Jazz is an art form that, by all rights, should be forbidden to Korean artists. It’s expression of a spontaneous idea that cannot be either right or wrong. That’s the point. there is nothing off limits or teachable or expected. It’s pure creativity and expression. It’s the kind of thing most Koreans publicly disdain. But within the confines of jazz music…well as long as there are some confines I suppose it’s alright with society.
High school girls in Korea have a uniform. Not just a dress code they have a uniform way of standing, acting, cutting their hair. For a decade and a half they’ve been molded into a one-size-fits-all model of the female gender. So what did this one bring to the quintet of free expression, release from expectation and formality?
Sticklike other than the staccato nodding and hand movements, when came her turn to let loose she did so with abandon. (Relative abandon. This is Korea, after all.) Her foot stamped out the beat and stomped on the pedals; her knees bent and rocked back and forth, she took up a stance to play; her head banged as her hands belted out soulful and technical notes, working the bridge like weaving a loom.
The keyboardist, too, had a story. After the first duel against the drummer, he himself took up the sticks and drummed. While the main drummer was like a cat with a mouse – expertly toying with the thing, sure of his limits and its – the keyboardist was a kitten – unsure of his power and skill or the moves of the mouse, but pouncing around the way exuberant youth can.
This is Club Evans (map to location, because it’s hard to locate in English), probably the best known jazz bar in Seoul. You’d never know its nestled above a 7-11 in an unassuming little space. If it weren’t for the windows you’d mistake it for a basement in Brooklyn or someplace. Well maybe the clientele and artists would give it away too. This is Seoul, after all.
You can run into lots of interesting people in such a small city that’s so important to the country. For example, there’s a guy who keeps his girlfriend company at the flower shop just outside my door. He’s been to Atlanta once, he said. In 1996. As an Olympic boxer. The guy still retains his size and muscle, looking imposing standing around. I always make an effort to say hello and I hope he thinks kindly of me, I’d hate to think it was the other way.
The past week the apartment above mine here has been rocking. Music plays starting in the morning around 8am and continues until well after midnight. And occasionally this is accompanied by loud thumping. What’s going on up there? Another interesting neighbor I suppose.
Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard music coming from above. Usually there are faint piano sounds. Sometimes these are really basic, like someone practicing scales, and sometimes it’s more like someone rehearsing a piece. It’s always very quiet and I have to strain to hear it. Occasionally there is recorded music that sounds like it’s Arabic or Persian – it’s hard for me to tell.
But starting about a week ago activity increased. The music was louder and more frequent, often going the whole day and late into the night. And the aforementioned thumping started up. I’m not an expert in the region’s music, but it sounded like the same song over and over again. In between playings I’d sometimes hear people talking.
One night the music and thumping was especially loud. Dishes started rattling from all the thumping and it sounded like the ceiling was going to collapse. It was like living below an earthquake. So I went upstairs to see what was up.
I banged on the door trying to overshadow the music. It must have worked because the music stopped, the locks turned and the door swung open. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see behind it, but the sight surprised me.
When I opened the door I was greeted by something much larger and more intimidating than the boxer outside. A guy stepped out, about 6’5″ tall and with a lazy eye looking down at me, his mouth smiling. His shirt off, sweaty, out of breath and very muscular, it was a bit alarming, despite the big smile on his face. I don’t think I physically jumped back but in my mind I did.
I used my diplomatic tools to throw on a smile and speak first. “Do you speak English?”
“Hello. Hello. No English.” He reached out his large hand in a gesture of friendship to shake my hand. I took it.
Motioning to the ground with my other hand open and facing downward I said “It’s very loud.” Hopeful that I’d made my point, and relieved I’d managed to get to this point without physical harm I was bolstered a bit.
“Sorry. Sorry.” He offered his hand again, nodding, panting and still smiling. “Sorry.”
Nothing left to discuss at the moment, I bid him goodbye. He slipped back inside and I went back downstairs. The music resumed, but had quieted noticeably and the thunder seemed more distant too. “What was going on?” I was left to wonder.
I’ve made a few conjectures, but have no real evidence for my theories. From what I can make out, I think the guy above is a performer. Probably some kind of a dancer. I think he must have been practicing for an upcoming performance. Probably with a group, judging by the traffic up and down the stairs. The music has since subsided, so I assume that he’s done his thing and is back to learning piano.
I hope to run into him at some point and try to talk with him. Seems like an interesting person and if I’m right, I’d love to see him perform or something. Or at least satisfy my deepening curiosity. Like I said, you can meet a lot of interesting people in a place like this, and this person is particularly interesting
Initially on arriving I wasn’t quite sure whether Austin would fulfill its promise to be in Texas, but not really a part of Texas. But after having been here a few days I’m ready to pronounce the capital of Texas a state unto its own. It is a state of mind well away from the plains and reigns which are associated with the land around. Geographically, Austin is in what they call the hill country. Everything is bigger in the mind of a Texan. These aren’t so much hills as piles and ditches by most standards. But it’s not arid here like much of the state, nor is it overly humid like the coastal cities. It’s warm and pleasant tonight after a high of 90 during the day.
There’s a great outdoors area just south of the heart of downtown called Zilker Park. It’s packed this weekend since the weather is so nice. It’s free to come in and just wander around. There are many different areas but the one I was most drawn to was the Barton Springs Pool. This is a partially man-made rectangular-ish area with a diving board and life guards and a grassy hill on each side. But the water is constantly refreshed by a freshwater spring and at the opposite end it flows on down the river. The temperature hovers near 68F year round, which is just pleasant enough in the 85-90 degree days.
In downtown it’s strange to say but you’re not reminded as much of Texas as you’d think. Even though you’re in Texas and the state capital is at the center of the city, it just doesn’t feel like what I’d expected. Granted I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in the state, but most of it has been driving through desert or underwhelmed Dallas and Houston. And just outside of Austin you get back to the sprawling suburbs and suburbanites that you expect from the state. But the city itself seems out of place. And that’s a good thing.
Much of that difference is probably linked to two factors – University of Texas and the city’s status as “live music capital of the world”. The first brings a constantly refreshed pool of youth and diversity. As an example, when I was here there was a festival going on at the campus called the Forty Acres Fest. Lots of students out walking around, booths set up for the various university clubs and organizations. Games on the side like inflatable obstacle course, climbing tower, slam dunk, etc. Talked with the folks in the Travel Club of Texas – a group dedicated to talking about where they’ve been, where they want to go and raising money to go.
And there were dozens of student union groups for different nationalities. I got a Malaysian drink and brownie from one fundraiser. Other groups included most of the nationalities of Asia. That’s surprising for a state often known more for its xenophobia than its openness. But this is Austin, not Texas.
And the festival featured the other feature Austin is known for, live music. There were some local groups and some comedy improv during the changeovers. The groups were good – even the ones during the day. And I didn’t hear any country and western music. One band was clearly in the pop-rock scene. Another an indie group. One was a weird funk band that was as entertaining to watch as to hear. But the real highlight of the show was Big Boi of the group Outkast. Another Atlanta boy in town for the weekend.
I just wanted to pop in here and post something new real quick. There’s not going to be much content for right now. November and December are crunch time in my business, so forgive the lack of updates.
I had a thought the other day that there should be a line in some song lyric about the sand of the hourglass of my life is getting heavy, or there’s enough for a beach, or something like that. I don’t know, it sounded good in my head.
I’m going to London in December! Sweet!
Music I’ve been listening to lately:
Ray LaMontagne – Gossip in the Grain
This is a great album. I’m not sure it’s better than his other two, but it’s definitely worth a listen if you like anything he’s done before. Best Tracks: You Are the Best Thing; I Still Love You
Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
This one is really out there. Lots of haunting piano, flute, harmony, etc. It’s good for background and isn’t as depressing as it sounds at first. Best Track: Decatur, Or, Round Of Applause for Your Step-Mother!; Jacksonville
Silver State – Cut and Run
This is a band I ran across in Grand Junction and San Francisco. They’re really good live and Memorex. I’m not sure what they’re up to these days, but these guys should get more airtime. Best Tracks: Faith, You’ve Changed Your Name; Gotta Cut
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Gimme Fiction
These guys are getting more airplay now, though mostly on college radio. They’re really amazing and if you haven’t checked them out yet, I highly recommend it. Best Tracks: You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb; The Underdog and I Turn My Camera On; The Beast And Dragon, Adored
Lou Reed – Transformer
This is a great old album, full of gems. Best Tracks: Satellite of Love; Andy’s Chest
The Beatles – Love
This is a great all-around album. No favorites here, I listen to it first to last.
Any of these alone would be worth the price of the album, in my opinion. Especially since the first two are available on my Emusic subscription. The Streets – On the Edge of a Cliff – I really love this song. It’s really upbeat and I think it’s got a really great line in there. There’s a couple more good songs on the album, too. Gov’t Mule – Soulshine – The song that made me break down and buy an album by a hippie jam band. It’s really bluesy and great. Fun to sing in the car when nobody’s listening. Elbow – Grounds for Divorce – This sounds like a Black Keys song or something. It’s really great, and the other songs on the album aren’t too bad. Listen loud.