Sunday, September 02, 2007

Teal like bad jazz

I wonder if I liked jazz when I was 16? Probably not so much. I think at that point I was still in the thrall of what my mom called “jazzy” music – which was not jazz at all, but the Christian version of rock-n-roll. This “beat-y” music was censured, black-marketed, not so skillfully mimicked on my Epiphone, and sometimes not to carefully hidden in our Preacher’s household. As I grew older though the shock value of rebellion receded and my tastes mellowed to the sophisticated rhythms and contradictory melody lines of jazz by the masters. I spent one of my first evenings with Jennifer at a jazz concert on the steps of Grant’s Tomb arguing the merits of Miles Davis against those of Duke Ellington (an ignorant argument). Since that hot summer when I was flying high between Kansas City and New York, I’ve moved on to Minimalism, the Baroque, the soaring lines of Shostikovich, and returned to the unrestrained honesty of folk music, but jazz, in the small ensemble, still moves me.

Last weekend I took my teenage brothers, one of whom is 16, and their friend Nick down to Harlem to hear musicians who had played with Charlie Parker. I like the crowd of folks at these things, old men in fedoras, women in Senegalese head wraps beat bopping along to the intricate rhythms of 85-year-olds. But my brothers and their friend were bored. Granted it was hot in Marcus Garvey Park, but that doesn’t seem to justify the endless text messaging to their respective honeys in lieu of head nodding soulful listening. We left before the headliner (the ex-wife of the Bird’s drummer) took the stage.

I was a little disappointed that they could disrespect the history and atmosphere of the place so easily – this was Harlem after all: the deepest heart of so much of the American vernacular. Then I remembered what I spent my time doing when I was 16: sneaking out to hear Petra or some other awful band, writhing in mosh pits, riding a snowboard so I could try to crack my head open like the always popular "wild-at-heart" boy, watching terrible bloody movies and thinking this was Real life on a transcendent scale. At least they liked the food at my favorite restaurants around town – and when I talked them through the Abstract Expressionists at the Museum of Modern Art, Dustan – the 18-year-old, started taking pictures (I think for a few moments they forgot they had cell phones!). Who knows, by the time they are the always-adult age of 25 they’ll be in raptures over the emotive effects of 15th century madrigals sung under vaulted ceilings, or the quiet profundity of some foreign language film. I guess we all thought “action” movies were “sweet,” branding our appearance with mass-manufactured eccentricities was the only way of projecting the “authentic” me, and prattling on and on to carefully veiled and suntanned 16-year-old beauties was an endless “party,” – or at least any quasi-normal Mennonite boy from Holmes County does. Let’s just hope they don’t stay normal.


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