The last live music I heard in 2018, outside my home, was some excellent jazz in a city bar (pianist Brian Kellock and bassist Kenny Ellis). The bar was buzzing with people enjoying long lunches and toasting the end of the year. Crockery clattered and the coffee machine hissed. The music was merrily applauded, but naturally not everyone was there for the music.
The musicians were on great form. It struck me that if I’d had some high-quality recording equipment about my person, I could have captured something that would please jazz fans anywhere.
In classical music, when you play in public you’re usually on a stage with a good piano and an audience trained to listen. Everything’s arranged so that music is paramount and the performer is seen and heard.
By contrast, for a serious musician it is no easy matter to play in a dark corner, keeping your spirits high while people troop in and out, letting in a blast of cold air with each swing of the door. Some pay attention, others sit with their back to you and tell jokes. The players could simply coast along, making musical small-talk.
But week after week these musicians, and others like them in other bars, create a bubble of concentration and give the music their all. I don’t mean they play loudly; I mean they think creatively and intensively. There’s a risk that their most glorious phrases may be lost in the hubbub, but they keep the faith. And with luck there are usually people in the crowd who are keenly aware of what’s going on and grateful that it is.
So here’s to all musicians who, no matter what the surroundings are, find a way to keep making real music. Happy New Year.