We were on our way back from a gig with a trip home of 150 miles or so. As is often the case on these late night journeys, we were reviewing the night's business: how we'd been received, how the audience had been, how energetic the dancers had been (for their age!), how loud that group over in the corner had been, etc.
I couldn't help reflecting that I might have had an identical conversation 50 years ago when I first started out in music, save that the audience's hair would have been longer, the drinking elbows moving faster, and the pressure on the men to chat up the girls more urgently-felt.
We jazz musicians tend to joke nowadays that it's a toss-up which happens first: the audience carking it or the musicians!
Playing with mates, Vo,and Mark at Anna ( my daughter) and Rob's wedding.
And yet, as I look around the typical jazz club, I perceive audiences far more at ease with themselves and each other than they were all those years ago. I look at the groups round the tables,the expressions and the body language, and see people more 'chilled out' (as my daughter would put it!) than when they were twenty-somethings having to make their way in the world. Yet they are still turning up to listen to the music they unaccountably fell in love with back then, often in the face of derision from friends who were into pop music and its more frenetic culture.
The odd thing is, we are playing for them, for the most part, music that was invented in the 20s, 30s and 40s, before many of them were born. They loved it as youngsters, dated as it was even then, and they still do. So what is it that keeps them coming?
The Frenchman's Street Jazz Band, fronted by Chris Pearce. As you can see we play in many different venues, this is a church in Cornwall. A venue used during a jazz festival.( Those pews were jolly hard for the crowd!)
Here's my view 'from the bandstand' for what it's worth. See if you agree. Firstly, we bring melody. Arguably,that's been missing from popular music since the 1980s. Second, we bring rhythms that are lighter, less mind-numbing, and more subtle. You can listen to the music rather than have it imposed on you. Third, the band is usually close to you, looking you in the eye. And it consists of people who look like you and are worried about whether you are enjoying yourself. Jazz audiences and jazz musicians are quickly on intimate terms after the first couple of numbers.
As musicians, we get very worried, and rightly so, if we see an audience looking bored or indifferent. That's why you may notice us looking under your table, to see if your feet are tapping. It's also why we love playing at venues where people dance, because the dancers are the visible sign that we are 'getting through' to what energises people
Dancing on the Rhine cruise
I believe most jazz musicians will tell you that what makes it worth getting home in the middle of the night is the relationship we have with our audiences as well as with the melodies and the swing. In these days where most music is electronic, it is fascinating to watch the reaction of many young people when we are setting up, for example at a wedding or grandpa's 70th birthday party.
This is me, breakfasting after arriving home at 2am after a gig !
They see the trumpets, the saxes or the double bass coming out of their cases and we see the thought bubbles over their heads..."What the *#-# is this?" Yet for the most part, after a couple of numbers, we see the feet tapping, the heads nodding, and we allow ourselves a quiet smile.
That's one of the reasons why it is so important to us to "Keep Music Live" (which is the Musicians' Union motto): because that way, we keep alive not only our incomes, but also a set of relationships and networks that in some ways reflect the raison d'etre of oapschat; bringing people together, sharing experiences and generating fun.