Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jazz Church

The Church of Jazz meets in an abandoned chapel in Friedrichshain on certain Tuesdays. The building is a small pile of bricks in an East Berlin neighborhood; a disused chapel type building with no need for God. But the holy spirit of jazz inhabits the place, warms the place and sometimes blows the roof off the dump.

Normally, all previously-God-forsaken Commie-seized holy halls were reclaimed by some church or another; bought back by the Supreme Rulers in Vatican City, or Anglo-Protestant oil holdings, or whatever. Not this one. It is special. It stands between a cemetery and a kebab shop. In Berlin there is only one solution for a building of this type: Art the Living Bejesus out of it. And they have.

I’m not sure what the target audience for the disemboweled rat poster outside the church is. But the poster is there and is hard to look at, especially after just coming from a kebab next door. I think it says theatre-something-or-other. In addition to disemboweling rats, the old church-cum-kunsthaus hosts Jazz Almighty.

Call it a jam session for new converts. I bust in and I see them skulking in the corners with their dates, boy/girl, girl/girl, boy/boy. Mostly young party animals and freaks. Mostly white, nobody over 40 except me. Mostly posing. Somebody told the deviants that jazz was hip. And deviants are hip in Berlin. I don’t care what color flag you fly, just don’t make it your raison d’etre. As for me, I am so straight and square that my girlfriend may leave me at any time unless I bring out the gimp from Pulp Fiction. Or at least I imagine so. But I digress.

I am a longtime jazz fan. I know this because I have short hair, glasses and a goatee. I noticed other goatee-sporting, bespectacled dudes of my ilk in the pews of the Jazz Church the other night. They are jazz fans as well (or just really crafty poseurs). It reassures me, knowing that the Old Faithful and the New Converts can come together under one roof.

Thankfully, there is no sermon, no preacher, no choir. There are only musicians, jamming it up and spiraling solos and nodding graciously to the warm applause. Some of the musicians really LOOK the part; as if dressing Jazz will light up the low notes. Others dressed in torn shoes and jeans stand there nervously and stare at the audience, limp trumpet or sax in hand, waiting for their turn to jam. It’s an informal affair with pleasing results. I start to nod and bob my head with the beat. I’m the only one doing it but I don’t give two shits. I’m there to enjoy the music. It has its moments. Nothing earth shattering, nothing that will save your soul. The better musicians play early: piano played in frantic, chopping motions by skinny fingers, stand up bass picked, battered and swinging in time to the syncopated skins. By evening’s end, anyone with an electric guitar or violin can step up to the stage and fuck it all up.

It works on donations. And as you would expect in any church, some twitchy huckster oozes on up to you while you’re in mid head nod and sticks a hat in your face and says: “For the musicians.” The first time I attended the Jazz Church, I thought it was an odd concept. I knew there was a donation, saw a box by the door, asked if that was the donation box, and dropped the money in. Halfway through the jam, though, the dude with the hat was in my face. I told him I gave generously at the door, but he kept explaining, extolling, extorting me for more. I told him to go fuck himself. He oozed back down the drain from whence he came. Ya gotta know how to deal with hucksters.

My second night in the Church of Jazz was only slightly different than the first time. The same poseurs were there. It was packed again, and people were eager to get a pew. I was wedged in between a very bright stage light and a young German couple. When the desire for another beer became too strong to resist, I asked the girl next to me to watch my seat. She tried to be funny and say something clever, but being German, this rarely works. Maybe it’s the language barrier. She said ‘Yes, I will watch it closely, and….” I just smiled and waved and walked away before she could embarrass herself any further. Upon my return with the beer, she continued, “I watched your seat and it was there and it….” “GREAT!!” I said, “and here’s your reward!” I shoved a bowl of Cheetos cheese puffs under her face. She declined so I shook them vigorously in her boyfriend’s face. He meekly took one. God I love Germans. Give them a church, some jazz, some booze and some Cheetos and you’ve got yourself a party. Then the piper showed up right on cue with his hat. I was ready for him. I peeled off a fiver and chucked it in the hat and waved him away with my hand. Ya gotta know how to deal with hucksters. I feel right at home with my people skills. I go to the Jazz Church for a vertical relationship with the musicians on high, not for a horizontal relationship with the hucksters, the poseurs, the ‘clever’ people. There is a special word for people like me. That word is ‘asshole.’

The Church of Jazz gets so crowded I shouldn’t tell you exactly where it is (Hint: It’s on Boxi between the kebabs and the headstones). Maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the slightly drunk guy bobbing his head with Cheetos and beer in my goatee.


  1. Hey, I like the idea of a church with no sermon...only music. And cheetos and beer!

    Gotta love it!

    You ought to check out a blog post I did has gotten some comments on Facebook, where I have networked it.

    Anyway, it's called "Scary People?", and it features an old couple, carved from wood; I inherited it from the Frost family! I recall that it had pride of place in our kitchen for years.

    Check it out here:

  2. Since I posted this they have discontinued the weekly jazz jam in favor of a sporadic and semi-regular schedule of various jazz evenings. Without the twitchy fuck with the donations hat (THANK FUCK). I have linked to the location now in the blog post. Before I was trying to punish them by keeping it secret. Or keep the yuppies out. One of those. I'm a fickle shit.