One of the worst features of lockdown if your escape route mires you in social media is subjection to video clips of canine choirs from Wisconsin performing When It’s Springtime In The Rockies. Amusing the first time, but the mirth quotient is unsustainable. This whole incarceration will be the same: smilingly weird in the first few weeks then, depending on how old you are and what you do for victuals, anxiety-inducing.
I feel for musicians especially, even though they and I are there on Thursday evenings doing the NHS clap and acknowledging that there are priorities to be boxed. They must be frantic. Music not meant for a recording is an impalpable commodity, but a commodity nonetheless. Unlike furloughed car workers, musicians can still make at home what they, viruses willing, “sell” abroad.
Refusing to wait for the Chippewa Falls Mutt Glee Club to segue into Nice Work If You Can Get It, I seek any jazz musicians using Facebook et al to keep in touch. The wonderful UK pianist-singer Wendy Kirkland (“a proper jazz pianist” – Dave Gelly and written about by me here) has been posting her Latin Lockdowns in which she explores the Latino-jazz keyboard idiom. Wendy, who runs the Chesterfield Jazz Club with guitarist husband Pat Sprakes, has won accolades in the last two years with a couple of super albums: Piano Divas and The Music’s On Me, the latter with guests Roger Beaujolais and Tommaso Starace. Saxist-songster Kim Cypher and husband Mike are “going live” regularly and demonstrating the art of avoiding the irony of songs like Nice Work If You Can Get It. Singing, interacting with “messaging” fans, and supping prosecco (I think) well before the vicar normally makes his rounds, they are doing sterling work in keeping spirits – and sparkling wines – up. Both Cypher and Kirkland are to be found on YouTube. Cypher’s second album, Love Kim X, with guests including Pee Wee Ellis, is a terrific follow-up to her début album, Make Believe.
While they obviously plan ahead, jazz musicians have seen all their plans scotched. That’s “scotched” as in “cancelled rather than postponed”. Those running clubs and bands, like Kirkland and Sprakes, face a double hit. Not even Facebook posts only marginally less depressing than chihuahua ensembles, such as those advocating POSITIVE ATTITUDES, are much cop as consolation. But jazz musicians are nowt if not sanguine: they have enough to put up with day to day in making their music more widely appreciated. (The Rev Harald Thomas, who emceed and helped run the late-lamented Pontypool Jazz Festival in my part of the globe, called it “this beautiful music”. There was open-gob silence for a few seconds, before we all realised he was right.) At least with some levels of jazz promotion, most of the investment is labour intensive, so returning to normal might not be so difficult.
In New York, where everything is done in a BIG way, whether the sidewalk is taking a battering or not, there’s been a week-long Live From Our Living Rooms Festival. A group of major jazzers streamed four daily events from their homes: a morning kids’ show, master-classes in the afternoon, and two evening performances. Go-getting musicians whose work had dried up go-got a GoFundMe project that eventually attracted Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Chick Corea and others. If COVID-19 could be blown away, this would have done it. Living musicians doing their bit to deflect the misery of fear and inaction is okay but it’s not the same as waving the blues goodbye with uplifting music. In the 1930s depression, Nice Work If You Can Get and When It’s Springtime In The Rockies expressed polar attitudes to dejection but there were lots of songs that completely turned their back. It was all about optimism and cheeriness. How many young musicians playing today can reverse their humour bypasses to see us through the gloom?