I like experiential presents. They don’t take up shelf space or add to the the clutter of twenty-first-century living. They can be enjoyed over and over again, moments relived, memories recalled. I like jazz, too. So a Christmas present of two tickets to see jazz legend Dianne Reeves play in Budapest was a good choice. Thanks MI.
I’d be hard-pushed to describe what Reeves does on stage, lacking as I do the jazz vocabulary to do her justice. So I’ll borrow from her website: it’s a ‘melding of R&B, Latin and pop elements within the framework of 21st Century jazz.’ Yep – I caught that meld. And l marvelled at her scat singing – ‘vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, and nonsense syllables’ that I’d seen Ella Fitzgerald nail with Mel Torme on video once, a video that I managed to find.
Years and years and years ago, a cousin of mine went through a phase of singing everything. And I mean everything. Ask her what had happened in school or what she wanted for dinner or what she was going to wear that day and you’d get verse after verse after verse delivered in a sing-song voice that was cute at first…but quickly became annoying. While I can’t imagine Reeves ever being annoying, I can imagine her singing all the time. She sang her hello, she sang through the usual ‘great to be back’ bits, and she sang through her band intro. She sang it all. And she improvised. And although Reeves ain’t quite Ella, she’s a mean scat singer. With her quartet of super-talented musicians [Romero Lubambo on guitar, Peter Martin on piano, Reginald Veal on bass, and Terreno Gully on drums], she says they treat the stage not as a stage but as a playground. Every jazz musician gives what she calls a ‘jazz sensibility’ to the songs they were raised on. She mentioned Chicago, and Stevie Wonder, and Fleetwood Mac. And while I was wondering what she meant by jazz sensibility, she showed us with her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. [The cover we heard tonight was a lot jazzier than this, from 2015.]
She came back onstage for an encore – and then she got serious. Her short commentary on the state of the world ended with her asking us to stay lifted, to hold on to our consciousness, to our humanity. She asked us to be a light in the world. She finished with a cover of Mali Music’s Beautiful, and when the chorus came [I put my lighter in the air for you], there wasn’t one cigarette lighter to be seen; it was all mobile phone flashlights. So not cool, people. So not cool.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I officially belong to another generation. I’m at the ‘back in my day’ stage where I have legitimate reflections of a life that my teenage nephews would see as fodder for history books. And as Reeves sang her heart out, a little piece of mine broke off. I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia that rode in on the back of a series of flashbacks to gigs I’d been to in my early 20s, where cigarette lighters were de rigueur and having a Zippo lighter meant not having burned grooves on your thumb. But no more, I thought, no more. That life is done. Reeves’ final words – one note, one voice, one people, one world, one love – though poignant, were lost on me. This one will take some time to process.