Laurel Gross has written features for The New York Times and is a former arts and entertainment editor at The New York Post and Variety.
The creator of a jazz club said to me, as we discussed our shared passion on the doorstep of the place he kept alive virtually single-handedly for nearly a decade: “Once you get bitten by the jazz bug, it will change your life. You will never be the same again. Your whole world will change.”
Smalls inventor Mitch Borden is right. For a long time I used to be a sort of homebody. But for the last few years (and counting), I've been going out to hear live jazz as much as possible in the city where I live, New York. For a long stretch, that’s been practically every night.
I love recordings. The “greats” are great. Nothing will change that. I'm grateful I can hear them any time I want (discovering new things in their work, as well as voices from the past I haven’t yet experienced or come to appreciate).
But, for me, there’s nothing more exciting than live music – a nightly gift from today’s working musicians who all too often struggle to be heard against the odds in a world that now rarely makes stars of jazzmen and women. A world where making a sustaining living (much less a comfortable one) solely playing jazz is an almost impossible feat.
But, happily, they persist. That’s a benefit for me, and perhaps you (likely you already appreciate some jazz if you have found this site or are curious). Their efforts can only be good for the future of this fantastic music born here in America, and let’s hope for a growing audience of potential listeners here and abroad who have yet to discover it.
So I get out and support this music. And it has supported me – intellectually, emotionally and in every human way. It’s a great gift to be able to share the experience of in-the-present music and life with like-minded individuals in a community of players and listeners. And it’s a continually evolving experience – recordings, for all of their enormous and inestimable value don’t change.
People do. Music too.
Let’s embrace it. It’s essential to get out and hear these passionate keepers of the flame. I believe strongly this isn’t only about music but also about our potential for experiencing our own lives as fully as possible. I’ve learned many things by listening to music, and to musicians.
As a writer and editor by trade and inclination, I’ve always put great stock in words. After all, they have transmitted much beauty and unforgettable imagery and ideas throughout the history of literature. But they have their limitations. Because of my leanings toward writing and verbalizing, I have a tendancy to want to “edit” things – life too. Put everything in clear, orderly perspective. And life’s not like that. In recent years, I’ve found life hasn’t allowed me to have things so neat and orderly. And that’s probably a good thing because change has opened the door to new, entirely unforeseeable and soul- and spirit-broadening experiences.
As I've learned from a drummer I know, paraphrasing his philosophy: “Take the good and the bad (or what appears to you to be ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ as who’s to know in the end which is which as it’s all part of human experience?) and run with it. Get ideas, try them, put them into action. If they work, great, and if they don’t work great – sometimes mistakes can take you to places you never knew before and give you ideas for ways of making music and living that you hadn’t considered. It’s all part of experience. So use it all and make it work, for you. Something will happen. Good, bad, indifferent, joyful, scary, whatever - take it all and embrace it. It’s all good.”
That said, capturing the true experience of hearing music in words is probably nearly impossible. But as a writer, who loves this music, and hopes to show new listeners why they might give jazz and improvisational music a shot, as well as to help the already initiated sort through what’s happening out here in this great, grand musical city, and world we live in, I will try.
Of one thing I am certain. Jobs, lovers, the best of friends and eventually even ourselves will come and go. But there will always be music.
Thank you for listening.
June 24, 2007