By Sarah Thomas
I will admit it right away- I have never been to an actual jazz club before. It is probably not one of my prouder admissions, especially coming from a family of jazz and big band musicians. When we began our hunt for a jazz performance to attend and observe, I was a little apprehensive that I could find anything in the college student’s dwindling budget, after checking local jazz club cover charges and their additional minimums. My story ends as a light at the end of a long tunnel- the FSU Club Downunder’s Jazz Lounge Night.
The event was held right at the student union’s club, conveniently walking distance to my apartment. I was informed that there would be gourmet cheese, fruit, and drinks, and best of all- admission was completely free. I arrived at fifteen minutes before the nighttime sets began, and walked right in without any lines. There were black-draped round tables and chrome chairs set all over the top and bottom decks, each surrounding a stage bathed in cool blue and red-hot lighting. The room was very quiet, even with the sounds of dozens of people holding personal conversations. I went directly for the free food, as any college student would, and then selected a table on the left side, right next to the stage. I studied the stage- a beautiful black lacquered baby grand piano on the right, a row of three low hand microphones along the front, a standard drum set on the left, and a propped-up deep wooden bass in center.
The first set began a little after 9:30pm, with the hollers and applause of the crowd as soon as the performers stepped on the stage, snapping their fingers to a standard 4/4 time. They went straight into their first song, which included alto and tenor saxophones, trombone, bass, drums, the piano, and trumpet. Each instrument had their moment to shine, introducing themselves as an improvisational solo, and the bass continued throughout the piece as a heartbeat, keeping the room pulsing together. By listening to the beat of the bass, the instruments followed a typical style of improvisation:
Improvisation can involve both how one decorates or embellishes a given tune and how one can make up new music or new words on the spot, as the occasion calls for… a way of building up pieces is the call-and-response between a leader and a group or between two groups. (McCalla, 2)
One of my favorite things to do was watch the crowd. It was quite a mix of people- students, professors, and alumni; some dressed causally and others stylish; some listening intently and others holding quiet conversations. With all of the dissimilarity, I could not find a single person escaping from the beat of the music; they tapped their feet, nodded their heads, beat their fingers on the table, and just outright danced. Many would call out to the musicians along with their applause, as was the case after the alto saxophone player accented his sliding improvisation solo with a choppy and elevated diversion in pitch and rhythm. This performer played for my favorite group of the night, a jazz band under the direction of Rodney Jordan.
Rodney Jordan’s ensemble took on a full spectrum of jazz music. They performed a piece entitled “Strollin’” by Horace Silver, which was very reminiscent of the early Big Band Swing era of the thirties and forties (listen to "Strollin", George Shearing Qunitet). Backstage Sally by Wayne Shorter was the next song, and I loved the contrast- this piece had a stronger beat, the volume was maximized on all instruments, and it had a cooler blues flavor ("Backstage Sally", Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers).
FSU College of Music Professor Rodney Jordan spoke after the group’s performance. He explained that jazz is a music of freedom, liberation, and even oppression. It encompasses so many facets- the pulse of the Caribbean, the spirit of the Baptist American South, the Mississippi Delta blues, the Creole musicians of Color, minstrel music of the Southern plantations, the brass bands and symphonies of New Orleans, and so many more. It is truly, as Jordan describes, “An American art form turned global”. Jazz clubs that provided the social atmosphere of the ‘30s can still be seen in all major cities of the world even today. Judging from the diversity I encountered at this experience at the Club Downunder’s Jazz Lounge, I would say that there are still many people excited by the sights and sounds of an evening of jazz.
*While I could not add to my site, I would suggest listening to some of the Rodney Jordan Combo's actual recordings at the Warren D. Allen Music Library on FSU's campus. One of my favorite recordings is from Dohnanyi Recital Hall, October 12, 2010. (MUS CD 21125)
|Work Cited can be found on main page entitled "Live Jazz"|