Jazz is best served live. If it’s raw, even better.
I always knew that and that’s how I usually like it but I didn’t know to what extent until Roy (Hargrove) passed.
I just couldn’t (still can’t) get over the fact that I would never hear Roy play live; never to experience the joy and excitement Roy sparked every time he put his mouth to the horn. It’s inexplicable and dependable and addictive and singular and rare. That feeling of something swelling in the room. It is intimate and communal all at the same time and it feels like there is just me and the music in the world but then I am connected to something fundamental. My head bopping. My grin so wide. And my heart is full. Full with good stuff. That joyful liveliness that makes me so glad to be there. It just felt good. Like first gulp of water after a workout. Like slumping onto a clean and warm bed at the end of a long day. Like an embrace from an absolute favorite person. I know that it is gonna feel good and it always does and it never fails. That’s how it was to hear Roy Hargrove live.
That feeling cannot be found in any of Roy’s recordings. Yes, he had some really good albums and I enjoy listening to them (especially now) but nothing compares to Roy in the flesh. I can’t find that thing on any recordings, thing that vibrates the clubs and concert halls and made us all soar. Roy did that. He commanded all of us with his horn and his energy and we were happy to oblige. So much is missing in the recordings and videos and whatever. The thing that makes music shimmer and dance. You can’t feel that. Recorded version of Roy just makes me remember and trace the memories of how he lifted us. It’s just not quite. Compare to the live concerts, recordings are like shadows. If someone comes to Roy anew at this point, s/he will never experience him live, which is almost like you don’t experience him at all. If you ever heard him live, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
So then that got me thinking about all the artists whom I knew only through their recordings: Miles, Trane, Monk, Duke, and the list goes on. I didn’t get to hear Joe Henderson live, either. I didn’t go to see Oscar Peterson when I had the chance because I was broke. I thought I knew them but I realized that I don’t know them at all. I don’t know the most crucial part of their artistic existence. In some cases, their whole existence. The thing that cannot be recorded is the thing that makes jazz. You just have to be there. There is no other way. I guess Buddy Bolden was onto something with his refusal to being recorded. He feared that the recording machine will suck his soul dry: he was not all wrong. The process can take the soul away from the music.
I was lucky to have experienced some extraordinary artists live: Abbey Lincoln, Sam Rivers, Jimmy Scott, Shirley Horn, and Clark Terry to name a few. One of my favorite moments at The Jazz Gallery was when Clark Terry and Roy talked to each other in “Mumbles” during the set. Just writing that sentence floods me with tidal wave of emotions and general happiness. Nothing was premeditated and music took the shape the way it did for whatever reasons and it happened and then poof; all that beauty and joy and bounce was shared, enjoyed, and then returned to where it came from. And to me, that is the huge part this music I love, Jazz. To be truly oneself through the music, right here and right now. A meditation in sound. No worries about what might happen nor dwelling over what happened.
Some of the best concerts that happened at The Jazz Gallery were not recorded because artists wished to not leave the trace. Mulgrew Miller once played this set, which I totally regret not recording but I had to respect his wish. There is no recording of it but I was there and it shook something in me and it mutated my DNA. The music that touches me rearranges me a little bit every time. I don’t know if a recorded music can change you like that, like fundamentally. And for that reason, I’m so glad that I’m a purveyor of live music. Yes, yes, I know that you can listen to everything online without leaving your home and they will probably make you feel things and make you happy and what not. But they will not alter you the way live music can and it will not connect you to the source the way live music can. At least that is what I know.