I TOOK A TRIP ON A TRAIN…
As I write these words I am on board a southbound train heading for Portland with the purpose of going to hear vocalist Nancy King and pianist Steve Christofferson perform an evening of music. This performance won’t take place in a theatre or concert hall but rather in a Portland restaurant. Certainly Nancy & Steve are musicians of a particularly high caliber in the world but with jazz music and jazz musicians (perhaps other genres too), unless you are on a concert tour and booked into playing soft-seat theatres you are sharing your music in restaurants and bistros and cafes or wherever you are able or, hopefully in a designated jazz club where the audience is coming for the music first and foremost. I hope this is the case in Portland! The music that Nancy and Steve perform together is of an intimate and improvisational nature and, they have played together for such a long time that there is an easy comfort and wonderful chemistry between them. They certainly should be famous and many fans and critics know that to be so. The circle of people who love their music and artistry grows as the word gets around about who they are and where they reside.
Time ticks on (isn’t that the truth!) and the decision was made to head down to Portland to “catch them while we can” because Nancy and Steve just aren’t performing that frequently and they certainly don’t get to Vancouver often. So…a train trip to see and hear two of my favorite artists and what a fun way to go.
This delightful train trip includes the rocking & swaying motion along with occasional creaks and sounds that trains are known to make plus the stops and starts as people get on and people get off depending on where they are headed. There is much gazing out the windows at the Autumn landscape on this grey day. Grey is a color I actually do like but it didn’t exactly inspire Irving Berlin to compose “Grey Skies” did it? Here heading down through Washington and into Oregon State many leaves are still on the trees and they are ablaze with color. There is also a carpet of leaves everywhere on the meadows and beneath the trees so there is a gorgeous contrast of the colors we associate with fall against the grey sky canvas. The rain is threatening or promising, depending on how one likes to view things. I’ll go with “promising” and then when it does, I can say “ok then, you had mentioned you’d be dropping by.”
Rain…Lately, RAIN has been on my mind since, in Vancouver we continue to get lots of it as is the norm this time of year. The endless rainfall a few weeks inspired me to look up all song titles related to rain. I have written songs about the rain too! Certainly I found hundreds and hundreds and some of them very good ones indeed. Just last week I performed my new arrangement for a song about rain; a song that I performed a figure skating solo to when I was a teenager living on the prairies and, when I was presented the “Figure Skating Queen” award one year. The song is Burt Bacharach’s song “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, a song forever associated with the movie “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid” more than it would be associated with my figure skating prowess. Ha! Further on the topic of rain; I do know that living in Vancouver (or perhaps all parts of the lower mainland) that we might see rain for days and days on end and it can make one feel tired since rain doesn’t seem to be the energy giving force that sunshine is. It’s true that rain really does affect certain people when it continues in that fashion. I actually do enjoy going for a run in the rain or a walk in the rain; the scent of the air, the sound of it landing on trees and roofs, the sensation of it on your skin. Still it’s true that certain other outdoor activities require further planning: umbrellas, boots, rain coats. If you’re a musician It does seem to be a great time for being inside with one’s instrument working at the craft of music composing, playing, arranging, listening so I for one hope not to complain too much about the “green maker” which (at least in Vancouver) gives us green landscapes through the year.
I TOOK A TRIP ON A TRAIN (part two)
I write this entry on the return train trip to Vancouver after being in Portland for a few days. The performance by Nancy King and pianist Steve Christofferson was an absolute highlight and going to see them was the primary reason for going in the first place. In particular, Nancy and Steve are well known for the duo work they do (on recordings and in live performance) but this time the group size was enhanced with a flutist, an acoustic bassist and a drummer. (drummer Todd Strait!!!) Before the first downbeat I wondered whether the magic intimacy of the duo format would be consumed or over shadowed by the greater decibels and energy of this larger ensemble. Most delightfully that didn’t occur at all. There was such high level of musicianship and, of mutual admiration between these great musicians and the only thing that mattered with each tune was the communal sharing of the mood, story, improvisation and life of the song. No charts were used all night with just a few seconds of conversation about each tune selected. Everyone was on their game, so to speak, and Nancy, simply put, CANNOT sing a bad note. She is what I call (and who many know to be) a fearless artist. There’s never a doubt that any note or sound color that comes to her imagination in the moment of singing, will arrive on time, in tune, surprising and complete. She’s absolutely born to sing this music. There’s never a doubt that she will connect with the story of a lyric, with the rhythm or groove that the band is playing, with some higher power she must tap into I suppose. A jazz performance of that calibre is exactly what I love about music and is exactly why I feel so lucky to study this music and its concepts and to (hopefully) improve my musicianship skills with each new experience whether that is through my own study or whether it is because my ears and mind are once again opened when I hear such greatness.
A performance such as Nancy and Steve and their friends is a reminder to me that most jazz musicians are doing this music because they are strongly drawn to it and they love it and not because it may draw a huge audience. It would be lovely for the artists to be able to attract greater audiences but I see (and have known for some time) that great jazz artists don’t always translate into great numbers in the audience. As I noted in my posting on my trip down to Portland, I knew in advance that this performance would be in a restaurant and I had crossed my fingers that it would be a listening audience. How wonderful to have the room packed with people who enjoyed their food and drink BUT they were there for the music and they (we) clung to every note. It may be true that on occasion there are theatre performances but probably for the most part the venues are smaller if one is performing in one’s home city regularly. And so I head into deep Autumn newly inspired and thankful for all I have seen & heard…