by Mick Paddon
Over the years, in different places and in a variety of capacities, I have been involved in a number of initiatives aiming to give jazz a more permanent home and visibility. The most expansive and optimistic wish lists for these imaginings would go something like this – a purpose built, contemporary building with a library of written and recorded material open to everyone; a recording studio with its own record label; different spaces to accommodate larger concerts as well as more intimate jazz performance ; tables in the jazz performance club for a hundred people or so, all with uninterrupted sight lines but with enough space between them that the odd comment or chat does not interfere with the listening of those sitting at the neighbouring ones; tables that can be booked with no cover charge and no obligation other than to eat and drink as little or as much you wish; new performers six or seven nights a week presenting their own material to a receptive, full house. Wishful and fanciful day dreams, of course.
But now I have seen and experienced how this could shape up – unexpectedly, in middle Europe at the Budapest Music Centre. Unexpected because I had been looking on line for somewhere to hear music and had kept on looking past some of the better known clubs and venues because there were no performances that took my fancy. Then I found the Website for the BMC
I found the physical space, by walking through the city’s tasty equivalent of Melbourne’s Vic markets, because I did not have the confidence in my mobile’s connections, or my ability to navigate the language to think that I would be able to make a reservation on the phone. I’m not sure quite what I expected, but my experience in virtually any other city would have led me to look for the single sign above an entry or a set of stairs. A sharp, new building on a major corner site- surely not! I wandered into the reception, noticed the new CD by the trio I was hoping to see that night on display so told the young guy sitting there that I was looking forward to hearing it. He took me over to a display unit with a set of headphones. From a library of the BMCs back catalogue he dug out two more CDs by, Viktor Tóth, the alto player who fronts the trio, showed me how to change what was playing and left me to enjoy the music.
After half an hour of uninterrupted listening, I went back over to the reception to buy the new CD and to reserve a table for the evening’s gig. He asked me which table I wanted, and when I replied that I did not know the venue, he pointed across foyer to the doors to the club and invited me to check it out. In the light, airy but still intimate performance space I chose a table half way down the right hand wall, mid-way between the band and the bar. It proved to be a good choice when the club filled up that evening. We turned up unfashionably early intending to finish our meal before the band came on stage and sat eating on our own for half an hour or more until the locals who clearly knew that booking a table carried no obligations, turned up a few minutes before the band started.
That people had come to hear the music was obvious in the attentiveness with which they listened- not the intense, clinical way in which classical audiences seem to listen in which a single cough reverberates and seems to invite disapproval, but the warm appreciation that the best jazz venues inspire. The music, all original material composed by Viktor Tóth, introduced me to a new instrument in a jazz context. The cimbalom looks like a foreshortened piano, is played with two light mallets. It is a type of dulcimer traditional in Central European music , but which, in the shape and arrangements of chords and in soloing, is clearly using mallets not a keyboard. Rather than the sounds I associate with the dulcimer, the closest approximation I could think of was the effect pianists produce when they dive into the piano to pluck at the strings with their fingers
So I now have the obligation to make sure that others find this great jazz venue in Budapest. As soon as I am back in Sydney I will share the unusual sounds of an alto trio featuring the cimbalom work of a Hungarian virtuoso on the instrument, Gyrogy Lukacs, by featuring the CD on my Eastside radio show. As for the wish list for a dedicated and permanent jazz space? The realist in me had a host of questions I did not have the time or opportunity to put to László Gőz, the trombone player who was instrumental in getting it together. How was it financed? How long did it take to get together? How can it be viable to offer jazz four nights each week, with no cover charge but giving performers a decent fee? Whatever the answers, I now know it is possible and the BMC is there to be enjoyed.
Eastside Radio in Sydney, where Mick has a program (when he’s not gallivanting around Europe!)