by AmyBeth Inverness, Burlington Writers Workshop
Review of Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra on Saturday, April 24.
Saturday night I took my teenage daughter to see Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra on the Flynn MainStage. I kept it as a surprise for her, because she has special needs and tends to get very worked up anticipating anything out of her regular schedule.
We got dressed up, and not only did I refresh the bright pink and blue stripes in my daughter’s hair, but I dyed my own accent braid pink and blue to match. We parked on the roof of the parking garage, and I attempted to get a selfie with the Flynn in the background. Since one duty of the mother of a teenager is to embarrass her at every opportunity, I not only insisted on a dozen more selfies as we walked down Church Street, but I resorted to handing my phone to total strangers and asking them to snap a photo for us.
My daughter ate it up. She loves to be ‘embarrassed’ in this way. She rejoices in rolling her eyes before she smiles for the camera.
I had originally thought we’d have dinner at El Corjoto Taqueria and Cantina on Bank Street, but even as early as it was, the taqueria was already overflowing. That didn’t matter much to us, though. Between the parking garage and the Flynn there are dozens of choices for dinner.
My daughter pointed out Leunig’s Bistro. I only hesitated a moment—this is a ‘special occasion’ restaurant on our budget—but I decided that this night qualified. She polished off her plate of Cavatappi Carbonara, and I enjoyed what is not only the best Beef Bourguignon I will ever eat but also the best I will ever find, anywhere. It was that good.
Telling her about the concert was anticlimactic, as I expected. She already knew we were going somewhere special. She just nodded and accepted the fact, with none of her usual endless list of repeated questions. After all, there were a million fascinating people to watch. Her attention was everywhere.
Certain mental disorders are marked by a random use of non-sequitur. My daughter is the queen of random comments. We might be walking down a hallway and she’ll say “it might have been a worm” prompting me to figure out whether something she saw reminded her of a worm, or whether she’s spontaneously remembering a conversation from three days ago that didn’t involve me. As we walked into the gorgeously restored Flynn Theater lobby, her observation was “This would make a good hotel.” Not “This looks like a hotel,” but “This would make a good hotel.”
I smiled. I did not expound on the history of Art Deco, even though I hold a degree in architecture and have a special affection for the history of design. I simply enjoyed the moment.
The crowd was growing. We ran into the fertility nurse who helped me get pregnant with my younger daughter. She was attending the concert with her mother, as both are huge fans of jazz. We chatted with the friend from church who had once answered my plea for someone to take away the over-abundance of fruit produced by my plum tree. She introduced us to her companion saying, “This is the lady with the plums.” The elderly woman’s hair had been dyed in delightful bouncy curls of cotton-candy pink and blue, just like my teenager’s hair had bright streaks of the same colors. Fashion knows no age.
We were seated on an aisle, which necessitated getting up and down several times as others arrived. Staring has always been a problem with my daughter, but she has learned to control it, and the theater was filling with so many people that her eyes didn’t stay in one place for long. I’m not sure what was going through her head, but in the middle of the concert when someone in our row needed to get out I had to practically shake her to get her attention.
I have very little experience with jazz. I played the cello in the symphony orchestra when I was growing up, and the concert experiences are quite different. The first thing I noticed was that the percussion section, instead of hiding in the back, was front and center. I was shocked! Don’t they know who sits in the percussion section? Drummers! (I googled “drummer jokes” and instantly received 15.6 million results. Pick one.) Of course, as the evening progressed, I realized the necessity. Whereas a classical concert would have a conductor guiding every moment of music, Arturo O’Farrill was constantly jumping in on the piano or stepping back to showcase a soloist. And the drummers had another purpose as well; the man on the drum set was delightfully straight-laced in a suit and tie that made me want to loosen it for him. The performer in the middle who played several different percussion instruments was sans tie. Some lucky woman already beat me to it.
The second thing I noticed was that, whereas the rule of the symphony is Thou Shalt Not Applaud Between Movements, during the jazz performance it was perfectly acceptable for the audience to whistle, clap, and even call out their appreciation while the musicians were still playing. I think it has something to do with the feeling that these artists are bringing the melody out of themselves, that it was never written or planned but is simply being born in the moment.
That’s when I realized what the essential difference is. Classical music, the symphonies I grew up listening to and performing, are what we plan life to be. There will be parts that are slow, parts that are fast, but they will be carefully organized, presented with proper pauses and transitions. We know how it ends. Then we applaud.
Jazz music is what life actually turns out to be as we live it. One piece was characterized by a sudden blare, followed immediately by a softer, smoother melody. Then unexpectedly, the blare popped up again, and eventually it insinuated itself with the softer tune. I thought, “This is exactly what it’s like to be a mom.” We’re going along, doing what needs to be done, when suddenly the kids burst in and say “Mom! This! Now!” Eventually, the calls from the kids wend themselves so intrinsically to the rest of the music that we can’t possibly imagine one without the other.
We’d like to think that our lives will be one long, well-presented composition with a standing ovation at the end. In reality, our lives are punctuated with applause and cat-calls. Sometimes our attention is monopolized by something unanticipated. Sometimes we realize there is an underlying melody that we’ve heard all along but never quite identified. Somewhere along the way we realize that the sound of a muted trumpet is the sexiest sound we’ve ever heard, even though brass never really did it for us before.
Most importantly, there will be spontaneity and joy. And we will share it with someone we love.