Thursday, 8 July 2010

Jazz in an Art Gallery. 'Free-Writing' part two.

Photograph is of two postcards. Top one, 'Jazzy Waters'. Bottom is of Ertha Kitt by Ernst Haas, 1952.

Tonight we attended something of a 'happening' in the form of a free jazz ensemble in the auspicious surroundings of the National Gallery of Scotland. Beneath Renaissance paintings we were treated to jazz renditions by three talented players who according to the lady that announced the proceedings have performed for everyone from Bob Geldof to the Queen. Our motley crew of tourists, OAP's, art students and those who had happily stumbled off the street were clearly no pressure then.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I live in this city, where at any given time there is an outlet buzzing with cultural activity. Indeed we are after all surveying what truly is the calm before the storm, for next month will host the biggest fringe festival in the world.

In the spirit of last night's free-writing exercise we decided to make the most of the opportunity to listen to some free jazz in the National Gallery of all places, by committing to paper and memory a small snap shot of that half hour outwith the daily grind. I do believe it is a far better way to honour the experience than some of the ruder spectators who saw fit to flout the 'no-photography' policy by snapping away during the performance. Consummate professions the musicians didn't let it phase them.

Same as yesterday, Dora's is first and mine is second.

'The trio walked into the gallery all suits and sharp black, seeming rather formal for the somewhat ad-hoc proceedings – a jumble of folding stools and wandering rucksack-tourists, but joining the audience in its almost domestic repose, they took their places with informal humility. They were not grand with the ethereal harp, trumpet of brilliant brass and veteran double bass, but everyday, relaxed. At first I did not remember to look up at the paintings to see what they were doing while the musicians played their jazz. When I did glance up at Mary amongst angels, the servant girl with her geese, the pastoral scene, the anonymous lordly gents, I found the paintings mocked the music, remained aloof, wryly concerning themselves with other things. And in turn the music mocked the paintings, making light of the dull oils, cracking gilt frames and frozen figures. Until that is the trio gave us ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’, and I’m sure something happened to the Crucifixion canvas high up on the wall – the tension in the picture leapt a little, muscles strained and the drama moved.' (Dora Petherbridge)

'The harpist tickles the strings with a lightness of touch, gifted by slim feminine hands. Standing her fellow player holds the bass like a woman he’s attempting to coax into a dance. A hand rests on the curvy waist of the instrument, mirroring a soft, yet firm femininity. A bald man plays the trumpet in defiant oblivion, blowing out the higher notes with an increasing vigour and reddening face. Jazz follows its own wild courtship, a union between player and instrument as the spectator watches on hot faced like they’ve just walked in on a pair of lovers. Although perhaps not here, where on the outer corner of the audience an old lady watches on, flannel hat clad head cocked to one side. Interspersed are the young, the old and the in-between, hands rest in laps, some close their eyes and rock to the tune, connecting the beat to an internal register. A sweetie is unwrapped and popped into a mouth. But if you’re watching and you're listening then your eyes will make their way back to the hands. The hands that convey a music of contrasts, the pinging of the strings and the masculine grip of the bass waist.'

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