81.4 F
Cruz Bay
Wednesday, July 6, 2022


A few weeks ago, I went to Tillett Gardens to see and hear the David Amram trio. I've known of Amram for years as an accomplished and versatile musician who delved into the musical traditions of many different cultures, but had never seen him live. Like Wynton Marsalis, he is active in both the jazz and European concert music arenas.
For the first half of the concert, the trio played jazz standards. The second half included the music (and at times the instruments) of Native America, Brazilian samba, Hispanic America and other cultures.
But as I left the concert, I couldn't help thinking of Elvis Presley.
No, not Elvis as musician; not Elvis as performer, not even Elvis as legend. Elvis as the white entertainer who took what was then called "race music," modified the more obvious double entendres and changed the clearly salacious statements, lightened up the beat and took the young "rock and roll" to all those places where its "rhythm and blues" parents couldn't go.
I thought of Elvis as I looked around at the virtually sold-out audience at Tillett's and wondered why I saw so few of them at Gladys' Cafe on Friday nights when the Louis Taylor Trio with vocalist Cynthia play and sing entrancing and exhilarating jazz of consummate quality.
I thought of Elvis as I listened to jazz of excellent technique and virtuosity, but that did not, except for a couple of bass solos, particularly move me.
I thought of Elvis when hardly anyone applauded the solos but the applause at the end of each song was sustained and vigorous. Yes, I know that you don't applaud the individual movements of a work of European concert music, but why follow that convention and refuse to acknowledge the improvisational skill that each musician exhibited?
I thought of Elvis, but only as an icon. We talk about the Virgin Islands being a multi-cultural community, but this concert and this audience left me with a very different feeling. I left with the impression that most of the audience would only appreciate the music born of a different culture when it was presented by a person of their own culture, and in a manner that emphasized the qualities common to their culture and played down the qualities that were more characteristic of the "other."
Since that night, I have seen the advertisements for the [European] classical music competition, also sponsored by Tillett. The young people who participate in that tournament span the ethnic composition of this community and there is no indication that their embrace of the European concert tradition makes them abandon calypso, blues, chutney or even (gasp) "rock."
So what might this all mean, besides reminding us of the adaptability of the young and their ability to take in, accept and honor all manner of different expressions of human creativity?
I left Tillett's at the end of the Amram concert with odd feelings of uneasiness and irritation. I've still not figured out the bases of those feelings, except perhaps my regret that so many of us shut down that youthful openness and appreciation in our headlong rush to be what we perceive as "grown-up."
Editor's note: Judith Bourne is an attorney in private practice in St. Thomas.

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