I come from a family of storytellers. The stories we tell are mostly true, and sometimes we will improve an ending in the next retelling. In the next generation, I can already see the storytellers. One of my nephews in particular has the gift. Watching him, you can tell he’s reading the audience as he tells his story, but once he’s hooked them, he will take them on a riff worthy of the jazz greats.
I had never thought about the connection between a good story and jazz, until I came across this quote by Thelonious Monk, one of the jazz greats. “There’s a new idea that consists in destroying everything and find what’s shocking and unexpected; whereas jazz must first of all tell a story that anyone can understand.”
I only happened upon this quote because I went to a performance of the Bridge Quartet at the Mission Theater just the other night. (As a quick side note, the Mission Theater is another McMenamins location. The theater was originally a Swedish evangelical church built in 1912, then a meetinghouse for longshoremen, a warehouse, and a stage for an acting troupe.) The Bridge Quartet is a local ensemble – piano, drums, sax and bass. Their performance was devoted to Thelonious Monk, musician and composer.
My first introduction to jazz was from “The Cosby Show” back in the 1980s and never developed much beyond that. I like New Orleans jazz, but then I tend to skip straight over to Monk. During the performance, Alan Jones, the drummer, said that in some respects the appeal of Monk is hard to understand because he is so complex that it should be intellectual, but listening to his music is to hear what children hear when they dance. The story comes through.
If you’ve never heard his music before, check out Blue Monk, Boo Boo’s Birthday or Criss-Cross. Too many to name. If you like it, you may find you knees bouncing, your tilted head bobby and your grin saying “dang.”
As I left the theater, it felt like one of those nights when you’re so excited, you and your friends decide you should (totally) form a band or go on a cross-country road trip.
That put a lot of pressure on the following night. I had already bought a ticket to hear a band play, but wasn’t in the mood. Having heard one performance that reached down to my toes, I doubted I would find another.
I entered the Roseland Theater a little grumpy. The opening band, Pert’ Near Sandstone, a string band from Minnesota, surprised me. To change my mood when I’ve decided to dedicate myself to it is a pretty impressive feat. But they did.
I’ve already said that I like country music, but more than that, I like bluegrass. Talk about setting a story to music.
I’ve already confessed to wanting to play the accordion, and now I will confess that I would love to learn how to tap dance. After seeing Pert’ Near, I’m going to have to be more specific. I want to clog.
There, I’ve said it. Say what you will, but watch Andy Lambert of Pert’ Near. He provides some of the rhythms, or I would say percussion, by clogging or “flat-footing.” (Try doing that for five minutes. Then try doing that for an hour!) I had never thought of tap as an instrument before.
If I could carry a tune, I would go through my day telling my story in song. I’d sing on the way to work, on the bus, in the grocery store. You name it, I’d sing. I can’t sing for the life of me. I think I could learn to clog . . .