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JAZZ CLUB ETIQUETTE

HEARING JAZZ AT ITS RISKY BEST - IN THE CLUBS

By JON PARELES

talk2handFor some listeners, if it's not in a concert hall, then it's not serious music. It's almost as if the jazz clubs don't exist. Even in these enlightened times, jazz clubs have an image problem; some people still think they're speakeasies.

Clubs are also laboratories and gymnasiums, places to take chances and flex muscles, to take a flier and see what happens. The continuity of a club date brings both the adrenalin of a live performance - ''Without an audience, it's just a rehearsal,'' a musician once told me - and the promise of another go-round in the next set; if something doesn't work, maybe it'll generate a new idea for the midnight show.
Modern jazz, from be-bop onward, evolved in the intimate settings of small clubs dedicated to music alone - no stage shows or dancing. Freed of the necessity to propel dancers around a floor, its rhythms grew quicker and lighter, its gestures more fleeting. Although the great jazz musicians of every era have been masters of nuance and shading, modern jazz demanded that listeners move in close, as close as recording-studio microphones and small clubs allowed.

Those listeners who did were rewarded with subtleties and spontaneous inventions, packed so densely into a given performance that even the musicians only caught a fraction of them. Jazz, always artful, became art music for listeners attentive to detail. The show became a flicker of an eyebrow, a grin tossed from the bass player to the drummer.

The larger pop public prefers the big beat, and moved on to rhythm-and-blues and rock; rock bands, playing halls and arenas, still make big gestures, in both music and presentation. I wouldn't want to hear U2 at the Blue Note; the music would be too big for the room.

But with modern jazz the notion of a perfect performance, always a dicey one in music that prizes improvisation, receded once again. Jazz musicians aren't searching for timeless perfection--they're acting and reacting in the moment of performance. Within a composition, innumerable details are the result of on-the-spot choices. The best place to hear those details is in a club. Concert halls and concert etiquette are designed for classical performances, the perfected recital of the fully understood piece of music - a formal rendition heard across a proscenium arch. But given the stiff, no-warmup, one-time-only setting of a concert performance, a jazz group may well be tempted to stick with what's worked before. Unlike a jazz club date, there's no second chance -and that second chance is a psychological safety net that often makes the first attempt better.

Does jazz belong in concert halls? Of course. It also belongs on radio and television (much more than it's broadcast now), in schools and theaters and dance halls, in recording studios, at private parties and at occasions of state. Quick-witted, nimble and utterly of the moment, a good jazz group can play just about anywhere.

But for at least one dedicated listener - this one - there's no place like a club.