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tearing the rag off the bush again
The Sound of Jazz PDF E-mail


Special to the Corpse: Jazz conquers Russian poetry!



To Asinka, my wife

The first time I heard the word jazz was from my uncle.
It was in the Soviet Union, in Kiev, soon after the war.
I was seven.
One night he just said it - this taboo word.
The chandelier with crystal pendants was hanging over his head.
The light from the lamp was breaking and refracting in their facets,
and the pendants were blazing up with different colors.
The chandelier was swinging a bit and slightly clinking.
I remember very clearly when he said jazz,
his gold tooth shined,
and the silver one in the depth of his mouth.
He pronounced it with a slight and sad smile
with which people speak about something unreachable,
and then suddenly he came to his senses
and looked cautiously at the door.
Back then there was this habit
to look cautiously at the door.
That's how the idea of jazz entered me
as something bright, exotic and forbidden.

The sound of jazz.
Many years have passed since I heard this word for the first time.
I know what jazz is and love it.
I listen to jazz a lot.
But the fascination with its wonder is still with me to this day.
Right now I am sensing it very sharply.
I am sitting in the audience
looking at the magically lit cube of the stage.
Its bright side joins the darkness of the auditorium.
In that magical cube - jazz is playing and flashing.


First you get this luster.
Just the luster.
This is the luster of a river early in the morning.
The audience, just like the morning fishermen,
have the luster dancing in the black mirrors of their pupils.
Bouncy and pleasantly heavy the swing music is playing.
In it - the elasticity of a fishing rod
and the pleasant heaviness of a resilient fish.
And the excitement of a fisherman overcomes you you.

Then you distinguish the saxophones, the trombones.
You see the trumpets,
the drummer,
the double bass,
the grand piano.
You find the guitar and the banjo.

See how the saxophones sit in a row.
Voracious. Sit and devour their saxes.
Their mouths are stuffed with saxes.
They are hot and burn their fingers.
Those with a better appetite have very little left.

Above is the trombone brigade.
The trombonists have a very long right arm.
The left one with time will most likely die off.
Their suits are tailored with different sleeve lengths.
The trombonists are something in between the trumpeters
and the chimney sweeps,
and you have to give them credit -
their trombones are shined exceptionally well.

Next is the trumpet row.
The trumpeters are the glass blowers.
Getting red from the strain
they blow the mutes out of the bells of their trumpets.
The mutes are of different sizes.
When one is finished
they detach it carefully from their instrument and put it down.
You can't see how many manufactured mutes there are next to their feet.

And the grand piano is like the smile of a black man.

The drummer with all his belongings –
drums, cymbals, pedals, brushes, drumsticks –
is like a Middle-Eastern peddler.

The guitarists dance while playing.
Their colorful guitars are like their dressed up girlfriends
they are dancing with.

The double bass is a violin from the land of the giants.
God knows how it got here.
The big one is pinched mercilessly.

There is also this huge saxophone.
It sounds like a piece of antique oak furniture that’s being moved.
There is a man attached to it.
Serving.

The saxophone improvisation.
Fragile and soft like a peeled banana.
The saxophonist's neck is twisted, and one cheek is swollen
as if he had a gumboil.

The trombonists are a bunch of clowns.
They are hopeless - nobody takes them seriously.
In their moves you can see a clownish thumb-my-nose-at-you,
unrolling elephant tusk,
and passes of the sword-swallowers.

The pianist is rinsing his hands in the creek full of trout.
When it jumps you can even see how it's curving its back.

The trumpets are here by accident.
You can't stop wondering why they are here.
It seems like any minute now they will get up and take off
to where the space is wide open with the horizon
and clouds and mountains and eagles soar
and where no one will choke them with mutes
and where the band leader won't give them a look
demanding pianissimo.

The saxophone is like a cobra crawling out of a magician's mouth.

One-winged grand piano.

The double bass has female curves.
Such a big-boned woman with a man's voice.
A double woman.

The drummer is a mechanic, a stoker, a self-motivated go-getter.
All these multiple cymbals, drums, brushes, pedals are self-made.
Eager to give everything for the sake of the band,
and devoted to it completely.
The conductor and musicians are slightly shocked by his enthusiasm
but still allow him to use his wacky mechanics.
At times he himself is still a bit confused by it.
But the set looks so impressive and he is so happy to show it off!
This one is the happiest of all!

The band leader is a multi-handed Hindu god
throwing lightning bolts with his glasses.

The double bass player is an amateur, formerly a jazz-club regular,
a fanatic who made the band
thanks to his dedication, luck and talent.
Now he is playing with his heroes.
His face is always turned toward them.
Sometimes - what the heck - he's given a solo even though
his hollow piccicato is more valuable as the foundation of the band's sound.
But that's okay - let the guy have some fun.
Oh! How he treasures the attention of the audience,
how he gives them everything he's got!
When he is playing a coda,
he looks at his idol, the saxophonist
and happily notices that he is looking at him.

The grand piano is a half-opened can of music.

You close your eyes and begin to submerge into improvisation.
In your own way, the way of a saxophone,
you let go,
let it out
stuttering nervously
and breaking away into falsetto.
I hear your desire to break the square bonds of rhythm,
to get rid of them.
You are feverishly pacing inside this cage.
The drummer is the priest of rhythm
and its boss-man too.
You hear his big key chain clinking rhythmically.
You know he has a key to your cage on it.
He'll never unlock it though, never let you out.
And you know it.
Never mind that you are ready to pay any price
you'll never get out.
But you are still trying.
You can pretend to be anemic, dragging your notes
as if you could care less about the merciless rhythm.
I know how it ends,
it's the same every time.
But now you are outdoing yourself
and even I am confused:
this is insane!
The square is ending!
But at the very last moment
you rush to catch the accompaniment.
You are scared to death to lose it.
Once you catch up with everybody else and play together for a while
you start to get annoyed,
you are suffering
on the Procrustean bed of total rhythm.
The saxophone improvisation is crucified on a cross of rhythm.

Hey, Mr. Trombone! It's your turn!
You’re trying to pull off something like a saxophone or a trumpet.
But your descent is showing.
Even though you roll your eyes ecstatically,
you hold the slider with your pinky gracefully sticking out,
your improvisation is linear and awkward.
You can hear it yourself.
You know you won't get anywhere close.
You get mad and pull your slider all the way out,
and there is militarism in your voice
with the sound of the diving bombers and a howling siren.
And it's getting scary.

The trumpet improvisation.
The eyes are closed.
It's like he is asleep and having a nightmare.
Sweaty forehead is made out of the same metal as the trumpet.
Swollen lips are from metallic kisses.
Callous lips.
The women die from their kisses,
like Don Juan from the Stone Guest's handshake.
The trumpet gets red-hot, screaming in passion and trembling.
Three short sausage-fingers sink the valves.
They are tenacious though surface right back up.
The neck is swelling and getting red.
He keeps heating up the trumpet but satisfaction doesn't come.
A pleasant drizzle of applause barely cools off
his forehead and the trumpet.

And then there was the alto-sax again.
You ran up to the edge of the stage with a vaguely arising phrase
afraid of miscarrying it. That's why you'd start to blow it out in this world while you were still running. To get a better feel for it you closed your eyes. The phrase was turning out great. It was a joy.
And you like a madman dragged it around for a long time. The phrase was alive, it was changing and improving. The darkness of the auditorium was reminiscent of a night sky scattered with twinkling eyes-stars.
You stood at the very edge and confessed to these stars.

Hey, Alto!
There he is, your colleague sitting there in the band.
He too used to run up for the improvisation,
full of energy struggling in the cage of rhythm.
Just like you.
Look at him now:
a wise man sitting there with the rest of them
as if the mouthpiece he's got is not for a saxophone
but for a hookah.
He just sits there puffing away.
Hey you! Musician! Can you hear me?
Don't turn your sax into a hookah!
Explore!
When you’re exploring you are free.

A long drum solo.
He is a Greek warrior
running from Marathon to Athens
with the great news of victory.
He's in full gear:
a helmet, a shield, a javelin, a saber, and armor.
His stuff is sparkling in the sun.
The sweat is getting in his eyes,
his heart is pounding in his chest from the effort and joy.
Athens is already on the horizon.
Or is it?
No! It's that same battle at Marathon!

Already the saxophonists have licked their mouthpieces.
The trombonists have jerked the sliders of their trombones
checking their agility.
The trumpeters have brought the trumpets to their mouths
stretched into a smile.
And the pulse, preserved by the drummer,
is handed over to the entire band.
And every instrument accepts it
and enthusiastically interprets it in their own way.

And the music is playing.
And swinging lightly
the beautiful flower is rising.

Jazz is playing.
 
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