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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Heart Strings: A Tale of Two Concerts

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There is an emotional intimacy that certain performers let us share that expands musical pleasure, into rapture.

Lansing. Monday evening we took our seats in a small venue for a hundred people, the Creole Gallery in Old Town, with bohemian brick and mottled plaster walls, wooden chairs and old porous wood floors. It feels familiar and homey, as the venue for small, casual concerts. The gypsy jazz John Jorgenson Quintet seems to prefer these small, informal spaces, from what I gather touring their YouTube videos, and I can see why. If they were up and out on a remote stage in the Great Hall of the Wharton Center, where they fully deserve to perform with their outrageous skill and polish, we would be an audience, not participants.

Gypsy jazz is energetic at the get go. Many of the numbers are so fast paced that you have no breath left when one is done, and you're sure there are no note-stones left unturned in the musical riverbeds of the world. But John Jorgenson and his rhythm guitarist, bassist, drummer and violinist knew we couldn't take that pace any more than they could keep playing it for two full hour sets. So they mixed in Edvard Grieg (sorry, I don't remember which song), "Melancholy Baby" and "La Mer", among other calmer tunes. But for the most part, the rapid guitar picking, plucking, strumming, fingering, harmonics and violin bow stroking made it hard for me to sit still. So there was this energy in the room, flowing from the stage, and being boomeranged back from us, the listeners, many of whom were aging band members, exploding with appreciative whoops. There was also another force at play, and that was repartee. In the middle of John's frenetic strumming, violinist Jason Anick would reply with a decidedly schmaltzy quip, or a sarcastic violin moan, and the corners of John's mouth would turn up. Or vice versa. Again and again. The musical conversation of joy, love, and fun.

Here is John Jorgenson's Quintet playing Ghost Dance, but the only musician who is the same besides Jorgenson himself is the bassist, Simon Planting. The current members we saw are at John's site. And while you can catch a smile or two in this video, you can't sense the subtle frivolity we experienced at the show.




Paris. There was another concert of strings that had the same effect on me. It was Vivaldi, in an evening concert in the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, another small venue for an audience of 100, one of three times I've sat in that stunning, historic space to listen to musical ensembles. (If you are interested, please read more about this jewel, Sainte-Chapelle. Here is one place to read more. You can read more about Sainte-Chapelle, and John Updike's poem after a concert at Sainte-Chapelle, at my post at Paris Deconstructed.) In spite of 6,500 square feet of windows telling biblical stories, rising 60 feet above and around us like a stained glass forest - reds, blues, purples muted in the softly lit chapel - the setting feels intimate, yet as unlike the Creole as a room can be. Old in the Sainte-Chapelle means 13th century. An ensemble of half a dozen musicians on cello, bass, violin and piano played many pieces, and often, there was the same camaraderie - the grins, the nods of understanding, the snickers while raising eyebrows and attacking strings with a bow flourish. I was so magnetized by the tangible connection between the musicians, that I left that concert floating on a cloud of euphoria. When I'm in Paris, all my senses are heightened (something I'd like to bring into the now, everywhere), which made this experience especially ecstatic.

At first, in both concerts, I wondered if the smiles, the quips, the fun, was put on. Was it just part of the performance, something to entertain and hold the audience? An act? At the Creole Gypsy Jazz concert, my eyes bored in on John's and Jason's faces to see if I could find a clue of artifice in their looks. They seemed genuine, though I couldn't be certain. I let it work its magic anyway. I believe that exuberance from us, the listeners in the wooden chairs, also amplified their emotive energy. When I glided out into the darkening warm summer night of Old Town after the Jorgenson concert Monday, with my hand in Don's, and a smile and a beat still lighting me up, it hit me that this fun, joyful exchange is necessary to their level of music. The musicians need it, as they need to practice thousands of hours to hone their skill. The music needs it, for the seeds of the notes to be broken open, and brought into the light of loving attention, to take root in the listener, and come alive, emotionally, and spiritually.
 
Here are 37 seconds of a concert in Sainte-Chapelle, not taken by me.



That night in Paris back in 1997, after listening and watching young violinists and cellists play like children on a playground of delicate but robust equipment, lying in bed, my soul left my body and met with those musical "children" in impassioned, playful conversation, all night. I woke up wondering, Was the conversation words, or did we speak in music? Was it a dream?

No matter how a violinist interprets Bach, Vivaldi or Mozart with bow strokes that are collé, legato, louré, martelé or staccato, or how many notes a gypsy jazz musician like John Jorgenson can strum and pluck out of a guitar in a minute, with joy and the force of love, the notes can't be squandered, or used up. The more you give, the more you get back. The riverbeds will always refill, and refresh - a far, far better immersion than what mere technical skill, melody, arrangement, and orchestration combined can provide.




I found this gypsy wagon at a flea market in Holland, Michigan in 2008

Jean "Django" Reinhardt was a French gypsy who was the first European jazz musician to make it big, and he started Gypsy Jazz - Jazz Manouche in French. 2010 is the 100th anniversary of the year he was born, in a gypsy wagon near Brussels. John Jorgenson was asked to play Django in the 2004 feature film, Head in the Clouds. How's that for synchronicity for this July in Paris? And you know what? I did not know until just now, at the tail end of this post, about that title Head in the Clouds. All that floating euphoria. I think I'd better see this film.

Jean "Django" Reinhardt



This post is part of the Paris in July blog theme, hosted by Karen at BookBath and Tamara at Thyme for Tea. Go to Paris in July to take your heart to the City of Lights. 

Photo of John Jorgenson found at johnjorgenson.com.

Photo of Sainte-Chapelle courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
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40 comments:

Gwei Mui said...

Thank you for introduing me to John Jorgenson's Quintet

Lorenzo said...

What a poetic paired concert review. The next best thing to being there. I have been in St Chapelle several times and each time mused what it would be like to experience a concert there. Now I know. Thanks.

And as for those smiles, nods and winks of complicity, that "subtle frivolity", I agree they do not come from shownanship, but are little levers of complicity and form a quintessential part of all improvised music. I have had the pleasure of seeing jazz and flamenco musicians hang out and jam on their own or practice together and that magical rapport is there in the music and literally written into their smiles and into so many subtle facial and bodily gestures.

Loring Wirbel said...

Wowzie, what a juxtaposition! Only you, Ruth, only you. Have never heard Jorgenson, thanks for the education.

Jeanie said...

Well, first of all, after reading this I am even more mad we didn't get to the Jorgensen concert. I can see why that would be such an extraordinary evening.

And your writing about the Sainte-Chapelle concert really touched me. Have to watch the video after the comment. Hearing Vivaldi at S.C. was the highlight of my trip to Paris and I will never forget hearing that sound fill that glorious space -- color and light, music and beauty -- all together in two unforgettable hours.

Music is such a universal language, isn't it? While the types one loves might vary, to those with common thought, no translation is required.

George said...

A wonderful, fun posting, Ruthie. I felt as if I were by your side at each of the concerts. It also reminded me of a night in the early seventies when I was in Dubrovnik and walked off the street into a classical piano performance at what I believe was called the Grand Masters Palace. It was an ancient place and the concert was in a center courtyard, as I recall. What I remember most, however, is having a sort of mystical experience, that feeling of being enveloped in the loving mystery of everything. Music and the night can do such things to a person.

California Girl said...

Gorgeous photo of the church. Wonderful pickin' by the quintet. Yeah! Interesting comparison of two completely different musical venues.

willow said...

I have always wanted a gypsy wagon. They are often included in my dreams. Great pairing of music!

Ruth said...

Hi, Gwei Mui, you're welcome. Jorgenson has played with many well known artists, including six years with Elton John. He also plays clarinet and sings well too.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, I have a mighty feeling that you have witnessed an awful lot more musical rapport than I have. It's pitiful really, how seldom we get out like this. Your musical awareness was part of what inspired me to go to this concert when I got the Creole email notice about it. So, thank you!

Ruth said...

Loring, you saying wowzie and that I told you about a musician you hadn't heard of, in one comment, really rocks my world.

But maybe you're implying that only I would stretch things this far. ;-) This blog isn't called synch-ro-ni-zing for nothin'.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, it's wonderful that you got to a concert here. I know they are a little pricey, but it's a unique experience that I think warrants it. I have the impression the musicians might be students, but I've never researched it.

Ruth said...

George, your spontaneous evening in Dubrovnik sounds like touching the divine. I keep thinking that this should be possible always. There must be ways to connect with the mystery even when we don't have such extraordinary experiences. Thank you for sharing your mysteriously mystical evening.

Ruth said...

I know, California Girl, that photo I found at Wiki Commons is remarkable, how it frames that space.

I think you would have had a hard time sitting still with this quintet!

Ruth said...

You know, willow, you just reminded me that I had a crazy gypsy wagon dream myself a couple of years ago! Oh man. All about tumbling down a hillside in one, next to another . . . Maybe we were tumbling into your dream.

Oliag said...

I knew of and even have some CDs of Django Reinhardt but I am very happy to learn of John Jorgenson...love it! What energy they have and send out...

Have you seen the Woody Allen movie Sweet and Lowdown? The main character is a musican who idolizes Django Reinhardt...it has been a long time since I've seen it but I remember enjoying it...

Mr O and I learned to search out concerts being held in churches and cathedrals when visiting Europe...those buildings were designed for sound for sure! Many we found were for free...

Your posts always get my memory flowing!

Sandy said...

I enjoyed this and the videos but I love that gypsy wagon. That is so unique..

Arti said...

Yes of course...I must explore the music too... if only I have time. Three days are not even enough to see all of Latin Quarter. Guess I have to plan well and be selective. But what you've posted here are all good, while I love classical music in the Sainte Chappelle, I also want to see gypsy jazz, blues, folk... and whatever they offer in their Parisian backdrop. This is such a rich and exciting post, Ruth. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Susan said...

I love this post SO.MUCH. As soon as I started listening to the Jorgenson music, Chocolat came to mind and then I immediately recognized the similarity to Blue Grass music. I think they smile and make those faces because of their joy in playing such astounding music. I have to listen to more of it.

I love the Gypsy wagon. It looks so much like the one on my post about Gypsies and my grandma. I would kill for that wagon.

That movie looks intriguing. I'm putting it on my Netflix queue right away so I don't forget.

Synchronicity, indeed. This one was outta the ballpark!

Pat said...

You should write reviews for the paper or magazines! Your words are magical!

Thank God we have YouTube now! We can experience (somewhat) the same thing that you did. I have never heard of the John Jorghenson quintet, but boy can they play! I can't imagine keeping up with that pace all evening!

The concert at Sainte Chappelle must have seemed like you were in heaven. When we visited there, there was a tape recording of monks chanting and even THAT sounded great. A TAPE RECORDING! That church is too beautiful for words!

Shaista (Lupus in Flight) said...

Wow! I see (hear) what you mean about the pace and energy of the music - whew! Imagine dancing to it! Imagine the whirl of your feet and the conversation between your moving body and that pace... do you dance? I think you should! Lots!

Terresa said...

What a selection to share, Ruth!

When I was in London last fall, I attended a concert in Saint Martin-in-the-field's Church @ Tafalgar Square.

At that concert, I, too, felt that all my sense were heightened, that, "my soul left my body." I will never forget the tears and rapture I felt that night, on the aged wooden benches, last row, a waterfall of music.

After that trip, it is a new hope/goal of mine to attend a concert whenever I travel, whenever possible.

PS: We are looking into local symphony tickets for our family as well.

Deborah said...

Sometimes I'm hard pressed to find the right words to describe my reaction to your posts, Ruth. Unless I spend a lot of time thinking about what to say, it comes out as much less deeply appreciative than it really is.
What you talk about here is not something you'd ever get in a standard review of this performance. It's a very personal perspective, not quirky but definitely unique, and has the effect, as so many of your posts do, of making me think about things in another way, of considering what's behind the obvious.

Making music with others is an experience like no other. I have only done it a few times - I play piano and it's often such a solitary thing, but for a few years I played classical guitar and had some ensemble opportunities. Even singing in a choir is an extraordinary experience, and one I'm sure you are familiar with. So I have no trouble believing that the interplay between these musicians is very genuine.

And how could I never have gone to the Sainte-Chapelle all those years I lived near Paris.....? Stuck at home with kids, that's how. It's on my list.

It's such a pleasure to read you, Ruth.

Ruth said...

Dear Oliag, I'm impressed that you know Django Rheinhardt! I hadn't heard of him until this week. But I try not to compare anyone's musical knowledge with mine, as mine is thin. No, I have not seen that movie, and I didn't know about that character's idolization of Django. I may have to check it out. I'm queuing it and Head in the Clouds on Netflix right now. OK, done, but I could only save The Sweet and Low Down. Usually that only happens with unreleased films. Hmm.

I imagine you and Mr. O. have had some heart stirring moments in those chapel concerts. I have a story about hearing music from outside a church in Paris, every evening coming home to our hotel, which I need to write up at PD.

Here's to good memories, nothing like music to bring them on (and certain smells . . . ).

Ruth said...

Sandy, I know, isn't it wonderful? This flea market was closed the day I was there a couple years ago, and all this great stuff was outside. I had never seen a real gypsy wagon before. Well, I wonder if it's real?

Ruth said...

Arti, you must be getting so excited!

Your hours and days will flow, and you'll know what you should do, at any given moment. Planning and preparing is essential, and then when you're there, choosing what feels right. There are many jazz clubs in the Latin Quarter. We went to Le Petite Journal a couple of times and enjoyed it. It's cozy and intimate, with the performers just at arm's length, and the sound is great.

Ruth said...

Susie Susie, my dear friend. Your words are so generous and kind, I just love you.

I never even thought of Chocolat, but of course. Do you think it's because Roux traveled in a gypsy boat instead? :)

Well I added the movie to mine too, so we shall compare notes. It seems to have fairly good reviews at Netflix. Oh dear, the Tomatometer and rottentomatoes gives it just 15%. Oh well, that's OK. Even if it isn't a stellar movie (we'll decide that, right?), the music and setting should be interesting.

Ruth said...

Pat, my traveling friend, your comment is wonderful, thank you. I am pretty sure I said something here about music that made my musically knowledgeable friends cringe, because I'm pretty ignorant. I did a little research, but sometimes that is a dangerous thing. :)

Well yes, I can imagine that recording of monks. I do love listening to chants, and a church is where they need to be heard, as if they're built just to expand and soften their voices.

Between YouTube, Wiki and Google (and DVR for pausing something on TV, but that's another story), we can find almost anything we search, how crazy is that! I'm always a little angry when I don't find a song on YouTube that I want badly to find. Then I laugh at myself. So spoiled!

Ruth said...

Shaista, well no, I don't dance often, a shame, I know. I didn't grow up dancing, so it doesn't come to me naturally. But I did want to jump up and dance in this gypsy jazz concert. It's made for dancing, come on! It rather annoyed me that we were sitting in these straight rows all lined up, when we should be around a campfire, dancing and laughing. That's what I wanted to be doing.

Thank you for stopping by, my beautiful dancing friend.

Ruth said...

Terresa, a concert whenever you travel, and symphony tickets for the family - wow, it sounds like you are choosing a path toward musical bliss. These things shape children, and yours are richly blessed to have you for a mom.

Thank you for sharing your waterfall of music experience. I'm so glad you understand. xoxo

Ruth said...

Deborah, thank you for your generous words about my posts. You know, it's that very intense personal-ness that I sometimes wonder if I go too far. That may sound odd, and I'm not asking for validation, but I do really wonder about it. But for me, if I don't make the personal connection, which sometimes becomes intensely personal, I don't feel that spark of inspiration, which has become essential for me in this blog.

I can picture you and your infectious smile, and what I imagine to be an active body, playing piano while interacting with others. It's a beautiful image, because you are such a deep and sensitive person, and so lovely.

As for your not visiting Sainte-Chapelle while you lived so close, my dear, I did the same while we lived in Istanbul. I can't tell you how many things I missed, like the Spice Market. I was right there. I just have to go back, that's all.

I will never forget your incredible post about your mom, reposted this week from a year ago. It rests in my heart.

cathyswatercolors said...

Hey You! I'm thinking you would do a wonderful job working for Rolling STone reviewing music! What a great concert. Don't you just love a stand~up bass and violin.... ahh strings.
Gypsies tooo I would love to see a gypsy wagon.Did you go inside? Such mystique, like that Lon Chaney movie oh was it a werewolf movie? Anyway wasn't there a scene with a women driving a gypsy cart???

I was visiting my friend at his Jewelry store,chatting with him as we sat behind the counter when two men and a baby approached. They asked a question of my friend and he was very short with them. He obviously wanted nothing to do with them. I was surprised and after they left I asked what that was all about. He said, oh they are gypsies and he went on to tell me all about them and some of there techniques to distract you while they steal your merchandise. He also knew about the gypsy culture, he said, if i remember correctly, gypsies orginated in India... I always thought Romania?
I can remember my girlfriend,telling me that her mother, who was from Ireland, would tell her stories about the gypsies and how they stole babies????
Interesting culture I wonder what is fact or fiction.... peace.... we have had awful storms... really,really scarey stuff!

ds said...

I have never been to Ste. Chapelle, but not for lack of trying. I stood in front of it four years ago, only to see it surrounded by construction riggings; it was being restored :(
How perfect to hear Pachelbel's Canon in that space--a piece that is much like the building of a cathedral...
As for the gypsy jazz. Wow!I'm awed by the speed of their fingers, and the joy of the sound. Thank you so much for sharing this!

Oliag said...

I was surprised that you couldn't get Sweet and Lowdown from Netflix...so I checked it...Make sure you request the 1999 Woody Allen movie not the 1944 movie...although that one sounds pretty interesting with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in it:)

Ruth said...

My dear Cathy, yes, strings! No, I didn't go into that wagon. The flea market was closed, and I felt like I was trespassing as it was. But there was some very sweet stuff out there.

Oh dear, your jewelry store friend. I mean I can understand being cautious from experience, that makes total sense. But I imagine gypsies have had quite a time overcoming stigma. I don't know where they originated either. I read that the Irish gypsies call themselves pavee.

Ruth said...

Dear DS, I had that scaffolding at the Notre Dame in 1997. It was being cleaned for years. It does mess up a tourist's photographic intentions. :)

Ruth said...

Oliag -- got it! Thank you for that clarification. :D

Ginnie said...

Now I'm wondering how much of YOUR love of music has been passed on to Peter and not the other way around...similar to how Mom's love surely was passed on to us kids, whether we recognized or capitalized on it or not. Hmmmm. This is beautiful, Ruth.

Tamara said...

I've been waiting for a musical post in Paris in July - I love this one! Thanks so much. I'm a classical music lover myself so Im very jealous of your St Chapelle experience and Pachabel's cannon - WOW!! great video links too.

deb said...

Ruth, your experiences, knowledge, and keen awareness of the what really matters at the core of things is always an honour to be swirled around in .
I have added the St.Chapelle as a must do in my lifetime event. When , I have no idea.

mystic rose said...

For the longest time, I've been wanting to go to a concert, or few, with someone. Havent been able to find any near me, or the friends to go with :) sigh... perhaps sometime in this lifetime.