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.