Omens aren’t always ominous. And while I wouldn’t see a groundswell of interest in jazz in these two recent sightings, they are cheering little incidents.
Around the corner from the Beloved’s digs, a new restaurant opened, an odd pairing, offering gourmet coffees, Shanghai dumplings, and Asian noodle dishes. The food isn’t bad, but what caught me even before our orders came was the musical soundtrack — jazz performances I couldn’t recognize in a Fifties-plus style. What did they sound like? A tenor sax / piano duet on I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME; a woman singing about Jack and Jill and wishing that she and her love were young again; a piano trio trotting through S’WONDERFUL with an arco bass solo — the players sounded vaguely like Red Garland and Paul Chambers; KANSAS CITY sung by a man in front of a small group whose sound mixed Sixties Ellington with a Hammond organ.
I pride myself on being able to recognize the great players and soloists of the jazz I appreciate, and midway through the first number (whose participants had clearly listened to Ben Webster and Hank Jones without being Ben or Hank) I asked my amiable waiter, “Who picks out the music?” wanting to extend my compliments to the hip person in charge. He didn’t know, but went and asked. When he returned, the answer was that the restaurant paid for a service (was its name DBX?) that selected the music. I said, “I guess it’s called RESTAURANT JAZZ?” and he grinned. The music, as is always the case in restaurants, got a bit too loud and its beat too urgent, but it was well-played, even if I wondered if capable musicians had been brought into the studio to deliver music that Sounds Like Famous People. Derivative isn’t always a bad thing: it depends on what the source is.
Last night, I was on a subway platform in downtown New York City, waiting for the train. Two neatly-dressed men were having an energetic conversation. Or, to be accurate, one man was eagerly talking to the other, who kept smiling and nodding his head. I couldn’t help but hear — in bits and pieces — what they were talking about. I should confess that I edged nearer because I kept hearing familiar names: “Wynton” and “Roy Hargrove,” and the enthusiastic speaker kept miming trumpet playing by leaning back, raising his hands at a slight angle, and fluttering his fingers rapidly to simulate the pressing of valves. (Those who know will recognize “air trumpet,” simulated by people who don’t play it.) Where the speaker had been, I don’t know, but he was narrating his experience of witnessing a public trumpet battle where, according to him, Wynton had carved Roy a dozen different ways before turning him loose. I heard, “And Wynton said, ‘I don’t want to leave your blood all over the stage,'” which was followed by gusts of laughter.
The train came along before I could intrude myself into the conversation and advertise this blog, but that was fine. I had the sense that I had been transported, for two minutes, to a universe full of wondrous jazz possibilities — where listeners simply had to tell their friends about the jam session they’d been to, and which trumpet player triumphed. Someone out there is listening and loving the sounds!