May 24, 2005

Jazz

Beginning of a longer work that I wrote over easter, I'd like some feedback to see if you think it's got legs.

Itís a dingy room by all accounts. Plaster cracked all over. At least three colours blotched on the walls, peeling or never finished. Rows of chairs that look like they were left over from the bingo. A bar in one corner, serving warm ale and cold water, even in here thereís a regular drooping folds of beer fat over his barstool. And at the back of the stage, the one stylish thing in the place, the black back wall, daubed with messy almost-rectangles of almost-white paint. Deliberate chaos, sort of what tonightís about.

The musicís magic. Rhythm and melody and discord and accident all blended together with crushed ice into one fiery cocktail. Inspiring and intoxicating, it bowls you over backwards and then whispers in your ear. But before you know it youíre on your feet and the musicís inside you, changing all you know.

A three-piece, even the band doesnít match. One tall, one medium, one almost medium; One thin, two fat; one grey and balding, one grey and red-faced (so if I squint heís pink), one brown and young. A replacement for the third of a broken set, dead for two years, heart attack, I donít remember his name. It bothers me because I should know; after all I performed the service. The kidís better, though he could use some dark glasses for his image. The dead manís brotherís playing saxophone, on a break now, waiting for his time to come, or for his breath to come back to him. If he doesnít cut back heíll wind up with his brother, playing the blues in heaven. Thatís the ex speaking, forever sitting on my right shoulder.

The double bass purrs at me, low and strong, I can almost feel the vibrations, disturbingly steady, deceptively regular. The backbone of the music, snaking around you, tying you in, always holding you, even when the pianoís path catches your eye. Itís there around you, solid. The piano leads you down a dozen false turnings, snaring you in a musical maze, making you run in circles, but never going the way you think. You fall through hedges, holes in the floor and sky, it loses you in every direction, waits for you to catch up. And all along, in and out of sight the saxophone sings its dance in the sky. Itís beautiful, itís stunning, it can make you stand in awe as it writhes, golden in the air, shouting at the earth, whooping at the heavens, then swooping down to stand still behind you and whisper burning longings. But it disappears into the maze when you turn around, and you run after it, missing the fiery brilliance.

Not only is the kid better, saxophone playerís better since the funeral. He played the service and it was the best Iíve seen him. Itís as if he wonít accept the 40-year-old kid is better than his brother so he plays for both for them. I once told my ex that dead guy was better off playing in heaven. She hated it. Maybe now saxophone player just has something to play the blues about, a real soul handing around to put the spirit in the jazz. My ex hated that too. We argued, but that wasnít really what I meant. Thereís no idea more gloriously self-indulgent than playing the blues to your own death. Nothing so tragic as playing jazz to everyone elseís life.

The saxophone player switches to the clarinet and he makes a long high-pitched whine sound like an angel crying because he lost his choir. The sound hangs in your ears, just long enough to interrupt itself with cascading notes all falling on top of each other, ending abruptly by flowing into another perfectly different whine.

The room fits the music like the music fits anything. Bingo-chairs, cracked blotchy walls and single stylish wall. None of it matches and thatís just perfect for jazz. That sound that doesnít fit in anywhere, that defies rhythm and form, subverts you to the path of freedom. Yeah, knaff walls, knaff furniture, cheap bar and a stylish backdrop: thatís what jazz is. Or maybe the music just made it seem that way.

The only thing bothering me is the ĎNo Smokingí sign. People are supposed to smoke during jazz, itís rebellious, dangerous, and self-harming; youíre not quitting like society tells you to. And the smoke creeps lazily up in a sinewy silhouette, curling its way to a cloud in the ceiling, only it smells foul, gives you cancer, and really it just conforms to the idea that smoking is cool peddled by a different part of society. Itís just thatís normally the part of society that likes jazz.


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  1. Read this whilst listening to Ella, and really liked it. I love Jazz generally, and at some points you just capture everything that's good about it – "Rhythm and melody and discord and accident all blended together with crushed ice into one fiery cocktail. Inspiring and intoxicating, it bowls you over backwards and then whispers in your ear. But before you know it youíre on your feet and the musicís inside you, changing all you know." mmmm… Also the bit about the clarinet is perfect.

    I can't quite decide who the speaker is though – I feel he should be a bit more of a hard-boiled film noir kind of person, but perhaps that's just the character I always associate with smokey jazz.

    24 May 2005, 12:02


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