The light is slowly dying. The scene is retro-ethereal. It’s the subtle blues and reds and greens beaming from afar, like a large steamboat approaching the coastline. Then there is the man, pint sized, but so confident he fills the room with the very statement of swagger. He wades through this light, making his way to the raised stage where his band of four is holding court. There is a chap on drums. A chap on violin. Another on the keyboard and a lady propping up this large guitar-like instrument that is taller than most table tennis players.
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He takes his sax, turns, and drinks in the room with a casual but appreciative look. His sax glistens in this faded light like something aliens use to exorcise earthlings. There is a way that he holds it. Like a jealous lover. Like he only has a few moments to spend with it before it’s taken away from him. He almost cradles it. He has a pink shirt and pink tie. His suit is dark as sin. His hair is curled, treated and oiled with keen enthusiasm. Hair that shines like a million fireflies. Jeff Koinange would be jealous.
From his left wrist dangles a huge golden watch that competes for ralph lauren outlet uk attention with his sax. An insecure watch, yes, but not a watch for the insecure. That watch is the only thing that says more than his hair does, but as the evening wears on, will end up saying less than his sax.
Now he’s raptly fiddling with his beloved sax. His face is the colour of pumice stone, a rich dark tone. The colour of an endless El Nino night. His chin is clean-shaven.
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Now he’s turning, giving his people instructions, gesturing softly with his palms, getting the right tempo, tuning his ensemble. He tilts his head to one side, as if he’s listening to the sound of the future. Before him patrons sit engaged in a hubbub of conversation. This is the Villa Rosa Kempinski; conversations can only be described as hubbub. The bar is the Balcony Bar, which indeed opens out into a lavish balcony that then drops down to a water-fountain. Men and women sit clustered in lounge chairs, sipping a consortium of drinks, some with umbrellas. Normally this bar would be sporting wheelers and dealers in their $4,000 bespoke suits, running cards with ridiculous entertainment allowances. The women would be corporate types, dressed in power suits, picking olives with their toothpicks. But not today. Tuesday is easier; it’s Jazz Night with the maestro. Everybody is loose.
But back to the man.
Only when he’s ready does he bring the sax to his mouth. Slowly, deliberately, even delicately, he clasps the sax tenderly by its spine. He seems to pause, as if to compose himself, then he breathes life into it. What comes out alters the course of the evening. It’s not even a sound anymore, but a metaphor of what he represents, which from where I’m seated, is some melodic snobbery borne out of passion. And you can’t even start knocking that shit. Because it’s consuming. And it’s beautiful. And not many people can nail it, leave alone fathom it. And when he blows this poor sax he seems totally removed from his music, like he is just a hapless vessel that his music has chosen to flow through to heal the world of its musical malady.
But boy is he a good vessel! He’s impassioned but not too eager to please, because he seems to play with the assumption that if you are seated before him, then you must have the ear for his style, for his jazz. So he blows this relenting sax for ages, his neck muscles straining but his eyes never bulging. I stare at him hard and wonder how his lungs move under his chest for him to blow that sax with such zeal. I wonder how the lungs of a virtuoso move. I wonder.
I don’t understand jazz, but when Hellon plays (yes, that’s his name, even his name is jazzy) you don’t need to understand jazz; you only need to lend him your ears.
Washed to the foot of my table by this wave of music is the GM of Kempinski who has come to say hello. Manish is a decent chap, always polite and humble. After a small chat, he leaves and a waiter comes over and says, “Mr. Manish has offered you a drink. What will you have, sir?”
I tell him I have a very early morning the next day so what can he recommend that is light?
I tell him I have had the VS before, but wasn’t exactly tickled. He says he will bring me the XO.
“Is it any good?”
“It’s premium, sir.”
“What’s your name?” I ask him. He tells me, then I tell him, “We luonga ni sir, bwana. Sirs gin joma oruako sude gi teje ka.” (Have that translated).
This is how they serve Courvoisier XO. The brandy glass is placed on a glass of steaming hot water. The steam warms the brandy releasing its rich bouquet, which is then trapped in the mouth of the glass. It’s a grandiose presentation, which the waiter serves on a silver tray, and with his white towel draped over one arm, makes his way across the floor of the Balcony Bar. Eyes follow him. Even the maestro’s. I take a sip and let the cognac hit the back of my tongue. Then I look across the room and raise my glass to Manish. He nods. Good old Manish.
The evening slowly submits to Hellon. It had to. It slithers into the room and curls up at the foot of the stage and then proceeds to stare up into his eyes, but the virtuoso is oblivious to the needs of the evening. His loyalty is only to his music. So he blows his sax as if he’s alone in that room. Buoyed by the cognac I smile. The arrogance of the man is louder than his music. But then again, how loud can jazz get?
Hellon plays at Kempinski’s Balcony Bar every Tuesday evening.
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