This post is full of emotion for me, and I hope for some of you: not just the music but the reality under the music, the world in which we now read and hear and attempt to proceed.
I offer you two lovely performances of songs by Irving Berlin and by George and Ira Gershwin, by Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass — created for us at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, on May 11, 2019.
The beginning of this story is the last live jazz I saw — at Cafe Bohemia in New York City, celebrated elsewhere on this blog — on March 12, 2020. And even then people were [wisely, politely, perhaps tactfully] recoiling from one another, because who knew that your dear friend didn’t carry a double helping of death?
A few nights earlier, people were giving each other elbow bumps in lieu of closer contact, and when I, without thinking, shook the hand of a new acquaintance, we both looked at each other in embarrassment and shock, and we both muttered apologies, as if we’d taken an unseemly liberty. I know all this is prudent and exceedingly necessary — more so than choosing to wash the apple one buys at the farmers’ market before devouring it. But it adds to the despair.
It’s now almost June, and we greet each other as if we were grenades — and with reason. I know I am not alone in feeling the deadly deprivation of human contact (I have been hugging people — those I know and who would not back away — for perhaps a decade now, because it seems a natural loving expression) and the emotional aridity that distance imposes. Grinning and waving is an incomplete substitute. Hugging oneself just ain’t the same thing. You know this.
Because there is no live music for me to drink in and to video-record, I have been delving into my YouTube archives, which go back to 2006, in search of satisfying performances that the artists will allow to be shared. It is easier, of course, for me to pretend I am at the Ear Inn by watching a video than to pretend that I am hugging and being hugged, but it, too, is only a small palliative.
My searching, thankfully, has borne fruit, and I have found a goodly number from the Redwood Coast Music Festival, which — on my 2019 visit — seemed the perfection of the art form. It did not happen in 2020, but those of us who feel such things deeply pray that it will in May 2021.
In the set called featuring Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet, Dawn and the wonderful people I’ve mentioned above performed two songs that are poignant in themselves, but in connection almost unbearably so for what they hold out to us as possibilities unreachable at the moment.
The first is Berlin’s WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which tells that that there will be “Peace and contentment at the end of the road”; given this tender reading, it’s hard to interpret this song as anything but hopeful, even though the road is longer and darker than perhaps even Berlin imagined:
Three songs later in the set, Marc chose as his feature EMBRACEABLE YOU — thinking, as one would, of Bobby Hackett:
The combination of the two songs is somber and lovely all at once.
I dare not waste energy on discussing what “the new normal” will look like: rather, my wish is that all of us live to see and experience it. But I do dream that the end of the road we are now on will have a plenitude of embraces given and received. We will never again, I hope, take such things for granted.
Thanks to the musicians here and to the people who make the Redwood Coast Music Festival possible and glorious, and of course heartfelt thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen. Let this post stand as an IOU for future grateful embraces.
May your happiness increase!