Jazz musicians supreme - Polar Bear - at the Westminster Reference Library
I’ve clearly been lucky. This would be my T-shirt slogan for the month of February for many reasons. I found myself thinking this, albeit each time with a different slant, first whilst listening to some live jazz in East London last week; again when I compared my workload for the week with the equivalent week in any year of my life so far (the luck had run out); and again when Lindsey over at The Write Words passed on a stylish blogger award (Thank you!).
I believe that luck is a matter of perception, but the first and third of my lucky-feeling moments also took me back to an issue I first properly grappled with during an undergraduate course on aesthetics. This revolves around ideas of connoisseurship and discernment. David Hume, back in the 1700s, argued that we can only become good judges of art if we combine a certain amount of sensitivity with plenty of experience, or in his words, exercise “strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice.”
Sure, a ‘strong sense’ might be required to be able to discern between standards of coffee, wine, jazz, writing (all relevant for me, anyway!), but it was the ‘perfected by comparison’ bit that I was thinking about when I listened to a quartet of players whilst drinking Chilean merlot far too fast. It was the first time for me that a jazz band I was listening to didn’t quite cut it, and so I set about hazily analysing why I felt underwhelmed.
Was it that the pianist felt a little heavy-handed, even in the midst of a wistful, melodic cadenza? Was it that the saxophonist seemed so terrified of taking his eyes off the sheet music pinned in front of him that he forgot to listen? Maybe I was frustrated that the clearly talented drummer never had a chance to shine, and barely deviated from a foot-tappable rhythm.
I realised somewhere during the second bottle of merlot that it was only comparison with the superlative bands I had seen lately that led me to find fault with the performance. There was some quality, of confidence, idiosyncrasy, the naturalness that only comes with years of practice, that was missing in this young group of players. At some point, I had finally attended enough jazz gigs to begin to discern between truly soul-stirring stuff and the music of those still travelling towards that artistic destination.
It reminded me of a pearl of wisdom passed around at university, that one should never drink expensive wine as it would render one’s usual thirst-quenchers undrinkable by comparison.
I am now challenged to pass on my blog award to 15 recently discovered bloggers. I consider myself a novice in blogging world, especially compared to bloggers like Lindsey, and haven’t spent nearly enough time exploring the words and worlds out there on other people’s blogs. I like to think I’ll spot quality when I look, but in the meantime I am gathering nominations for a stylish blogger award. Engage your connoisseurship, those of you who know better than me, and lead me to pastures new, so I can hone my judgement and discover some great bloggers at the same time!