The Jazz (w)Age

For me, in many ways, last weekend both started and ended with sax.  That is not a typo, I was fully intending to reference Adolphe Sax’s invention for use in military bands as my weekend was bracketed by jazz gigs.  While thinking of M. Sax, I find myself wondering whatever happened to the ophicleide?  I feel it is time for it to make a comeback!

This seemed a good opportunity to fritter away some words on the subject of jazz (and me, obvs) as this marks the first anniversary of my regular going to jazz gigs.  Before January last year, I had occasionally been to jazz gigs both in London when I first lived there in the early 90s and at the Preservation Jazz Hall in New Orleans when I briefly visited that city back in 1990: an encounter which brought an end to my exploration of the Vieux Carré as I lost the desire to move on (I also had a frozen daiquiri, which may have contributed).  However, since that time I had largely ignored – and at times actively avoided – jazz.

An attempt to diversify my musical experience had tempted me to a few Nordic jazz gigs at Turner Sims in 2016.  However, it was on the evening of a dismal Sunday in January 2017 (not unlike today) that I decided I fancied some live music.  A quick search revealed that the Southampton Modern Jazz Club (SMJC) had a free entry gig on at the Talking Heads and as it was both close and free, I figured “what’s the worst that can happen?”.  As Dr Pepper (a self-claimed title rather than a formal qualification, I think) has been trying to warn me in a series of harrowing public information films since the late 2000s, there can be serious consequences from apparently harmless, trivial even, choices.

Since that fateful day, I have (on average) consumed more than one jazz gig a week and I have even indulged my filthy habit while away from home in both Cambridge and Edinburgh.  Indeed, I visited Edinburgh with the express purpose of attending its Jazz and Blues Festival.  It has gone even further and I have started indulging in jazz chords at home, using my piano and only my lack of skill has spared the guitar and clarinet.

At the start of last weekend, I went to see Binker and Moses (and friends) at Turner Sims.  After a while, I was able to stop speculating as to whether Binker’s mother was a big fan of the poetry of A A Milne (does he have a sibling roughly six years his senior?) and really enjoy the music.  I was sufficiently close to the stage and at a suitable angle to see some of how the sax is played and it looks tractable at some level as it seems to share basic fingering with one of the descant or treble recorders (both of which I played back in the 70s).  This gig also highlighted what a great jazz instrument the tabla is (are?).

At the weekend’s close on Sunday night, the SMJC gig was billed as Ted Carrasco and Friends, though as it transpired it was very much Gilad Atzmon‘s show.  As so often with the SMJC, it was a truly incredible gig with some amazing jazz music and Gilad’s entertaining patter between.  On more than one occasion, he paid two saxes at the same time – which smacks of showing off!  Young Marius Neset is going to have to bring his A game when I see him in a couple of weeks in London: though, I’m quietly confident he is up to the challenge…

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Double the fun!  Two reeds and no sign of Victoria Coren-Mitchell!

The very high standard of (often international) jazz musicians which Southampton manages to attract is a source of constant amazement to me.  Turner Sims stages formal gigs with tickets priced at around £20 and can seat a few hundred punters and has support from the Arts Council (among others).  The SMJC on the other hand relies on donations from at most a 30 or 40 attendees to pay the artists with bar receipts paying for the space and (perhaps) topping up the donations.

I will admit that I am scarred by my time as the treasurer of a musical festival in Cambridge and still count empty seats at paid gigs and worry about how the economics of the event are stacking-up.  My experience of gigs funded by donation was that the contribution averages £2-£3 which, given the modest size of the Maple Leaf Lounge, wouldn’t cover petrol money let alone a fee for the musicians. The creative world does seem to be afflicted by those who believe that exposure has a much higher value than can conceivably be justified.  I think the level of over-valuation can perhaps be illustrated by how rarely one sees an accountant, lawyer or CEO working solely for the exposure.

I hope that Southampton jazz patrons are more generous than classical music aficionados in Cambridge and I always try and pay as I would for a normal gig at the Heads (and often buy a CD – yes, I am very old).  Ted is the force behind the SMJC and I must assume that he must be very persuasive – or has a very impressive collection of blackmail material.  He is not from around these parts – or spent way too much time in front of US TV at a formative time – but he adds immeasurably to the richness of Southampton music by staging such great gigs every week of the year.  He is one of several folk this city would do well to appreciate and support.

During the week, I was in Belfast and looking for something to do on Wednesday evening.  The city has almost three times the population of Southampton (based on official stats), but it is often a struggle to find a gig to attend.  This may reflect my lack of knowledge of the local scene, but I compile a local Gig Guide, which graces this blog, using the same tricks with which I research Belfast.  The guide shows that most nights Southampton can offer multiple gigs within walking distance of my home.  There is rarely nothing to do, more often than not there are far too many options: some nights we are into double figures (more if you go deeper into the suburbs).  I’m not sure that the city recognises its great good fortune and I’m sure it makes far too little of its riches when selling itself to the wider world.

So, if any readers find themselves at a loose end in Southampton on a Sunday night – and feel they will be able to cope with an escalating jazz habit – they should hie themselves to the Talking Heads and support the SMJC!

It’s over!

I trust that everyone sang the title using their best impression of Roy Orbison.  However, fear not, no-one’s baby has moved onto romantic pastures new (well, obviously I can’t guarantee that, but it is not the subject of today’s post).  The title refers to the end of Christmas proper – though those with an inappropriately generous true love may continue receiving deliveries of miscellaneous birds and people for some days yet – but the rest of us are now in that liminal space that lies twist the supposed birth of the ickle Baby Jesus and the start of the New Year.  After weeks of build-up (or in my case, an hour or two), Christmas joins us for a few brief hours and then is gone.

I thought I’d share some vignettes from my own Christmas while the remain relatively fresh in my alcohol-addled brain.

Christmas Eve

A new tradition began and an old one was resurrected…  I think last Sunday was my first Christmas Eve at a gig – and what a gig!  It was a jazz session at the Talking Heads with a Christmas theme, produced by the Fathers of Christmas (a name the quartet will probably not be using at other gigs).  The musicians were joined by a singer – who was the only member of the ensemble to make a serious effort when it comes to dress – for several of the numbers and who, based on his youth, must have been a son or grandson of Christmas.  As well as jacket and shoes in red and black, alluding to the season, he also appeared to have spent more effort on his hair for the gig than I have on mine over the whole of the last decade.  I’m probably at least as vain as the next man, but am just too lazy to act on it: especially when it comes to hair.  The whole gig was so enjoyable, I’d rather like to spend every Christmas Eve with live festive jazz and friends – however, the timing of that particular gig means this would only happen every 7 years (on average).

It was also at the Heads that I was given my first Christmas stocking for rather more than three decades.  This might suggest that I am spending too much time at gigs or am excessively childish and I did wonder if it was a form of intervention: though if it was, I am unclear as to its nature.  The stocking was a festive “sock”, embroidered with my name, rather than one of my father’s unadorned seaman’s socks (he never went to sea, but he did have the socks ready) which served throughout my childhood.  I opened the parcels on Christmas Day, and there was one item in common with my childhood stockings: the tangerine!  The other gifts seemed a step up from their 1970s counterparts: I can now be musical in miniature, massage my aching muscles and study to be rock star with a Ladybird.  I consumed the very fine bottle of Duet from Alpine Beer on my return to Southampton, which slipped down worryingly easily for a non-session 7% ale!  Finally, the Lindt reindeer allowed me to test my theory that it is just a re-badged Easter Bunny: it wasn’t!

Christmas jazz and (slightly deformed) stocking

Christmas Day

On Christmas morning, I drove back to see my family through pleasantly quiet roads: something of a throwback to the road conditions of my youth (albeit with bigger and safer cars).  After a brief stop-off with my parents, the bulk of the day was spent at my sister’s with my nephew: the only readily available familial child (as measured by age, at least).  I ate a frankly infeasible volume of food and was a very bad vegetarian indeed!  I danced to Queen (thanks to a videogame, which frankly only monitors my right hand) and on the third attempt proved triumphant at Exploding Kittens (a card game: no actual kittens were harmed or – more importantly – harmed me!).  By dint of refusing to play again, I retain my hard-fought crown to this day!

I learned that you can buy your giant rabbit (he’s called Starby, if you want to correspond with him directly) a house made from carrots (compressed into a more practical building material) which the owner will slowly consume.  It became all to clear that my whole family (including me) is useless at Guess Who – the version where you must guess the name written on a post-it note placed on your forehead (top tip: this works much better if you attach the post-it note to a paper hat obtained from a cracker).  To be honest, given how bad we were I’m surprised that the game is not still underway (some three days later).  I can also commend my sister’s gentleman caller on the excellent quality of his light fruit cake: quite the best example of its genre I have had the pleasure of eating in many years.  It was when attempting to light a (Roman) candle on this very cake that I discovered how poor my family are at matters incendiary.  After recourse to a gas lighter, several matches and a tea light ignition was finally achieved.  I think parliament is safe from any repeat of the gunpowder plot instigated by my clan: I shall have to stick with the military option when I sweep to power…

The true meaning of Christmas: Easter and Guy Fawkes (no relation!)

Boxing Day

Boxing Day was spent at my parents and as has become traditional, a modest constitutional took place in a futile attempt to burn off a few of the million (or so) calories consumed on the previous day.  In older times (and better weather), this used to involve a hike to the nearby supergrid point circling home via the Christmas Tree farm but in more recent years we have limited ourselves to a stroll along the prom at Bexhill.  This was glorious, if bracing, but gathering storm clouds led me to forego the traditional Boxing Day ice cream.  A wise decision, as it rained pretty vigorously on the drive back to Ninfield: though this did provide a glorious double rainbow as we headed north from Sidley.

The day’s other major excitement was my father’s decision to cook me a vegetarian lunch.  His chosen meal required a very large amount of grating: something I would only have attempted with a food processor.  My parents could only field a manual grater and a rather feeble stick blender so I think my father and I burned off far more calories grating root vegetables than we did on our walk.  Despite some misgivings, the galette proved more than edible and, with some minor tweaks to the recipe (and better equipment), could well be worth making again.  In the evening I drove back home through heavy rain and traffic, leaving Christmas behind me in the east.

Building and sating an appetite!

Post-Christmas

Christmas itself was the first time I had spent two evenings not at a gig of some form or other for several weeks (possibly even months) and there was some concern about how well I would cope.  I can reassure readers that the sheer volume of food and alcohol consumed did mitigate against me running amok.  Still, to minimise the growing risk I did go out last night to see some live music: so I think you’re probably safe (for now).  Life should now return to a more normal footing, though gigs in early January do look slightly sparse at the moment.

Some might think my Christmas odd, but five people on each of the two main days chose to spend some of their time consulting this august instrument.  One can scarcely imagine how badly their days must have been going that they came here, nor what succour they took from their visit…

 

 

 

Finding the spirit

There was an exciting festive moment this morning as I drew the first curtains at a little after 10:30.  Would there be snow, as Twitter suggested there might?  No, a far more typical British festive scene greeted my eyes: rain and strong wind attempting to steal the last few leaves that the trees had managed to retain.

Given this opening paragraph, readers might wonder if the author is an avatar of the pre-haunting E Scrooge (I am haunted, as already established, only by sliced white bread).  I like to think not, but that perhaps I do Christmas slightly differently (or perhaps, as so often, I am just deluding myself that I am some counter-cultural maverick).  This post will likely provide some evidence for both the prosecution and the defence – but will serve as a note of my “preparations” to date.

In most respects, any preparation has been purely pyschological in nature – though yesterday I did technically buy a Christmas present.  However, in the interests of full disclosure I must admit this was only because I had no cash and needed to reach the card-minimum spend.  I have also, as I believe is a widely observed tradition, acquired an Advent cold.  I am taking some time to shake this off – I don’t think my sinuses like the combination of viral load and extreme temperature changes – but I have high hopes that one morning I shall open the Advent calendar window of my duvet to find a different treat lurking beneath (so far, just phlegm-filled lungs)!

I have visited not one but two Christmas markets!  Both in November – breaking a general, though weakly enforced rule of not troubling the concept of Christmas until December pits in an apperance.  On both occasions the draw was the prospect of a warming polystyrene beaker of glühwein.  Winchester was perfectly adequate, though I did object to having to queue to enter, but it did give me something to do both before and after seeing Temples of Youth play to a packed (and not easy to find) Elephant Independent Record Shop (and again, while waiting for a train home – you can’t be too careful when trying to avoid contracting a chill).  Belfast though is much better – which I can (and do) visit on my walk from the office back to my hotel.  It is such a joy to buy and then consume patisserie in my very rusty French (I do have order something I can remember the vocab for) and then do the same for glühwein in German.

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A festive City Hall and the Xmas Market, Belfast.

As December began, I started an ill-fated arithmetic series of mince pie consumption.  I did manage one on Dec 1 and two on Dec 2, but then I was struck down with man-flu and my subsequent performance has been much poorer.  Some days, I have failed to consume even a single mince pie – it has been too chilly to take my germs out to hunt and/or gather examples of this festive treat.  I prefer to avoid the industrial, plastic-wrapped, cardboard-boxed variety and go for those made in-house.  Both the Art House and Mettricks in Southampton offer excellent examples – and I hope to try some more venus and examples before the season comes to an end (though today’s weather is reducing the temptation a little).

I have also been to my first Christmas concert of the year, staged at Turner Sims by the students of the music department.  This contained all of the expected treats: an obligatory Oasis cover (nothing says Christmas like the feuding Gallagher brothers), seasonal music and audience participation carols.  I was reminded, once again, that glorious as Hark the Herald Angels Sing is, as a carol (who can fail to enjoy and/or snigger at the line ‘veiled in flesh the Godhead see’: always feels more like a reference to almighty Zeus rather than his Christian counterpart), it is very hard to reproduce with a bass voice.  Or at least I find it very hard, and this was not aided by my cold which moves my voice even deeper into Barry White territory than usual.  My attempts to access sufficient head voice rather oddly left me with a rather severely aching jaw.  Frankly, given the amount of exercise it gets both talking and chewing, I had not expected my jaw to prove the weak link in my performance…

There was a grade one orchestra – a group of people who can read music but playing instruments they have only just started learning – playing Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas (the most aggressive of all the carols).  I am learning three of the instruments being showcased and now feel much better about my own abilities: particularly, my feeble attempts to generate music using the clarinet.  I reckon I could produce a pretty functional rendition of either tune – albeit with some pauses to lie down and take oxygen – if transposed into a suitable key.  Still, it was great fun watching young people flounder – rather than just seeing, hearing and feeling myself do so!

The gig also included two members of the faculty applying their four hands to the piano to bring us jazz versions of a couple of seasonal classics.  Once you’ve heard, Jingle Bells played as a jazz standard or Away in a Manger as a minor key samba you will never want to go back to the original versions.  To be absolutely clear, I am not joking and if Ben Oliver and Andy Fisher are willing to write and record a Christmas jazz album or EP, I would be willing to stump up some cash to make that happen!

The gig was held in conjunction with Mencap, so I manage to leave the concert not only full of Christmas spirit but also with a bag of home-made deep-filled mince pies.  I regret to inform you, dear reader, that these did not survive the afternoon: my jaw recovered pretty swiftly given a suitable incentive!  Still, what a joy to support charity, local musicians and fill my face with festive treats from a single event.  I think this might be my closest approach to the true spirit of Christmas and one which can be enjoyed by those of almost any religion or none!

Despite the bravado of that last statement, in this coming week I shall have to knuckle-down and face the horrors of Christmas shopping, writing Christmas cards and the like.  Then again, I seem to recall that last year the extraordinary shop workers of Southampton – I remember particular snaps are due to those of John Lewis and Game – actually made the shopping experience a pleasure.  How they retain such good humour given what must be an appallingly trying job at this time of year, I do not know – but I doff my cap to them.  I feel that there ought to be a charity that does something special for shop workers once they have survived the horror of Christmas and the January sales: perhaps to send them all on holiday somewhere nice come February.  Lacking that, we should all make an effort to treat them well, however, stressed we may be feeling…

 

 

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.

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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!