Monday, May 11, 2009

The Blossom of Parting

Much to blog about from the last week, getting to the big Medieval Studies congress at Kalamazoo: over 3000 medievalists all doing their thing. It was my first time, and judging from last year's blogs, it's not unexpected to blog several times, as reflections and patterns emerge.

My first foray into Kalamazoo blogging is conditioned by what I did last night. I landed at La Guardia, jumped into a cab and dumped my bags at the apartment, and then we headed down to 27th street, the Jazz Standard, to hear the Branford Marsalis quartet. We queued early, so were sitting right down the front. We watched a young man emerge from the curtains and present bouquets of Mother's Day flowers to the women at a side table; and someone told us this was Marsalis's 18 year old drummer, Justin Faulkner, who, for legal reasons, has to have his parents in the room whenever he plays in clubs. (He's still a high school student in Philadelphia.) When the quartet appeared ten minutes later, everyone clapped and cheered, and Marsalis said, "how're you doing?" to Joel, who was sitting within three feet of the stage.

The music was extraordinary. They had played the club all week, two shows a night, and Marsalis sounded a bit tired as he introduced the band, but when they started to play, the fatigue dropped away. Most of us were mesmerised by Faulkner, in any case, who watched Marsalis and the others obsessively, while also putting out the most complicated rhythms imaginable, driving, fighting with, and fighting for the music, every step of the way. I watched his foot tapping the cymbal pedal in one rhythm, while his hands pounded and flew across the drums and cymbals, several other rhythms chasing each other around the kit. He would grin wildly, or concentrate with his tongue sticking out. His dialogues and flytings with Joey Calderazzo on the piano were utterly engrossing. Marsalis was great, too, but this review explains precisely my sense of the relation between the leader and the other players.

The most bittersweet thing they played was second on the list, a composition by Calderazzo called "The Blossom of Parting." Reminding me a little of the poignancy and complexity of a riff on "Autumn Leaves", the music is sweet and low, setting up the movement of loss and parting and reunion between drums and piano, with the sax sailing across like the movement of clouds over water on a sunny day. Many of us were in tears.

Not the second time for me that day. Tom dropped me at Detroit airport, and though I'd managed my other partings from dear friends (some of whom I had not seen since before I had had to face my own mortality through illness), this one, with the one I will probably see again soonest, threatened to dissolve me. The final blossom of parting.

The previous night I was seriously thinking of not going to the dance. I was exhausted, and feeling I could imagine the sweaty crush of scholars quite well from the peace of my hotel room. But in fact, it didn't take much persuading. The others in my dinner party were equally ambivalent and when various denizens of Babel threatened not to speak to us again, and when JJC said I would not be able to blog about Kalamazoo if I didn't go, then the decision was made.

We got there, and in five minutes were on the dance floor, throwing ourselves into the crush with abandon, as that's the only way to do it. I did observe that I was not among the 80% - or even the 90% - of the youngest on the dance floor, but didn't care, really, about that. I was even doing well enough in the high heels I was still wearing, and was able to twist down the ground and stay there a long time in "Shout". The fact that my knees then locked and that I had to be helped up to my feet by a former editor of Studies in the Age of Chaucer, I record here for posterity and my own shame, just to get in before any camera or iphones that might have recorded this event. Shudder.

We left at the perfect moment for leaving - just after the call for last drinks - so I didn't get a chance to bid goodbye to Tiny. But he knows how I feel.

1 comment:

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

The Australian contingent was among the dancers on the floor, I will admit. I am so glad you came to that part.

You left before Eileen and I had our dance. It was something else.