Day 9 of 80 — Jazz

Around London in 80 days

In these uncertain times, I need a lifeline and a horizon so I have — somewhat arbitrarily I’ll admit — set a date. April 1st will be my horizon ; my lifeline will be the 80 days separating me from it.

And as I cannot go around the world right now, I give you A Mad Belgian’s “Around London in 80 Days” : eighty impressions of London, eighty stories, places, thoughts from my experience of this wonderfully mad and maddening city.

Day 9 : Jazz

In 1959, saxophonist Ronnie Scott* opened a small jazz club in Soho, for the local musicians to come and have a jam. Today the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club is one of the most prestigious jazz clubs in the world — and one of the most famous.

The world’s best jazz musicians have succeeded each other on its stage for decades. And in the upstairs bar, late on a Wednesday night, local and visiting musicians can meet for a jam and a drink.

Jazz jams can be wonderful or terrifying experiences. They are an chance for musicians to meet but also to prove themselves to others, and so at times the competition element can overtake the rest.

For me, the point of music is first and foremost to share it ; I don’t like having to prove myself. But when one is new in a big anonymous city, it is sometimes necessary to get out of one’s comfort zone. So, soon after arriving in London, I bravely decided to have a go at this famous Wednesday late night jam.

It starts at 11pm (most jazz musicians are asleep before then anyway). The house band plays a short set then the jam starts. My soprano saxophone next to me, I sit at a table and order a long drink, hoping to make it last throughout the evening : London sure is an expensive place.

As is often the case, the jam is all-male, except for a few female singers. I move closer to the musicians. Immediately someone double-checks : “Singer ?”. No, saxophonist. “Oh ? Good for you.” The slightly condescending tone of the average macho. I definitely can’t afford to show my insecurities here : I have to look confident even if I’m not entirely.

He asks me what I’d like to play. I reply : “Alone together”. I always pick that tune first in a jam : not too obvious, not too hard yet with a slightly original structure, it is a perfect way to indicate that I’m not completely out of it.

The rhythm section starts and I dive in : E G, E F#, E F# G BBBBB E,… I think of Steve Lacy, of Wayne Shorter ; with my soprano, everything seems possible, it’s part of me, we can do anything. I play, I’m 100%, I improvise, I’m in a trance. The tune comes to an end, things quiet down. I look up : it worked. A few smiles… and we go straight into the next tune.

*By the way, it is Ronnie Scott who play the saxophone solo on Lady Madonna by The Beatles. Yes, I promise, there is a saxophone solo on Lady Madonna, have another listen !

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