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.