"...long ago in 1945." The last words of Muriel Spark's acute, wicked novel The Girls of Slender Means, published in 1963, eighteen years after the period in which the book is set. It is as though Spark knew this book would be read long after it was written (18 years ago is, of course, just yesterday for those of us approaching 60).
Jazz – what do I know? I occasionally watch Oscar Peterson on You Tube. I have seen and heard the astonishing Dorian Ford play the entire Keith Jarrett Koln Concerto. I recognise ‘Take Five’. I might just be able to tell the difference between Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. I know that Louis Armstrong was one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. Sting has had Brandon Marsalis in his band - I think. Sometimes Van Morrison sounds a bit jazzy; sometimes Steely Dan. You see? Anyone who knows jazz will be shivering with despair at the sheer vulgarity.
Tonight I caught a proper jazz gig. It was at the Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club in New End, and the outfit playing was the Will Arnold-Forster Trio. That means Will on guitar, Matt Horne on drums, and Conor Chaplin on double bass. Will bends over his guitar like Glenn Gould over a keyboard, making it clear that hands and fingers are simply the tools of whatever it is that makes music in the head, or brings it from the heart. Chaplin treats his instrument as though it is a monster in need of taming. Horne appears to have limbs each under individual control. They are tight, very tight, but, of course, this being jazz, they are also wonderfully loose. In the second set a saxophonist whose name escaped me joins, and suddenly it is a quartet, and boy that boy can blow.
I don’t recognise any of the tunes they play, and I’ve no real idea of how they decide to play the notes and chords they do, but it all seems to work. It is smooth but surprising. What is going to happen next? Perhaps they know. Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps that’s half the fun.
The audience is interesting. Several earnest, intelligent-looking young men seem to have walked in from the 1950s. They all look like Lucky Jim. They clap politely – knowingly – at the end of each little solo, There are girlfriends and parents – the WAF Trio is young. I envy them. They are going to be playing this music all their lives. Is there a better occupation? No.
I saw my son’s band last week. They too are tight, good musicians. But the contrast couldn’t be greater. They play rock music. The experience is essentially theatrical. They put out. The jazz players pull in. The experience is essentially musical. I am given to sweeping generalisations. They are the only kind of generalisations worth making.
I’m sure there will be bigger venues, larger audiences, equally attentive, but this was just right for me – I felt a kind of privilege at being able to witness such skill and dedication, such enjoyably hard work, at such close quarters, like being privy to a conversation between unusually intelligent people.
Rock on, or whatever the equivalent is in jazzish.
To Tate Modern this evening. Absolutely rammed with people drinking. Didn't feel right at all. So is it a pub now? On to the Red Star Over Russia show. No art to be found there, either. Plenty of propaganda posters. Felt distinctly uncomfortable. Someone has been hoarding all this. I daresay a show of Nazi propaganda prints is not far off: it is really not very different. Grim. And if you are going to show this stuff, find a museum that does history. Insofar as there is 'art', it is mostly of that communist kitsch kind with which owners like to deck out second rate restaurants.
...and another thing. The little brochure you are given as you go in to the exhibition tells us that "The German invasion of 1941 drew the USSR into the Second World War''. I'm sorry - what? On 17 September, 1939 the USSR invaded Poland. On 30 November the communists started trying to invade Finland. This was followed by Soviet annexations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Romania. Pretty warlike if you ask me. All part of a pact the USSR had with Nazi Germany. The Tate giving us alternative facts.
23 January The Bridge Theatre Nicholas Hytner, Director Ben Whishaw (Brutus), David Morrissey (Mark Antony) Michelle Fairley (Cassius), David Calder (JC) Shakespeare Club outing to JC at the new Bridge Theatre.
RM; "It wasn't for me" RP: "I thought that was marvellous" RW: "They were afraid of the intimacy" NM: "You can't carve with guns" Well, it starts brutally with a band playing Seven Nation Army rather (perhaps not inappropriately) badly but loudly (gig-loud). This is for the benefit of the 'mob' (£15 promenade tickets) which gets frequently shifted about through the course of the evening as different parts of the stage rise and descend, and bodies or military equipment are moved in and out. The production is more or less in the round, in, you will have gathered, modern costume. The assassins have guns rather than knives (which are really not as 'intimate' as knives, and nor can they be said to 'carve'). The late war scenes are pretty well done: loud and unpleasant, with actors dashing around with guns (very Johnny 7) - but it does look nastily like a battlefield. On the whole, I am for togas. The audience is usually clever enough to make its own comparisons, draw its own conclusions. We really don't need Trump jammed down our gullets. I thought the thing stuttered along until the assassination, at which point the pace picked up, specifically with David Morrissey's very good Lend Me Your Ears. That sold me. Ben Whishaw is a very good actor (FR however could not drive Paddington Bear from her mind), but he perhaps lacks that stolid, almost dim gravitas that I think Brutus needs ("It was all a bit Chekov" RW remarked of his and Cassius' bivouac argument/make-up scene). Michelle Fairley (Cassius) I thought was not quite sure whether she should be pretending to be a man or not. What can be said is that I heard almost every word of this play, which is incredibly rare. Whether this is to the credit of the performers or the superdooper uptodate acoustics of the Bridge, I don't know. A bit of both, I daresay.
JC is a tricky play: one is never quite sure who it is about, and, prefiguring Psycho, the person you thought it was about gets killed in the middle. Nonetheless, I expect that with time (it hasn't actually opened yet) this production will find a rhythm that will give it both the intimacy and the cohesion it somewhat lacked this evening. I think if we average out the marks it comes in at perhaps 6/10. I'd give it a B+ myself and expect it to rise to an A- . What began questionably ended enjoyably. Finally, a word for Leaphia Darko as Portia, who spoke her small part beautifully. I look forward to seeing more of her.
"She just knows humanity, one of the rarest things in the world" - Walter de la Mare on Charlotte Mew. One could say the same of Penelope Fitzgerald, in whose book 'Charlotte Mew and Her Friends', this is to be found. One the best biographies I have read: wise, kind, and sharp.