Admittedly I don’t know a lot about jazz. I’ve listened to important records like Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus; I’ve even seen a few fantastic jazz shows. The thing that has stood out most to me in my limited experience is the politeness of it all — band members backing off and allowing other members their appropriate solo time and audience members clapping politely in acknowledgement of said solo. No one is in anyone’s face and everyone gets along.
There’s something very comforting about being in a situation with defined roles, even if it’s just a jazz show. There’s also something very unsettling and massively annoying about people who decide that they are there without any regard for the social norms of the situation they find themselves in. Wednesday night, June 26, at the Royal Theatre, I politely battled with a group of such people, who, for me, nearly ruined the wonderful, engaging show put on by the David Murray Infinity Quartet and Macy Gray for the Victoria Jazz Fest.
Now, I wasn’t particularly a fan of the opener, Victoria-based vocalist Georgia Murray. There were some good ideas musically, but the execution fell flat for me. Despite that I did my best to listen and give it an honest try. The group behind me decided that they needed to talk over the music, because they were too cool to like it. Not only did they talk, they were so downright venomous with their “criticism” that they resorted to the witty rejoinder of “She’s ugly.” The worst part of the distraction might have been the couple members of the group with laminated placards labeled “PERFORMER.” The whole thing tasted bad and smelled like sour grapes. This was a rather inauspicious start to the evening.
Even the Infinity Quartet, led by saxophonist David Murray, could not quell the noise in my section, despite the quartet’s considerable musical chops. As stated earlier, my jazz knowledge is limited, but even I knew I was seeing something magical. Murray’s saxophone flights sounded acrobatic and fascinating. Had I possessed a larger base of knowledge in the language of jazz, my mind may have melted from his playing. I was impressed, none the less.
No matter how great the Infinity Quartet was, the evening belonged to raspy-voiced cosmic-diva Macy Gray. Wrapped in various large feather boas throughout the evening and donning an array of dresses, Gray oozes charisma and has rightfully earned her reputation as a captivating performer. After the red-light love song “Naturally,” Gray quipped that she and the band had been breathing in Victoria’s world-famous “parks” all day and were feeling quite good and natural.
So electric was Gray’s presence that the show couldn’t help but lose some of its momentum during the breaks when the Quartet played their burning jazz with Gray offstage. It’s not a comment on David Murray and his cohorts as much as it is a praise of the over-powering presence possessed by Macy Gray. Each time Gray left the stage, the crowd got restless and lost a few people who just got up and left.
My personal favourite peanut-gallery moment had to have been when a member of the chattering group scolded opener Georgia Murray for singing the lyric “On the open sea” instead of “On the rolling sea” during her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” (which this woman declared she can sing more “honestly”). Moments later, she said she just wanted to see Macy Gray play “Try,” which is a Blue Rodeo song, instead of Macy Gray’s own massive hit record, “I Try.” Apparently she’s cool enough to get the title of a song wrong, but Georgia Murray can’t misread a single lyric.
David Murray and drummer Nasheet Waits took the stage for their encore, quietly jamming as a duo. Then Gray re-emerged and the crowd was treated to a beautiful, stripped-down rendition of “I Try.” Yes, that very same song the annoying malcontent behind me mistitled earlier in the evening. It was a sweet moment to know that she and her group of inconsiderate thugs were some of the people that bailed on the show before that glorious moment, even though they all had wanted to see “I Try” so badly. It was a beautiful little cap of personal gratification to a warm, amicable evening of deft jazz.