Notes on the Long Intermission

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If anything is musically analogous to this historical fermata, it must be the chorus-length note held by Carmen Lombardo on the Royal Canadians’ classic (and uncharacteristically jazzy) recording of “St. Louis Blues.” It’s been the same note over the past few months and has morphed from Carmen’s unwavering saxophone to what appears to be a (justly) forgotten work by John Cage, calculated to last indefinitely. It’s a note I hear while waking and in my dreams. If only it were merely tinnitus.

The sameness of each day under the specter of COVID-19 is so uniform it’s almost bracing. Yes, we are healthy, but not quite well. We are safe, but not sound. With the inevitable news that a particular festival is not taking place, we shrug and say, “So it goes.” The weeping for each incalculable loss that would have ensued pre-coronavirus is replaced by mere resignation. Live music? Forget it. Someday, probably—if anyone is still interested. Not in AD 2020, the Year of the Virus.

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When the emergency started, it had its element of fun. It was like a power failure where we had a break from the connectedness of everyday life, where we rummage through the kitchen cupboard for candles and drink warmish beer and talk over the flickering light. And it is a relief to unplug from All That. Not going out for a while? Nobody else is, either. Cool!

When the mood slips from the sensation of camping in a tent in the backyard to prolonged trench warfare, it’s not as delightful. Some of us are climbing out of our foxholes and over the ridge into the line of possible infection, having gone mad from confinement. I admit I braved the possibility of danger when I decided I absolutely needed a haircut. I realize now that one does not receive the usual quality of hair care while wearing a protective mask. It was more like a stunt—I was shorn of unwanted growth, but it was a rough job, all told. And I had to trim my own eyebrows when I got home.

Jazz fans are feeling the itch during this long intermission. A few days ago Wayne Pauli, of the KW Dixieland Jazz Club in Kitchener, Ontario, sent out a satirical email (for which great thanks) that aptly expresses what so many of us are thinking as we wait (and keep waiting) for the music to play again:

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We’re back! Yes! We’re back!
Opening day: September 7, 2029

This is “Stage 57.”

We’re glad to announce that jazz will be back September 7, 2029, but with some significant changes. This, of course, depends on the weather, COVID-19, and if there are still some musicians still available to perform.

Entrance to the club will be kept to 15 fans at one time.

Each person will have to sit at a table by themselves for social distancing.

Fans will be allowed to hear two songs at a time, and then will have to leave the room to disinfect before the next group can join in.

Of course, the admission price will have to go to $50 per person in order to offset the low attendance. Drinks will be a flat $39 and will be served with long straws so that fans won’t have to touch the glass or bottle.

Of course, drinking through your mandatory face mask could pose some problems but we’re sure you’ll figure it out.

Be sure to bring your Depends because the washrooms will be off limits.

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And do not clap or touch yourself in any inappropriate manner.

Breathing during performances is forbidden.

Bands will be limited to three musicians at one time and will include trios of trumpet, bass, and drums; piano, banjo, and trombone; clarinet, drums and banjo; trumpet, trombone and clarinet; and possibly other combinations as things evolve.

Of course, musicians are expected to wear masks at all times, which will be a definite improvement in many cases, and should produce a unique new sound.

There will be protective plastic dividers between the band and the fans.

Since many of our musicians will be in their 70s, 80s, and 90s by this time, they will be allowed to sit while performing.

Musicians’ drinks will be served in those “head caps” that hold bottles and are also used with a straw.

Of course, we will have much more wheelchair and walking cane access.

As avid loyal fans we trust that you will co-operate with this new method for opening the jazz club.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

This made me smile, and not much does these days. But even if I haven’t been delirious with joy about the prospect of publishing during the pandemic, it must be said that The Syncopated Times is staying the course. In 2016, our first year of publication, we listed 68 festivals between March 15 and Thanksgiving. Last year, we listed 38 festivals over the same period. This year, due to COVID-19, there are four.

Yet even with the loss of festival advertising, we are not broke. In lieu of advertising revenue, subscribers are keeping us afloat—for which I am deeply grateful.

And this good news just in: the Historic Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival will proceed as a scaled-down, one-day event on August 15. I’ll close on that brief, decidedly positive note.

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