Monday, November 1, 2010

" JAZZ!"

Last week Michael and I went out to dinner on an inconsequential Wednesday. We went to Boxley’s Place, a rather excellent restaurant, in North Bend. Boxley’s offers live music, mostly Jazz, every night of the week.
While we were there a pianist, Tony Foster, got on stage. Was briefly and dramatically introduced, then began to play to the handful of diners. He began to play well, then perfectly. Michael and I stopped our inconsequential Wednesday conversation and turned toward the stage to listen.
There was a mike shoved in to the open lid of the grand piano, though the restaurant was small enough for un-aided music. His playing was amplified to drown out clanging cutlery, the birthday-toast glass-tinging, and the general level of the conversation which got louder when the music began.
I listened intently. But also wondered intently, about how such a talented musician ended up at Boxley’s on a Wednesday night in mid-October. An inconsequential Wednesday night at that. Did he have time to kill? Or are there just too many jazz pianists? Too few venues?
I was suddenly reminded of a guest in one of my gardens who, loaded with as much gin as I was, could not desist from questioning me. What sort of garden was this anyway? “I mean,” he begged, “what do you call this style of gardening?”
Gin-numbed I had no answer. I had never thought about a style of gardening really. My client had requested an English garden. I interpreted his wishes by creating lush and colorful mixed borders in the open woodland setting.
The guest still stared at me waiting for the answer.
“ English mixed borders?” I guessed, unconvincingly.
“No,” the garden guest continued, “ that’s too stuffy. This is not a stuffy garden at all.”
“ I don’t know,” I had continued to sip gin and a clear answer became harder and harder to find for this guest who wanted a definitive and exacting answer.
I began to swagger through my memory of the process of making this garden. What were my influences? I had never actually seen an English garden at that point. I had grabbed from every direction I could. The Italian countryside, the German naturalistic gardens I worked in, the lush annual plantings of the Missouri Botanical Garden, even the Sonoran desert. I was a collagist at heart, a surrealist. I had even been called an impressionist or an abstract expressionist, my gardens always being equated with art movements of the past.
Yet I couldn’t, or didn’t want to, put a name on my style.
But the guest only got more inflamed the vaguer I got. If I couldn’t supply an answer he would.
“ Jazz!”
Obviously he had a better handle on the gin than I did. He was suddenly clear and confident in his assessment.
“That’s it! It’s like jazz!”
Now jazz is not my favorite kind of music. It’s too complex, too sophisticated, too brainy for my tastes. But here he was someone I had met for the first time calling my style of gardening “Jazz!”.
And he was right.
All the other tags I applied to this garden, all my efforts to name what I was up to fell short.
Then flat when he repeated it, “Jazz!”
I felt he was becoming more interested in his assessment, his accurate assessment I must add, then in the garden, my style or even me.
As I looked around with the word “Jazz!” bumping against the gin in my head, I could see the complexity and the brainy sophistication in the borders. I could see his point.
I wondered if anyone else saw it that way. Or knew what they saw. Or cared. Most of the other guests in the garden that evening weren’t even looking at the garden; it was just background noise to their conversations.
On that inconsequential night at Boxley’s, I was drinking gin and watching Tony Foster play his heart out to no one but Michael and I. I saw my own dilemna of “playing to deaf ears”. But this pianist’s confidence, the very timbre of his being needed to play. He would have played, like falling in an earless forest, because he had to play.
Like I have to garden.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A few nights ago Michael put on some Thelonious Monk for dinner music.
Now I like dinner and I like music, but some forms of jazz at dinner jangle my digestion.
Maybe it is the demands of the music drawing me away from the pleasure of the meal. I have a hard time “drowning it out”. I decided at that moment, “I don’t like jazz.,” though I kept it to myself.
But I can’t help but agree with the garden guest from years ago, who insisted on calling the garden I created “Jazz!”. I love syncopation. I love setting up a rhythm and breaking it. I love to free associate, to improvise. It’s probably why I found so much pleasure in collage for years. I had made a god of collage and made my gardens in his image. But slowly I am beginning to see the musicality of gardens.
Already years ago I was flirting with this idea, when I was living in Germany and had way more time for thought. A man I was dating at the time was studying musicology at the University of Bonn. I couldn’t believe how angry he was with me for insisting that music and gardening were very closely linked art forms. As if I were trying to connect heaven with hell.
I wasn’t just talking about the rustling of leaves in the wind, or songbirds’ warblings. I insisted that both took place in time and worked intently with interpreting time. He would have none of it. I think that’s when he started considering me an idiot and our lovely little love affair ended shortly thereafter.
I still believe the ideation necessary to make a garden span time is the same sort of ideation needed to make music. I still believe in rhythm, “that fascinating rhythm”. In syncopation, in meter, in harmony and dissonance, and in cadence in the garden.
I still beleive in Ella Fitzgerald, Keith Jarret, Betty Carter, Duke Ellington, and even Thelonious Monk
And, yes, that’s Jazz.