As Funny as a Brain Tumor! Part 2

Ok, where was I?  Oh yeah……… So all this hysterical laughing is going on.  As this is getting worse and worse,  things in my life start to quickly fall apart around me.  Most of my relationships are stressed because people think I’m a little strange (OK very strange if not crazy).  The bands I’m in start to wonder why I am their sax player. The company I run a store for start to wonder why they have me managing a store.  My employees at the store start to wonder why they even listen to me.  People in my church start to wonder why I seem to think communion is so hysterically funny. etc…….

My relationship with my fiancee (yes, I asked the girlfriend to marry me) was becoming more stressed than ever.    She asked me to go to counseling with her.  I agreed because I wanted to support her and be there for her.  If you have ever been to counseling you know that the discussions can get pretty deep and emotional at times. Being a supportive fiancee,  I did what any close personal friend would do in these instances of intense sharing.  I would start giggling and snickering and then fall off the couch laughing hysterically. I would then continue to laugh for the entire remainder of the hour session.

Needless to say, my fiancee was not very happy with my comical response to her painful memories and vulnerable sharing. Again, this was another meeting that I wasn’t invited back to.  On a side note, the counselor pulled me aside and asked me about my behavior afterwards.  He thought he could help me with my emotional problems and I ended up making an appointment for myself and seeing him over the next month or two.

Not the same exact couch as in my story, but that is how I felt….

He helped me realize that my awkward emotional response was due to the fact that I never saw my Dad cry while I was growing up.  It all made sense to me now! (Later, in a very personal moment with my Dad, I told him about this newly discovered insight about myself.  He responded very tenderly with  “Awwwww, that’s a load of CRAP!”  It was a bonding moment for us……).

Anyways, due to all these factors, I was slowly and steadily starting to believe that I was going crazy.  I was losing it! When you are acting a certain way that is unacceptable and you have no idea why and can’t control it, that feels like craziness. That’s how I felt much of the time.  These feeling and thoughts led me to be more and more depressed on the inside.  You would never know from looking at me at the time though because I was the happiest depressed guy you would ever meet!  I was laughing all the time!

The relationship with my fiancee ended soon after for a number of reasons……..but the constant laughing certainly didn’t help.  To make the break up of that relationship even worse,  I was laughing the whole time we were breaking up!  (She didn’t appreciate that at all!)

Around this time,  I also started to notice more and more problems with my saxophone playing.  I would go to gigs and get so frustrated at my playing.  I would go to play an altissimo note (a really high note on the saxophone) that I had played a million times before and it would not come out.  I would go to play a simple phrase and then squeak ( I never ever, ever, ever squeaked before that!).  I would play a cool run of fast notes that I always played and it would be a complete train wreck of notes.  I would be improvising a solo and have no ideas whatsoever!  Besides all that,  I couldn’t get through a solo without starting to laugh……… I remember many times where I would just stop playing in the middle of a solo in front of hundreds of people and just burst out laughing.  The band leader would just look at me and say “What’s up?” with a rather annoyed look on his face.  I felt like my days in that band were numbered so I decided it would be wise to look for another gig.

I went to audition for another band that was looking for a sax player.  Up until this point in my life,  I would always get the gig when I went to an audition.  I would walk in, do my stuff and they would offer me the gig… this time I felt the same way.  I went in with confidence and knew I would get the gig.

They played a popular R&B kind of tune.  I don’t remember what it was but I remember I played a horrible solo and was squeaking through the whole thing!  I couldn’t believe it, I was so embarrassed.

Next they wanted to hear my jazz playing so they called “All of Me”.  The singer sang the melody and then at the end of the form, I had a two bar break going into my solo (if you don’t know what this is, this is when the band drops out for two measures and you play something great to impress everyone with your mad skills).  Well, we get to the break, the band cuts out, and my mind is totally blank! Absolutely BLANK!  Usually, I have a multitude of ideas and thoughts about what to play at any given moment.  At that moment, I couldn’t think of one darn thing to play.  I remember I played a high A and just held it for 8 beats. No rhythm or anything just one long held out note!  It was embarrassing. When I started soloing it was even worse.  I was messing up the changes, hitting wrong notes, my time was totally off, I was squeaking…….halfway through I just resorted to a blues scale to finish the solo.  It was lame.  Worst solo of my life.  I remember an awkward silence after the song finished and the drummer thanked me for coming out.  They told me they would let me know.  I left the room embarrassed, my head hung low in shame even though I was also laughing hysterically.  (not surprisingly, I never heard from that band about the gig………..)

After that experience, I realized that I needed to practice more.  I was playing 2-3 hours a day on average but was more frustrated than ever.  I felt like my fingers and tongue would not do what I wanted.  I decided to try to amp up my practice time and go for 4-5 hours a day.  That would fix the problem.  I needed to get the old Steve Neff back in the game.

Around this time, I started noticing some other bizarre things happening to me.  I’ll go into the details  in the next installment…….Part 3.  See you next time.  Steve

Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site


  1. I remember one visit home when your father and I were having some kind of argument. You began to laugh making me feel very hurt. In fact you had to excuse yourself and go upstairs. I never heard you laugh so hard and so uncontrollably. Your father was getting a kick out of it, but I knew something was wrong because you were just not the kind of person who would take pleasure in someone else’s misfortune, least of all your Mother’s.

    • Sorry about that Mom. Those times were the most painful because people couldn’t understand why i was laughing and were hurt by my responses. I can think of dozens and dozens of times that I really hurt those around me by laughing at the wrong moments.

  2. Wow, Steve… fascinating story, although i’m sure you didn’t find it “fascinating” at the time.

    I would say my heart goes out to you, but it seems like i don’t need to say that anymore. I’m glad you (and probably your doctors) figured out your problem, and you received the treatment you needed. Looking forward to part 3.

    Is your deafness a result of the treatment you rec’d? Just curious…

    Thanks for sharing this personal aspect of your life with us.


  3. Steve, you are so generous to share this story. It’s quite fascinating and I am more happy than I can say that you survived it and went on to thrive.


  1. […] I’ll continue with the rest of this story next time. There’s much more to it so check back later…………..Part 2 […]

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