Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Weeknight Jazz Primer of Sorts

Some friends and I decided to go hear a group led by an old friend of mine from college. (The name and place matters not, because this type of thing was probably replicated all over the country in lots of other major cities not named "New York.") The music was outstanding, but there was only one problem: The three of us at our table seemed to be the only people paying attention to it in the entire place.

I've talked about wallpaper gigs before--things like corporate banquets, house parties, and the like, where the music is supposed to be an unobtrusive backdrop for whatever festivities are going on. But this was a place that specializes in live jazz and touts itself as such. Sure, nobody's required to listen to the music, but it always amazes me that so few people do.

One of the problems with the Dallas jazz scene (and again, with many other non-New York cities) is that most of the best jazz venues double as restaurants. The upside of this is that the music doesn't have to tailor itself (i.e. commercialize or "sell out") to keeping the venue in business; the food and beverages do a fine job of that. But the downside is that there will be plenty of people at such venues who are not there for the music at all, so they don't realize what a distraction their conversation, business deals, selling stocks over their cell phone can be for those of us who are there to listen.

I've mentioned the wine-and-cheese crowd a few times in this space, and I think my feelings on the subject can best be summed up by this paragraph from the latter post:
I've spoken before about the delicate nature of the relationship between the wine-and-cheese crowd and jazz: We need their finanical support (of our programs, concerts and recordings), but it's hard to share space with them at outdoor concerts sometimes, because they're not always there for the music, and their constant loud conversation often infringes upon the enjoyment of those of us who are there to listen. We have to treat them nicely, because we need their dollars, but it would be nice if they would give us the same courtesy and not treat the music as background wallpaper.
Thankfully, this wasn't too much of an issue tonight, though one of my friends had the music drowned out a bit by a woman behind him. Still, as we listened to these three accomplished artists taking familiar standards and deconstructing them every which way, playing their hearts out, and we wondered, how could someone not be moved by this? It may have been wallpaper to them, but it was quite lovely wallpaper.

Still, the situation provided for a certain amount of freedom in the gig; they could play pretty much what they wanted to because most people weren't listening, and those of us who were listening thought that the deconstructions were extremely cool. When you're playing mostly for yourselves, and a table of enthusiastic fellow musicians, it's possbile to be very creative even in what would otherwise be the most mundane circumstances.

So this is not a rant, really. It's just a snapshot of how the jazz scene can look when we share our performance space with food and drink. Since I'm trying to get my various groups revived in the near future, it's also a glimpse into what is to be expected when I'm the one up there on stage.

My friend the bandleader came up afterwards and told us that some nights were amazing--most of the people very into the music, triple digits in tips--and some nights were more like tonight, though he said it elevated the mood when our table showed up. (I also overheard him refer to me as "a great saxophone player" to one of his colleagues onstage after he spotted me out front; I'll have to practice nonstop for an entire month just to live up to that compliment.)

I'm betting that most readers of this blog are jazz fans. If you're not, and you find yourself in a place like we were in tonight, be sure and give at least a cursory listen to what's going on up there; perhaps it might touch you like it touched us.

Autumn leaves? No, it's not leaving, it's arriving: This morning and tonight felt great outside. It's about time that the cooler weather got here, after a summer where it really never got hot and an early fall that never really stopped being summer. Highs in the upper 70's and lows in the upper 50's--i.e. Vermont weather in early June--would be just perfect for me.


Anonymous said...

I wish the Dallas jazz scene was more happening too. I just can't believe that with Denton just up the road, there aren't more venues to hear great jazz here.

The lack of a real happening scene here hasn't stopped me from plunging full-bore into getting my Tower of Power tribute band going. We've been rehearsing for about a month now, and it's starting to sound really good. All the instrumental spots are filled and we're following some very interesting leads on a vocalist, including a former lead singer for Tower of Power itself who reportedly lives in suburban North Dallas. Got a couple of UNT alums in the sax section: Lead tenor Eric Walker (early 80's 3:00) and Bari Gary Rackley (late 70's 4:00).

And to kind of segue into a comment about the lack of comments you made a few days ago, I just haven't been here much lately because it seems most of my free time has been either studying for the class I'm taking this semester or with my nose buried in Finale cleaning up the notation on many of the ToP transcriptions I have. That and watching the baseball playoffs.



Kev said...

Yeah, GP, I really miss your regular comments around here; if nothing else, you've often said something that either brought a response from me or spawned a lively discussion by others. But I totally understand how juggling grad school and a band with your active family could totally eat your free time. Still, it was great to hear from you again.