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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2

James Fleming By

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It's a cycle: the movement of thought from player to listener and back. What begins as a musician's idea becomes a musical phrase or even a single note. It then moves to the listeners who give their own interpretations and reactions back to the player. And as the music and reactions flow back and forth, they free themselves of any sole owner. Becoming a communal chalice for all to drink from.

And as the congregation moved through the warm Summer-night air to the Riverside Hotel where the evening's jam session had already begun, there was not a thirsty soul. Some went down the Lungy and onto Charles Street. While others moved in the opposite direction, straight past that bookstore and Sligo Cathedral. Their talk followed them down the road. Driving the cycle onwards.

The smokers lounged at tables by the river, sending grey clouds skyward. The double doors at the back of the Riverside Hotel's bar stood open and the sounds of the jam flowed outside to join the smokers' idle chatting. Inside the kids -16, 17, 18 -honed their craft the old-fashioned way: In front of an audience. SJP's tutors joined in or shouted their drink orders over the music to the barmen. David Lyttle presided over the Riverside's evening jam sessions all week and made sure everyone got their shot. For as much as they learned in the masterclasses, experience's teachings cannot be bettered. Day one's coda played out in that packed barroom. And on and on it stretched into the wee hours. Only ending because the barman called for last orders. There were another five days ahead. And they started at 10:00AM. So finally the coda faded out. Only to be replaced by a new day's song.

July 25, 2018

Grainy black and white footage of Louis Armstrong performing in Copenhagen in 1933 played projected on the blank wall of the auditorium. His eyes bulged as he leaned into the microphone. Behind him, his Hot Harlem Band made history as they backed him up on "Dinah." According to Miles Davis, the first half of jazz's saga can be summed up in two words -"Louis Armstrong." And after seeing this remarkable footage it would be hard to argue against that point.

Armstrong wore his passion, visible in his excited body language and heard in that gravelled voice, on his sleeve. At that age between the two world wars, jazz was young. And its youthful vitality was captured on that day in '33. So that the future world could watch this wunderkind-genre as it first began to exert itself. And to be duly recognised for it.

In its youth, segregation and racism cast down the achievements and expertise of jazz's black instigators. Aligning them with sin and the corruption of the young and vulnerable. By doing so the worth of jazz and its practitioners was oppressed. In an attempt to quash not just an art, but a people. Under the false name of God and the upholding of "decency." However back in the 21st century, a silver-haired gentleman stood at a lectern stage-right and looked over his glasses at a crowd of young, "vulnerable," people. A knowledge-hungry youth audience who far from being discouraged, were heartened to follow this musical road once thought pollutive. So where before dogma and hate once reigned learning and compassion now abound. Proving that jazz, and indeed all art, is a promethean force. Sparking the flames that move human evolution towards a deeper understanding and awareness of each other.

It was a small but attentive crowd that faced the man at the lectern -himself a picture of understated cool. And it was their instrument cases that lay balanced against the front wall. Liane Carroll sat grinning in the first row. And the man leading the proceedings was one of her accompanists from Tuesday night's performance: John Goldsby, of the double bass.

He's an American man out of Louisville, Kentucky. Nowadays he calls Germany home. And aside from lending his considerable skills to many performances over the week, leading a student-ensemble, and teaching the art of the bass, he came to Ireland to educate the gathered on the history of jazz. Hence the Satchmo footage.

With seamless speed, he brought the story from Armstrong to Coleman Hawkins and his infamous first-take recording of "Body And Soul." Lester Young got some of his trademark sayings in -"How's the bread smell?" "Have you got eyes?" "Ivey Divey." Before Art Tatum appeared from the projector performing "Yesterdays." And Goldsby segued into the big band era.

He acknowledged an oft-overlooked truth when at the end of his lecture he said "it's all jazz." Even though it's the bebop combo that provided the instrumental format for the student ensembles, and even though he stopped shy of free jazz and fusion, to Goldsby it's all creative expression. Each as valid a form as the next.

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