THINGS I LEARNED (OR RE-LEARNED) AT THE 2016 SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST:
1. Never set up a travel schedule that gets you home (after a long weekend of life-changing music) at 5:20 AM Monday. Not “sleeping” on a plane is worth a higher fare.
2. Music is best experienced in the company of friends — those on the bandstand, those in the audience. The former, a partial list: Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Ray Skjelbred, Conal Fowkes, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Duke Heitger, Jeff Hamilton, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Leon Oakley, Dan Barrett, Tom Bartlett, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Katie Cavera, Josh Duffee, Andy Schumm, John Otto, Dave Stuckey, Dan Barrett, Larry Scala, David Boeddinghaus, Nobu Ozaki, Virginia Tichenor, Marty Eggers, Mike Davis.
Off the stand: John Ochs, Pamela Ochs, Donna Feoranzo, Allene Harding, Rae Ann Berry, Barbara L. Sully, Judith Navoy, Mary (“The Ambassador of Fun”) and her twin, Chris and Chris, Paul Daspit, Jim and Mary McNaughton, Gretchen Haugen, Patti Durham, Angelica, Carol Andersen, Bess Wade, Cat and Scotty Doggett, Ed Adams.
Much-missed and I await their return: Hal Smith, Janie McCue Lynch, Donna Courtney, Mary Cross.
I know those lists are incomplete, and I apologize to any reader I’ve accidentally omitted.
3. This festival is delightfully overwhelming. At any given time, music was happening in seven rooms simultaneously. There was a Wednesday night session, a Thursday night session, full days on Friday and Saturday (with approximately seventy offerings of music, most an hour long) and a full afternoon on Monday. By six PM on Monday, I was full and sloshing.
4. I am a man of narrow, precisely defined “tastes.” I didn’t grow up sitting in Turk Murphy’s lap — now there’s a picture! — I began my listening education with Forties and Fifties Louis, so I need lyricism and melody the way plants need sun and air.
Many of the bands so dear to my California friends strike me as perhaps over-exuberant. And when a fellow listener, politely curious, asked me “When did you get into trad?” I had to consider that question for a moment before saying, “I didn’t start listening to ‘trad’ . . . ” As I get older, I find my compass needle points much more to subtle, quiet, sweet, witty, delicate — rather than the Dixie-Apocalypse. Each to his or her own, though.
5. Videos: I videoed approximately eighteen sets, and came home with perhaps ten times that number of individual videos. They won’t all surface; the musicians have to approve. And I probably didn’t video your favorite band, The New Orleans Pop Tarts. Rather than mumble about the unfairness of it all, come to next year’s Fest and live in reality rather than virtually! Or buy an RV and a good camera so that you can become an official NOPT groupie-roadie-archivist.
6. For the first time in my life I helped sponsor a group. It was extremely rewarding to think that I had helped some music to be heard in public that otherwise would not have. I’ve offered to do it again for 2017. And, not incidentally, sponsors get to sit in the very front row, a great boon for people like me who want to capture the music to share with you. Videographers like myself want to be made welcome.
7. Moral tradeoffs are always possible and sometimes happily inevitable. At the San Diego Jazz Fest, one can share a large platter of tempura-batter-fried pickle slices and fresh jalapenos . . . because one is doing so much walking that the second activity outweighs the first. Or one tells oneself this.
8. On a darker note, odd public behavior is more pungently evident. People who call themselves jazz fans talk through a whole set about the new puppy (and I like puppies). Years ago I would have blamed this on television and the way viewers have been able to forget the difference between private and public behavior. Now I simply call it self-absorption, and look for a window that I can open.
Others stand up in front of a band to take iPhone photos of the musicians, pushing their phones into the faces of people who are playing and singing. Photographers have treasured costly cameras that beep, whir, and snap — we ignore these aberrations at many events (I think some photographers are secretly excited by such things) but at musical performances these noises are distracting.
I won’t say anything about those folks who fire off flash explosions in well-lit rooms.
I cannot be the only person who thinks of creatively improvised music as holy, a phenomenon not to be soiled by oblivious behavior. As a friend of mine says, “You’re not the only person on the planet.”
9. The previous paragraph cannot overshadow the generosity of the people who put on the Fest and the extreme generosity of those who create the music. Bless them. And the nice young sound people who worked hard to make music sound as it should!
It’s appropriate that the Fest takes place at Thanksgiving: I feel so much gratitude as I write these words, upload videos, and look at my notes of the performances I attended.
More — including videos! — to come. Start planning to come to the 2017 Fest, to bring your friends, to sponsor a band. Any or all of these activities are so much more life-enhancing than Black Friday.
May your happiness increase!