Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Son of a Mother, That Was Some Big Bottom

Oh, but there has been a dearth of squealy fangirl posts this summer, hasn't there?  The planets just didn't align properly for me, I guess.  Some summers are like that.  But last night I finally got to a show - and I'm seeing another tonight.  Feast or famine around here, kids. Feast or famine.

Yesterday was Tom's birthday, and months ago he had heard that Return to Forever would be playing our town that night.  Stanley Clarke is one of Tom's earliest jazz influences, so his presence, in our town, on Tom's birthday felt sort of like kismet.

A band like that does not really require a warm-up act.  Tell a certain fanbase that Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White, along with Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Gambale are going to be on the same stage and - believe me - they're warm enough.  Tom is firmly in that fanbase.  I generally sit on the fence, but I have to tell you - they blew my mind.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  There was indeed a warm-up band, and that band was Zappa Plays Zappa.

Now ZPZ, we reminded ourselves, is a tribute band.  Tribute bands are just dedicated cover bands, right?  Not generally my cup of tea.  This one gains a little credibility because it was put together by Frank's son, Dweezil.  You may remember him from MTV.  I know I did.  It's hard to forget a boy named Dweezil.  Now Dweezil is an accomplished musician in his own right, but this show isn't about that.  This show is about Frank Zappa and his music.  It is a legacy.

And it was cool as shit.

One thing the junior and senior Zappa have in common is the ability to attract and surround themselves with really really high caliber musicians.  The show was tight, the music was fun, and - oh - did I mention that we were third row, center?  'Cause we totally were. Yes, I think you could say that we were reasonably warmed up.

As the roadies took the stage to tear down the ZPZ equipment and set up the Return to Forever equipment, Dweezil remained at the front of the stage, greeting fans, signing autographs, posing for pictures, and generally presenting himself as a helluva nice guy.

The crowd shifted between shows.  A lot of folks had come just to see ZPZ and left before RtF took the stage.  There was an influx of new folks who arrived late - the purely jazz/fusion crowd.  They intimidated me a little bit, as hardcore jazz folks tend to do.  There is definitely an attitude and it makes me feel dumb and simple and superficial.  They know music - or pretend to - whereas I just feel it.

Maybe you'd rather hear an overview of the concert from them.  It would assuredly be more informative.  (Maybe we can coerce Tom into leaving some commentary.....)  Right here, though, you're stuck with me and my feeeeeeeeelings.

They took the stage and the excitement in the venue was palpable.  We were in the presence of jazz gods.  I don't know jazz, but I know that.  And if I hadn't known it before, I would've known it then - the air was thick with the feeling of worship.

They hadn't taken the stage for very long before I got it.  This was the real deal.

About midway through their first song I found myself thinking about my high school band directors, my college musician-friends, my husband and of course, my dad.  All of those people had, in one way or another, led me to the place where I was able to appreciate this and I was grateful.  I felt their ghosts - or - perhaps it would be more palatable to those of them who are alive and well and perhaps even reading this - their spirits - surrounding me - whispering, "See?  This is what I was talking about."

And then Mr. Clarke sat down with his upright.  Tom held his breath.  He knew what was coming.  I didn't.  Now let me remind you that my husband and daughter are both bass players and that it is not unusual at all for one of them to call to the other to watch some virtuoso bass performance on YouTube.  I have seen and heard some seriously righteous bass playing.  I have never - and I can't emphasize this enough - NEVER - seen or heard anything even remotely similar to what Stanley Clarke was doing with that instrument.  "Holy SHIT!" I said, leaning back into my seat.  Tom registered my shift in position and smiled at me - the way a seasoned veteran smiles at a new recruit.  "I don't even know what that IS!"

THAT, my friends, is jazz.

I promise I won't get all pompous and superior on all of ya'll who haven't reached this stage of enlightenment.  But I DO have a feeling that I'll be spending some time chasing that high. 

And those who have gone before me are folding their arms over their chests and smiling smugly.  "Told you so."


Eva Gallant said...

So glad you enjoyed the concert! Great post!

Katie Gates said...

So much passion in this post! And while I'm here, I happened to see your bookshelf. Have you read A.M. Homes' Music for Torching? It has a radical plotline, but I also remember there being a jazz feel to the narrative.

Rosa said...

Wish I could have seen this all--from Dweezil's first note to Stanley's last. Love Zappa, love good jazz bass. Very jealous but I'm glad you enjoyed it.