“How do they do it?” is the question, uttered or thought, that we all ask when we hear our admired jazz musicians sing or play as part of an ensemble. “How do they know where to go? Even when they have music in front of them, how are there no collisions?”
The answers are deep and not easy to put into words. Professionalism is part of it, a common language, experience with hours of practice (solo and with others), the great gift to improvise. It’s deeply intuitive, and the only analogy for non-musicians might be, “How do we know what to say — if, in fact, we do — when among people we don’t know? How do we know how to be part of a conversation, how to follow the general threads of thought and feeling?”
One of the great pleasures of what is now called the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party (colloquially known to its friends as “Whitley Bay”) is that, because the music can be complicated, and the musicians don’t all play with one another regularly, there are hours of open rehearsals. People like myself can sit in the Village Hotel ballroom and watch and listen for hours. I do it with my camera, because once in a great while a band catches fire are plays gloriously, as if the musicians were in a back room in a Chicago nightspot.
Late last year, after the 2014 Party was over, I’d sent one of the rehearsal videos to trumpeter Bent Persson — it was a Bechet tribute with Thomas Winteler on clarinet and soprano saxophone, Graham Hughes, trombone; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Henri Lemaire, guitar and banjo; Malcolm Sked, brass and string bass; Nick Ball, drums — and asked him if he thought it could be shared with the public. The song was ACHIN’ HEARTED BLUES, which contains a labyrinth of instrumental breaks. This year, Bent said I could go ahead and post it.
It is, of course, a rehearsal. So there are long pauses. Questions are asked. Some of this will be curious to non-musicians. But it is a wonderful opportunity, I think, to see how — without words, magically — a performance comes together. And the rocking complete version of ACHIN’ HEARTED BLUES is, for me, magical:
Words would not be terribly useful to explain what happens here — part knowledge, part empathy, part wizardry. But I see and hear something new each time I revisit the video.
In case you need more encouragement to get yourself to this year’s Party — which starts November 5 and ends November 8 or perhaps in the early hours of the 9th — here is a list of the musicians who will be there. Astounding, in short. I’ve left my comfortable New York nest every year since 2009 to be there, and the rewards are huge.
May your happiness increase!