Published 5:17 pm, Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Everyone has been forever telling me, you must get over to the SFJazz Center right there a block from Van Ness with all the other performing arts venues. It’s got great acoustics; it’s got great performers; it’s a jewel of music presentation on the pillow of San Francisco.
So last weekend I went over. Four of us drove over the new Bay Bridge, and we decided to think about what we thought about the new span. I quite liked it, but then I’m easy; I like big civil engineering projects. As to the aesthetics, well, I figure it will take five years to get those issues sorted out.
Others in the car thought the bridge was tacky. I can see that; those light poles are a little odd. But I do think that time is a crucial ingredient in bridge appreciation.
You have to live with a bridge for a while. You have to know how well it works. Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater is a stunning home, but the roof leaks. I suspect living there was something of a nightmare. (Wright designed really uncomfortable chairs, too. How great that everything looked good at least.)
I suspect that if the new bridge tends to shimmy in high winds, or if the pavement buckles and huge cracks appear in the road, our perception of the bridge will be different than it is now. Knowing that it’s shoddy in design or construction would make a big difference in aesthetics.
That’s why a bridge is different from a painting. A painting serves no practical function. We do not care if it shakes in a high wind.
Anyway, the Jazz Center. You really must go there. You can go online right this minute to www.sfjazz.org and get a calendar of events. There’s something for every taste - this is big-tent jazz. We went over to see Dorado Schmitt and the Django All-Stars, one of the more conservative programming choices.
The acoustics in the auditorium are splendid. The sound is crisp. It did not hurt that the music was outstanding. There was an accordion player who could improvise like a demon. It’s a really great place to hear music, and yes, yes, you really must go, as people were forever telling me.
It did make me think of the jazz clubs where I spent a part of my not-wasted youth. There was a time when Broadway was lined with them, and all the greats came through. The acoustics were often terrible, the chairs were occasionally wobbly, the drinks were sometimes watered.
Raffish is a word you might use. Much of the raffish behavior happened in the tiny, ill-lit, Lysol-smelling dressing rooms. I did not go backstage at the Jazz Center, but I assume the accommodations were better than those at, say, the Jazz Workshop.
It was very Steinbeckian, the “Cannery Row” Steinbeck. The girls from the strip clubs would come down after work to catch the last set; by that time, the musicians were just playing for each other or for the golden ideal of improvisation. I stood in a corner and watched, unable to drink legally, my very presence there a misdemeanor. I loved every minute of it.
Jazz no longer comes to clubs. There are cabarets where jazz is performed, and very well indeed, but wordless quartets and quintets and big bands are not found in concert halls, when they can be found at all. Jazz is now being curated. It is being preserved, as it deserves to be. It makes me a little sad that very few people under the age of 30 have heard Miles Davis play.
But at least at the Jazz Center he would have sold out the joint, made decent money, and been treated with respect. Such was not the case when jazz was on the uncurated fringes, pushed on by audience enthusiasm, creating a whole subculture that was quickly appropriated by rock.
There were a lot of drugs in jazz then, and a lot of drugs in rock, and that was not a coincidence. Romantic legends die hard. Now a musician is just as likely to be clean and sober as brilliant but drunk. (Most musicians, of course, are neither clean and sober nor brilliant but drunk; also true of most writers. The arts, what a circus, eh?)
After the show, we ate at South, the restaurant in the Jazz Center. New Orleans-style cooking with local ingredients; creamy grits, yum. We had a complete entertainment experience, from bridge watching to coffee drinking. Good times.