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Trying to keep perky

It's my job to entertain. I choose to play styles of jazz that is very accessible, and people of all ages respond to it. It's exciting when an audience does respond and this gives the band energy. One of the great privileges of playing jazz at a professional level is that I'm surrounded by many astonishing musicians. People who have spent thousands of hours practicing over decades, who have listened closely to how other musicians play (both recorded and live) and picked up styles and ideas from them. Every gig is a job, and very often they feel like it, but some gigs are also a life-affirming joy. I can never tell which gigs will be like this - there are gigs I may look forward to for weeks that turn out to be hard work and disappointing, but there are other occasions where the gig surprises me.


Waiting to perform for a funeral on a damp and chilly day...


There was one occasion last autumn where I arrived at Battersea Park with my sousaphone and met up with two friends, one playing banjo and one clarinet. We were booked to entertain participants for a large charity fun run as they queued to register before they started. It was cold and wet so we were placed in a small gazebo and given folding plastic chairs. The three of us had done many gigs before together, but for some reason when we started playing this gig felt special. We all agreed. None of us could say quite why, but the time flew by and we felt happy to be alive! Jazz musicians have a term to describe this called "swing" - the band is "swinging" (there is also a style of jazz called swing, but you don't have to be playing swing for a band to be swinging, and also if you are playing swing many bands don't swing!). It's an elusive term and nobody can quite describe what it really means, but when a group of musicians in a band are all tuned into the same wavelength suddenly the music gains a new level of energy - rather like a surfer catching a wave.


Another joy of playing jazz is that, within the constraints of a style and the construction of a song, we are improvising (making it up). Each time we play together we are making a musical journey and we don't quite know what we will discover on the way. It's fun - it's playing in every sense of the word.


So when I haven't had this hit for days or weeks I start to feel low. My wife recognises it if I go through a quiet patch in my diary, and I'm lucky she's very supportive and understanding. It's been a couple of weeks now since my last gig and I'm feeling tetchy and grumpy. I posted a bad-tempered post on a local residents group chat yesterday and subsequently apologised to all later. To get myself through months and months of this I'll need to keep myself busy, and keep connecting with friends.


And looking at bigger news since my last post, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and heir to the throne Prince Charles have both caught the bug. The assumption is that their symptoms will be managable and they'll get better, but it does make you wonder.


It's Saturday today, and so far I've painted an old garden table that has needed doing for years and chatted to friends and family. Not such a bad day.

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