Horn is a particularily treacherous instrument in that regard. Bass players make clams too, but it can be easier to hide the mistake (e.g., construe it as intentional, or have it not be noticed) than it is for a higher-pitched clam that will clash more closely with adjacent notes and be potentially more grating.
posted by SNACKeR at 4:06 AM on July 25, 2008

A couple of days ago, I didn't know this one. But in this New Yorker piece on David Simon, it comes up.
Sipping a vodka-and-cranberry, Simon explained, “I’m listening now for how they use a phrase or tell a story. Like, I’ve asked musicians, What do you say when you hit a bad note? They said they call it a ‘clam.’ I was, like, Really? I called it that in my high-school jazz band thirty years ago.”
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:01 AM on July 25, 2008

Yup, wrong note. The tuba player in my quintet wants a shirt with the name "Clambo" embroidered on it. I've referred to a [badly] rehearsed piece as "chowder".
posted by plinth at 6:19 AM on July 25, 2008

It could be interpreted a little more broadly as a flub, rather than a wrong note. E.g. the drumer dropping a beat, the bass player coming in too soon, the guitar player fumbling his pick, etc.
posted by Paid In Full at 7:19 AM on July 25, 2008

I've referred to a [badly] rehearsed piece as "chowder".

I finally have a name for my guitar playing style!
posted by Who_Am_I at 8:01 AM on July 25, 2008

Thanks for all the answers...not being the least bit musical, this totally evaded me. Also, I've been toying with the idea of taking accordion lessons (proof of personal non-musicality? You be the judge!), so "clams" will probably be a way of life for me if this actually comes to pass.

You guys rock!
posted by motown missile at 12:39 AM on July 28, 2008

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