Bringing Together Veteran Jazz Musicians and Newbies with “Blood in Their Eyes”

Miles Ronayne leans over his drum kit.

“Tempo?” he says, calling across the room to Johnny Batista, who thinks for a moment, before sounding out a beat.

Ronayne lets his drumsticks ricochet off the snares, picking up the rhythm right away. Next to him, Alexandre Guerra plucks his bass guitar, and the three musicians settle into the melody.

The audience whoops as Batista takes the lead, scowling with concentration as he strums his guitar. Heads nod with the rhythm, heels slap off the floor, hands off of knees.

A breeze drifts through the window of the Vintage Rooms, upstairs in the Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay, where the Jamam Jazz Quintet – now, Adam Tait on trumpet and Mary Murphy on keyboard too – are jamming.

Jamam is one of eight jazz groups set to perform here each Sunday for the rest of the summer, as part of the Kind of New series, hosted by the Dublin Jazz Co-Op.

Bands at the Kind of New series are a blend of experienced jazz players, like Guerra and Batista, and newbies, and everyone in between says Emily O’Rourke, a jazz player who is organising the series.

It can be tricky for newcomers to make organic connections, she says, to meet others to play with and get gigs.

“There’s so many other professionals on the scene and they don’t know that this, like, insane new talent is literally just lying and waiting in Dublin,” she says.

First-Timers

Tonight will be Murphy’s first ever jazz gig, she says, moments before it is due to start.

She was standing in the knot of audience members. “A few friends of mine and family just surprised me as well,” she says, smiling at her cousin.

She was an engineer for 30 years, she says. “And then realised I’d had enough of that. Music was always there in the background.”

The Kind of New series was spurred by graduates of Dublin City University’s (DCU’s) BA course in Jazz and Contemporary Music Performance, who wanted a way to meet people outside of college, says O’Rourke who is organising the series.

Murphy, the former engineer, is in her second year of the course. “It’s very tough but I do love it,” she says.

Batista worked as a jazz tutor, and played in a trio for years in Brazil, he says. Once in Ireland, he studied at the DCU course to help him get gigs. “It was a good place to make connections.”

Ronayne starts his final year of the DCU course in September, and afterwards, he wants to go to New York. “I just kind of want to get a bit of experience, you know, and that’s kind of the birthplace of a lot of these artists, you know?”

He played and listened to a lot of jazz growing up, drawing early inspiration from his dad’s record collection, he says. “My parents named me Miles really after Miles Davis.”

O’Rourke says Kind of New is a pun on Kind of Blue, the Miles Davis record. And it signals to people that it’s about newcomers on the jazz scene, she says. “We’re just trying to highlight it, show people.”

Experienced musicians can learn from playing with newcomers, too, she says. “It’s really exciting for them to see, kind of, get a new direction to their music sometimes.”

Batiste is excited to play with the Jamam Jazz Quintet, he says, with new people full of energy. “As we say in Brazil, they have blood on their eyes.”

Murphy, looking towards the stage where she’ll soon be playing, says the group has been supportive. “Nobody’s given out to you if you can’t do something.”

Learning the steps of preparing for a gig has been useful, too. “You can’t change your playing in three weeks or whatever,” she says. “How chaotic it can be. Where can we rehearse, how do we rehearse?”

Alexandre Guerra, Adam Tait and Johnny Batista. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

### Shared Rhythms

A patch of setting sunlight slides down the patterned yellow wallpaper as the Jamam Jazz Quintet play on, skin shining from the effort of playing.

Murphy mouths the beat as her fingers fly playfully across the keyboard, tapping the notes for “Exactly Like You” by Oscar Peterson, her favourite jazz musician.

“I think he’s what got me into jazz,” she has told the room.

Ronayne circles the floor tom with wire brush sticks, creating a long note to accompany Murphy’s chirpy piano.

“Ah jaysus, that’s brilliant,” a voice carries above the applause from the crowd.

Outside the doorway to the Vintage Rooms during the break, Batista sets a hand on Ronayne’s shoulder. “I love this guy, he’s amazing.”

Batista wrote the arrangements and prepared the setlist for the Jamam Jazz Quintet, he says, with takings from classic jazz, contemporary Brazilian jazz, and his own album Earth Justice.

“I used a rhythm that is very specific for Brazilian music, for a very specific part of Brazil, too,” he says. It’s a faster tempo, with a complicated rhythm, he says.

“It’s like. When you feel this pulse …”, he slaps a palm on the top of his other hand, in a two-beat rhythm, and with his voice, adds a “tsk” between the two slaps. “Right? one two, one two, one two, one … It’s broken in the middle.”

“So it’s like, it’s kind of wonky,” he says.

Ronayne has played Brazilian jazz before, says Batista. “That’s why I wrote the arrangement for this gig because I knew they would handle it, you know?”

Says Ronayne: “I’m really happy because I really enjoy playing your music. It’s a good time.”

All in the Music

With his back to the open window facing the River Liffey, Ronayne’s whole body follows the movement of his drumsticks.

As the beat kicks up, he scowls, eyes shut, head bopping to the rhythm of Guerra’s bass.

Batista catches his eye, and Ronayne gives way to allow Batista’s guitar in. Batista strums with his face contorted as though straining to lift a weight, his knees bent and arms locked.

Murphy smiles gleefully from her piano stool, flicking her head to watch them taking turns soloing improvisations on the melody.

Ronayne laughs afterwards, thinking about the expressions. “We’re just getting into it. Just vibing.”

It feels good, getting into the music, feeling the reaction of the audience back at you, he says. “There’s no better feeling. The music is almost going through you, really.”

It does feel intense, he says. “Live music is a spiritual experience, 100 percent.”

“Because it’s our job as musicians to take what we’re given, what’s on what’s on the lead sheet, and just make the best out of it,” he says. “Really, really be true to it. “

As they play, something in the music gets more complicated, as the solos and improvisations build up, and the sounds crescendo.

Each musician has their eyes closed, a faraway look of concentration.

Until, the sound falls back into the melody it left behind at the beginning, then into a final, long trumpet note, and applause.

[CORRECTION: This article was updated on 20 July at 9.52am. Mary Murphy was standing by her cousin before the concert, not her uncle. Apologies for the error.]

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Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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