The term inside outside has a specific meaning in Jazz theory. There are well-delineated subcategories like side-stepping or side-slipping and in the hands of jazz writers, it can simply imply the comfort with which a player moves between playing the changes and free improvisation within a tune. Then there is the where. The joy of entering a club as you descend a winding staircase and feeling your heart skip a beat as you cross the threshold. That particular inside is about belonging and it is the salt being rubbed into the wound of a deprived club-goer.
Inside is about the clubs, where the music has intensity and the physicality of the experience communicates directly; bypassing the mundane and teasing the senses one by one. The rawness brings everything straight to the heart and to the gut; the magic and the mistakes; it’s visceral, and you can feel the pulse beating against your body.
When the pandemic hit, clubs closed the world over and we wondered how we would survive. We were sound junkies suddenly deprived of our fix. We missed the warmth. We missed being able to whisper our enthusiasm to the stranger beside us as a phrase took our fancy. We missed the ‘hang’ with the musicians during breaks, and above all, we missed that moment when the band hit the pocket and an involuntary sigh escaped our lips. That blissful experience of bathing in refined sound.
We were lucky in New Zealand as we eradicated the first round of the virus swiftly and thereafter we lived in splendid isolation for much longer than most. It was a time of normal life, sans travel or travellers. It was a time when the clubs remained open and when local music was the only and best game in town. That freedom lasted for the best part of two years and with only minor interruptions. Overseas, the death knell of iconic clubs was grimly sounding out.
Then Omicron sneaked past the watchtower and took hold in the shadows. We paused, adjusted and looked outwards again. We are open to the world but the virus is the snake in the grass. It is back to normal and not back to normal because after the pandemic comes ‘the great forgetting’ as the young resume their lost lives and leave behind the silent ones. The cohort of the risk-averse, the older ones who are not yet ready to enter a subterranean venue. I am one of those.
The older you are the more likely you are to be immune-compromised (or have a partner who is). Having experienced live jazz since my youth I am doing it tough and I am not alone. For a while, I thought that I was an outlier, but one by one, friends have outed themselves. Jazz radio DJs, record producers, journalists and musicians; the older ones. As if admitting to a crime, they drop their voices and whisper that they haven’t been inside a jazz club for ages. Perhaps it’s the fear of being mocked by the young and brave?
The thing about music is that it flows like water, seeping through the cracks and finding new levels. It is the law of physics that sound will find a willing ear so all is never lost. And although the clubs are temporarily off-limits the outside venues beckon. Open-air festivals are being planned and there are numerous bars with outside seating. Places where a person can bask in the winter sun and idle away an afternoon. And as one door closes another opens so we follow new music as it pops up online. Find time to think and to write about music, disappearing behind noise-cancelling headphones; listening to the new with fresh ears and to the old as if hearing for the first time. Pushing hard against the listening boundaries. Listening deeper and hearing more.
Despite missing live music, my life is music rich. Review copies pour into my inbox daily and live-streamed concerts vie for my attention. I scan Bandcamp for the edgier improvised hybrid offerings, conduct interviews with musicians and hang with them over lazy lunches, I write reviews, judge musical competitions and involve myself in musicians’ causes. Biding my time until it’s safe enough to head down a staircase again.
Footnote: Staying away from the upcoming CJC Wax///Wane concert with Lucien Johnson, Jonathan Crayford, Tom Callwood and Cory Champion will sorely test my resolve. I truly love that album and Lucian’s work. It’s my sort of thing and the musicians are quite extraordinary.
JazzLocal32.com is rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, poet & writer. Some of these posts appear on related sites.