Free & Easy
The cameras rolled, and I was lucky enough to be in the live audience. Lucky, despite the cold opening. With the prospect, however, of warming up when…
The front man strode to the front. He was the 77 year old Piero Lopez – a touch of class, free and easy, still swinging it like a 21 year old with the whole of his life in front of him.
The crowd began eagerly clapping along with the music. Each piece contained the blowing of numbered cones, the flicking of projector propellers, the opening / shutting of lens filters, the slamming of fridge doors, the ratcheting of loft ladders, the clatter of manholes, the clamping of wheels, the wild alarums of fire and the clunking of ice-cold cocktails.
The music’s own in-built clapping grew louder then muted then even louder as it merged with the audience’s own applause proper and returned to the instinctive accompaniment of any music allowed to be heard between the slapping of bottoms and the cresting of tone-deaf tops, thirds and piping trebles followed by the lowing of low brass as it burgeoned amid snort and snicker.
Like the words used in description, it was a wild, hip-sweaty scene in a cold cold climate, a whole razzamatazz surrounding the regimented audience that the crowd (mob?) often mimicked in civilised attention to a supposed entertainment. The audience and entertainment together were a single variety show: a cornucopia of escapist skill rather than a chaotic fandango of lost Hollywood dreams.
The absurd abrasions of mind-upon-matter were what all this would soon become when the audience eventually imagined they were watching something on a screen and not a wild indulgence of a live stage-show.
I climbed down from the trip-easies of word and sound. I was a member of those clapping monkeys, or audience as I began to assume it surely always was, gazing at old Piero Lopez’s antics on the stage as he directed the jazz rhythms into clearer and clearer contexts of civilisation’s near collapse. A catharsis of wanting a catharsis even if that very catharsis was its own destruction. Freak and easy. The words were far too easy. Meaningless and meaningful.
Mean and cruel. Without being as harsh as the winter was quickly becoming outside the concert hall … even as we were shook and shaken to the cavortings of the brass and woodwind and cool percussion. I clapped my own hands more for heat than in appreciation. I’d never liked jazz at the best of times, and this was the worst of times, believe me, despite the enjoyment.
Jazz was really part and parcel of the dire straits we all found ourselves in. During the past, when I was genuinely happy, even the best Jazz Singer had seemed to deplete such happiness; but today the music actually created happiness from a sadness that had earlier contained no happiness at all – despite the white streets outside and despite the white faces inside (whatever their original colour under the make-up)..
Piero Lopez was the essence of metaphorical warmth as he was seen to change brass for silver, and vice versa, as this his flute-and-trumpet market held snorting sway amid the increasing swathes of misty breath that the concert hall was seen to contain. A trading arena where nobody now understood what was valuable and what was not. Freezer burns at every turn, as that percussive scorching of the music ballooned in frosty frenzy.
I turned to my side to see if Anabel was also smacking her palms together in desperate pleas for heat to materialise from the braying bells and horns of the instrumentalists on the stage. She was sobbing. We knew as a unit of both of us – knew better than what each of us could possibly know without the other – that this was fiddling with friction whilst Rome froze over.
Piero Lopez held up his hand. I remarked it was gloved. This seemed wrong. Only high fashion ladies in the thirties wore gloves in public. Glove-puppets. Mittens maybe. But not gloves. I stifled my own shouts of recrimination with my decorative scarf. More a Dr Who scarf than a means to keep myself warm. Though it now served both purposes. I was in the audience. I was the paying customer. I could wear what I liked. The band in overcoats however seemed to be cheating some unspoken law of entertainment. But Piero’s upraised hand – gloved or not – halted the jazz to the mere grumbling stutter of a single randy sax.
“I woke up this morning at four eh em,” he announced into the microphone. Even at the age of 77, he could hold an audience – even an unruly one – in the palm of his hand. And this audience was not only unruly with drink and funny fags, it was now in extremis with a cold coming of it like the three Magi at Christmas and another cold coming from their noses like a tuneless brass band of snorts and brays, including Anabel and me: both of us keeping time with countless other couples in permutations of love and lovelessness, same sex and unsame sex, till the whole world audience clapped their cupped hands to their mouths and horned a desperate call to the wild wild.
Free and easy. The music resumed with the swaying rhythms accompanying an elegant Eartha Kitt in high fashion gloves – as we all approached the thankfully hotter climes we could sense awaited us amid the ring of near death. Even Piero looked baked sooty. Only sound and colour were missing in the silence, as filming disinvented itself by piecemeal time-travel. The coated film of silent unsound dreams with Al Jolson as the chief minstrel entering Cone Zero.