Xmas 2016

Xmas 2016

It all went off in a bit of a blur as I was suffering from Seasonal 'Flu. But my diary assures me that I performed half a dozen singalongs, 2 pub gigs, a charity concert and 2 private parties in the week running up to Xmas.

I seem to remember some very jolly WI ladies in a ferociously cold village hall somewhere near Abingdon and tripping over the same low fence in the un-lit forcourt three times.

While completely unable to sing I played for some utterly delightful people at a house party on the Banbury Road with my trio, where we were fed some of the finest grub known to humanity. The hostess did all the cooking and serving herself and it felt like a scene from Babette's Feast. Kindness sometimes descends on old jazz codgers as a reward for having stuck at it for three score and ten.

Equally delightful were the people at Stephen and Lucinda's Thanksgiving Party. I have played for these excellent people several times. They throw the finest thanksgiving parties known to Humanity, though by necessity they tend to be in December and Open Air. I remember on one occasion Stephen was forced to throw a tarpaulin over me and the piano so that the show could go on. I could see nothing but blue plastic around me but was able to feel my way round the keyboard as the rain hammered down. Occasionally a hand would appear under the plastic skirts pointing a mobile phone camera at me, but that was all I saw of the audience. On this occasion a tarpaulin was held up with broom sticks by the wall of the house and my right side stayed mostly dry while the left was only slightly dampened by driving rain from the east. On one occasion a broom stick collapsed and caught me a smart blow on the head, but this only served to increase the flow of blood to the brain and enhance my searing boogie-woogie interpretations of Rudolph and Jingle Bells (see right of photo...).

A break in weather - but watch out for that broom on the right!

Horowitz might have found it all a bit bracing, but all in a day's work for the Peripatetic Very Pathetic King of the Tonks. And nicer people you would not find anywhere. What classical concert master could ever be made to feel so at home?

A video from this gig can be seen on Facebook at


(paste the link into your search window)

I was forced to use my much loathed electric piano to perform at Waterstones Bookshop in Oxford with my quintet due to the dense crowds of Xmas shoppers making access impossible for the Old Warhorse (gigging piano) to snudge its way to the lift. But this turned out to be a very pleasant gig, with various literary types settling into deep armchairs, lighting up tuberous Havana cigars and nodding along to the sweet strains of classic jazz while they supped from voluptuous brandy glasses and read from leather-bound volumes of Byron and Dr Johnson.

Well, not quite. But there were apparently in attendance several members of the Waterstones Supreme Administrative Council who informed the management that the Oxford Classic Jazz Band must play at least once a month in the Cafe, as we were definitely playing the right stuff for a Waterstones Bookshop and that we should sign a contract for a year of performances.

Sensible fellows! I just hope that they are not expecting us to bolster the business or provide a bulwark against the menace of online book sales, kindles and e-books which threaten to engulf even the largest bookshops in the most literary of towns. If they do, then they are almost certainly doomed, for many is the time my elegant performances of Scott Joplin rags have served as Elegies or Last Rites at restaurants, pubs and social clubs.

For you can usually tell that a venue is in Deep Waters when you hear the subtly swinging left hand bubbling away beneath the carefully timed melodic meanderings of the right synthesising in piano music of almost unbearable charm and beauty oozing from of the open windows of a severely unpopulated bar or cafe area.

For even a musician of outstanding quality cannot stand against the remorseless tides of cultural change and human folly. One cannot be a latter day Pianistic King Cnut-Case. Believe me, I've tried it -

Don't get me wrong folks, people love this music whenever it is played by competent professionals. But for some reason there's No Money Whatever to be made from it. Publicans and Restaurateurs hear you play and believe that a swarm of punters will infest their punter-less venue once they hear the siren strains of the “Sweet, soft and plenty rhythm”, as bees to a nectar-rich garden of acoustic blossoms.

But it isn't so. For some reason the punters stay away in flocks, preferring all sorts of sterile alternatives such as Internet Gaming or staying at home in front of the telly...Added to this, there is a great movement towards amateurism in the form of t.v. talent shows and “open mic” sessions which has virtually destroyed the whole concept of professional acoustic musicianship other than in the unassailable, arts-council buttressed Celestial Cities of Classical and Opera.

Occasionally the punters drift in by accident and say “Ah, what wonderful music I must come here more often...”

And you never see them again. The cold fingers of Unreal Digital Media close up their ears and eyes and they sink into to their Deep Armchairs of Forgetfulness once more. And so the most sparkling, spiritually enhancing, spontaneously nuanced music is virtually unsellable in public drinkeries and nosheries.

Oh dear – sounding more like Uncle Monty with each passing year.

It annoys me when jazz musicians try to charge serious money to stumbling hostelries...the gig lasts a few weeks and then folds because the management realises it is losing money...it's a sort of idealistic robbery. It is only the Private Customer that should be asked to pay a full, professional rate.

But perhaps we have finally found a niche in a bookshop? Perhaps it is in the introspective aquarium of the Boffin and High-brow that classic jazz now belongs...

No more the raucous party animals dancing the Charleston on sawdust and oyster-shell floors. Perhaps we belong now to the Americano-sipping Nouveau-Hipster Class reading post-modernist novels through horned-rimmed glasses while croissant crumbs gather in the beard like snow on a heather-strewn hillside.

So it goes.

A Happy New Year to my Reader!

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