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Sam Delaney: 'I thought I was too good for my local jazz club. Not any more'

Sam Delaney's trips to hear his newly discovered musical love at his local jazz club has changed his life for the better

Jazz performing

Image: Jensthekkeveettil/unsplash

Well, it’s finally happened: I have started attending my local jazz club.

When I moved to this area 15 years ago, I was aware that the local boozer had a small live venue out the back that was somewhat renowned in jazz circles. But I was still in my early thirties back then and thought I was too good for jazz. I believed jazz was daft and pretentious; for posturing weirdos and earnest chin-strokers in berets and polo necks. I saw myself as too cool, modern, thrusting and dynamic to set foot in such a place.

Things change. I started secretly listening to jazz a few years ago strictly as an accompaniment to work. I found that the meandering, lyric-free sounds somehow aided my writing process. I kept the output of John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk contained to my AirPods, too ashamed to let the world know that I was ‘using’ jazz to drive my productivity.

You must understand that, initially, I didn’t actually like jazz. I was abusing jazz. It helped focus my thoughts and navigate me gently into a state of work-hypnosis. There is probably some sort of neuro-scientific explanation for all this that I am too lazy to look up.

In lockdown, I bought a book of mid-century design that featured a number of beautiful covers for albums by the likes of Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck. My father-in-law, a true and unashamed lifetime jazzer, caught wind of my interest in the aesthetics surrounding the music. Next thing I knew, he’d sent me some records in the post. Entry-level stuff, really. Nothing too dangerous. But I began to play these discs occasionally, whenever I found myself alone in the house, while I sipped a coffee and stroked the cat. Soon, I realised I was starting to actually enjoy the way these strange noises were making me feel.

Cut to the autumn of 2022 and my best mate Olly and I are squished into the tiny jazz club I once vowed never to attend. We are watching a band comprised of men decades older than us, with grey hair, wrinkled skin and unfashionable trainers. They are performing with such skill, passion and enthusiasm that it is making us both feel quite emotional. They play a bit of jazz, a bit of soul and by the end it’s all verging on the edge of the sort of funk music Olly and I have traditionally had more time for. 

We are both up on our feet, dancing, shoulder to shoulder with the ragtag audience of local old folk, curious out-of-towners on a pilgrimage and the dyed-in-the-wool jazz-people who are here every night. At 47, Olly and I are among the youngest here. What we love perhaps even more than the music is the lust for life, the unselfconscious glee and the unapologetic un-coolness of the people around us. 

As middle age trundles on, and I start to see my autumn years on the distant horizon, I sometimes worry. What will life be like when my man-boobs are sagging and my trainers are bought from the supermarket? Does the loss of edge have to mean the loss of purpose, fun and vitality? Or does it, in fact, mean the opposite. Could it be that the jazzers were right all along? That worrying less about how you look and more about how you feel represents true liberation. 

A gig up the river at the O2 Arena by a ‘legacy’ band who I used to watch on Top of the Pops in the ’90s costs upwards of a hundred quid and is a right hassle to get to. The local jazz club costs me a tenner, I can walk there and back in minutes, I hear music that I have never heard before played up close in a manner that is fascinating to me and nobody gives a shit when I get up and start dancing really badly.

That’s living all right. Turns out I wasn’t too good for jazz – jazz was too good for me. But not any more.

Read more from Sam Delaney here. Follow him on Twitter here.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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