According to a recently published article in the science journal NeuroImage, music synchronizes the brains of performers and those who receive and perceive it. Music appreciation is a shared experience, the paper suggests, which triggers the same neurons of everybody in the room listening to it.
That’s what the scientists say. Then there’s Colin Hunter, who crooned at Jazz Bistro in Toronto on Friday. He said, “Come fly with me.”
Jazz Bistro is an upscale venue with a red-topped Steinway and newly installed Plexiglas in front of the bandstand and bar, as per COVID-19 health regulations. My tall glass of beer came with a small plastic bottle of hand sanitizer. This is either the new normal or the new boilermaker.
The bistro reopened on Friday, with club co-owner Hunter fronting a quartet led by the Juno-winning pianist Joe Sealy. Scientists don’t swing, but Sealy does.
Hunter as a singer is not to be confused with Frank Sinatra. He’s more of a Paul Anka, with a jaunty manner and fedora to go along with a taste for pop-jazz standards and cocktail-lounge Billy Joel.
“There’s not a bad seat in the house,” he said early in the first of two sets. No bad seats – not many seats at all. Capacity is capped at 50, in accordance with provincial rules. Most music venues can’t make any money with that small a crowd. Jazz Bistro is attempting to make a go at it by charging $55 a head, which includes the cost of a (quite fine) dinner.
“We can’t afford to have people come in and just have a drink or two while they watch the band,” the venue’s general manager Heidi Van Vlymen said to me. “That won’t pay the rent.”
For the foreseeable future, concerts as we once knew them are out of the question. One music-hall manager I know said that when the live music industry opens back up in earnest (in 2021? 2022?), music-promoter kingpins Live Nation will be requiring, among other things, that venues be fumigated immediately before and after every show. The cost to club owners would be an economically unappetizing $1,500.
One current solution for physical-distancing requirements is the drive-in concert, with patrons in automobiles watching live music as they would a popcorn-fest of Porky’s and Beach Blanket Bingo.
The alt-rock group July Talk invited fans last week to Sharon, Ont., for a pair of concerts at the Stardust Drive-In Theatre. The cost was $125 per car. Audience members, watching the band perform on a newly erected stage or on one of the giant screens, showed their appreciation by honking their horns. An annoying clamour in a traffic jam is now considered a joyous expression – as the Beatles put it, beep-beep mmm, beep-beep, yeah.
The drive-in shows are a novelty, though, not a permanent solution. Moreover, what’s being done with concerts by the carload (and Plexiglas in the clubs) is opposite of what a communal music experience is supposed to entail. The brainwaves of those who produce music and those who perceive it are less likely to be aligned with such distance and barriers between the two.
There were moments when things felt normal at Jazz Bistro. “Once I get you up there, I’ll be holding you so near,” Hunter crooned on the Sinatra staple Come Fly With Me. “You may hear angels cheer, because we’re together.” The performers and those of us in our seats tapped to the beat in unison and enjoyed a melody that everybody knew.
But then a couple who had gotten up to sway to the music together were told by an apologetic waitress in a mask that dancing was not allowed. Come fly with me, then, but not too close.
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