by Lawrence Brazier and is also set in Paris and has something to say about jazz and other things…
Lawrence Brazier writes…
For years advertising persons have had a leaning for jazz. The crowd on Madison Ave. felt the charisma, recognised the potential but knew, instinctively, that you can’t mess with this kind of power. Jazz as a media vehicle for these people is a waste of space. Jazz does not belong to beautiful people. It does not go well with suntans. A guy deep into a solo, with sweat standing on his brow like he has malaria, would be unacceptable. Someone would have to run on and powder-dust him dry. Advertising does not relate to the concept of improvisation (making it up as you go along).
Jazz – hip, cool or otherwise – requires a certain lifestyle savvy. Remember black-knit ties…lowered a little, naturally? And nodding knowingly over an eighteen-minute solo from a boss tenor, with a honk or a squeak being okay?
There were funky, waif-like black kids, wearing flat caps and ex-army clothing, blowing ethereal sounds in the Paris Metro. They doodled musically for hours in those haunted tunnels and the French found impressionism translated from canvas into sound. It was a natural event for the beret and goatee brigade because jazz complemented, extended and rounded nicely their innate sense of savoir faire. jazz made the French, well, Frenchier.
We, the utterly cool, went to France where we revelled in the streetlife and dug the scene in this new dimension. In exactly the same way that the advertising crowd sort of tussle with concepts, yours truly had loads of trouble with being hip in French.
Oscar or Errol, grunting along to a heavy left hand, sounded Gallic enough. But what about that deep and affirmative gut-growl from the fans? ‘Yeeeeeeah.” You will appreciate that ‘Oui” does not lend itself to the form. It comes out like when Miss Piggy tosses Kermit across the set…Weeeeeee! It should be stated, moreover, that ‘Yeah, man,” comes out as ‘Oui, homme.” See what I mean? Oui is sort of pert, but not really pertinent. Perhaps you can relate to the following story.
The club: The Black Cat, just off the Boul. Mich. I groove up to the door with my date in tow. A slit opens and I’m staring at an eye.
‘Combien?’ I say, using up my French.
‘Treehunert, buddy,’ says the guy behind the eye. He sounds like Noo Joisey. This is a panic because, I mean, like this is abroad and the tickets are not cheap.
I stiffen momentarily, reaching for my pockets – all carefully arranged, 100s in the left, 50s in the right, shrapnel loose in the jacket.
‘It’s cool,’ I mutter. The door cracks letting out a blare of sound (it’s always a high note when you enter) coasting on a wave of stale, dark air. (Dark air…?)
‘C’est froid,’ the guy says as I palm him the bread.
The chick and I glide, like we are on well oiled wheels, into the club. The chick hits automatic, scanning the joint.
‘Just do what I do, and stay cool,’ I tell her.
‘C’est froid,’ she replies.
There is a trio playing in the room. The drummer plays with his back to the audience. I can dig that. He looks like he is driving a chariot, lashing the horses into eternity. But he is going nowhere. The piano player blocks; the bass walks; I pop (thumbs), languidly.
The girl is wearing a slit skirt and a striped sweater and a beret. She figures I’m a tourist, I guess. I am wearing my dark wool suit. I have on a white shirt with long points, button-down, and a knit tie, lowered.
I try hanging a Gauloises on my lower lip. It works with Luckies, but Gauloises are much heavier; so I grip the weed between my teeth, and grin wickedly. Y’know, like Eastwood lighting sticks of dynamite from a glowing panatela.
Along the bar a guy yells for a Monk number. However, people in the audience are only supposed to request “My Funny Valentine”. The guy gets ejected, naturally.
‘You learn your trip on the street,’ I mutter, laconically.
The chick is suddenly attentive. She wants life.
‘At the roots,’ I continue. ‘You dig?’
Then I had the premonition, which the chick promptly compounded.
‘Ow you say zis roots?’ she wants to know.
This is tricky. I see my world slide and slither away; like entrails slopping into a bucket from a butcher’s block. The chick is getting awkward. My foot is tapping, which is basically uncool. I begin concentrating on the music, which is all you can do at a time like that.
‘Look, you have to, like, um, y’know, fall off the planet and DIG.’ This is hard because the doll doesn’t understand proper English from Hindi. I nod a little, knowingly.
The chick follows through with: ‘You light ze cigarette, non?’
I am, of course, a non-smoker. Saliva is building up in my mouth, however. My body is not playing ball. Life is intricate.
‘I don’t have any matches,’ I splutter desperately.
‘Voila,’ says the barman, leering viciously, a match flaring.
I make it fast out to the men’s room and flush the weed way. I’m gazing at my image in the mirror through streaming eyes. I raise my tie a millimetre higher, then set it much lower (Sinatra knew). I wipe my eyes and pull myself together. I point an imperious finger at my image in the mirror: ‘C’est froid,” I rasp. French really is not so difficult. You just have to be froid, that’s all.
I throw some shrapnel on to a plate as I exit. There is a little old lady sitting there watching me. She has a Gauloises hanging on her lower lip.
Back in the room a guy is soloing on tenor. He is wearing a dark wool suit, a shirt with long points, etc. He plays with a cigarette stuck in the ironwork of his instrument. Life is beginning to answer my questions. Maybe he has a tiny ashtray fixed to the instrument somewhere.
Anyway, I’m back at the centre. I start popping my thumbs. I mutter ‘yeah’ every so often.
The barman is drying glasses, Zen-like, turning the cloth around the rims like he is about to break into a wine ceremony. Y’know, like inscrutable. There is a thin smile on his upper lip; a Gauloises hangs on the lower. (How do they do that?)
‘I luv ma drôl de Valentine,’ the chick says brightly.
That did it. I hustle the chick out on to the street. The nightmare is all around me. I’m, like, crumpled. I didn’t make it.
‘Laurent,’ (I’d loved her for that once), ‘I zink I understand ze digging and ze roots. It is like in ze Jardin, oui?’
‘Oui,’ I say, emptily.
I’m out of my depth. The whole thing is bigger than both of me.
Paris can break your heart.