Thursday, September 22, 2005

All That Jazz
Backtracking before the fall I'm having Sherman and Mr Peabody and their Wayback Machine take us back to last Friday night in Shenzhen where I joined my friend James and a motley group of his students and other expats for a ``Happy Birthday to Shenzhen'' party.
James has undergone three identity changes and web site themes since arriving in Shenzhen. I first knew him as ``The Barefoot Fool'', a moniker he assumed after traipsing on foot across much of Japan dressed as an Asian pilgrim/monk of sorts. Not bad for a native Angelino and someone who once dated Cybill Shepherd.
Then he became ``The Temple Guy'' determined to detail and chronicle every temple in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. I think that's still a work in progress, but he most recently assumed a role as ``The Laughing Buddha'' (whom he somewhat physically resembles, see: a role that combines his passion for education, organizing and socializing with what I'm convinced is his yearning, burning ambition to be the male version of Julie, the Love Boat cruise director.
As such, he's organized weekly theme parties, events and walks under The Laughing Buddha label. Participants get a laminated membership card and a weekly LB newsletter via e-mail. I took my ID card and stuck on a name tag and despite feeling a little like I'd just been inducted into some kind of Super Double Secret Kid's Treehouse Club, the atmosphere at the Jazz Club was generally adult and the usual international mix of Serbs, Americans, Israelis, Chinese, Spanish and Urantian (that would be ``Elvis'' the bartender with whom I spent several fruitless, tedious minutes trying to teach the basics of making a double Jack Daniels on the rocks -- and that's another blog for another time).
I was quickly buttonholed by ``Dora'' a budding artist and eager 20-year-old English language student of Mssr Buddha. She had a notebook and pen and quickly began peppering me with questions about American culture, heroes and geography after having me draw a crude sketch of the US and put an ``X`` on Colorado's approximate location.
``What-is-`jazz'?'' she finally asked in a rapid-fire, robotic delivery after carefully writing down my name, rank, serial number, e-mail address and blood type. ``Is-it-a-song-name? Or-is-it-a-musical style-Is-that-jazz?''
She pointed to a video screen on which a female Hong Kong Cantopop singer in radioactive orange hair was caterwauling and gyrating in a costume that resembled something from a 1964 Omaha, Nebraska senior prom, only as designed by Liberace on mushrooms.
``Um. No. That is not jazz. Jazz is not a song. It's a musical style -- America's true classical music. Actually, black Americans ...''
She cut me off.
``I-have-heard-that-those-who-are-intellectual-and-often-depressed-enjoy-to- listen-to-the-jazz-song-is-this-so? And-please-give-to-me-five-popular-jazz artists!''
It was then that I recalled Annie Hall and how Woody Allen's character invoked the real life Marshall McLuhan to help settle an argument. I longed for a New York friend, a jazz aficianado named Fred to instantly morph into the club and give Dora the what's-what and who on jazz.
But Fred was half a world away probably breaking for lunch, so I told her that many kinds of people liked jazz, not just suicidal intellectuals, that there were different styles of jazz and scrawled down, `Miles Davis, trumpet, Charlie Parker, saxophone, Dinah Washington, singer, Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet and Louis Armstrong, trumpet/singer.' To update her a bit I added a sixth, Diana Krall, singer, but drew a firm, inflexible line at Kenny G.
``He was from New Orleans,'' I said pointing to Armstrong's name. ``You know, the US typhoon Katrina? That city. Some people know it as the home of jazz. But maybe not anymore, I'm afraid.''
Finally the Hong Kong video cut out and a CD began. It sounded a lot like Charlie Parker doing East of the Sun. So I put on my Fred hat and decided to sound authoritative, despite my tenative uncertainity.
``That is jazz,'' I said. ``Him.'' I pointed to Parker's name. ``His nickname was `Bird.'''
She wrote it down carefully next to his name. ``Why-is-it-Bird?''
``It doesn't matter,'' I said. ``Just listen for awhile.''
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