Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

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In Search of the Neutral Zone

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The truth is like clarinet. Most of us love the sound of it. Every now and then we meet someone who can play it and it’s a wonderful experience.

To be fully reverberating with the lyric beauty of a clarinet played by a virtuoso is to be assured that there is something great yet unknowable about this universe. Likewise, to be resonating in the beauty of the truth is to know that something greater than us is keeping balance.

Nowadays the clarinet is often drowned out or replaced by much louder musical instruments. Many of us aren’t even used to hearing clarinet anymore. A scan of the radio produces the same four or five raucous sounds over and over again. We hear drums, keyboard, guitar and voice. These sounds are mostly synthesized or auto-tuned. That’s the aural equivalent of processed food.

Like the clarinet, the truth is often drowned out by much louder sounds as well. Scan the media. We have Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Car Safety Awards and, by the way, our religion is the true religion and everybody else’s religion sucks, and our political party is the right way to go, and blah blah blah. Again—corporate manufactured! So we’re really not that used to hearing the truth in media either.

By the time we do hear the truth we’re offended. We only want a certain amount of it told to us. Sadly we choose our friends by the type and amount of truth they tell us, not by the amount of clarinet they play. (By the way, my apologies for bashing Santa and the Easter Bunny earlier…)

Let’s just say that the truth is like morning coffee. Some of us like a tall dark bold roast but most of us want a little pumpkin spice latte—half sweet with extra cream.

Back in the jazz era, better known as the Roaring Twenties, the clarinet was king! The speakeasies or jazz clubs were packed with a wide range of people and cultures. Because the agreement was that everything that happened behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors, people who were normally scripted to segregate partied wildly together. Behind those doors was a melting pot of musical styles, creative ideas, dreams, passions, lust and song. Ironically this was during one of the most racially violent periods of our North American history. By day, everyone hated each other. Under the cover of anonymity, everyone enjoyed the wildest imaginable party together.

Because speakeasies were clandestine and therefore apolitical, there was no risk to associating across racial and cultural lines. The worst thing that ever happened to jazz was the lifting of the Prohibition. Without the neutral zone, the music had to be watered down and tamed. Worse was that there was no longer a place to relax social tension.

Sometimes I get the feeling that the policy of segregation has driven our politics—that one is above my pay grade. Come down to The Hang on a Wednesday night and you’ll catch a glimpse of the lost golden age of jazz. I hope to see you there!

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