A Reviewer’s Nightmare

It was a sad night. Sad to see an old friend who no longer has what it takes, surrounded by second or third rate musicians. He wears a suit jacket that looks slept in and no one on the bandstand smiles. He wanders on stage alone, and starts to play. I wonder if he begins his program solo, then works up to duo and builds on – then I realize he’s just warming up almost as if unaware he’s on stage. The pianist arrives, as does the sax. The drummer gets seated. He counts off and they begin just as the bassist walks on stage. They’ve begun anyway.

We hear the pop when the bass connects to the amplifier. What happened to “the presentation”? Why no announcement, no disembodied voice of introduction, no reverence, no respect. And now the flash bulbs are popping as Japanese and German tourists take pictures of a relic. The drummer is too busy, his licks inappropriate. The first tune ends and the voice finally says “Ladies and Gentlemen please welcome the Quintet.” He nods and then they hit, sounding more like they should have to start with. Maybe we can all forget the preamble?

They overplay, as if to cover up for him – instead they should provide a simple swinging support in which he could shine. Here he scuffles. The sax is masturbating and even he doesn’t get himself excited. The pianist doesn’t know the right chord changes, or maybe he just can’t find the right voicings. Everybody looks independently bored. He plays a ballad accompanied at first only by the piano and then the trio joins in – you can hear the poignancy and lyricism that marked his playing for all these years. Even if not all the notes are perfectly hit.

I would hate to have to review this show! What would I say? That he should have retired? That’s a death sentence. What would he do then? It’s like not wanting to see someone in the hospital, preferring to remember them in their better days, but now is when they need you.
The audience has no idea what it’s hearing – no clue as to whether it’s good or bad musically. Volume and velocity elicit the only major reactions. There’s no music education, no basis on which to form a discerning opinion. Perhaps, on nights like this, that’s a good thing.