Musical Endeavors Outside The Conservatory: Monterey Jazz Festival stops at Birdland

I love the music here at Lawrence University and how it is so easy to see incredible concerts for free just a minute from where I live, but it can be refreshing to see music outside of Harper Hall, Memorial Chapel and group houses. So, while in New York City this weekend, I sprung at the chance to go to the legendary Birdland, regardless of who was playing. Birdland, a jazz club that has been around since 1949 in a few different incarnations, has hosted some of the biggest names in jazz throughout the years. The concert I saw on Friday, Feb. 5 was no exception.

The supergroup, a collection of some of Monterey Jazz Festival’s headliners, consisted of guitarist and vocalist Raul Midón, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, musical director and pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Joe Sanders, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. With this diverse ensemble of renowned musicians and up-and-coming stars, I was not sure at first what to expect, having only been familiar with the solo work of a few members.

However, that lack of knowledge was good. Regardless, I knew they were all talented, and I was just ready for some jazz to speak to me. That is exactly what happened, and it was much more powerful than I could have imagined.

My ears immediately welcomed the hip, subdued start of minimal, out-of-time drums, ominous yet calming trumpet chills, and tense, rich chords on piano. I did not know until I processed it, but those sounds were exactly what I wanted and needed to hear at that exact moment. This feeling remained with me throughout the concert.

It is rare for live music to make it so easy to just sit with my mouth slightly ajar, my eyes open wide, and my brain feeling completely at peace yet at the same time, attempting to process so much. Its rarity and beautiful effect convinced me that this concert was undoubtedly one of the most important experiences in my life. It exemplified the true power of music to me.

Since so much was going on in my head and on the stage, it is hard to recall all the musical moments that really resonated with me, because as the songs progressed, they passed, existing only in that point in time. One moment that stood out, among a few others, was the high point in the first tune. As the pounding toms and bass drum increased in intensity, the horns and rhythm section ascended. They built up in dissonance and dynamics until the drums switched into accentuated hits, almost heavy metal-esque, and the rest of the band resolved into a less crunchy chord. At this point in the song, I was nearing the edge of my seat more and more until the resolution, when I whipped my head back in surprise and sudden peace.

One of the most unique parts of this whole happening was that I felt all these emotions—comfort, amazement, peace and beauty—even before the first piece ended and continued to feel them until the end of the show. They lingered ever so slightly into the next day and of course come flowing back as I write this. There is something to be said about music and other art that resonates in this way: it must be actively sought out. It does not present itself often, but when it does, it is impossible to mistake and can completely change you.

I almost did not see this show, because it was expensive, late at night and pretty inconvenient to get to. I suggest you make these decisions like I do—even if just the smallest part of you wants to go, go. You never know what can happen. If it is bad, you will be disappointed and may be out a few bucks, but in the grand scheme of things, that is not all that unfortunate. However, if you do go, a phenomenon such as the one I experienced may occur. You could leave spiritually enlightened, incredibly motivated to create and have an even more positive outlook on life.

Seeing how this concert affected me in writing is a bit odd—I seem a little insane and my descriptions somewhat exaggerated—but that further shows that some things about music can never be articulated, particularly its effects on the listener. Sure, putting in words exactly what happened during a piece can be done. The listener can also write if it made them feel happy, sad or whatnot. However, there is a realm of music’s impact that cannot be described by anyone, ever. It is something to feel and to attempt to bring forward with personal creations and art.

When I got out of that concert—despite it being 1 a.m., staying in a hotel room, and not having my trumpet or any other instrument with me—I wanted to play like never before. I did not want to shed scales, practice changes or anything like that. I just wanted to have the freedom to tap into anything I have ever felt and any influences I have ever had to serve my supreme love for creating something pure and beautiful. I would be able to feel its purpose and the emotion behind it, and proudly step back and think, “I created this, it documents me at my purest form and others will have their own feelings on it, hopefully helping them to create something of their own.”

Alas, I was not able to do this—although I am sure I will soon—but I was able to translate some of the swirling contents of my conscious into words that will continue to better me as a person, musician and artist. I can only hope my words influence you as well, and that you have an experience like mine—one can that be fondly looked backed upon and shape you in a way nothing else can.