As some of you may know, this past summer I travelled across the US by train making stops in cities as I went. In a two week long trip I visited five cities so, as you may expect, this resulted in almost whistle-stop experiences in these cities, with certain elements of the places having more of an effect than others. In Chicago and New Orleans that effects was music, more specifically – jazz.
I have never been much of a jazz enthusiast. Honestly, I think something gets lost between the transfer of the live act and the recorded product. All I had heard, if I’m being honest, when I listened to recorded jazz was a lot of noise and different instruments doing their own thing. Listening to jazz live though – that is something else entirely.
In Chicago I caught the beginning of a jazz festival. This is when the love began – sitting in the Millennium Park, having the music wash over me. The festival was an international one, and the band were from South Africa. They had amazing songs about Nelson Mandela, sung by singers with such beautiful voices and the music was so… smooth. They were just practising – the festival started properly the next day, these were the free practice sessions – but that made it even more exhilarating; they would try different things, not playing it safe, going off the script, laughing together if it went a bit wrong. The whole atmosphere was just so chilled, and there was such a wide variety of people gathered, from kids chasing each other around to old couples sitting together, holding hands.
But nothing in Chicago could prepare me for New Orleans. I love this city. Frenchmen’s Street is one of my favourite streets in the world. Unlike Bourbon Street which is insane (and more than a bit disgusting), Frenchman’s is a lot more relaxed, with cool little bars, small clubs and markets where you can buy trinkets and artwork. Yet, what I absolutely loved was how there was just amazing music playing on the streets, with crowds gathered around the musicians, so close to the artists. There was one group, my favourite, that even had a tuba player – I hate to think where he lived to have to drag that with him all the time. The music just brought everyone together, and seemed to give the city an incredibly relaxed feel. Jazz could be found everywhere – I saw jazz musicians by the river, in the market place, in burrito restaurants; the music happily invaded the city.
My time in America – in these two cities especially – has made me love jazz (live jazz, I still can’t quite love the recorded version). I would love to go back to both cities for longer than just a few days (and with more money!) so I could spend more time hunting for smaller, more intimate settings in Chicago instead of a music festival, and find the really crazy jazz in New Orleans, where people just let go completely and play something truly amazing and unique. Until then, however, I’ll just have to search out jazz at home, and anywhere else I travel.
How do you feel about jazz? Do you think there’s a difference between the live and recorded final piece? Let me know!