It’s 7.45 and all the tables are already occupied. The staff are carrying in more chairs. Drinks are sipped. The hubbub of chatter hovers over the room, an evocation of the cigarette smoke of yesteryear.
The jam session is advertised for 8 o’clock and, as always, I wonder why everyone arrives so early, since the music never starts before about 8.30. 8 is when the odd musician strays in, casual, as though he happened to be passing and decided to drop in. He deposits his instrument on the stage area, then backtracks to the bar. A couple of other musicians drift in and slowly start tuning up. They catch sight of a familiar face in the audience, nod, smile, go and say hello. Totally oblivious to the social convention of time. Someday, someone will explain to me what makes jazz musicians think they are exempt from the professional courtesy of starting their performances on time. Classical musicians manage it. Actors manage it. The audience don’t seem to mind waiting. Maybe the fact that the performers are free to be themselves, faults included, makes the audience feel loved.
Eventually, the musicians start playing and the audience starts nodding and foot-tapping in time with the rhythm. Everybody knows the drill: about two-thirds of the way into the song, it’s solo time. The double bass player strums, pinches and boings, eyes closed, Dum-dum-dum-ing to himself. It’s the cue for the audience to applaud. Then it’s the turn of the bass guitar. Eyelids scrunched up together, face tense, suggesting a painful orgasm. Audience duly applauds. Last, but not least, comes the percussionist’s exhibition. It’s often the longest, with all the hide, wood and metal getting an extensive thrashing that culminates in another hail of applause.
The singer steps onto the stage, with perfected languor and stylised weariness. She brushes her mane of hair from one side of her neck to the other. Eyes closed, head slightly thrown back, the mic almost brushing her lips. It’s just her and the song in a private, intimate space. Shall we all tip-toe out and remove our voyeuristic presence?
I observe that everyone on stage has either his or eyes closed, or half-closed with a vacant, expression suggesting sense-altering, direct communication with an extra-terrestrial dimension.
A jazz trademark seems to be to cut the verse of the song and attack it straight from the chorus. Maybe doing what the composer and lyricist intended for the song would be too banal, too conventional, too conformist?
Ah, jazz. Jazz is life. Or is it life is jazz?
Let’s just drop all that jazz.
He, he. They sound like pretenders, and a Sax seems to be missing. I recall fantastic interactive Jazz improvisations that made your blood tingle in a cellar called ‘Domicile’ in Munich during the 70s. The sessions stretched into the mornings.
Oh, there’s a sax, a piano and a clarinet – I was just too lazy to include them, since it’s more of the same. I like some jazz. But I guess I have a problem with the “image” thing which borders on pretentiousness. The ‘Domicile’ sounds like quite a place!
It was, unless it still is. If so it might have changed.
:-)) it’s a different musical planet in the firmament. Worked with Ran Blake [3rd Stream Jazz at NEC in Boston]…it’s out there in a field with scratched with non-dualisms…
Sounds impressive. Are you a musician?
..a ‘failed musician’, thrice:-)
What a super post—love how you describe the ambiance and casualness of the musicians. I have heard a lot of live jazz and some are truly works of art–the musicians are on time and their style of music is bang-on, despite the solo wails of the horn or the enthusiastic response of the percussions–it’s amazing how all the notes and instruments meld together into a jazzy unit.
Oh, I enjoy some jazz. I just have a problem with the whole pretentious image thing, as though they think themselves better than anyone else. When you come across a truly good group, then it’s like a blood tonic.
Well, I know what you mean about attitude in jazz circles. I’m very picky about jazz, and tend to prefer more of a pure blues sound to just jazz. Therefore, when people say to me that they like “jazz and blues,” as if they were one thing, it perplexes me a little bit, as if they said “I like ballet and skinny-dipping” or something.
My main problem with jazz is the volume. Why do they have to use so much amplification in a tiny room?! I like more trad jazz and Dixie, as well as be-bop.