Thursday, October 30, 2008

And All that Jazz

This past week I've spent a good portion of time at the Taichung Jazz Festival.
It was a nine day Festival featuring Jazz (and it's offspring) from around the world.

The Festival kicked off with Taichung City trying to break a Guinness World Record for having the largest amount of Saxophone players playing the same three songs, in succession, at the same time. My Taiwanese Family's brother was one of the intricate coordinators and dreamers for the event. His Saxophone Students include some of the most prominent men in Taichung City (Doctors, CEO's, Government Officials, etc.).
They set the record at 917 Registered Sax Players.

One of the highlights of the first weekend was the Saskia Laroo band.
Saskia is a lady-trumpet player from the Netherlands. Her lively sound fuses acid-rock, doo-wop, and Jazz to create something totally unique.
Her showcase proved to be an essential performance for this year's festivities
The members of her band were enough to prove the efforts Taichung consciously put forth to globalize this event.

Her drummer and bass player were from and around the Netherlands, but her keyboardist was an African American doo-wop/scat artist from the States. And her Emcee was a black rapper under the moniker Firestorm who was from South America and migrated to Europe.

There performance was tight, despite constant feedback issues. But that first weekend led to smooth sailing for the rest of the event. In my experience, I'd say it's quite easy to mess up a festival, and I've been to a few that were below par. Taichung City came through with a top-notch show.

Other performances included:
  • "Jumbo" - the Taichung locals that put on quite a show for the bar scene (Buble, meets Santana, meets Mercury)
  • "Trio3"
  • A group from South Korea that could hold their own in any New Orleans Night Club
  • "Around Midnight" - A trio made up of an Australian, a Canadian, and a Taiwanese. Stellar Musicians.
  • And of course, an appearance by my friends in the Taichung City Symphony Orchastra -- Chamber Jazz Group.
The group is headed by my new friend Nick, an American who moved, with his Taiwanese bride, to Taichung about the same week I did. They met while studying at a conservatory in Europe.. Nick is, in a way a great comfort to be around. Mostly because I can understand him just fine, and he knows that every "hello" and "see you later" deserves at least a three-point hand shake. He is through and through a Jazz Trombone Player, but he fills into the Orchastra position just fine.
He was joined by his wife on french horn, a pianist, a violinist, and Brio on Cello (another friendly face whom I've mentioned here).

I can certainly say the thing I appreciated most about the Chamber's set was Nick's dillegence to recognize that Chamber music really isn't Jazz. I've seen it tried to be passed off that way before, and you can't help but feel cheated by this substitute. Jazz is about freedom. It's a living organism that comes alive at every change of hands. Chamber music is about structure. Being an indistiguishable part of a group -- with little to no deviance from what's on the sheet in front of you.

I'm sorry, but no matter how hard you try... violin is just not a jazz instrument.

But, to his saving grace, Nick recognized this, and called their experiment just one expression of the artform.
I'll give him that. Plus it sounded great, jazz or not.

There was only one other place that felt unnatural throughout the whole Jazz festival. That was the main stage.

Most of the performers were on smaller side stages, where even the furthest people watching would sit only meters from the stage. Where, if they listened hard, they could hear the sound of the plucks and slaps of an upright bass solo as its amplified frequency resonated in their chest.

But the main stage was different.
It was big.

And there were easily over a thousand gathered each night a performer stepped onto it. While listening to Slide Hampton's smooth and articulate trombone, I couldn't help but feel detatched. Distant. Apart of what was going on; the freedom song being sung on stage.

I think Jazz is like a story, and I've heard it called a language of the Soul.

Well stories are best told personally, and Souls must reach out and touch each other if they're ever going to make a change.

If you've followed my blog at all, you'll realize I have a tendency (healthy or not) of taking a mundane post that I've assumed has lost your interest by this point, and grow some depth.
That said, you didn't really expect me to write a whole blog about Jazz and not mention Donald Miller, or his book Blue Like Jazz, did you?

He cites a BET artist on the history of jazz:
He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery. I thought that was beautiful because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper, it is so much more a language of the soul.

Jazz is meant to be seen and heard and played outside the realms of rules and regulations. That's why it was okay when the Chamber Trio performance edged towards going over the clock. Sometimes, in Jazz, that happens. Sure there's tension, and sometimes a song can slide through for ten minutes before you feel the resolving chord. But isn't that a lot more like life than a perfectly orchestrated symphony?
Life is hard to put down on paper.

Beyond that, Jazz was never intended to be impersonal. It was before the era of CDs, Cassettes, MP3s or DVD Concerts. It was a People's song of freedom. And they sang it together in close quarters. Through close bonds.

The more I step forward in my life, the more I realize that intimacy is essential to our existence. Sure, there's tension when dealing with people. Sometimes that solo is a little too loud, or a little too long-winded. And sometimes trading fours seems like trading punches. But without people, what do we have?
Jazz isn't a song that's sung alone.

It was birthed in post-slavery America, but now crosses the oceans of language and culture and style. And when it's played, I can't help but search for other conversations going on in the song. One that speaks to my humanity about the humanity in those around me.

This week helped open my eyes to what it means to communicate with people. To find the language that goes beyond words, and maybe even beyond music, but nevertheless, is spoken around the world.

Who knew all of that would come from a Jazz Music Festival in Taichung, Taiwan.

1 comment:

Blue in Green said...

Its so nice to meet a real fan of jazz. This is excellent and thanks for bringing me here. In addition to following your blog, I have also included it in my blog list.

btw: I've ordered and can't wait to read Donald Millers book 'Blue Like Jazz'. Thank you very much.