I have been guilty of it in my jazz life. Many times. It’s an excess of love, not well moderated by impulse control. I write not to accuse myself or my readers, but to enlighten.
We go to a club, a bar, a jazz party where the musicians are on the same level as the audience. The band finishes a rousing set; the musicians grin at each other and have their little amusements, but it’s clear they are exhausted. Music-making for forty-five minutes is hard work, physically, emotionally. Musician A wants to eat something; B is trying to head for the restroom; C wants a beer; D wants to go outside and smoke or check her messages.
No. We stand in front of any or all, eager, beaming, loving, our faces shining with enthusiasm. We want to tell them how much we love them; we want to say, “Wow, that last eight bars you played on SNOOKUM was awesome!” Or, “Your solo on HOT NUTS reminded me so much of what Tricky Sam Nanton plays on take 4 of AT A DIXIE ROADSIDE DINER — have you heard it? Would you like me to burn you a CD of it? It goes like this . . . . “
It’s all about love. We want to thank the people who have made us so happy.
But sometimes, however, I think that we, too, want to be seen by our heroes — we want to let them know that we, too, exist / understand / appreciate. We know, you know. We dig. We get it. We are (dare I say it) hip. We want, in some obscure not fully-realized way, to break down the barrier between the bandstand and the crowd; we can’t play the string bass, but we can tell the bassist how much we know about what she is playing.
All this is understandable. Musicians need to be heard, seen, loved. They need an appreciative audience, a crowd that applauds after solos rather than checking their iPhones to see if Melissa got that text. And on a more practical level, they need appreciative audiences to put bills larger than a dollar in the tip jar; to buy their CDs; to come to the gigs. So the musicians who might really want to catch their breath in peace, to chat only with other musicians who understand how hard this music-making is . . . they smile, they stand still, they submit to iron grippings of the upper arm, to conversations about How We First Got Into Jazz.
But having seen too many musicians pounced on as soon as they put their instruments down, I wonder if a kind humane pause for self-awareness might not be a good thing. I was at a jazz party this year, having breakfast with a few friends, and I heard a distinctive voice at a nearby table — one of the most polite musicians I know — trying to eat a rapidly-cooling breakfast as a pair of fans sweetly wanted to engage him in conversation about the weather where they lived. He didn’t say, “Wonderful to talk to you, but now I need to finish my breakfast and go to rehearsal,” because he is a very sweet fellow. But I understood even more why some players and singers seem reclusive, why they order their meals in their rooms, why they scurry away when the set is over, because the unstated emotional demands the fans (who love them) make may sometimes feel too heavy a burden to bear.
Music-making requires that the Creative Person get into another world, a world where the sound and the body and the instrument and the soul and the idea are one . . . we treasure these people for what they can do, and how generously they give it to us without asking for more than tips and attention.
But we could also realize that — rather like some demi-god in ancient mythology — it is hard beyond words to make the transition back to “everyday life” when the music stops, and perhaps we might, in kindness and love, allow our heroes to go to the restroom in peace. What we have to tell them could wait fifteen minutes, even if it comes from our dearest love and appreciation.
I am not suggesting that the fans are naughty — merely that we all might consider the feelings of others in the rush of our own jazz-enthusiastic-love. And as I say, I have been guilty of this mad rush of pressing ardor, too.
May your happiness increase.