The chilli sauce bottle reads “Est. 1929- The Gold Reef’s original watering hole and place for serious debate and cultural activity”. So far the serious debate at our table has been drawing various reproductive organs on a serviette and then inconspicuously slipping them back into the larger pile; and the only cultural activity I’ve partaken in invloved ridding any biological cultures from my digestive tract with the sweltering chilli-filled ‘Josie Field’ pizza. The ceiling fans are barely making an effort to clear the air of the thick heat, history and jazz that saunter through the beer hall with fedoras; panamas; bright eyes and dark sunglasses. It’s Sunday afternoon at Radium Beerhall, and Spring has sprung so hard she leaped right into Summer.
I’m not a fan of Jazz. It all sounds exactly the same to me. Like beer. I see its appeal, but it could do with a shot of tequila to liven things up a bit. So what am I doing at Radium Beerhall on the first Sunday of September? Trying to understand why I don’t understand jazz. Like the time I went to the German Beer Fest and tried to get drunk (it didn’t work, but I have more optimism for this project because it involves less physical activity on my behalf ). Well, Radium is the Beer Fest of Jazz. And Jazz, as I understand it, has to do with maturity, sophistication and generally being a ‘cool cat’.
So, on my initial checklist, I’m well on my way to completing this cultural experience. The audience members are on average double my age; I’m drinking a well-priced glass of white wine; and there’s a resident black cat strolling nonchalantly down the isles. But then the youngest member of Parkview Primary School’s ‘Young Cats’ stands up and blows all my assumptions down the brass tube of his trumpet with an astounding solo. The initiative, led by Tom Davies (smooth talking, cream-panama-wearing grand-jazz-guru of Radium Beerhall), gets kids together on a Saturday afternoon to practice their ‘cool’, and today Radium is crammed with doting parents and awestruck regulars making this ‘cool’ really hot and sweaty. There’s squelching tapping feet, slippery clicking fingers, and sweat-beaded nodding heads of approval in every corner.
After the ‘Young Cats’ comes the ‘Two tenor band’ (which to my momentary disappointment doesn’t involve a Chinese tourist attempting to pay for his food with ‘two tennas’) and my mind wanders off to the Newspaper headlines papering the back side of the stage. Memorable one liners such as ‘Lesbians Lose Appeal’ and ‘Situation is vrot with danger’. My gaze continues to wander around Radium (as the theme tune to ‘Star Trek’ is jazzed down) to the old football photos; and eventually, to a sketch of this very corner (9th street and Louis Botha)-about a hundred years ago. And then it all falls into place. The two tenor saxophones are click-counted in, and with this sound, as in the picture, there is infinite possibility. Their final song ‘Winter Wonderland’ takes me down the dusty streets in the picture of this very city corner, glimmering with the hope of gold and the dry heat of both this afternoon and the one portrayed, with the contrast of a snowy landscape invading my ears. I realise that, with jazz, it’s up to you to create the story, the characters, and the scenery in your own mind. The music is just the picture-frame. With a jolt, I think I get jazz. But then the moment passes.
The spell is broken when I accidently loosen a chilli with my tongue from my back teeth and I am forced to reach over to my table-fellows and gulp down the nearest available drink, which is inevitably a beer. But next Sunday I will be back for the ‘Fat Sound 19-piece jazz band’ as advertised, and perhaps I’ll sit by the picture again whilst being immature; unsophisticated and burning my bowels with the delicious pizza. But most importantly, maybe I’ll understand jazz again- just for a moment.
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