In America jazz is a niche music that fights for respect and audience. True, it is touted as our great American art form. It has established a firm foothold in the modern arts environment, with plethora of non-profit institutes and institutions. It is firmly ensconced in music education at just about all levels. It eats at the same table with classical music and museums. But it is not what you would call popular. Not like in the days of Ellington and Goodman or Brubeck and Miles. Except at the annual jazz festivals that dot the summer landscape, where you will find large crowds, it exists in the American consciousness more as an idea or an image than an actuality. So it is unusual in America these days for a jazz musician to be treated like a rock star.
Not so in Khabarovsk.
They told us that we would be celebrities here. I was doubtful. They said that we would be on television all the time. I was skeptical.
I was wrong.
From our first workshop to our final concert, our every public appearance in Khabarovsk has been covered by the media. I have been interviewed more in this week than in the past several years in Portland. After every concert, I can honestly say we were mobbed (albeit gently) with people seeking photos and autographs. Granted there were crowds of hundreds rather than thousands, but the effect is pretty much the same. You can’t go anywhere, or do anything else. Every direction you turn there is an autograph book or camera pointing with a delighted request for just one more “photo please?”
Sometimes, as in our final concert in Khabarovsk, the process is incorporated into the gig. Before the concert we posed for photos, which they printed out during the first set from a color printer in the back of the room. At the intermission, we signed dozens of those photos and then posed with pretty much every person in the audience, either singly or in groups. Then we took more official pictures, before heading off to have a between-sets meal. Then we came back to the stage to start the second set, and signed more pictures. After the show a woman literally lept onto the stage from the audience and gave Marilyn a hug and kisses on both cheeks. Then it was TV interviews and more pictures, and autographs.
This was the routine at venue after venue. Sometimes we actually had to be somewhere after the shows. But it didn’t seem to matter. It was “Photo please, autograph please,” until we were pulled or pulled ourselves out of the room. I’m convinced that by now our pictures are on Facebook all over the Russian Far East.
So this is what it feels like to be a rock star. Everyone should experience it at least once, I think. I’ll miss it when I go back home.