Ok, I know that I will automatically lose 90% of you by the mere mention of the word jazz, but, as the saying now goes – nevertheless, I will persist. I get it. As I have written about previously, only around a year ago I would have been exactly the same. Yet here I am writing about my first taste of the Glasgow Jazz Festival.
Since my jazz awakening, I have been on the lookout for an opportunity to take in some live music. There are pubs and clubs that run regular jazz nights, but somehow the thought of going along to one of those on my own is more daunting that going to a gig solo, which I do frequently. It seems Edinburgh is more of a jazz town than Glasgow. However, I got wind of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, signed up for info, and when the dates and acts were announced I was fortunate to be able to get along on the Friday evening. Even more fortunate, I found that Nerija were due to play that day. I had heard some of their work I think on the radio initially, then had come across them by association with other acts I was sampling. They stood out for me because they are almost always introduced as an “all-female ensemble”. I suppose if this fact is not unique, it is certainly still remarkable. In any case, I decided they would be a perfect first jazz concert so got myself a ticket. It wasn’t even worth asking anyone else to go, having mentioned that I was even listening to jazz I got the very face in return that I used to make, so I left well alone and trotted off on my ownio.
I made the mistake of assuming that it was like a “normal” gig and when the ticket said 7.30pm, the first band would be on no earlier than 8pm and the main act around 9pm. I was wrong. I got there around 7.45pm and the support were just finishing. I guess 7.30pm meant 7.30pm. Oh well. I snuck in and took a seat. They were called Bitches Brew and were a 2-piece consisting of a double bass player and a percussionist. (Also all-female). The double bass picked out a slow, languid, groovy bassline/melody and the percussionist performed with around 8 different drums in front of her, I think 1 from every continent, which she played together, with her hands. I’m not sure, but I think the piece was improvised as well. It was captivating. Again, it’s probably the kind of thing that a couple of years ago I would have found curious, but kinda weird. On Friday, I found it fascinating and compelling. I was sorry not to have seen more of them.
It was also the first time I had been in St Lukes, which seems to have suddenly emerged as a go-to venue in Glasgow. Like Oran Mor, it is a converted church, although not much conversion has taken place (perhaps it still functions as a church, I don’t actually know) but it is gorgeous inside.
Nerija came on and launched straight into their first piece. It was beautiful, powerful and majestic. I was overwhelmed. I actually cried. It was just all too much for me. For a few reasons:
I couldn’t believe that I had actually discovered this complex, raw, but life-affirming genre of music and I was finally seeing live the incredibly passionate and talented people who perform it. I was so thankful that everything eventually came to this point, but also full of regret that it didn’t happen to me sooner.
I had had a ridiculously stressful week at work, and the sheer relief of just sitting back and letting the emotion of the music wash over me released something that couldn’t be contained.
I was alone. At that point I just needed someone to share this with, but there was no-one. I don’t mean a life-partner necessarily, just friend/acquaintance, anyone. I think I know literally 2 people who are into jazz – one of them lives in another city, 1 lives in another country. I was busting with all these feelings and responses to the music and being there in that moment and I had to swallow it down and that sucks.
Anyway, I pulled myself together and focussed on enjoying the performance. Nerija are phenomenal. They are all incredibly talented musicians, and as each song was introduced we were told which of the band had written it, it seems they are a collective of incredibly talented songwriters too. There were 7 of them, but I understand a couple of the regulars were absent, however the stand-ins fitted in seamlessly. I don’t want to leave anyone out, as they were all worthy of singling out, but particular mention has to be made firstly (of course!) of the drummer. Unfortunately, from where I was sitting I couldn’t see her much, but I was mesmerised by her drumming. I have said before how jazz drumming is just pure art, well seeing/hearing it for the first time in a live setting was as if all drumming I had seen and heard up until now was done by chimps holding mallets with oven gloves. Just. Pure. Art. Also, as each of the instrumentalists took a turn at solos etc, the others got a rest. Not so the drummer, she kept going through every piece with intricate rhythms and inventive use of the various parts of the kit.
The trombone player deserves special mention for seemingly impossibly quick manoeuvring on her solos. (Yes, I am giving plaudits for jazz trombone solos, I am a new person!) I was most taken, however, by the tenor saxophonist. I have read/heard about people becoming one with their instrument, but I have never seen it in the flesh before. She became the sax and the sax became her. She played with such spirit, the notes spewing out of her, brewing deep inside then flowing out through the medium of her instrument in waves of soaring melodies contrasted with dark, punchy, jagged bursts. I wanted to be up, dancing, moving, cheering and clapping but I was constrained to my chair, only able to nod along. I wanted to turn to someone and yell “this is fecking amazing!!” but I maintained composure.
It was a shame that the venue didn’t fill up. Most people took the cabaret style tables at the edges of the room, rather than the rows in the middle, giving the impression that there were fewer people there. I fully realise that I am approaching this with the enthusiasm of a new convert, but it’s a shame that Glasgow, a city priding itself in its musical heritage and vibrancy can’t muster the support for this kind of concert.
Anyway, I for one thoroughly enjoyed the performance and will be looking to attend more similar events as often as I can. If Nerija or any other jazz ensembles are coming to a town near you, give them a try, you might just enjoy it!