One of the joys of listening to music is of course seeing it and hearing it live. As an amateur on piano, I love to sit where I can view the flying fingers of the professional at work, marvelling at the speed, dexterity, and creativity before my eyes that I can only imagine listening at home. As I said in an earlier post, I do not feel that a recording ever captures the full, woody sound of an expert bass player, even in duos like those of Houston Person and Ron Carter, a couple of my favorite disks. And overall, the emotion/passion, the connection with the audience, and the ability of an audience to lift a band to greater heights (or visa versa, a band that brings an audience to new heights) cannot be felt through the stereo.
The real energy comes from seeing and hearing a live performance, although some would argue that a live performance also can encourage excess, be unbalanced, be marred by silverware and dish sounds, etc. But those are quibbles for another time or blog. A great live performance raises the heart rate, captures the imagination, and brings the listener to new heights.
Unfortunately, for many of us it is hard to get to a lot of shows. I live close to the NY scene, but obligations at home and early morning work hours don't allow me to stay in Manahttan often enough. I catch what I can in Connecticut (thank you Quick Center at Fairfield University), but salivate over all the shows I never get to in NY, where there are great bands and players almost every night. And for those who live elsewhere, you may have clubs in your cities, particularly if you are in Chicago or San Francisco, D.C. etc, but you may equally be miles from the music.
Over the years, to give jazz fans the feeling of being there, live jazz has been streamed by NPR and WBGO and others, and includes sets from the Village Vanguard, Newport, and Monterey, among other locations. One can go to the archives at anytime to hear some great performances, and sometimes even download them. Even so, until now one has basically heard the live music but not seen it, which brings the listener halfway to nirvana. DVDs can show live music too, but the energy still just seems to be lost in the translation.
Now Smalls Jazz Club has entered a new phase in transmitting live music, with every show being streamed live from the Small's stage on a nightly basis. Using three cameras, the picture captures the musicians from behind the piano, across the band, and from behind the drums, rotating throughout the set. The sound and picture are remarkably good, even on my small computer, but if I knew what I was doing with a home system, I assume it would be remarkable on my flat screen with stereo speakers. [In the interest of full disclosure, let it be known that I do go to Smalls when I can (which is maybe twice a year) and do know Spike Wilner, although I was in no way compensated or influenced in writing this blog.]
Is it perfect, like being there? No, but is it remarkable and absolutely worth the base price that Small's is charging for access to so many first rate artists. For the price of a single night at Small's (or slightly more than a single CD), $20.00, you can watch any show streamed live to your computer; for larger amounts you get access to archives, CDs from the Small's Live label, and effectively a front row seat to any show. And Smalls has great players regularly -- check out the schedule both past and present.
So technology moves on, and you are one step closer to the live show. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity and others like it of which this writer is not aware, and I hope there will be more streaming from other clubs around the country or around the world. Imagine watching music from any club wherever you can get on the internet. I myself would like to be at Pizza Express or Ronnie Scott's in London, or Yoshi's in San Francisco, or the Green Mill in Chicago, or Blues Alley in D.C. -- the list goes on.
But this still doesn't replace the joy, passion, and high of being at the club, so I also hope this technology whets your appetite to get up, out, and down to your nearest jazz club. The clubs need you, the players need you, and the jazz community needs you to be there.