Friday, May 08, 2009

Jazz and a Full Moon over Flint

Last night at the Flint Institute of Music's warmly intimate MacArthur Recital Hall, nerdy-looking and distinctly middle-aged guitarist Lawrence Newman sat inconspicuously in the background for the first eight pieces while a wonderful collection of jazz musicians -- from the Flint Institute of Music faculty and the Limonest Conservatory in France -- performed a free concert. Then, on the ninth number, the flutes, trumpets and a trombone came out onstage to join the guitars, saxophones, vibes, piano and bass and the whole crowd played three numbers announced as Larry Newman compositions: "Aisle Land," "Voices," -- my favorite of the three -- and the buoyant "Stride" which ended the two-hour show. Throughout the three fabulous performances, Newman stood up and wandered toward the spotlight, but mainly hunched over his guitar or kept a sidelong glance on the other musicians, smiling as they played out his work. As we used to say in Ohio, "Who'd a thunk?" It was terrific entertainment and one of those nights -- a prototypical Flint kind of thing, psychologically speaking -- when one goes in with an open mind expecting nothing in particular and then comes out happily surprised and satisfied into the moonlight.

Invariably, I found myself thinking typical Flint thoughts about the FIM musicians and wondering -- hell, they live here? Where? How do they feel about plying their trade in this old town? Do they wonder how they ended up in Flint when they wake up at 4 a.m.? Where do they hang out? Does a night like last night make it all worthwhile? Do they say to skeptical colleagues from more glamorous ports, "you know, it's not a bad life after all?"

It's true the Midwest has its moments -- of stubborn resilience and serendipity. Sometimes Flint is like the Susan Boyle of cities.

Anyway, I loved the curly-haired, intellectual-looking Jeff Price, an FIM faculty member and saxophonist, gently introducing the show by describing an afternoon in a bar in Lyon, France, wishing his musician friends could play in Flint. Something that starts in a bar in Lyon, France and ends up in the MacArthur Recital Hall pleasing all the rest of us on a balmy May night isn't all bad, and I thank Price for making it happen. The money came from rich people, of course -- the small cadre (and smaller and smaller, one worries--let's hope there are no Madoff victims among them) who keep some of the finest things in Flint going -- in this case, the Patricia Cumings Dort Fund and the David T. Dort Fund.

About halfway through the show, I leaned over to my neighbor and friend John, who's about 20 years my junior, and said the music was making me thirsty for a glass of vin rose and a dark little French cigarette. Back in my day you could still hear jazz from time to time in smoky cafes if you knew where to look -- even in Ohio. John, on the other hand, said he'd never heard jazz anyplace else than in a concert hall. Too bad! We reflected on where it all started -- certainly not in a hall where everybody there looked, uh, well-educated and maybe dressed up a little for the occasion. Does it make it all too astringent, I wondered, like seeing some arcane little piece of a water jar in the Kelsey Museum in A-squared?

So yeah, full moon. John and I walked from our increasingly leafy street to the FIM, and then back, in richly silver light of the moon over the Flint Institute of Art and then Mott Community College and then over our own houses in something like a painting by Rene Magritte.

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