Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Thinkin' About Charles Gayle

Dunno why I'm thinking of Charles Gayle lately. He's a free jazz saxophonist and sometimes pianist from New York who performed here a few times in the 1980s. He is best known for having been homeless for a long period, playing on the streets; he can afford a small apartment in New York, now -- I imagine in one of the less expensive areas. Gayle has a powerful style -- like someone who is trying to blow his guts out through his horn, trying to force more experience, more raw emotion, more of his soul out of the instrument than it can actually channel; more interestingly, the two times I saw him, when the mood overcame him, he stopped playing and began preaching onstage -- what seemed at the time a particularly hostile form of evangelical Christianity. At the Glass Slipper -- anyone remember that delightful little venue? See here for an undated article on an attempt to reinvent it -- I recall him leaving aside his sax, taking up the microphone and saying a few things about Christ; it was at a peak point of intensity, musically, and came as quite a shock. There was an occasion -- I don't remember if it was the night in question or not, since for some reason (drugs?) the memories of that evening are vague for me -- where it is said he actually cleared the venue, testifying and haranguing the unbelieving audence until they walked out. I don't think that happened that night, if it ever did; but I do recall quite clearly that at a subsequent Vancouver International Jazz Festival, at one of the free shows, he started to preach in a similarly inappropriate manner -- while playing the piano, as I recall. He told the audience that he wasn't there to ENTERTAIN them -- as I recall it, he said something like, "white middle class folks think they're gonna come to a jazz festival and be entertained, but I'm here to tell you that YOUR SOUL CANNOT BE SAVED except through Christ. Maybe you think you're saved but I'm telling you if you don't accept Christ you are going to burn in hell..." It didn't seem like jazz to me, and it definitely didn't feel like entertainment, but it caught my notice and stayed in my memory (and in fact is about the only thing I recall from that year's festival, other than thinking Paul Dolden had a silly hairstyle). I don't believe that Mr. Gayle has played here since. He's a bit sheepish about the testifying thing -- and downplays the hostility of it -- in this interview, which makes for an interesting read; but actually, testifyin' or not, I think I'd like to see Mr. Gayle play again. I'm listening to Kingdom Come, my favourite of his discs, as I write this... This is a man with something to say, something to offer, something he BELIEVES; and it's pretty interesting to see free jazz as a form of evangelism (which it seemed to be with Coltrane and Ayler as well, tho' perhaps not as overt). Cheers to Charles Gayle.

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