Key Note by Lars Saabye Christensen
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Jazz is something that does not yet exist, that hasn’t happened, that still hasn’t been played. Jazz is movement, as indeed all music is. Jazz is the soft edges that are smoothed through precisely timed interplay. Jazz is a different place and that is where we have to go. Then we have to go further. Jazz is akin to the watchmaker’s craft. Jazz is time. Jazz is always putting something behind us, without forgetting it, mark you, without forgetting it. In jazz, memory is the theme that creeps up on you or to which you return. In jazz, memory is forward-looking. Jazz is akin to the craft of making umbrellas. They are also effective in the sun. Jazz is hedgehogs in the garden battling with the remote-controlled lawnmower. Jazz is akin to writing. Writing is also movement. Commas are language’s percussive timekeeper. We know where we are going, but not how to get there. That’s jazz. That’s language. Poetry is at home in the spoken word. The narrative is acted out in choruses. Jazz is discipline. You have to be with it. You have to be on the beat. You have to be where the beat is. That is where it’s at. I was once where it was at: on 21st October 1969 in the University Aula, Oslo. Between Munch’s History, Alma Mater and The Sun a bass, a drum kit and a grand piano were waiting, the perfect still life. Then the owners of the instruments appeared: Ray Brown on bass, Ed Thigpen on drums and finally Oscar Peterson, a four-handed Canadian bear who broke the speed limit before he even sat down. I learned a new term, it swung, not like swinging a partner at dance school, not like swinging from a rope in the gym, and not like the swing head of an electric shaver, it swung as in jazz, as only jazz can swing, and that which swings can equally well be slow, muted, or stand with its back to you. As I said, it is all about the beat, the context of the beat, the beat’s social life, as it were, and that is why it is reasonable to claim that jazz is also akin to horse racing, ski flying, relay competitions, gardening, acoustic love, heart transplants, telegrams, ice fishing, dream interpretation and carrier pigeons. Enough of that. In the past, jazz was smuggled into Norway by seamen, musicians, commercial travellers, circus artistes, criminals, waiters and others, and eventually found its own distinctive tones as it encountered Nordic darkness, silence, nature, folk art, its own swing, so to speak, and in this comprehensive and radical meeting writers also obviously have their place; it is hard to conceive of Norwegian modernism without jazz, as the absence of music is absolutely alien to literature. I would say that their interdependence is boundless, and that is one of the reasons we are here today. Personally, I still haven’t quite left the University Aula. I think it was Magritte who, when he was asked why he painted, answered: “Because I don’t have a tail to wag”. When people ask me why I write, I always answer: “It’s because I don’t play the piano”. But I am good at listening. And I look forward to listening. Listening is a discipline, too. Listening together is jazz. I wish everyone a warm welcome to these Jazz Days.
Lars Saabye Christensen
(presented at the jazzahead! Opening Ceremony, 25 April 2019)