Thursday, March 8, 2012


A small private university near us sponsors a monthly jazz concert. The price is right (free), the participants are all professional musicians and because this event is held in a small alumni house on campus, we are able to sit really close to the performers, enabling us to watch them in a way that one can’t ordinarily do at a big concert. As the name of my blog might indicate, I prefer “cool jazz” but that era is past, so I listen to that jazz at home and take pleasure in what is offered at these little concerts.

But last night’s concert – at least the half that I was there for – was just not my cup of tea. And I’m sorry to say we left at the intermission. We arrived a bit early and I heard them rehearsing after they got set up. It did not sound like music. And what followed – the opening number on their program – was more of the same.

I try to be open to different styles of music. Much of what I don’t like is because I don’t understand it. I was hoping that when this piece was completed, the “leader” would say something that would help me understand what was played. But no, all he said was that the name of it was “She” but was being changed to “Woman.”

I first got interested in just more than “listening” to music when I was in college. I sang in the choir and we did some pieces that were full of all kinds of dissonant chords and changing tempos. Most were quite hard to sing initially, but once they had been mastered, it turned into great fun to do a good job on them. Our prof took us to hear the Roger Wagner Chorale rehearse George Antheil’s *Eight Fragments from Shelley” and while parts of it didn’t sound like music as we knew it, we learned to love it just as we learned in English Lit to love Shelley’s poetry.

What I heard last night was the same kind of surprise that a newcomer to orchestral music might feel if he or she had been familiar with traditional musical works of Brahms or Beethoven and then sat down totally unprepared to listen to Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps.” Or more contemporaneously, John Adams’ new “City Noir.” To say this person might be nonplussed is an understatement.

That’s pretty much what I felt last night when I heard a bass, piano, sax, trumpet and drums, not to mention lots of little clangs and dings from various metal things lying around on the floor, play a piece of music that had, to my most virgin ears, no beat or tune, no rhyme or reason…. I know it was all there but I just couldn’t hear it and certainly couldn’t feel it.

In fact, when it was over I told Jerry that the nearest way I could describe it was that it was the way my chest feels when I am experiencing a bad spell of heart palpitations – but that’s another story. To be honest with you, I don’t like how I feel when that happens, and I don’t like how I felt when that piece of music was being played.

I admit that the problem is mine, not the musicians’. I tried my best to see it as an aberration in an otherwise good program, but it really wasn’t; and it wasn’t until about the sixth offering, a much more traditional bluesy piece, that I found a tiny bit of enjoyment. I really hated to leave at the intermission; I felt it wasn’t a nice thing to do to those fellows (AND a young female jazz pianist), but the idea of sitting through a second half on the hope that I would have some great enlightenment that would make the music suddenly enjoyable was just too much of a longshot. So we left.

Yes, I feel bad that I did. I can sit through the Rites of Spring and I can sit through City Noir, but last night I couldn’t sit any longer to hear that jazz. With apologies to the group.

1 comment:

Olga said...

For me, there is no worse torture than listening to music (or any kind of sound, really) that I find unpleasant. At least it was free, and you were free to leave.