Sunday, August 22, 2004

Uhn uh!; What is and Ain't Right at the Annual San Jose Jazz Festival

Sorry for the absence...this post should have been done weeks ago, but I have no internet connection at my house right now and have had some trouble arranging things. I hope to have it cleared up soon as I'm a little loathe to write when I don't know if I'll be able to post it.

I knew it was coming well in advance. I'd consulted the website some 4 months ago, carefully checking and double-checking the dates before I marked them down in bright colors on my calendar:

15th Annual San Jose Jazz Festival: August 6-8, 2004.


If you know me, you know the Jazz Festival is one of my favorite things in the whole world. I've planned work schedules and vacations around it, I talk about it for weeks leading up to its happening, and I get just a little sad when the last few bars of jazz are played and the final rounds of musicians begin rolling up their cords and cleaning the spittle out of their trumpets.

In some ways--coming in the midst of the long, hot, California summer and bringing with it all manner of cool--the Jazz Festival is the highlight of my year.

This year, because I work 7 days/week between the two jobs, I had to do some manipulating to ensure my spot on the lawn, on the Salsa dance floor, and under the sexy, red lighting at Pete Escovedo's new Latin Jazz Club downtown. I worked double shifts to get the weekend off and made it clear to my boss there was no way in hell I'd be anywhere near the building (Barnes & Noble) for the duration of the music.

So, Saturday morning I awoke with no obligations save the one I'd created for myself: Get thy booty downtown.

I grabbed water and a blanket and set out to stake my claim on an oh-so-precious patch of grass at Cesar Chavez Park. I thought 10:00am would be early enough; the first musicians didn't come on until noon.

It was early enough, but just barely. My blanket landed on what was nearly the last remaining square of ground in the shade, with a comfortable bit of buffer zone between me and the nearest fellow aficionados. Things were looking good. All I had to do was grab some coffee and a newspaper, chill for a couple of hours, and wait for Nicole to arrive (kiddies in-tow) and make and honest space-claimer out of me.

While I waited, I chatted with the man to my left, a robust, 7-foot tall, African-American man who was saving space for his family members, still back at their hotel. I lent him the sports page (once I'd checked to ensure the Dodgers won the night before), and we were officially friends. This came in handy when, 10 minutes before the start of the music, three chubby woman parked their high-backed chairs in the 18-inches of space that separated me and the blanket in front of mine.

What the?

But I wasn't about to say anything to them. I'm pretty mousy when it comes to stuff like that. Lucky for me, neighbor man spoke up.

"Uhn uh!," he said. "Now, that ain't right."

"What?," one of the women asked.

"Now see, that's why people get here early. And now you come up in here settin' your chairs, blockin' everyone's view. Uhn uh! That ain't right."

The women scooted a little to the right, so they were no longer blocking his view in the slightest, but were now parked in front of me and the couple to my right.

"Oh no you don't!" said the man to my right. "Uhn uh! We been here for two hours, and you ain't even tryin' to come in here now with your high-backed chairs, blockin' our view."

So the women scooted a little more to the left, now no longer blocking either of their views, just mine. My new friend wouldn't have any of it. He stood menacingly over their shoulders, hands on his hips, making occasional comments like, "that's why folks get here early," and "now see, that just ain't right."

I was exchanging glances with the man and waiting for them to get enough of the scrutiny and the daggers being sent their way from both sides, as well as from the couple seated behind me. A few minutes later they got up and waddled off, never to be seen again. I relaxed and read the rest of the paper until Nicole came.

When she got there, we lounged a while on the blanket, taking in the music, eating Indian food from Shalimar's food booth, and watching her daughter and step(ish) daughter do whatever it is kids do when they can't run around and have no toys to speak of. Mostly, they just talk. When the girls got squirrelly, she took them to the fountains to splash around a bit, and when they returned, she announced it was time to go before the ticking, 2-year-old time bomb went off. "This one's ready for a nap," she said, in that unmistakable Mom voice (when did my best friend become a bona fide Mother? It continues to give me pause).

But before little Maya left, she helped me prepare for the real fun. "Maya, are you helping put on Auntie Kisa's sun block?" I said this when I felt the slight pressure of her single munchkin forefinger spreading a nearly undetectable line of lotion around on my shoulders. Maya knew. Oh, she knew: Auntie Kisa was headed for the Salsa stage (the dance area of which is located in the bright, August sunshine).

Nicole was kind enough to add my blanket to the stash of family emergency preparedness objects she had packed in every corner of Maya's stroller, and I was now free to roam.

At the Salsa stage I danced. And sweated. And danced. And sweated.

Then to the Big Band stage to cool down a bit. That was nice, but a bit mellow for my mood. I returned to the Salsa stage and danced some more.

Then it was off to the Latin jazz stage, then a walk to Pete Escovedo's club to catch a quartet fronted by a saxophonist named Hafez Modirzidah (say the name aloud; it sounds so cool: [Hah-FEZ Moe-DEER-zih-duh]

I'd gone to that particular show because I'd heard the musician on the jazz station before, but also because it was indoors, in a real club, a.k.a. in the shade. But when I got there, I sort of wished I'd spent the whole day there, because that's where the real fans were.

The bummer about the main stage outdoors is that--although it's the venue for the festival's biggest names--it's host to the least common denominator of festival goers. While most of them probably like jazz (or at the very least, they don't hate it), they aren't necessarily fans. They don't give props after solos, and often they don't even seem to be listening. This is the area where families gather, people eat and drink, and scantily clad folks go to be seen.

The club was for heavy hitters, only. And my god, that was a good show. I've never seen a tighter group of jazz musicians, all four incredibly talented but humble enough to give each other space to shine. And the audience, a mostly middle-aged group of head-moving, foot-tapping cats, was the kind I'm sure every jazz musician craves: they knew how to dig it.

I was riding a wave of joy until I reached to pay for the drink I'd ordered and saw my little purse all aglow in blue from the face of my newly acquired cell phone. Somebody was calling, somebody being my boss.

'No way,' I thought. 'There's no way.' It was four o'clock (the time he was supposed to work that day), and I imagined he was stuck at his house an hour and a half away from our work, calling to ask me to go in and cover for him. There was just no way--not after all my planning.

I pretended I didn't see it.

And moments later, he was calling again.

Then moments later...again!


Finally, on the third call, a little icon told me he'd left a message. I resisted my sometimes hyper-active sense of responsibility long enough to enjoy the rest of the show, but admittedly checked my messages first thing after stepping outside of the club.

"This is your moron boss, who forgot to post next week's schedule, just calling to let you know you're closing on Monday."


With the phantom weight off my shoulders, I was loving the day more and more.

On my way back past the main stage, I ran into a regular customer from Barnes & Noble. "Hey," he said, "were you here last year?"

"I'm here every year," I said.

"Oh, because I think I saw a picture of you in the paper at last year's Salsa stage."

This particular customer is just a bit goofy, so I dismissed him. How could he remember from last year? "No, that wasn't me," I answered.

Twenty minutes later, I was back at the Latin stage, where I ran into one of Kelsi's band members, Andy.

"Hey girl," he said, "you know you were in the paper Friday?"

"Somebody just said I was in the paper, except he said last year."

"No," Andy said, "it was a picture from last year's festival. They put it on the back of the page with the schedule for this year's festival."

"Ah ha ha ha ha. That's funny," I said, and asked him what the picture was of. He told me I was dancing and looking very happy. "Kay," I said, "I'm gonna have to check this out."

I called Daniel, who handles the magazines and newspapers at work, and asked him to put a copy aside.

Then I found Kelsi, went home and took a shower, and met her and her friend back at Pete's club to watch an all-star jam session. And that was awesome! Picture thirty or so super talented musicians in a room, just switching out when they felt like it and making it up as they went along. Some of their egos were a bit much, and not every random combination was a winning one, but it was mostly awe-inspiring and full of adrenaline like everything is when one doesn't know what will happen next. I felt like I could have stayed there all night. Like if my whole life were just one long jam session, I'd be the happiest woman in the world.

Aren't our lives just one long jam session?

Anyway, when that was over we headed home and I went to sleep, fixing to do it again the next day.

But I had blisters by the next day and was a bit tired, so I did less dancing and more listening and (always fun when large groups are gathered) lots of people-watching. That's a nice thing about going places alone: you're free to be quiet and simply observe. Plus, you take up less space and can therefore be less conspicuous, which is perfect for a voyeur like me.

I watched them walk by and constructed their stories in my mind. Oh yeah, he's got a wandering eye, for sure. Is that her dad or her boyfriend? An outfit made from Rolling Stones album cover art? That one's daring. What's his story? Is that their kid? He doesn't look like either of them. Maybe he's adopted. Mmm, that cookie looks good...I wonder where she got that. Cute couple. I bet they were high school honies. What's this guy up to? Looks shady to me.

I love it. People-watching is one of my favorite things to do.

After a while of that, I went to catch some more Salsa. There was a band on stage comprised entirely of boys who looked to be between the ages of 10 and 17. Hmmm. But these kids were good. I mean REAL good. I was blown away. After watching and listening for a little while, I started to get emotional. I was thinking how beautiful it was that these kids represented the future of jazz, and they seemed ready to accept the task before them, which impressed me. Salsa is incredibly complex, and I was amazed that such young kids would take an interest.

And there was something working on a cultural level, too. It wasn't only that these kids would one day take the jazz musician reins, they were helping to keep alive a part of my (as a fellow hispanic person) culture. Dare I say "my people"? When they brought an eight-year-old girl to the stage amidst all these older boys--and she played the flute with prodigy-like skill to the jaw-dropped amazement of everyone--I lost it a bit. Have you ever danced and cried at the same time? It was really one of the most beautiful moments I've experienced in my life. I've never been more proud of a stranger and scarcely never been happier to be exactly where I was at a given moment in time.

Except maybe at the festival the year before. For proof, consult the Mercury News photo below :)


Doug said...

Speaking of your last paragraph, I know what you mean. And the best part is that you never know where or when it will happen.

Qaundoman said...

If life is just one big jam sesion, then I'm playing along just fine--out of tune!!!!

Qaundoman said...

You know, Kisa, I've been struck by the poignancy of your last couple of paragraphs. Not only can I relate to the experience(roughly speaking), but I feel there is absolutely no pretense in what you've written: It seems that what was closest to your heart has flowed from you like the simplicity of a mountain stream.

Furthermore, if among the melange of your writings, of your written meanings, there is one which has more immediate appeal than that found here, as among the contents of one's pocket one item is found to be a butterscotch, it will assume a center like the sun and require all others take their docile turn to go around.

This thought of yours, then, is itself a center.