Saturday, October 14, 2017

All that jazz

When my friend, K, invited me for a night out at a local jazz bar, I was delighted to go and listen to some live jazz by local musicians as it’s been awhile. It was great listening to their tribute to Sergio Mendes, humming along to some old familiar tunes. What was even better was that, because it’s a really tiny space where you sit up close to the musicians, I could see the expressions of pure joy on the faces on some of the musicians. One in particular, the percussionist, captured my attention throughout the entire evening, because he was so obviously not only in his groove but thoroughly enjoying himself. He had all kinds of bits and bobs he was playing on, from conga and snake drums to triangles and even what looked like a pottery vase!

I know that jazz is widely regarded as a dying musical form. With the advent of dance and house music and whatever else the younger music lovers are listening to, I’m dismayed that people no longer appreciate just how wonderful jazz is. It’s been a genre of music I’ve really enjoyed over the years, one that’s given me many hours of pleasure.

I didn’t know anything about jazz until I went to college in New York. Up till then, I had a steady diet of classical music because of piano lessons, and along with my generation, idolised the Beatles and Monkees, as well as Earth, Wind and Fire and the Stylistics.

In college, a new friend, Chris, who played jazz guitar, introduced me to this genre of music that I knew existed but wasn’t familiar with. But when I started to listen to it, on the dedicated radio station and albums that I started buying, it just blew my mind. Tunes that were so infectious. Rhythms that were complex and syncopated. Soulful singers like Al Jarreau and Angela Bofill. Pianists including Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett. Jazz guitarists like John Mclaughlin, Ron Carter and Pat Metheny.

The only radio station I listened to was jazz, where they not only played jazz 24/7, but interviewed the greats so I learned what inspired them, who influenced them. I subscribed to the New Yorker, and could read what acts were going to be appearing in the jazz bars down the Village. Admission in those days was only the cost of a drink, about $5, and Chris and I could listen to some of the greatest jazz bands that came through town. New York, being the center of jazz, attracted all the best bands, of course. Bars like the Blue Note and Village Vanguard were tiny and smoke-filled (in the days before smoking was banned), to but a wide-eyed teenager, it was eye-opening and jaw-dropping as I peered through the blue haze at these maestros whose fingers moved at lightning speed, executing seemingly impossible riffs. I was in music heaven those few years.

Catching Fourplay live was a treat
Coming back to Asia, I didn’t have as much opportunity to listen to live jazz music, although I did make friends with musicians who had their own jazz bands. I’ve caught some acts that have come through town, although it’s not quite the same listening to a band in a large concert hall when you were used to catching them in a small intimate bar. But still, it’s better than nothing.

My son, B, introduced me to Japanese jazz bands a while back. They are apparently quite popular in certain circles. While different from the American jazz greats, they have their own appeal and I’m just glad someone in some other part of the world is keeping this genre alive.

Being in the small bar the other night did make me relive those days when I was mesmerized by those jazz musicians back in the day. Gone is the cigarette smoke. Instead of a gin and tonic in my hand, I now ordered ginger and lemongrass tea, not quite the drink one is supposed to have while listening to jazz! What caught my attention, and still does, is the pure joy the musicians seem to have when playing. We all watched the percussionist as he tinkered, hit and shook all his instruments, all the while belting out an infectious Latin beat. K and I had a good chuckle about how his baby rattle won’t sound like any other!

I have always maintained that I like classical music and jazz because so much of it is instrumental. When I’m working or concentrating on something, I prefer to listen to just music as I find singing distracting. While I love many other forms of music, jazz will always be my first love. One of the very first pieces of jazz I fell in love with in college was Feel So Good by Chuck Mangione. It just had such an infectious and uplifting melody. When my roommates and I had been sequestered for hours either studying and cranking out term papers, I would sometimes put the album on and crank up the volume. The others then knew that it was time to take a break and we would bop wildly around the apartment. It’s a long piece of music, all the better to go crazy with for a while. It's a tune that instantly transports me back to a time when I was young and carefree. I think I’ll request for it to be
played at my wake! Have a listen yourself:

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