“Jazz is a verb” or The Space Upstairs
“Second Saturdays” at The Space Upstairs is an elusive event. It’s not supposed to be understood by words, but by experience. It’s therefore that The Space Upstairs’ description is a postmodern puzzle: a multiversity for new theories and practice in postjazz.
“The jazz goes on as long as it has to mentally,” says The Space Upstairs’ founder, Pearlann Porter. “It’s beautiful to watch someone express something about themselves for the first time.
“It’s not performance as performance, but it’s like seeing something in your house,” She continues. “It’s treating jazz like a verb, not a style. It’s willing to improvise and adapt to the movement.
“Everyone can listen to music, anyone can move…This is about articulating your moves, your expression, the unknown about yourself….creating something.
“There’s something liberating and freeing about The Space…”
The goal for the The Space Upstairs is the realization of a mood: approachability.
“It feels like someone’s living room ” she says. “No stuffiness.”
A 4000 square foot warehouse space, above Construction Junction. There is lighting hung everywhere; hardwood floors; “residual energy of furnishings from Construction Junction.”
“The vibe of the room is…the space speaks, it speaks jazz,” says Pearlann.
“People come in expecting a “CJ” type place. [But there’s the] comfortability of furniture, and their visual senses are overloaded. The switch! Sometimes it happens when people come up the stairs…old typewriters, lamps, a chandelier….
“it’s cozy. It’s a living room,” she says. “You can’t hold onto expectation very long. This idea of dance that’s born there and lives there…it’s like inviting everyone into our house.
“it’s like watching two people play like gifted children…
What is postjazz?
“Postjazz” is an original discipline devised by Pearlann and incubated at The Space Upstairs. Postjazz is an organic method of ‘physicalizing music’ as a jazz musician ‘plays the moment’, asking us to be fully non-fictional in how we move, where we are at, the circumstances we are in, and who we are.
There is no importance or significance to embodying any physical particular technique or employing any traditional vocabulary of learned sequencing, postures and shapes. Instead, we ask to simply identify with and clarify our natural disposition within the music and further influence the sound through the motion we play.
A Second Saturday experience
After this interview, I really had no concept of postjazz. Pearlann is delightful to speak with, and her words expound a sensational opulence. But it’s a visual thing. I think her theory goes beyond the limited scope of words. I needed to see postjazz in person.
Second Saturdays at The Space Upstairs has a pale of lounge-flavor. It is shadowy, dark. Lit by the evening tranquility of lamplight and spotlight.
“Jazz is a verb. There’s a play, a relationship that influences a visual music,” says Pearlann. “A relationship and an influence. When a dancer walks in there, the sound doesn’t change but the band switches. If you’re really with it, you can change the influence of your experience.”
See, you walk into a bar or restaurant, you find a table. But inside The Space there’s only seats on the outer edge of a ring which overlooks a hardwood dance-floor.
A Second Saturday may start at 8 o’clock officially, but its first hour is in anticipation:
“Drop-in and stay for an undetermined amount of time, sit wherever you’d like, be in our space – This is our jazz.”
Get a drink. Sit on one of these nice, comfortable, plush sofas…
Time builds casually; anticipatory, a little drifting notion. First: music; a little warm-up. Where do we begin: the drums, the keyboards…
The Jazz man: Newsies cap. Old duster. Smoky voice, tight little chicken legs and a big red light from overhead shining down. He begins by doing a little ratatat, gesticulating. His form is a combination of rhythmic speech, scat and a response to the movement of the dancers, the swing of the drummer and keyboard pianist.
My friend leans over to me, “Is this bad?”
I say, “No, it’s cute.” They’re covering the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” It is improvisational, they are taking liberties. A middle-aged woman bobs her head to the beat, glass of wine in her hand. Otherwise, no movement. Everyone sits tight. It’s 9:06pm.
Then, the music stops. Pearlann welcomes everyone, ‘thank you for coming…’
“Ah, they were warming up,” my friend says, relieved. I suppose she was worried it’d be Doors covers til dawn.
Pearlann implores everyone to make themselves comfortable. Says, “We are about to begin.”
Something must be said for the marathon in which these two jazz musicians played. A rich tapestry of music sustained by athletes willing to go off one another for a four-hour stretch. The percussionist was a wizard, able to sustain an energy from beginning to end with an incredulous ease which was matched by the enthusiasm of a keyboardist who sauntered, swayed, rocked, and stampeded through various levels of up-in-the-air and subterranean blues. It was turbulent and in-control. It was an organism. An organism that really took shape with the dancers…
Pearlann had described postjazz simply to me as, “trusting movement like a jazz musician would treat music.”
When the first dancer started, his jagged impulsive switches in movement were jarring and impressive. The dancer was erratic and smooth at the same time, like watching an electric current find it’s stasis in water. The impassive face of the dancer, mottled in steady concentration was like a cat, fixed on play-before-kill. The living room suddenly became arena seats watching surgery. This dancer was present and in real-time dissecting his every move to his every reaction to the brand new music being put into the aether.
Green and red spotlights pour down from the ceiling above the dance floor, illuminating the insularly exploding movement of this single person’s expression.
The jazz singer, his name is Moe Seager, scats with an old school American gruffness.
“feelin’ a little bit groooooooovy” he groans.
He is in step with the dancer and the drummer, tapping his foot. He gives a ringing ba-ba-ba before he shoots back into his poetry, reading it in the rhythm. The dancer ends and begins with every song phrase.
“It’s about speed, strength, movement not shape,” Pearlann said.
Watching these dancers work is like watching a street vendor weave silk. A lot of noise, but met passively. There’s an ear for the world, sure. People walk by, traffic, noise…but in the focus is it met on a liminal plain: trimming smoothness.
These dancers are resident artists. Not necessarily classically trained, some never trained at all before coming under Pearlann’s tutelage. Their style is organic and full of personal decision.
“If I’m doing something right, you won’t notice you’re doing anything at all,” says Pearlann. “It needs to be obtuse in every direction. How do I feel? How do I hear this music?”
There are not many people in attendance. It is intimate, small, not showy. That is intentional, perhaps explaining the latent softness with promotion.
That’s because The Space is about an intimacy: “On stage, the audience is a sea of blackness. In the space, you see them. When you really see someone they’re willing to enter your moment.
“You learn the person before you ever learn their name,” says Pearlann. “There’s something beautifully frightening about that.”
Second Saturday is an exhibition of these dancers. A revolving door of the same four all night long. Each dancer had their particular style and each of their styles was rooted in the same flowing movement that seems to dominate postjazz as a dance-form. The night began well for each dancer, but there was something not quite affixed from the get-go. Maybe one’s movements didn’t match to the music. Maybe the pacing was off. Was it the singer? Some of the dancers held their pauses for too hefty a moment; it was too clear they were in their head rather than riding their body.
Every Second Saturday comes to a point. “The lean-in” , she describes: “Everyone leans…on the edge of their seat. we build a relationship with [the dancers, the musicians].”
The night is designed in such a way as to build collaboratively: music, dance, audience as one. Everyone is just waiting for the organism to happen. And they keep stimulating it, injecting it with new dancers, beats, steroids, hormones…inductions of postjazz pills, new attempts at making the room come together as a transcendental living room—no longer just a single person’s self-expression, but an entire collective groove, everybody nodding, tapping and moving in sync.
People come up from the audience unprompted, and undenied dance along with the resident dancers. Some of these volunteers are amazing dancers. Some of them are pretty clearly amateur. There is a verve, however. There’s a life that’s being supplied. It’s combination of the museum-like surveillance of an audience watching from their cozy look-out posts, and improvisation sparking chances, risks.
“Being free as you were once, and clear about that freedom,” says Pearlann, “it’s beautifully jarring.”
It’s now 11pm and the crooner man sings, “Georgia on my Mind” as the dancer in a leotard and beanie moves with the ballerina’s rapid full-flex of muscle meeting a hip-hop dancer’s almost tantric fluidity. It is a game of Red Light, Green Light where the pause is a sculpture and the movement is a new animal after every break. She tumbles through the lighting and shows the balance of the body, articulating the stretch of muscles and composition of form.
As the night falls towards its end, the audience has been skeptical, engaged, interactive and now immersed. It’s a very live event, “listening to music out loud,” Pearlann calls it. “We turned everyone into dancers whether they know it or what.”
The last song is an invitation for everyone to get up and dance. More than half the people do. We try what the dancers tried, try mimicking animals and wind and slogging on the floor and jumping like ballerinas. Try imitating nature, somehow, with our strange-creature bodies.
Pearlann had said, “Music is an art that literally goes through as every moment of your life probably has: a soundtrack. To speak from that place, but out loud from our body is cathartic. Everybody’s already hearing the music in your head.”
Check out Second Saturday has been going for 10 years. $10 entry.
As well as performances of Invisible Jazz Labs: once a month.