My First Ever Jazz Concert

I went to my first ever Jazz Concert last night, at the Darpana Academy, Ahmedabad. I know nothing about jazz beyond the few tracks I have by Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington et al, although I love them. And I've never been to a live concert, so I decided to treat myself. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I wasn't the only one from my college in attendance.

I went with two colleagues of mine who I had never spoken to before. Like me, they too came out of sheer curiosity and a pressing need to get away from the confines of our college.

The concert was jointly organised by Spicmacay and the Goethe-Institut, and featured the German quartet Café du Sport, whom I've never heard of before.

And now I'll never forget them.

Café du Sport original lineup (L-R): Müller, Lauber, Kaphengst, May
The original quartet comprised
Frank Lauber on the alto sax, Bruno Müller on the guitar, Guido May on the drums and Christian von Kaphengst, the bandleader, on bass.

Sax Appeal
However, for this tour,
Jan von Klewitz performs the sax in place of Lauber. (He is currently a member of Spiritual Standards, along with Markus Burger.)

It was a beautiful night - a small open-air amphitheatre with fantastic nightclub lighting and a full moon, on the banks of the Sabarmati River.
The band opened with a relaxed piece that was stereotypically jazz - the kind I've heard on all those old Tom & Jerry shows, and which play in dimly-lit restaurants - which was a sort of an ice-breaker to familiarise us with jazz. Von Kaphengst told the audience it was the first track they had released together as a band.

But once the audience had settled in comfortably with the jazz style, the magic began.

The next track, called Downhill, had been composed by Bruno Müller, the guitarist. It featured spectacular sax and guitar solos. The next two tracks, Out of the Blue (also by Müller) and Speedboat, by Von Kaphengst, were also mind-blowing. These two had some spectacular drum solos by May, and Müller showed his mastery over the guitar on Speedboat. He made it sound like he was playing two different guitars at the same time!

With every performance, the audience grew more and more rapturous and the applause that had been shy and unsure at the beginning got louder and louder, with whistles and "whooooo!"s (some of them from me) accompanying it. Müller in particular turned out to be a crowd favourite, partly because of his virtuosity with the guitar and general effervescence, and partly because he was good-looking. ;)

Lord of The Drums
But May and Klewitz too gave the audience a taste of their respective skills. May had the crowd screaming in delight with his dextrous drum solos; Lauber performed a particularly spectacular sax solo towards the end that contained guitarish riffs in quick succession. Simply marvellous.

Ace of Bass
Von Kaphengst was pretty much in the shadows because the bass was mostly just an accompaniment to the other instruments. But he got his due in the end when he performed a really good bass solo with accompaniment from May.

One thing I realised about jazz is, it's so exhausting to be an active audience. Normally us Indians, who are mostly used to the regularly-spaced beats and rhythms of Hindustani, Carnatic (or even hip-hop!), relegate jazz to being a background score while doing a leisurely activity or dining out at restaurants. But yesterday as I listened to each individual note, I realised how different jazz is from "regular" music and that it takes the audience just as much skill to listen and appreciate as it takes the performers to play. I found it hard to figure out at times when a composition had begun or ended. Probably because of the very nature of jazz - improvisational and stringing together disparate rhythms, instruments and notes.

When it comes to a regular song, people who are musically inclined tend to foresee a song's ending, and automatically their concentration wanes along with the fading of the melody. But it wasn't like that with yesterday's performance. Just when I thought that the composition had come to an end and my brain could relax, one of the players would suddenly start up again! My aural cortex was running non-stop (and Müller wasn't going easy on my visual cortex either) till at a point the piece became a background score again and I had to force myself to concentrate. Hence the exhaustion.

But it was, and is, still music. And very good music at that. I look forward to an encore.

Photographs courtesy: (Jan von Klewitz);
(Others) Mark Wohlrab