Hurling my self face-first into jazz, and then attempting to write out that experience, is a perennially thrilling exercise, and one of my favorite activities as a human.
In honor of another amazing Jazz Fest here in Burlington, here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote some years ago and published in my book “Wild. Life.” ….
“The night itself starts fast– the place is packed in its red gloom glory with sitting and standing bodies in sweaters and t-shirts and jackets hung from hooks on walls and shoved behind cracked silver studded leather booths– the arching palm tree in the corner hangs its glossy rusting spears down upon that corner, green and alive and swaying slightly. The bar itself can’t be seen, as I slither through and nod my nods and hugs my hugs, music starting with immediacy that I also can’t see, so surrounded am I by shadow and flesh. I make it to the bar and wrangle up a stout and feel its cold glass on my thawing hand and look through the forms of bodies toward the band.
By the door stand two handsome entities– Anthony Santor and his mahogany stand-up bass, it’s shining elegant curves matching the glossy shine of Anthony’s middle-aged shaved round head, already glistening red with the lights on his sweat, reflecting diamonds. They’re neck-deep already in a tune he wrote called “Raw,” a real filthy jazz tune from never before ago, or before that, but jazz no doubt about it, bop if you want it. His bass lines on these opening parts are rough and ragged, a lot of movement, a lot of his kind round Buddha face mouthing the notes– of quick up-hikes up clattering fire-escapes and riding rock-slides back down. A guttural groan here now, reverbs loud around–
Andy Allen now, the out-of-no-where best saxophonist we could be hearing right now, young kid, replaced Brian McNamara the Wildest when Brian took off for Montreal a few months back to study more music and wear more sunglasses in his car at night– (where I’d once found him seven pages into a composition he’d heard in his enigmatic head on his drive over to meet us at Nick and David’s for a romp.) And here is Andy now, real animated, that lower right hand spider running atop the brass keys and brass pad cups fast fast sliver notes. The arm connected tucked in close to a navy sweat-shirted body, kid swings and dips his body– follow up gleaming keys and find wet lips on reed connecting breath to notes and back to body, song spewing melodiously forth through his body. He’s already played the chorus and he’s moved on now to find one of these whimsical solos that seems completely immersed in the song and yet centuries and countries beyond it. It’s a fast beat and there’s a ton of texture, holding him up there– keeps taking in all this humid excited air and blowing higher and more intricately, hits these high notes unbelievably quickly and adeptly through true chords changes in line with the other lines but fast enough to make you close your eyes in a wince– you feel each sixteenth note bust into your mind– insisting we all listen intently until we hit our heads on the 18th century ceiling of old Burlington mill-town lake-town now-town is this music for us we’re cheering “Go!”
Nicholas Cassarino grabs the notes next and keeps them strong but brings ‘em down and under control, seems intent to stay modest and quiet for now. He straightens his back, adjusts the guitar strap with a pull on the guitar neck, playing. That instrument seems of him. Calm face, down-turned eyes, mouth in a half-smile grimace. We’re watching Creation happen. We’re watching the strangeness of improvisation happen. We’re listening– rhythmic eighth and quarter notes; occasional chords collide and coincide with a snare drum slap, but on un-expected beats. Deceptive cadence and hands-off innocence. Throbbing dynamics, counterpoint to whose last note? Who’s frettin’?
Nick eases to near stand-still, stands taller on leather shoes– Geza slows with him for a moment– and jabs a quick triple around the toms and high-fives out– Nick meanwhile seemed to know Geza would bat this way and was already hot on his heels, tops out too with huge high C just a moment after Geza, and proceeds to repeat the same line again and uses that top-out to start a whole new strand of notes never before heard and probably never will be heard again. Anthony took three of his favorites and is sonorously punching them into the floor. Geza goes all cymbals for a moment and rattles your skin, glances up at Nick, as if to say “This is the stream-bed.” Nicholas’ hands of a silken rain. Microcosms of all Music. Clever small sounds you heard in a dream. Urge inward. That one melody discovered moments ago drifting and streaming, fetches up against the walls of the tempo; leaves high water marks on the banks of the beat. Birds fly free but live in wind. Andy suddenly arrives from the east and blows a gust of poetic whimsy, to which the other three respond with immediate invites. Nicholas swings the neck around and stuffs a one-two-three-four-thunder-clap and stops– Geza hears and joins one-two-three-four-swatter- Anthony plucks one low string hard enough to shake my beer– it all creates this news and elevated precipice, from which Andy’s horn sings “These are the days of rain in our souls!” The three others repeat the impromptu stop-chorus, to which Andy again blurts “The Raw marrow of Life tastes like this!” and they all then instinctively throw themselves on the winter-wet ground of the song-path and run full swing back into the hurtfully beautiful melody of the “Raw” tune they’d started with. A unified rush of music and immaculate philosophy avalanches through the Big Mind of every one there– no one is safe– one poor guy has just walked in and gets buried in empathy. Some thought to cheer. I slug my beer. The song ends to raucous clapping and banging of inspired thoughts.”