Saturday, August 22, 2009

Spectacle

I'm not going to attempt to link to all the back and forth on jazz and youth, and whether or not it needs to be saved. Kelly Fenton's already done an admirable job of that. I'm just throwing my hat into the ring because my most recent shows at Upstairs have brought an interesting perspective to the topic.

It was Trio Bruxo's first time playing at Upstairs, our first time playing with special guest Brownman, and my first time playing with Brownman since 2003. I'm also willing to bet it's the first time a whole night of MPB, with electric trumpet, has ever been played at Upstairs. On Wednesday night especially, the crowd response was fantastic. They were really into the music, and commented to Joel (manager/owner of Upstairs) that "the band looks like they're having a lot of fun." And whether or not musicians talk to the audience, that visible sense of enjoyment does a lot to engage the audience. In a smaller club, it actually seems to give cues to the not-really-jazz fans as to how to behave: yes, you can clap, hoot, and holler after our solos. If you want to dance, that's fine too, just watch out for the waitresses. The fact that it was essentially my birthday party seemed to draw people in, too. I'm not suggesting that every gig has to be a reunion of old friends, or booked on a band member's birthday, but when musicians are visibly communicating with each other on stage (I'm thinking of Bobby McFerrin, Béla Fleck, Anat Cohen, and Frisell in his own way), the audience - jazz fans or not - can pick up on it. Brownman and I both sold merchandise of entirely unrelated projects at this show, because people liked the way we played. I gave people the disclaimer that Trio Bruxo is nothing like Indigone, and they didn't seem to mind. And the majority of the audience I would peg at (well) under 40, much in line with the audiences Bruxo, Indigone and Brown's Electryc Trio normally pull.

Peter Hum addressed the issue of musicians announcing at shows. I commented:
I like to announce, and I like it when musicians announce, especially when original music and/or non-standard repertoire involved. I think that's my radio and critic experience coming in - I want to be able to check out the tunes I really loved after the fact, and not ask everyone "What was that tune?" I appreciate that composers like Maria and Darcy Argue explain the origins of their pieces, because I think the insight can be key for some listeners to find their way through the compositions.

But I think it's an overall aesthetic thing - Ornette and Wayne play wall-to-wall and that's what an audience expects of them and their bands; for them to stop the set in the middle and say "That was x tune," would interrupt all the momentum they've generated. I tend to pace my sets the way I pace radio - two or three songs at a time, and then talk.

(I would add that Brian Blade's shouting and propelling himself off his drum stool, and the body language of the quartet in general, are adequate replacements for announcements.)

One final anecdote: Charlie Haden looked like a kid in a candy store playing duo with Hank Jones, even after Hank caused a train wreck by mistakenly playing a tune in 4, instead of in 3. Charlie first tried to follow Hank, with big downbeats, and then when all else failed, Charlie flailed his arms and said, "No, Hank! Stop! The tune's in 3!" Hank bashfully turned around, gave the audience a look of "My bad" and they restarted. Letting the audience in on the mistake - and turning it into a running gag for the rest of the set - eased the musical tension, and made two masters playing in an outsized hall feel like two old buddies playing in a living room.

1 comment:

d0nnatr0y said...

Sounds like a great night of music! Wish Montreal wasn't so far away!

And I completely agree that when the musicians look like they are having fun, it gives the audience the permission and encouragement to have fun too!

Great anecdote about Charlie Haden and Hank Jones!