Wednesday, 29 June 2016

So Long and Thanks for All that Jazz

Pieces from six different puzzles...
I just can’t seem to get the pieces to fit together. I am attempting to finish the jigsaw but I seem to have pieces from six different puzzles.  I can fit some pieces together and form part of a picture, but they just won’t make any kind of coherent whole.

I’m at the Southbank Centre and I want to like what I am listening to. I hear the brilliance of individual band members and as I do, I form part of an image with some of the pieces before me. Yet try as I might I can’t quite make one complete musical entity from it all.

I look around at the aficionados of jazz who are clapping every solo and nodding their head to some vibe I just can’t find! What is it that they hear that I don’t? How can they force those pieces to fit together, when for me they quite obviously are not even part of the same puzzle!

Searching for the metaphorical musical scissors...
One of the early Father Ted episode has an opening pre-credit scene in which Ted and Dougal are doing a jigsaw and chatting together. At one point Dougal, having spent time unsuccessfully trying to fit in a piece, picks up a pair of scissors and chops off one of the ‘tabs’ and forces it to fit… This evening I am searching for the metaphorical musical scissors.

The band are led by Nick Costly-White, a guitarist, who during the sound check looks more like a last minute stand in than the band leader as he uncertainly shuffles his charts into their proper set list order. As each song starts he is concentrating so hard on the charts, almost as if he has never seen them before, yet when his solos come he is transformed into the confident virtuoso performer. 

After each of his solos there is a ripple of applause from the head-nodding jazz loving crowd, who have no problem understanding what they hear. Routinely applauding in the middle of a song is not something that sits easily with me - a piece of music is not a collection of solos however sublime they happen to be - but rather the sum of the overall parts, which are greater than the whole and which are to be applauded at the end.  Perhaps this style of Jazz is the musical exception that proves the ‘greater than the sum of the parts’ rule!

The band take their turns to play the solos and riffs for each song. The double bass player clearly picked his instrument to compensate for his own lack of stature and plays like David wrestling his own particular Goliath! He wins time and again! The piano player is hidden from view by a pillar – but I watch his hands reflected in the lid of the keyboard of the shiny Grand Piano, as they sweep up and down with fluency and attack, appearing as they do - Adamms Family-esque - disconnected from a body. The tenor sax and bass clarinet play together and solo, in parts as heavy as their instruments appear. Behind it all the jazz drummer drives the band on with rhythms that would give rock drummers nightmares!

A jazz novice with excellent jazz hands...
I make it to the interval during which I decide to visit the facilities. The queue for the hand-drier is too long to bother waiting for, so I leave the toilets shaking off the excess water as I go. I smile to myself at the irony  – a jazz novice with excellent jazz hands!

As the second half begins only a trio of the band play, and I suddenly catch myself listening and enjoying the song. However, I notice the Bass Clarinettist hovering nervously to one side of the performance area in what would be the wings. As the song ends he approaches Nick and whispers. Nick half smiles an apology and delves deep into his pockets and a key is produced, explaining that the Bass Clarinet has been locked in the Green Room! There is an extended intro to the next song, allowing time for the Clarinet to be retrieved, and as soon as the Clarinettist is back onstage -even before he has time to draw breath - he is into a long solo, brilliantly performed!

All this commotion has distracted me from jigsaw puzzle and as the next song starts I find myself nodding my head along with the aficionados! I enjoy the second half much more, although at times I find myself still worrying about how it all fits together. But I dismiss the thoughts, try to relax, and simply enjoy the live music.

After the gig I decide I probably will never love Jazz, but as with any gig I’m glad I’ve been here to see great musicians at work, and to be part of a crowd – strangers becoming a community for 90 minutes.

‘Did you enjoy that?’ The question comes out of the blue from the person next to me!
‘Err yes!’ I hesitantly reply. ‘You?’
‘I loved it – but you don’t sound too sure?’
‘I just can’t see how it all fits together,’ I blurt out in the form of a confession. By way of absolution I am gently given a lecture on the spectrum of Jazz and how not all Jazz appeals to all people.

This is my 42nd gig of this, my 50th year and we all know that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42. In spite of a growing appreciation of jazz, this gig does not answer many questions for me, but then again, I have never been entirely convinced that 42 offers a full explanation either. So perhaps all that is left to say is…

So long and thanks for all that jazz!

Gig: 42 of 50
Date of Gig: Fri. 15th January 2016

Southbank Centre

Nick Costly-White

Running total of artists seen 88

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