Monday, February 23, 2009

Jazz, 'Round Midnight

We went to Le Caveau de la Huchette with no idea of what to expect. We were looking for jazz clubs online and this was one of the few that we found in the Fifth arrondisment that we were going to scope out. All we had was the address. It turned out to be a great success.

I’m a relatively accomplished musician. I’ve been playing various instruments since kindergarten, including (in chronological-ish order,) the violin, mandolin, bass, clarinet, tenor saxophone, trombone, guitar, piano and ukulele. I played jazz trombone throughout high school, and I am now a member of the LSJUMB (which I wouldn’t consider one of my greater musical achievements). All that said, I think I have a pretty solid appreciation for music, particularly regarding jazz.

I’m still not sure who was performing when we went to the club. It was a four-man combo—tenor, piano, bass and drums. They started their first set a little before eleven, just after we arrived, with a song I recognized but have thusly forgotten. By my first impression I was not impressed. It seemed as though the front man (tenor sax) had not warmed up and his tone was quite atrocious. As the set progressed, he mellowed out, but I can’t say I was a big fan of the harsh tone.

Personally, I’m used to clubs like Yoshi’s and Jazz at Pearl’s, where the point of going is to see the musician. You could tell from the set up that this club was not about the musicians. When we went downstairs (where the band was performing), I was surprised to find that the greater part of the club was taken up by a dance floor surrounded by cushioned benches along the walls. Oddly, though the club was piping in swing through the speakers and the benches were relatively crowded, nobody was dancing. From my experience, this was somewhat strange. Typically, if there’s a dance floor, people are dancing, otherwise there’re tables taking up the space. It felt somewhat awkward, because the space immediately in front of the riser was completely empty. It seemed to me that the put more focus on the dance floor than the band. This became clear when couples flooded the dance floor in the long breaks between sets.

What I realized after a few songs was that we were not at a jazz club to appreciate virtuosic musical performance. One couple started dancing on the second song, and from that point on, there was almost always at least two or three couples on the dance floor. It seemed pretty apparent that people went there for the atmosphere and the live music. Le Caveau de la Huchette had a particularly interesting atmosphere because it’s in a really old building that (according to the website) used to be a courtroom, prison and execution chamber. It was a great place to go to hang out and listen to some live music and have a few drinks and chat, but it was not at all what I would consider a concert hall.

The thing that interested me most about Le Caveau de la Huchette was the different focus. I feel like when people go to listen to live jazz in the Bay Area, it’s to listen to the band. People sit at their tables and whisper tidbits of conversation while the band is playing, and clap politely after solos and at the end of songs. From my experience in Paris thus far, live music is for the audience, not the musicians. It’s a nice change of pace.

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