Nir and Shay
"You guys are awesome! Listening to your music is so much fun!"
How did they react?
They nodded, "Thanks!"
How did I feel?
Jazz. Jazz, jazz, jazz. The greatest genre of all times. The hot shit. The real deal. No doubt: Jazz rocks. Or grooves for that matter. Ever wondered what jazz really means? What it is at its core? Here is my definition:
Jazz means fun. Your instrument becomes your playground. And you: An explorer. Every tune you play is a new adventure whose calling reaches out to you from unknown realms.
Jazz means freedom of expression. You put it all out there. Your sounds can be softer than your mom's lullaby when you were little or more brutal than a chain reaction collision on the highway. Or everything in between.
Jazz means intellectuality. Its structures and forms are as logical and profound as Wittgenstein's works.
Jazz means listening. Real listening. I recently read a quote, "Are you listening to understand or listening to reply?". Listening to understand, everyone in the band listening to understand, that is jazz.
Jazz means spontaneity. Spontaneity is the opposite of you? Not when it comes to jazz! You may flip each time the subway is a minute late, your friends may have to ask you a month ahead for a beer at a bar, your siblings may call you anal; Playing jazz you metamorphose the second you hear the drummer count in. You allow every impulse. You follow ideas that pop up in your head. Sounds leave your body by themselves. You give in. You let go. You flow.
Jazz means presence. Yoga, meditation, tai chi: Jazz includes them all. This music is ultimate awareness in the moment.
And: jazz means love. Sometimes sex even. Playing together can be more intimate, unifying and exciting than any conversation or one night stand. While music is known to be a gateway to the soul, jazz is a full on emotional striptease. Because there is improvisation jazz reveals where you are at with no notes or interpretations to hide behind. You get naked. Sounds scary? It is not. Most of the time at least: Whatever you expose there is always chords, rhythms and band members to hold you tight.
Why am I saying all that? Because jazz!
And: Because I met Nir and Shay yesterday. The two of them were personified jazz. Here is what happened:
My friend Gur and I stopped our stroll down the Landwehrkanal when we saw them. Busking by the riverside they played standards and some free jazz. I admired their balls for doing the latter. Free jazz is not known to be a crowd favorite. It is too weird, too crazy and too atonal for many listeners I know. Berlin proved me wrong that afternoon: As I watched the audience's faces I realized those people dug free jazz! In their eyes I detected appreciation for Nir and Shay's togetherness, how they listened, breathed, and enjoyed themselves. For the way they let go, invented structures, burst into loudness and played quietly. In short: For their jazz. You know what I mean.
When Nir and Shay took a break Gur started talking to them. He had figured they were from Israel, just like Gur himself. We all introduced ourselves, Gur told them he was a guitar player, I told them I was a singer. They asked me to sing with them. I was stoked. (In fact I had been secretly wondering whether I could join them: Listening to their music had made me want to play myself pretty bad. However I didn't want to walk in on their twosome.). They asked me whether I knew "On The Sunny Side Of The Street". I said, "Hell yeah!", remembering the countless hours I had spent once upon a time, transcribing and memorizing Sonny Stitt's solo on the Sonny Side Up record to this tune. Back then I had immersed in every note and every chord. What I did not think about: That this had been five years ago. Five long years without ever singing that song again. All I thought in this moment was, "I love this song!", and, "Let's do it!". We agreed on a key and Shay got started on his base. I closed my eyes. Suddenly the situation shifted. My heart started beating faster. I felt nervousness rush through me. I was standing in front of all these people. They expected me to sing. A song whose lyrics, as I now realized, I was not sure I remembered. Not to mention the chords. I clenched my fists. Tried to catch my breath. And -- missed my entry. Nir played the line for me. I jumped in and made it through the first verse. "Grab your coat and take your hat. Leave your worries on the doorsteps, just direct your feet, to the sunny side of the street." Then it left me. Unable to remember the words I opened my eyes. Looking for a way out I decided to improvise the lyrics. "I've forgotten about the words, but that ain't no problem for me, I'll just sing and sing, on the sunny side of the street." Suddenly Nir and Shay switched to the b-part. I stopped and thought, "Right, there was a b-part." I didn't remember the chord progression there, neither the words. Searching for help I looked at Gur. His lips formed the words. I caught one or two but they were not enough. The form finished without me. Eventually I just stood there, snipping my fingers for what felt like hours, waiting for Nir and Shay to finish their solos, so I would get a second shot at singing the chorus. The chorus came. I missed it. And no, I did not magically remember the lyrics once I found my way on board throughout the last form. I stayed lost.
After the last chord I looked down and said, "Guys, I am so so sorry. I was sure I knew the song. This is embarrassing." "No worries", Nir said. I shook my head, "No, seriously. Please can I get a second chance? I can't leave like that. This is way too bad." "It's all good! But sure. What should we play?" We agreed on a free tune. Nir and Shay looked at each other, "Let's all start together!". I nodded. We inhaled and started. It was like someone had hit a switch. I gave in. Now there was no form and no lyrics to be remembered. All I had to do was listen. And I did: I followed Nir's line, then liberated my notes from it. Joined him again, went off again. From time to time I floated on top of Shay's beat, then I went against it. I felt like we were moving through worlds we created ourselves. Each time our rhythm and tones changed we opened the door to a new realm. We didn't just walk through those realities, we danced. Sometimes we held each other tight in rhythms and swayed cheek to cheek in tones, sometimes each of us spun by ourselves. But even when there was a mile between us all we were still connected through an invisible string: Through jazz.
Hours later, after I had said goodbye, I realized Shay and Nir had just taught me an additional definition of jazz:
Jazz means no judgement. Sure, where there is a (musical) form there is structure, and where there is structure there are rules. Rules bring judgement. But jazz does not. Before I had even sung the first note of On The Sunny Side Of The Street I had already been absorbed in judging myself and battling my fear of being judged by the audience. This way I had not found jazz. Not for one note. I had merely been clinging to a downward spiral of panic. But once the song was over Nir and Shay were there to assist and teach me. They did so by smiling and nodding, just like they had been doing before. No judging. Instead they said, it's okay. They saw I could not dial myself into jazz through the standard and offered me a different window: Free jazz.
And it worked. As soon as I felt there was no structure and no secret rules I broke free. The moment I stopped rushing through my mind, looking for the correct Sunny Side Of The Street I found it. Not the lyrics but the sunny side: I left the shade behind and danced my way through a lovely afternoon, the sun shining bright. I immersed in it: In jazz. Jazz, jazz, jazz. The greatest genre of all times. The hot shit. The real deal.
Thank you, Shay and Nir.
By the way: Talking about The Sunny Side Of The Street- This is what I faced while singing.
By the way: Talking about Israelis: You might have noticed I have been absent here. Although I hardly ever stop the complimenting I had to take a break from writing due to an illness. However I am psyched to feed this blog more regularly again as I am almost back on track and about to get on a plane to Tel Aviv tomorrow! Can't wait to report compliment experiences from Israel and Istanbul!