100 years ago after the Spanish Flu epidemic, similarly to now, people were confined and isolated for fear of being inflected with a horrible, possibly fatal illness. It also coincided with the end of WW1 and the Jazz Age of the 1920s. It was a time of great of creativity and new ideas in the arts and industry. Women bobbed their hair and tossed away their corsets. It was a time of great joy that the war was over and new ideas opened up a new century of innovation.
In this time of Covid-19, we musicians and/or performing creatives who make our art for an audience in real time, are challenged. Rightly so with the need for social distancing and limited numbers of people in enclosed spaces. It makes for hard times economically with businesses forced to find alternative ways to carry on if they can. Also it creates an opportunity to think outside the box. (Necessity is the mother of invention!) These days many of us are turning to the internet to perform, teach and even rehearse.
Coincidentally, I was asked to participate in an online series of improvisational sessions called Infectious Air, led by flutist Rowland Sutherland and musician/filmmaker Ansuman Biswas and conceived by Bilkis Malek and London DJ Isuru Perera, with visuals by VJ Coco Das. Guesting for Session #5 titled “Assembly” is guitarist Phil Dawson with myself on keys and vocals.
Using the concept of epidemiology, each of the six sessions represents a stage of infection and how the body synthesizes disease. Ishmael Reed uses a similar idea in his novel, ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ (which is an excellent read if you are in the market for some humorous reading) about an illness called ‘Jes Grew’ which started in New Orleans. ‘Jes Grew’ made everyone cakewalk, shimmy and do the Charleston when they ‘caught’ it. It made musicians swing. The Infectious Air sessions share a similar premise that group improvisation is sharing Infectious Air, a contagion if you will.
As jazz musicians we are accustomed to making music in person with the audience in person too! It makes sense then to make use of Zoom to make music in real time. The sessions are one hour in length and give some history to jazz and blues of the 1920s. Each musician shared a solo song and then was joined by the other musicians for a collective improv. And in session number five that audience was allowed to join in a call and response song by Sun Ra called ‘I’ll Wait For You’
I was asked to make by Rowland Sutherland on my experience of cement during Covid-19.
Here in France our confinement was very strict. I couldn’t leave the house without a specific reason, and for a limited amount of time and it for a limited distance. The adjustment was uncomfortable but I adjusted, as we all have adjusted to this in some way I suppose. And I found it to be useful and helped me focus and I got used to it. So now that we’re deconfining, I miss the silence of the empty streets. I miss the fresh air, and lack of air pollution. And lack of noise pollution. I miss the applause we gave to health care workers from our balcony every night. So, even though we were more isolated than we were before, we also experienced more solidarity with others in a more conscious way. And I believe those things are good things, and I hope and I wish that we can keep those things. And if we applied our collective creativity we could keep those things rather than going back to normal.