Friday, 7 July 2017

Mr P.C.

"So what did you do last night, get up to anything much?"

I smile and savour the moment: this must be the fifth or sixth person I've said this too, but I'm still looking forward to the reaction, "Oh nothing much," I say, "just watched a naked pensioner performing a head-stand"

As, apparently, you do.

I'd say it had been over 12 months since I'd even thought about doing any art: I don't know why - the muse had just gone elsewhere...besides I had long ago run out of wall space and unsuspecting friends and family members to foist my "art" onto

And then, one long Bank Holiday weekend when I had nowhere to go and nowhere to go there with, I had delved into my folder for the pack that'd I'd bought two years previously that showed you how to create a pastel-pencil drawing of a fox (contents: 1x book, 10-12 pastel pencils, grid) and switched Spotify over to play Leonard Cohen on shuffle...and two days later (give or take the odd break for food, sleep, conversation and mind-numbing television) I had a rather nice drawing

And, in one of those odd twists of fate that sometimes occur, a day or so later I received an email from my occasional art teacher Mad Penguin Lady.  I can't remember, I feel sure I must have mentioned her before but a brief recap: about four-foot nothing, always wearing pink corduroys, from somewhere in the Netherlands and having once painted a giant depiction of two penguins under a palm tree ("a sort of allegory for Adam and Eve")

The email was advertising her latest session of life drawing sessions on weekday evenings: a night of the week that, until recently, had been No Good For Me as I was often working in London :but now found me free.

I was surprised and pleased to receive said invitation: having seen that she had moved to another area and having assumed this would mean no more sessions in the swealtering heat of the studio crowded with 14 clothed people stood with frowns of concentration and 1 decidedly naked one just let them ogle them without a word of complaint.

I have to say: a 60 year old man standing naked on his head for five minutes is not something you see every day - apparently he is known for his unusal what point during the evening is appropriate, for instance, to say "Hey, I think I have a drawing of you on my wall..."

In the many years that I've been going (on and off since 2003) to the classes I've only managed to create two drawings that were worth framing and keeping, spending most of my time getting angry and frustrated with myself for something that looked like a jelly tot that has been left too close to the fire - but this time I was determined to just relax and enjoy myself and see if I couldn't learn a thing or two.

As it was: in the final session I did produce a picture that I was happy with, although I doubt it will end up on a wall and this time around I did manage to stop myself getting annoyed - so a result of sorts.  Whether I improved at all or not: the jury is still out.

At this time I was still scouting around after my success on the Jazz course for a local group or orchestra I could try out with: determined that the only way I could now improve my playing would be to play with others....

About a year previously I had been approached by Herself's father with a proposition.  He had been rather drunk at the time and I naturally assumed it was the Real Ale talking when he asked if I would be interested in performing a saxophone recital at the church where he plays organ and had, with foolhardy abandon, agreed to do - now it was rapidly approaching and I was practicing my pieces 2-3 times a week to knock the final corners off them

In the end the performance went very well: there were a couple of fluffed notes (though oddly I got the most complex piece completely right - an achievement I haven't managed to reproduce since) but no one other than me seemed to notice or care.

It wasn't just me performing - my sax was interspersed with some fairly serious and complicated organ pieces and a singer who was accompanied by her piano-playing husband.  It was from these two that I finally got a lead to a local orchestra...who met on the same night as my Life Drawing Class...(ah you see now, the link is not as tenuous as you thought)

I left some contact details and eventually got to speak to someone about attending and, sure enough, a few weeks later I turned up and...duly sat there all night not coping.

A lot of sight reading was needed with a horrible Disney medley that changed pace several times and I just couldn't keep up with...and the first two weeks there was no music available for me to take home and practice

So after a week's break and having finally got hold of half the music I went back again...and of course they played the other half that I didn't have...and I was suddenly given different copies of the ones I had...

It was one of those nights that, by the end of it, I wanted to throw my saxophone out of the window into a nearby river and I'm afraid that when the conductor asked me how it had gone I was a little brusque (I later emailed and apologized and he was fine)

This was Monday evening and since then I haven't had much chance to look at the music and practice and I'm not sure if I'm going back or not (if you'd asked me on the night I would have been VERY sure)

This is the downside of the creative process: it can be bliss when it's going well.  You can lose an afternoon doing nothing but blending two colours to form a third, or sketching out an outline - or you can spend it throwing endless pieces of paper in the bin.  The same tune played two days running can be frustrating and then perfect: I've had more than the occasional saxophone lesson where I've wanted to give up...I guess you have to take the pain with the pleasure

But then there was Wednesday

I'd found out recently that there was a pub nearby that had a resident 5 piece Jazz band (guitar, keyboard, drums, bass and trumpet) with whom you could join in if you were willing to bring your instrument of choice - myself and Argent had actually initially thought about going two weeks previously but it had been in the middle of the first real heat of the year and neither of us had fancied it - and then the previous week we had gone along just to size up the opposition

The applicable word would be: intimidating. 

Blimey Charlie but the band were good - able to play tightly along with newcomers, playing to a very high level.  We went home that night wondering if we were mad to even consider going and joining in...but then the individual members had all been very friendly and you only live once - besides: what was the worst that could happen?  No one there would know us and if we stunk up the room we could just never go back.

And so we went, horns held at our side, and hid in a corner where we thought maybe the singer/host might not see us if we decided to chicken out...

and again the band were top notch

The first half of the evening - from about 2030-2130 is just the band with a singer/host for the evening and then a 20 minute break during which hapless fools can fall on their sword, approach the host, and volunteer.

And so I got out my sax and started quietly warming it up, playing slowly through a John Coltraine piece I'd learned on the course called Mr P.C. (we'd done it slower than he does) - at which point the keyboard player passes me, hears what I'm playing and excitedly says, "hey, Mr P.C. you playing that tonight? Let's go for it"

It would have been like kicking a teddy-bear to have said no.

The break ends and the singer says "Pixie or Argent - do you want to join us?" and like the coward I am I practically shove Argent off her chair to go first...only it turns out that the band are dead set on playing some Coltraine - and so we swap places

For those of you who don't know, and i didn't until recently - one standard trope of Jazz is you play the tune twice at the start to give people an idea what you are doing, then each member of the band solos over the top in turn, and then you play the tune twice more to remind people where you'd started off

I ask the keyboard player for an A so I can tune and beg the drummer not to play it at full speed and he agrees.  The resident trumpet player asks me if I want her to play alongside and I say that it's probably a good idea

And then we launch into it

At close-to-top speed


And somehow or other: I knock the ball out of the park.  Not a single note wrong, my solo flying away under my fingers so that I have no memory of what, or if, I played and then all I have to do is stand there and wait whilst everyone else has their own solo before we return to the tune at the end

And then it's over and I'm shaking hands with some of the band and returning to my seat, head slightly buzzing.

It was just what I needed: a big success to bounce me back from the previous fail.  A shot in the arm to get me going again

And of course, the next day at work:

"So what did you do last night then?" they ask me, "naked pensioners again?"

"No," I reply with a grin that won't fade till at least Friday, "Even better"