I found a cafe the other night as I wandered in the Las Huertas neighborhood of Madrid that looked attractive, with a lived-in-looking art deco interior and a free window table like I prefer. I went in and ordered a glass of white wine and prepared to write or sketch in my notebook, for what seemed to be the perfect way to spend my first evening in Madrid. As I waited for my drink, I checked my Timeout guide on the chance that the place, Cafe Central, might be mentioned, and it was, as one of the prime jazz venues in all of Spain. So when the waiter told me that there would be a performance tonight and would I like to buy a ticket, I thought I could painlessly knock off one of my cultural duties as a tourist while simultaneously doing what I’d always rather be doing: sitting in cafe with a notebook. So I bought a ticket and got to “work.” However, as the show was about to start, the lights went down; I could no longer read or write, everyone else in the room simultaneously lit a cigarette, and I could only join the crowd blinking at the stage and try to avoid becoming enraged at the cloud of smoke thickening in the room.
What’s worse, then the music started. Apparently, Bob Sands is a well-respected musician, and his quartet quite a hot ticket, although the cafe was not a large venue and wasn’t nearly full. I guess when i hear the word “jazz” I always optimistically envision some sort of big band and Sarah Vaughn singing with a flower in her hair. I expect to hear some discernible melody rather than a cacophany of “riffs.”And for the drummer to show some restraint with the cymbal brush. And for one song to sound different from another. Fool.
So already I regretted paying the 11 euros my ticket cost, thinking what a lot of pretentious bullshit jazz is now and wondering if i could blame Miles Davis for this, but THEN–
get this, during the first song, when Mr. Sands was finished with all his frantic riffing, he stepped down from the stage, leaving his remaining trio of minions there to paddle along while he stood off to the side, in full view of the audience, smoking and drinking a beer! Now, I know a jazz performance is often a much more casual event than many other types of musical performances, and that this is indeed part of its charm, but doesn’t that just seem unprofessional and bratty to anyone else? He did this during every song for the rest of the show (of course I left early, but i had seen enough). Not once did any of the other musicians get to smoke or drink or bugger off the stage like that when they weren’t playing at being a star. Only he did, apparently to make sure everyone knew how much soul he was putting into this instrumental rorschach splatter, so much soul that the minute he was done showing off, he had to go lean against an amplifier and sedate himself. And not only that, but as he was smoking and drinking by the side of the stage and watching the lesser stars, he sort of jived along to their playing—like bobbing his head and swinging his free hand to some rhythm only he was able to identify.
Dear Mr. Sands,
Hello, asshole. I’M YOUR AUDIENCE. I’ll be the judge of whether this is groovy or not, you FUCKING PEDANT!
Here is a video of him off in the corner. That big empty space is the unoccupied center stage, and that head which in the video you can barely make out bobbing up and down in the doorway is his.
Also, sometimes he would talk to the audience in that jazz station DJ voice, just under the breath a bit (I guess in an attempt at sexy?), speeding up and slowing down at nonsensical places in a way that suggested he’d really rather be scatting. “nowwwwwwwwwwladiesandgentlemenwe’dliketoplayalittlesongforyouentitled,uh-SAAAAAAAAAAAAAANDSvillllllle….uh one, uh two, uh onetwothreefour” I kept expecting to hear “daddy-o” thrown in somewhere. It was hard not to laugh at what, if this were Saturday Night Live, would certainly be a brilliant send-up of jazz musicians everywhere enchanted by their own coolth, but he wasn’t joking or mocking anybody. It reminded me of how Rufus Wainwright always sounds like he’s doing a hilariously cruel impersonation of himself, except he’s not impersonating; he’s just being himself, and that aural mix of cat rape and teenage whine is a sound he creates unironically.
And yes, one of the songs was entitled Sandsville. I know…