Roberto Fonseca

I have to say that I hate jazz. All those endless jabbering solos. It rubs me up the wrong way – and I usually avoid it like the plague. Especially since jazz always features saxophones and they’re like my worse aural enemy. Ghastly, bleating things.

So when I was invited by Will to see Roberto Fonseca, the new big thing from Cuba, I was thinking more Buena Vista Social club (which I do like) rather than free-jazzers (which I don’t).

I have to admit that Fonseca was great. He was the pianist in the combo with a drummer, percussionist, bass and (of course) saxophonist. And the arrangements and solos he played were dazzling: witty, technically amazing (he didn’t even look at his hands) and musically interesting. Naturally the screeching saxophone set my dentures on edge – but even 4 minute sax solos only slightly dented my fairly mild mood.

However, as the Fonsecas warmed up and whirled and wailed away, I did ponder what exactly I don’t like about jazz.

I think it reminds me of those friends I had as a teenage who would insist on playing the guitar and force you to listen to them for hours on end. You’d be at a party and everything was mellow – you were talking, maybe even flirting – and then out came the guitar and you’d have to sit in silence while they murdered “Space Oddity” or “Paint a Vulgar Picture”.

Some of them were good. But that was besides the point, it was the imposition that irked me. There’s something of the show-off rather than the communicator about both jazz musicians and teenage guitarists.

It’s also a very straight thing. You don’t get female jazzers or gay jazzers. I can’t think of a single gay saxophonist. It’s a scrupulously straight male art form. And now I think of it, there aren’t many of those.

So what is it that attracts straight men to jazz-making? (I don’t deny that women and gays can enjoy listening to jazz – but you have to admit that not many of them make it….)

Well, there’s definitely a team thing going on. There was a lot of hugging and back slapping after the concert ended and you can see the glee in those five mens faces as the solos roll out and musical teamwork moves up a gear.

There’s also some showing off – some competition. My solo’s bigger than yours.

And there’s also a reticence about communicating emotion. This was made very clear because Roberto Fonseca (who is incidentally a slayingly sexy dude) was preceded by Mayra Andrade from Cape Verde. She sang and everything was about communicating something of her across the footlights to the audience. Fonseca was communicating with his fellow jazzers but he was impressing us. Communicating emotion and impressing with style are two very different things.

Jazz shares this with Prog Rockers. “Look how clever we men are. A gang of talented boys doing something great together on stage.” There is – I hesitate to say – something slightly autistic about it. Only slightly…

The point was that I passed through my discomfort with these amazingly talented, straight show-offs into a appreciation of their difference.

I will (sadly) never be as talented a pianist as Roberto Fonseca. Nor for that matter, will I ever be a slayingly handsome Cuban. But I am learning bit by bit, to not related to everything so narcissistically.

It’s true that a tiny part of me finds gangs of straight men showing off in a group intimidating – and that may well result in a smeary desire to belittle what they’re doing. (I try and like football really I do…) It’s also true that a (possibly less tiny) part of me is envious of other people’s talent and unconsiously wants to spoil it. But bit by bit, I’m getting used to those tiny parts of myself that are a bit mean. I’m learning to put them to one side with a wry smile and then relate to the thing in front of me.

Rather than finding fault with Roberto Fonseca’s band for non-musical reasons, I enjoyed the music and also enjoyed the fact that straight jazzers do do things differently. How cool. The world is not full of clones of me who are not quite getting it right – instead it’s filled with billions of real people doing it their way. Some consonant with my way – the great majority not.

I would still smelt all saxophones and make horse brasses out of them…

17 Comments

  1. Robert

    November 15, 2009 at 4:47 am

    No female Jazzers! How about Ella Fitzgerald,Billie Holiday,Rosemary Clooney,not to mention Joni Mitchell! As for openly gay jazz men there I can’t help you. However, I’m sure there are several Gay Jazz men out there (even if they’re in the closet). I can recommend some great albums such as The Best Of Miles Davis,Billie Holiday Live At Carnegie Hall,Ella Fitzgerald sings Johnny Mercer,Joni Mitchell Mingus and Cleo Lane’s Best.Try these out, you may surprise yourself.

  2. Brian (DocSwill)

    November 15, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Alistair!

    Step away from the smelter! I love jazz. Perhaps it’s more of an American thing. Horn blowers have great oral skills and are often good whistlers. You’ve reminded me of an old movie: You know how to whistle, don’t you Alistair? You just put your lips together and blow. It’s nice to see you’re embracing your fear of a man with a nice brass. Hopefully someday you’ll find a man that will blow your horn the way you like it…grin

    LOL…have a great day!

    Brian

  3. alistair

    November 15, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Robert, I can think of LOTS of female singers – and I love all the ones you mentioned (though I’m not familiar with Ms Clooney’s work) – but they are not jazzers. They are singers in the same way that Mayra Andrade was a singer. Can anyone think of a female saxophonist or a female jazz combo. It’s striking isn’t it, how entirely male and straight it is.
    I mean, there ARE female soccer teams.

  4. Brian (DocSwill)

    November 15, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    OK, so maybe Jazz requires an extra dose of testosterone, but there are a few out there:
    Multiple Grammy Award winner Gary Burton
    One of the greatest of all time was Duke Ellington’s confidant, Billy Strayhorn
    Jazz singers Shaw and Steven Kowalczyk
    And there this Andy Bey who is Black, Gay, and HIV positive.

    Peace B

  5. May

    November 15, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Hey Alistair,

    You are in for a surprise: check out the website below; especially Candy Dulfer is great; so is her father – although maybe not as handsome as Roberto Fonseca!
    I’m glad you feel free enough to admit a few ‘mean streaks’ (who hasn’t got them?) That’s what being nearly 40 is for…haha!

    Candy Dulfer : NEW ALBUM FUNKED UP & CHILLED OUT – [ Vertaal deze pagina ]Official homepage of the Dutch alto-saxophonist, with news, tourdates, message board, and photo gallery.
    And
    Rita Reys Homepage – Europe’s First Lady of Jazz – English Pages – [ Vertaal deze pagina ]Rita Reys started her career over six decades ago, and has played with legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Griffin, Chico Hamilton, Jimmy Smith, Zoot Sims, …
    http://www.ritareys.eu/english.html

    Best,
    May

  6. DM Riley

    November 16, 2009 at 8:16 am

    I must say that I also have no love for jazz,
    although I am intrigued somewhat by the idea of jazz.
    The individuals personal interpretation of the music.
    Billie Holiday did this well.Django Rienhardt did this
    well.They were both artists in communicating emotion
    which to me is the definition of art.It is a good thing
    to appreciate talent but a wonderful thing to appreciate
    art.As for the saxophones……bragging spectacles
    of “sounding brass”…….fire up the smeltery!

  7. VAlerie W

    November 17, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    I’m with you on the saxophones.

  8. Bill

    November 18, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    I agree; the saxophone is lost on me. But there is a lot of jazz out there I do like; it’s usually the mellow variety. And I prefer the female jazz singers as there voices are more melodious. As far as never being a slayingly handsome Cuban, I think it’s fine you remain your slayingly handsome self.

  9. Damian

    November 24, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Dear Alistair,
    I loved your essay although I totally disagree with
    you on the sax!
    Now about jazz ladies… what about Diana Krall?
    My boyfriend and I went to her concert last weekend!
    Great jazz!! She sings great and plays the piano even
    better!
    And what about Nina Simone?!

  10. Darryl Gennaro

    November 30, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    I am looking for some information on Alto Saxaphones and I’ve just found this blog! An interesting read which I enjoyed and found to be of value. I look forward to allow myself the opportunity to stay longer.

  11. Juliano

    January 1, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    hmmmm

    wish i were the ‘slayingly handsome Cuban’ you like and ….dream lol

    I feel you are being a bit straightophobic with this one Alistair. For a start, the very term ‘homosxual’ is an invension coming from the 1950s as a means to demaracate the false boundariy between ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’–need i say, the universe isn’t so black and white

    JAZZ, the very genre is extrarodinarily female, or at least BI sexual–Chaops (when i type this my text disappears so i dont know if i am typoing)–CHAOS??…?

    I am hoping not to be rude, but to me it sounds you have a block. Ie., if you dont –aren’t open to the explorations of Jazz I sense a block. I speak this from experience. many years ago when I didn’t really understand Jazz music, I got to when I began to learn to day dream when listening to it. That is a key I think

    To get over the block you could try this: Aquire some good sacred magic mushrooms, ingest, and then ask a friend to put on from an assortment of ‘jazz horrors’ you hate, and when not expecting it see what happens
    For psychedelics surely EXPAND consciousness. if there is a ‘you’ that says ‘i don’t like or I like, and another ‘you’ saying the onverse, I say —lets EXPERIEMTNS outside a box we may have locked from the inside

  12. Phil Steel

    January 28, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Hello there,

    I am a gay jazz musician! But I have to say, you did
    hit a chord with me there. I find the jazz gig environment
    really aggressive. It’s as if these chaps want to impress
    and offend at the same time. It’s a funny one – and in fact
    has caused me a great deal of grief.

    I think a saxophone can easily sound very horrible if
    played badly, which is often the case. The soprano is
    usually out of tune and has always reminded me of one
    of those snake charmers instruments.

    But the music is truly creative and can express a real
    depth of emotion – an effective way of showing a side
    of yourself that you perhaps find it difficult to express
    in life.
    Maybe all jazzers need CBT…

    By the way, I like watching that house-finding program
    you present. You’re a very attractive person/funny.

    How about Pat Matheny? He’s a gay jazz guitarist but plays
    really relaxing/peaceful music.

    Cheerio, old chap.

  13. Amelia

    March 14, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I don’t like jazz either, I think it sux. 🙂

  14. Amelia

    March 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    But Ella Fitzgerald is a hugely famous female jazz vocalist. The only time I enjoyed listening to her was at a boutique hotel, we stayed in a luxurious boat shed, it was absolutely suitable for that place, easy listening jazz…truly exquisite and the only time I could listen to jazz and enjoy it with the ambience of that place.

    http://www.boatshed.co.nz/

  15. Amelia

    March 14, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I just remembered I really love Keb Mo “More than one way home” — this is a great song for those of us who hate jazz…LOL 😉

  16. Daniel David

    April 19, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Dave Koz = a gay sax player. And his music — incredible. His kindness — astounding. Try on some Koz, I think you’ll change your views on jazz. Mucho.

    Daniel

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