On this slow-moving Sunday, I feel compelled to write about love. For it is love in which I find myself tangled, this mess of longing, loathing, lusting, requiring and repelling love. In the ballads of “Sir Duke” (Ellington) and the imposturous tongue of an Ella scat, furiously fast, or slow and sultry, love is let loose again and again over an audience of lovers or desirous loners. Today, for me, love is a bittersweet wound, one which I nurse and yet favor.
In this state, however, the jazz performances at this Sunday gathering at the Witte Museum (part of a free, second-Sunday series at the Witte) were both gauze and salt for my wounds, and this perfect back-and-forth kept me fixed, at times delighted, satisfactorily dwelling in my own state of confusion. With music, time temporarily stands still and I am allowed, compelled rather, to simply experience my own emotions, feel my own feelings. If this early evening jazz event did not have the same impact on the other listeners out on those lush grounds, it certainly held them within their own states of being.
Sunday Jazz at the Witte
Perhaps it was the strange combination of the music with the electricity in the atmosphere from the threat of a storm. Occasionally I opened my eyes to see the bodies around me, still and transparent as ghosts, hovering in plastic folding chairs. From my blanket on the ground, my eyes were drawn more to the vibrations dancing in the blades of grass and the tree leaves singing their own tune in the wind. The performers on the stage, consisting of a keyboard player/vocalist (Bett Butler scatted with magical precision to her instrument’s own rhythmic melodies), drummer, stand-up bassist, and intermittent trumpeter, were attractive in that conventionally jazzy way, but their power was their passion, their love, collective and individual, transposed from moments of an era long-passed into my own consciousness.
Guest vocalist Joan Carroll took the microphone and lulled my eyes closed again. Her voice, at times light and crisp, at other times deep and maroon, had the psychedelic quality of taking me away from my heartaches and then sending me right back to them. And her phrasing was impeccable and filled with a gratifying sense of authority.
A sharp breeze blew through the expansive grounds. The white wine in my little plastic cup hit my gut and sank like tar. For a moment, I considered buying a snack from the Beto’s table, but it was plain to me that it wasn’t food’s nourishment I was craving. With my ear to the ground, I absorbed the stinging trumpet and pulsating soft voice of our blond guest singer. And then she turned chipper and delightful — “I like what love has been doing to me/what a wonderful future I see” — and the juxtaposition of those lyrics to my misery was heart-wrenching.
“What’s love doing to you?” she sang, and my mind shouted out: Love is eating me alive! My heart holds the bad seed of a cannibal spirit. That’s what love is doing to me.
But before I could cry, I sat up and caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of the lanky man dressed all in blue, moved by the music (or the electricity in the air) to do yoga and tai chi under a grove of trees, and a young boy at his side with the seriousness of a surgeon, performing kicks, spins, and chops, obviously learned in some martial-arts class. The scene uplifted me again and the ghosts around me came alive with hues of happy love, familial love, romantic love, primal musical love.
The program, scheduled to run until 7 p.m., ended half an hour early, although the storm blew over. Standing up and shaking debris from my blanket, I laughed aloud at the irony of the carnival jazz tune left lingering in my mind: “No more tears, and no more sighs/no more fears, I’ll say no more good-byes/I’m gonna settle down and there’ll be no more blues.”