Jazz makes me uncomfortable.
At Shag Frenzy, a retro music dance night, I can shake it for hours. At a dingy hall featuring three live rock bands, I can jump right into a pit. If I go to the symphony, I sit very quietly and applaud when appropriate.
At jazz shows, I don’t know what to do with myself.
With the smoking ban in bars and restaurants in Connecticut, this makes it even more challenging, because back in the day, when in doubt, I could always just sit there and smoke. (My next blog post will be about my dozen or so unhealthy sporadic habits) Now, who knows? If I had a cell phone, I could compulsively check for messages. If I had a higher tolerance for alcohol, I could drink wine all night. It’s too dark for writing. There’s also a strange in-between atmosphere. Some of the audience sits rigidly, only breaking from perfect posture to applaud after solos or to cast hard glares at latecomers. Others bob their heads to the rhythm. I see some audience drift off to sleep, apparently comforted immensely by the squealing horns. A few might dance, or try to dance. Jazz can be tricky to dance to, but if I can bust moves to Sugarfist, then I should be able to adapt, right? The problem is that there’s no clear set of norms in jazz for me to either respect or rebel against. This is not a matter of jazz creating an “anything goes” environment; it’s like improv, where some nebulous rules do exist, but they are unrecognizable to anyone but insiders.
The Studio @ Billings Forge has been open since January 16th, when Margaux Hayes with Brewha Brown in Three Acts performed in what is being called “a multi-purpose community space with a mission to nourish creativity and promote cultural exchange and learning through the performing and visual arts.”
A few months ago, a writer friend of mine from Massachusetts was asking about what kinds of performance spaces existed for poets in Hartford. I stumbled. Well, there’s the Monday Night Love Jones at The Russell. There’s an underground open mic that’s relocated several times and possibly non-existent now. There’s a few once-a-month open mics, but not exclusive to the spoken word. If you’re a poet, you know what that means– musicians are higher up on the food chain, and poets are used to fill awkward spaces, and are usually ignored while the guitarists tune. So far, The Studio @ Billings Forge has hosted a few evenings’ worth of dedicated literary events. As a writer, I appreciate the written word being treated as its own artform, and not as a warm-up act for musicians.
I already explained my awkward relationship with Jazz; I also have a long-standing Friday night semi-obligation that I try not to break with often. On Friday evening, I finally attended a performance at The Studio. Trumpeter Jason Palmer played with his quintet to a nearly full house. Did this one night alleviate all of my issues with jazz? No, of course not. But there was space in the back of the room where one could dance without being stared at by everyone in the audience.
The Studio is next to the Firebox Restaurant on Broad Street. The website for The Studio is still being developed, so in the meantime, you can join their Facebook group to be kept informed about upcoming events.