Close Enough 4

The frankly disappointing follow-up to Close Enough 3.  By this stage, all the principle cast and characters have left the sinking ship and the cinematic release was extremely limited.  If we’re honest, Close Enough was (at best) mediocre and the attempts of Hollywood to defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics with increasingly desperate sequels have not been a great success.  Entropy has an inevitability that even death and taxes have to look on with a degree of envy.

However, all of that introduction was nonsense – though represents a worryingly large share of the reason for putting fingers to keyboard.  I have, for many years, used the phrase ‘close enough for jazz’ when further precision was unnecessary (or I was too lazy to continue with a task).  As this post will go on to explain (well, it might), I now spend a lot more time in proximity to the jazz community and so worry that (a) this phrase might be offensive to that community (LGBTQIA+J anyone?) and (b) jazz seems to require significantly more precision than I have previously believed.  I may be forced to retire the phrase from my rather threadbare wardrobe of idiom.

Until recently, jazz did not play a large role in my musical life (or, indeed, my non-musical life).  It really only figured in me occasionally hurling myself across the room to hit the off switch should I turn on Radio 3 to find jazz emerging from the wireless.  However, over the last year or so things have been changing as I pass through some sort of ‘jazz-puberty’.  Somewhere in my 30s olives became acceptable – and even desirable – to my palate (having previously brought nothing but revulsion) and it would seem that my 50s has unexpectedly delivered a love of jazz.

I’m not sure exactly where it started, it may have been going to a Southampton Youth Jazz Orchestra concert with friends (their choice) or experimentation on my part with the Norwegian jazz of the Daniel Herskedal trio (one has to try new things to avoid stagnation).  It started innocently enough, with the odd jazz gig every couple of months: it seemed under control.  I felt there was some modest subset of the world of jazz which I seemed to enjoy live, but I retained my loathing for recorded jazz in all its forms.

Then, early in 2017, I was sat at home early one Sunday evening wondering if there was some nearby culture I could attend to sooth the transition from weekend into working week.  I noticed that the Talking Heads had a free (to enter) gig courtesy of the Southampton Modern Jazz Club (SMJC) in their front bar.  This was less than 10 minutes stroll from my abode and I figured “how bad can it be?” – if it was just too awful, I could just slip away in a convenient break and still have most of the evening to myself: mayhap a little tatting would provide purposeful employ for my my idle hands?

As it transpired, it was the jazz some way from awful (certainly not practically walkable) and the Sunday evening SMJC gig has become a regular feature of my weekends.  I’ve also been going to other jazz gigs locally and enjoying myself – I’ve even started buying CD on jazz (argh!).  What has happened to me?  I was expecting the deteriorating eyesight, greying hair and annexation of my flesh by wrinkles as the years performed their ineluctable dance – but no-one warmed me about this love of jazz!  Should I have taken Oil of U/Olay more seriously?

I think this process reached some kind of watershed last weekend when I went up to Edinburgh to visit a friend, but primarily to attend the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.

ejf_logo2017

One of the 7 signs of ageing?

I had a brilliant time with a wide range of jazz from young and old with practitioners from Scotland, Scandinavia and the US.  It also helped me to realise that jazz takes place in the sort of venues I associate with all the best culture: small, dark and sweaty (and, if possible, underground!).  My two favourite gigs (in a very strong field) both occurred in such spaces: the Alan Benzie Trio in the basement of the Rose Theatre and the Fraser Urquhart Quintet in the Jazz Bar.  The Festival also taught me that if an old jazzer invites a younger colleague over, it may be to jam but is more likely to relate to a need to fix their wifi or TV.

In an attempt to boost the appeal of the GofaDM, this post will now be offering scope for audience participation: oh yes it will!  At a gypsy jazz gig at the the Talking Heads on Tuesday, I confidently stated that the cucumber was not a jazz vegetable (this was not apropos of nothing, but made sense – of a form – in a conversation I was engaged in at the time).  This then raised the question, “so what is a jazz vegetable?”.  Clearly the currently popular supermarket apple is not a jazz fruit, despite its nomenclature.  Cavolo nero is musical but clearly operatic, as I demonstrated to the horror of those present.  I eventually proposed that celeriac was a jazz vegetable and subsequently think that the Jerusalem artichoke and okra might be.  It is here, dear reader, where you come in: what do you consider to be a jazz vegetable?

Clinging on to youth

I find myself in the final week of what is conventionally (without the aid of a face-saving switch of base) considered to be my forties.  My roaring days are almost over but, on the plus side, I believe there is an end to rationing in sight.

I am trying to resist some of what I imagine are the mental changes which overtake people as they age.  Primarily, I am trying to dodge the lurch to the right, the decrying of all things young and new and the retreat into what is known and thus, presumably, comforting.  Resisting the call of the right (or for that matter the left) is made all too easy by its use of third-rate pantomime villains peddling their transparent falsehoods and the bitter bile of hate.  Avoiding descending into mental cliché is more of a challenge, but I am spurred on by the hope that there is more to life than re-runs (and re-makes) of what has gone before.  So it is that, in addition to consuming the blood of innocents, I attempt to fill my life with new (and relatively low risk, as measured in millimorts) experiences.  Of course, this could all be a post-hoc rationalisation (always better indulged in after a glass of Rhenish white) of recent activities or a feeble attempt to link a few disparate ideas together in the hope of forming a post.  Still, I think we can safely discount those more outlandish theories and return to the main thread of today’s symposium.

This headlong pursuit of novelty has found me, not once but twice, attending an event at the London International Mime Festival.  What have I become?  As so often, many a younger me would be appalled.  In 2016-me’s defence, I must say that neither event was what I would have called mime.  No white-face make-up, no Breton shirt and absolutely no walking into the wind whilst trapped in a  box.  Either mime has moved on, or my stereotype was dreadfully wide of the mark.  This blog has already covered Circa – more circus-cum-classical-recital than mine – so I shall merely mention my second ‘mime’ event: Celui qui tombe.  This was unlike anything I’d even imagined, let alone seen, and is almost indescribable.  There were elements of circus, dance, grandmother’s footsteps and some surprisingly competent choral singing all set on, under or dangerously near a large wooden platform which hung, dropped, teetered, spun and swung above the stage.  There is so much more in heaven and earth (and the Barbican theatre) then is dreamt of in my philosophy.  I eagerly await next year’s LIMF and have acquired a Breton-style shirt in preparation.

I have recently discovered that Southampton University stages free lunchtime concerts, an analogue to those I used to attend in Cambridge, on (some) Mondays and Fridays in term-time.  As with so much local culture,  this discovery did not come easy and even now I usually only know one is happening by attending its immediate predecessor.   These concerts have introduced me to the piano music of the rather interesting Brazilian composer Almeida Prado – who I suspect would otherwise never entered my life, to its detriment.  As well as classical fare, there is often a performance by a jazz-influenced student group.  Via this route I experienced the delights of a saxophone quartet: boasting the full range from soprano to baritone.  The former, to my eyes, looks like a blinged-up clarinet whereas the later is a hefty beast and could, in time of thick fog, be used to keep ships off the rocks.  As well as the amusement engendered by the instruments, I also enjoyed the  works of Alfed Desenclos and Joe Cutler.

In fact, in 2016 I have been tipping my toes a little more seriously into jazz-infested waters and have actually paid to see it performed.  There seems to be a lot more to the world of jazz than the traditional form I heard in New Orleans or the totally unlistenable version I occasionally catch on Radio 3 as I race across the room in search of the off switch.  By far my favourite, so far, was this last Saturday night and came from Norway (probably in the hope of a little warmth and sunlight).  The Daniel Herskedal Trio were wonderful – and supported by a 15-person string ensemble drawn from the university – producing music that I am going to describe using the phrase ‘restless serenity’.  It was also the first concert I’ve attended where the tuba took centre-stage as soloist.  It is a much more versatile beast than I had imagined – it can offer so much more than a basso-profundo ‘oom-pah’ – and I’m convinced that young Mr Herskedal was producing polyphony from it (though I have no idea how).  I think he should also be credited as the first person I’ve seen on stage at Turner Sims to wear leather trousers: a look which I feel he pulled off with some aplomb.

This concert also confirmed my escape plan, if ever life in these isles is made untenable by the meddling of our political classes.  Yes, folks, I shall be emigrating to Norway – though I may have to overcome my aversion to wearing jumpers first (a vest can only take a chap so far).  Still, BBC4 has been doing its best to prepare me for life in Scandinavia: so I think I should cope.  In the pre-concert interview, it became clear that their musical culture is rather impressive.  Ayolf, the excellent jazz pianist with the trio, had just finished a couple of weeks going around the primary(!) schools of Oslo introducing them to improvisational music.  Even in the better funded school music of my youth, I only had Mrs Spicer and a recorder or two to launch my musical education.  Today, when the heirs of Thomas Gradgrind have taken over education policy, I fear jazz may be a rarity in the UK’s primary schools: we can’t afford any distractions from the training the little darlings up to serve the business needs of yesteryear.

So folks, enjoy me while you can!  Before long,the temptation to seek more enlightened policies to the Arts (and much more besides) may grow too strrong and I’ll set sail across the German Bight and up towards Fisher and the Utsires.  Payback for the Vikings, at last!

Jazz, hands

This last weekend, I returned to Cambridge once more – staying at Sidney Sussex college, which is very central.  It did bring back memories of my own first year in college, which was similarly situated albeit in the dreaming spire adorned arch-enemy of my weekend destination.  Ostensibly, I had returned to enjoy a few of the delights of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival – but did manage to tack on some additional fun.

The jazz component of our title was delivered by Ms Jacqui Dankworth and “her musicians”.  Not perhaps my usual cup of tea, but really quite entertaining.  Ms D may not have had a great relationship with her mother but does seem, nonetheless, to be turning into her (a state of affairs which, I seem to recall, Algernon Moncrieff described as the tragedy of her sex).  She also has a condign mastery of the breathing required to sing – something which I rather lack.  Despite somewhat more than 48 years on this planet, my breathing is still surprisingly poor – and this may be exacerbated by my gymnastic ambitions.  Having abs (and, indeed, a core) of steel is vital when hanging from the rings, but is less useful when trying to provide the oxygen supply needed for a decent vocal performance.  This may explain why so few opera singers have been gymnasts (and vice versa).  Despite this obstacle, I did have great fun with the groupetto and Handel’s O sleep, why dost thou leave me? during the singing lesson I managed to slot into the weekend.  I did, however, begin to suspect that my singing teacher’s choice of breathing exercise was more designed to use the student as a human fan than prepare my body for the rigours that were to follow.

Hands were delivered from many places over the weekend.  There was some fine piano playing with Debussy in the mercifully air-conditioned Howard theatre and a rather toastier concert in Gallery 3 at the Fitzwilliam Museum over Sunday lunchtime.  There was also the laying on of hands as my massage therapist once again attempted to return my ageing body to some semblance of its lissome prime.  Once again, my actions – in this case the content of post 500 – generated some surprise: despite being clearly telegraphed (née promised).  The session also generated some rather fruitful ideas to work into my pursuit of dating excellence – of which more will follow in later posts – and a further challenge for me to take on: of which more in the paragraph which will shortly be arriving into platform 3A.

In the narrow vestibule where a chap awaits audience with his therapist is a modest range of reading material.  This comprises a sizeable joke book, a thinner volume on cycle maintenance (this is Cambridge, after all) and a very small selection of (now) rather aged magazines.  I felt that the magazine selection could usefully do with a refresh and it seems it is down to we, the clientele, to take this project in hand.  Ancient copies of Punch or Countrylife would be, frankly, too dull – so I have taken it upon myself to bring a more interesting offering each time I visit.  I am looking for the most obscure, limited readership, magazines possible.  These should have nothing at all to do with Cambridge or massage, but should be suitable for a family audience – I shall need my first example by early(ish) September, so a helping hand by way of a suggestion or two would be terribly useful…

All-in-all, a very enjoyable weekend – though one experiment should not be considered a success.  The weekend, as the week before it, was really rather hot.  As a result, I thought I would attempt a currently popular fad in an attempt to maintain my feet at a comfortable temperature.  I have noticed that many folk eschew the sock with their summer footwear – and I talk here not of the undeniably wise choice to ensure that sock and sandal are never seen dancing cheek-to-cheek.  No, I refer to the sock-less foot being ensconced in deck shoe, plimsoll or trainer.  So, despite my advanced age, I decided to attempt this myself and chose a canvas shoe (a pair, in fact) as my weapon of choice – feeling that the canvas would be more forgiving to my tender pedal extremities and would also allow them to breathe.  How wrong I was, terrible damage to the edges of my little toes and many a toe-knuckle quickly followed this brief flirtation with fashion.  I am left chastened, with a mild limp, and a new found respect for the humble sock and its important role in my life.  I’m not saying I will rush out and buy a darning mushroom, but never again will a mock a sock.  Huzzah for hosiery!

Kiwi fruit

Frosts last May mean that I am now dependent on the supermarket for my dessert apple needs.  Modern storage techniques mean that I can still buy British apples, but the range is rather diminished – with most of those that remain being rather recent additions to the canon which first grew (or were first bred) in New Zealand.

This coming week I shall be sampling the offspring of a Braeburn and a Royal Gala, the Malus cultivar known as Scifresh.  Presumably fearing that this  rather industrial name might not be appealing (or apple-ing) to consumers, they are more commonly known under the apple-ation of the Jazz apple.

Jazz is usually used as a modifier to indicate something transgressive, borrowed from its original application to music.  Jazz mags are on the borders of legality, jazz cigarettes lie somewhat beyond and jazz hands are surely never acceptable.  However, the Peelers (surely the correct term for policemen who handle apple-related wrong-doing) have not yet felt my collar, so I must assume that jazz apples remain legal, for now.  If apple cultivars are to be made illegal, might I suggest that the full force of state coercion is first brought to bear on the Golden Delicious – if nothing else, surely this sorry excuse for an apple could be banned under the Trade Descriptions Act!