So last week I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to go out to New York over Memorial Day weekend. Needless to say it was an amazing experience and eye opener about social assumptions that I was quite off basis with; but that is another article. One night after a few hours of intense brainstorming with my peers, the idea to go out at two in the morning to a jazz show seemed and ended up being perfect. I mean 2 am for me was basically 11 pm as far as my body was concerned so I honestly had no qualms, even though jazz shows in the past have not been my cup of tea. So after a couple of drinks and quick cab ride we arrived at Smalls Jazz Club. Initially as we walked up the scene looked dead, it was like we were the only ones interested in this what I thought was an obscure location. As soon as the door opened I found out that my presumption was far from the truth. The instant clamor of people hit me right in the face along with the punchy sounds of a trumpet being accompanied by a slapping bass. Both sides of the stairs down into this cramped basement setup were lined with people. Some where mulling around trying to progress towards their objective, others were posted up leaning on any object convenient. Moving through whatever opening we could find in the crowd, my small group slowly worked their way down the stairs to the main area. Here it was even more packed, everyone coveting the positions they could find with space to catch a view of the band of musicians. The whole atmosphere was exactly the aesthetic one would expect from these famous basement jazz clubs.
At first we were awkwardly just trying to find a spot for us to settle into and after meticulously working our way to the front, only to find there was nowhere for us. We then worked our way back to the bar and with no shame forced ourselves into a temporary spot in between bar stools and patrons. I’m not one for being in this confined of a space with so many people, inherently having to be in close proximity if not touching so I got the bar tender attention as fast as I could to lubricate that angst. While partaking in my first double shot of rum, I started taking in what was truly in front of me. What caught my attention first were the mirrors set up around the band to help people in this confined space appreciate the effort the artist were putting in. The second thing I noticed was that this was a little different then any jazz show I had seen in the past. When one thinks impromptu performances for the most part they can be stagnant and dry with repetitive elements that seem to dull on. Which honestly I initially presumed this performance to be the same, but as the night progress I found myself to be simply wrong in that respect.
This whole trip to the city up to this point was a discussion about business and conversations dealing with letting people play to their strengths. So my mind was in a cloud of theoretical synergy with consideration for personal aptitude lending to reinforcement of the team, in order to elevate a group beyond what is possible alone. Soon after downing my first drink and getting a second, a chain of people left the front row allowing my group to body block others trying to get there before us. We moved in as a unit on these prized nearly front row seats and soon were comfortable there. The artist continued playing chords on their instruments while my mind started to stir ideas hinting to notes of prior conversations from that day. The leader of the troop seemed to be the trumpet player standing as the front man, but that was only an initial observation. I soon noticed a set of patterns, not in their music but in the order of things. There was a system to all of this I could sense it, I just had to figure it out. Then it started dawning on me, this show I was now watching was an idiom to the business world and all of life.
Give, take, trust, respect, experience, and a personal touch. Everyone knew when it was their time and when it was others. Everything flowed like water, feeding off the energy of the ones around you while at the same time pouring yours into them. There were times when everyone worked together, then without spoken word it would shift and bring focus to a single actor on this stage. Each in time bringing their own elements to accomplish a like minded goal. It was really evident after the band started to get warmed up and a second trumpet player came up to the front from out of the crowd. With no questions asked he slowly started working his way into the composition. An occasional short chord used to cut into the other melodies until he felt out his place. Soon he got comfortable after a solo of his own and working with the supporting saxophonist they helped bolster the original trumpeter. Then out of nowhere the tone shifted, it was almost as if the gauntlet had been thrown. Everyone but the trumpet players were silent as the two of them slowly worked into a musical dual. Each taking turns tossing contradicting riffs at the other in an apparent attempt to demonstrate a technical edge over the other. Each bounce back getting more complex and aggressive then the last, till finally the drummer and bass player slowly chimed in with a rhythmic undertone comprised of sections taken from both trumpet players. It was then that the duel turned from a fight to a dance, the energy shifted from shots being fired back and forth to a slowly developing partnership. The trumpet players no longer trying to out due the other began to complement one another borrowing the other bards riffs and expanding upon the melody that they were both painting. This relationship continued to get more intricate until they were finishing each others sentences and harmonizing for entire sections. The whole band filled in the gaps and soon it was obvious both the band and the crowd were having a great time.
The next phase of this whole show blew my mind. It was announced that anyone who wanted to contribute to please come forward and “keep the jazz rolling”. This is where the idea of respect for a system shined through. A line as long as the bar formed almost instantly, a gambit of artist some with instruments some without. Right away a excited young man moved quickly to the stand up bass and with the prior players hand still holding the last chord he begin striking the string and rotated in flawlessly. Next was the drummer, then the pianist while a myriad of saxophones began to find their voice in all of this and even a lone guitarist now complemented the scene. The one thing that really stuck out was the inability for anyone to do anything counter productive. It felt as though I could literally run up to one of the artist and hold down a string or mute an entire symbol on the drum set and it would not effect them in the slightest. They would work around it, as if they may even of enjoyed the challenge. The energy was magical a perfect symbiosis of creativity and respect, words can not describe this scene adequately.
Soon the clock was well past 4 am and everything was still going strong. This truly was a demonstration of the city that never sleeps. As we started to head out of the basement and make our way up to the street my mind was flying trying to digest all that I had just seen. One can not simple explain this experience and I strongly suggest that if you get a chance to see something as pure as this first hand do not snub your nose at is, as it may change your perception of people and life.