Amblin' Alameda: Live music

Amblin' Alameda: Live music

Morton Chalfy

A little-noted development of modern times is the ubiquity of music. Ear buds have sprouted from billions of ears, every commercial establishment plays background music, all entertainment is underpinned and annotated with musical accompaniment and most homes and many workplaces are constantly filled with it. Its development is a wonderful thing as music usually keeps our spirits up (except when it helps express our grief).

But music-making goes back into the dim mists of unrecorded history, and music is still made by the hands and mouths and lungs and lips and sometimes feet and other parts of the human body, and live music is still the most exciting music there is. Nothing is quite like being in the same room with a group of musicians who are enjoying their work. The music fills the air, the musicians smile and bob and tap and the audience bounces and weaves and nods in response. Rarely does a group of people find themselves in such sync. Synchronous and syncopatic.

In early March my sweetie and I drove down to Monterey to spend two days attending the Jazz Bash, a traditional jazz (or trad jazz to aficionados) festival. Starting at 9 in the morning and going on informally late into the night, the festival is a celebration of trad jazz, the early American song book and a smattering of really modern stuff, you know, from the '40s. One could wander from room to room in this snazzy hotel and listen to one group after another strumming, picking, sawing (once on a real saw), drumming, washboarding and otherwise bringing music to life from the widest variety of instruments.

The youngest musicians were in their teens, the majority in late middle age and in some bands in their 70s and above. The audience was overwhelmingly white-haired and moving slow. The music is a century old and its fans are slowly disappearing into nursing homes and cemeteries. The musicians continue to teach the genre but since the audiences haven't gotten any younger, its future is seriously in doubt. But not its present.

As old as they are, the audience members get into tune and rhythm with the music, tap their feet, nod their heads and sing along. The musicians are clearly enjoying the music they're playing and the reception they receive. For several hours a day the audience of ancients become the fans they were in their youth and the movement to the music reprises the dancing of their younger bodies.

A group of quite accomplished dancers in their 20s and 30s showed up in period costume and proceeded to “knock our socks off” with their lively dance interpretations. The sounds of the music and the rhythms expressed by the dancers combined to have us all on the dance floor with them, at least in our imaginations. It must be said that many attendees, old and older, show themselves to be accomplished dancers and swing to virtually every song.

The connection that a good song played by good musicians in view and earshot of an avid audience makes between the two groups is a wonderfully human event. The communication is so pure, from string directly to ear, connecting one heart to another in a way that no other medium can do. Music is emotion, and the emotion shared by players and listeners is joy at its best and pleasure at its worst.

It didn't make us younger, but for a day and a half, in company with audience and musicians, we felt younger - and that's no small feat.