Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jazz for a December Night

Last night we headed to Bailey Concert Hall.  We were unsure what to expect.  We knew it would be a holiday concert by the student jazz group.  But we needed to be on time, even early, because we'd be seated on the stage.  I thought that perhaps they couldn't sell enough tickets to pack the hall, so they wanted a more intimate venue.

How wrong I was!  We got there to find that people were standing by, hoping for no-shows so that they could have space.

We were ushered backstage only to find out that the backstage area had been transformed into a nightclub:  small tables, sofas, comfy chairs lit by all sorts of lamps and overhead lights.  Each seat had a plate of snacks:  carrot sticks with a dab of dip, a small cup of candied nuts, and a macaroon.  Each patron had a drink ticket, which got us a small plastic goblet of white or red wine.

We sat with some of my spouse's fellow chorale members.  We were at a table for 8, so people joined us, and we made small talk.

And then, the concert started.  The first part of the concert gave us a jazz combo (5 players), while the second half of the concert was the larger jazz ensemble.

It took me some time to get used to the venue.  I had some trouble seeing the musicians, and I felt like if I moved, I would be blocking someone else's view.

But by the second half of the concert, with a larger group taking the stage, I felt more engaged.  Was it the change of the music, the larger group?  I'm not sure.  The quality of the music was equally good during both halves, so it wasn't that.

I enjoyed the Christmas music, but I must confess that the Jazz Combo took such improvisational turns that it was hard to hear the original Christmas songs.  Each member of the Combo had a moment to shine with his instrument.  What amazing instruments!

I thought about the fact that all of the musicians were male.  If a talented female trumpeter came along, surely she'd be included. 

Is it that jazz is still male dominated?  Something about the unladylike aspect of the instruments that keeps parents from pushing their young, female musicians in that way?

I also thought about the youth of the musicians.  How remarkable that these guys are playing this music, which had its highpoint in popularity long before they were born.

It was also interesting to go hear jazz after I spent the afternoon grading discussion posts for my online class.  We had been writing about the Baldwin short story "Sonny's Blues."  The jazz in that short story seems so dangerous, the jazz clubs so threatening--and it's so different from jazz today.  If I wanted to go to a dark, smoky jazz club where musicians shot heroin between sets, does such a place exist?

If it does, we weren't there last night.  We were in a clean, well lighted place (a short story we did not read as a class).  It was almost too well lighted--the first part of the concert was quite warm, because of the lights.

I thought about these students playing jazz, these students who were not likely to get in trouble the way that jazz musicians of past generations did.  They seemed earnest, and as we talked to some of them after the concert, so pleased that we came.

It was a wonderful way to spend a December evening, a wonderful end to a day of not-onerous grading and cooking.  We returned home through the Christmas lights and tucked ourselves in for a peaceful rest at the end of a good day and a good week.

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