Some day I need to return to Tokyo and walk its streets listening for the soundtrack that Haruki Murakami requires of the city, bebop jazz in Shinjuku, classical when wandering Asakusa and Senso-ji, and rock on the streets of Shibuya.
I have often been there, but my soundtrack was that of horns and the clatter of a pachinko parlor, or the pitched giggles of young girls walking hand in hand down Omotesando, dreaming of what they could buy in the shops of Aoyama.
Deep in a small forest, a murmuring brook reflects the shards of sun sliding through the crown of pines, its whispered wisdom infinitely more clear than the babbling of men holding the reins firmly in distant cities of power.
The birds know this well, sing of it in chorus, nature’s music, jazz scatting that the graying clouds absorb, an always willing audience, and the wind rushing by cries through the trees in the voice of long dead poets whose words offer a truth to which cloistered talking heads have grown deaf.
First published in Pages Penned in Pandemic , 2021
After years of going to live jazz I’ve honed my skills to a fine level. I still know next to nothing about the intricacies of the music, five years of classical piano and I barely understand Bach and Mozart.
But I know where to look, who bears watching in the combo, and it isn’t the trumpeter, he with his ballooning cheeks, some clownish bellows, or the bassist always striving hard to develop scoliosis, the sax player with the rubber spine swaying.
I watch the percussionists, piano and drums, careening from sadness to joy and hitting a glissando of emotions, the pianist staring at the keys, lecturing them on expectations for us well met, for her falling short, and the music slides into the background of life in the process of being lived.
It’s jazz, it’s a club, but there what once was is no more, there are no ashtrays on the table, overflowing early into the second set, no cloud of cigarette smoke descending from the too dark ceiling. There is no recognizable odor of a freshly lit Gaulloise, in the trembling fingers of a young man trying to look cool, trying not to cough on each inhalation, in the calm fingers of a young woman who you know speaks the fluent French of her homeland. It is none of those things but it is jazz, it is a club and in this city, now, it must suffice.
They ebb and flow like tides down the half-empty street from venue to venue, many with that lost look of years in the desert, driven on by promised the land of honey notes, the mother’s milk of jazz. The event passes flap in the breeze created by their wake, some checking programs, their personal map to the festival. We stand on the corner watching humanity engage in the ritual we, after 14 years, have chosen now only to observe.
It begins lowly quietly, then grows builds until, all players together, it hits a point where you hope it is a crescendo, but it still grows ever louder and you retreat from the club, half-finished glass of wine on the table, knowing that when you reach the back door your evening is over.
He sits, suited in black, with 88 keys at his command, and we fall silent. He opens the lock of joy, the lock of sadness, the lock of elation, the lock of tears, the lock of laughter, the lock of darkness, the lock of light, the lock of surprise, the lock of compassion, the lock of love, and we peer through each door, unable to enter fairly unable to turn away. As we walk out, we know we have tasted Buddha’s promised truth and we go off in search 63,999 remaining Dharma doors.