I'm a freelance writer by day and a working jazz musician by night, and often I am able to combine my two lines of work. This blog is for posting gigs & various rants about music and life in general.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

a little Q&A

Had a good discussion via email this week with a friend who attended a jazz concert recently. He brought up some very good points about listening to jazz in a live setting, questioning the element of entertainment beyond music and such and...well, I'll just let you read for yourself. Posted below with permission (and including some minor editing to protect the innocent).

Ok, I'm a novice jazz listener. I can tell you the names of about three songs AND correctly identify them by title when I hear them. So, I suck. Regardless, I love listening to it. So, me making the following statement is like me commenting on thermonuclear fusion.

The "opening act" was quite good...played a wide variety of styles and let most of the members solo. MC-ing of the songs, etc. was quite entertaining.

The main act. His trumpet playing was awesome. Now, I know this wasn't a Sammy Hagar concert and even though the music was great, it had to be the most boring concert I think I've been to. Would have got more movement out of four mannequins in a wind storm. They were all pretty much motionless. It was really hard to watch regardless of how great the music was. As this was my first "true" jazz concert, is this normal?

As much as it pains me to admit it, yes, your reaction is actually very typical for someone who has just attended his/her first "real" jazz concert. And that is where the problem lies.

Jazz isn't really intended for concert halls. Sure, the cushy seats are nice and the non-smoking atmosphere is comforting, but more often than not the room is just too darn big. Sound bounces around and rarely are the acoustics decent. If there happens to be a sound guy, chances are he has only worked with rock bands (you'll hear a LOT of kick drum & bass in these instances, which can ruin the entire show). Also, folks are used to seeing a concert with lots of visual stimulation...lights, fog machines, people jumping around stage, etc. This is pretty rare in the jazz world, with the exception of all the Pat Metheny shows I've attended. Well, these guys don't jump around the stage like maniacs but the group has its own crew and REALLY knows how to use effects tastefully. And the music is absolutely amazing.

Jazz really belongs in a club venue. It's smaller, there's booze (we can talk about jazz & the Prohibition later), and moreover, very intimate. The music reaches the people in a better way. You can walk up to the musicians and actually poke them while they're playing, although I don't advise doing this. You can talk to them during breaks. The music surrounds you and the energy level is much higher. The audience feeds off the musicians and the musicians feed off the audience. You really get a chance to FEEL the music.

A classic comparison case, I think, actually occurred a few years ago. An up-and-coming organ player brought his trio to a small club. It was one of the most intense shows I've been to, and I'm not saying that just because the organ player got a little showy by playing with many of his appendages other than his hands that night. I saw the same group later that spring in a larger concert hall setting. It was boring (and not just because the organ guy didn't attempt to use his elbows, knees, or head this time). The sound was wimpy. The audience was dead. And it wasn't because the group couldn't play or didn't have any energy...it just didn't come across the same way in a concert hall designed to hold a thousand people. The sound was bad. The audience stiff. If this had been the only time I saw this group, I probably wouldn't have been impressed.

Of course these are merely my observations, derived after attending a myriad of concerts in both types of venues. But I've actually had the same discussion with other musicians and they agree, concert halls are not the ideal place for most jazz groups. I'm glad you gave it a shot, though. Lots of folks aren't even willing to do that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. Not being a musician myself, I couldn't say whether concerts halls are, or not, designed for jazz music. But there's definitely something commanding about sitting in a row and not being 'allowed', so to speak, to move around freely the way you would on an outdoor festival or in a jazz club. So commanding that whenever I attended jazz concerts in concerts halls (Johnny Griffin, Joe Bonner, Eric Watson + Ed Thigpen, Glenn Ferris...) I didn't even dare pat a toe to the music. Concert halls must be too closely associated in the mind of most people to classical music.
Keep swinging,
Lady Domi.
(PS : sorry - my blog is in French)

9:13 AM  

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