Monday, June 30, 2014

Scott Shachter, Outside In, A Novel

Today, a jazz novel. There aren't so many. This one is just out and worthwhile. Scott Shachter wrote it and gave it the title Outside In (322 pages, Starbeat Press). Scott is himself a jazz musician, plays alto sax like the main character. His extensive gigging experience translates into some very funny-sad gigs the main character must endure and it rings true. But the novel is more than a story of scuffle and frustration.

Much more. It is a cosmic jazz fairy tale, a story of multiple universes, of the ultimate impact of the greatest jazz.

I wont rehearse the entire story line here for the obvious reason that it would spoil the read. Suffice to say that the main character is on a gig of the jazzmobile sort when a raving maniac tries to get on stage and. . .do what? He appears as a threat.

One thing leads to another and the alto-man gets a gig for the anniversary celebration of a Jewish couple in their apartment in Sheepshead Bay. Who should be there but this same "maniac", their son, an incurable schizophrenic who responds to the character's playing after years of remoteness and semi-catatonia. Turns out the guy does abstract paintings. The paintings are key to the story, but I will refrain from giving away the plot.

The gist is that "maniac" and the alto player begin a long period of interaction that has much to do with the fate of both.

It is a novel of great imagination, of the juxtaposition of fantastic fantasia with mundane jazz-poverty-nightmare, of redemption in the most unlikely circumstances, under the most unlikely conditions.

In the process there is much about the scuffle to survive playing jazz, in the case of the character a form of free jazz. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are about the incomprehension of the average person today regarding this most important of art forms. The character's girlfriend essentially leaves him after hearing him play his original out music with a quartet in some dive. There are constant reminders that, on the outside among "laymen", free jazz is somewhat akin to madness, instability. The character is faced with such a judgement from his lost girlfriend and almost all but a select few. He begins to doubt his own sanity.

Ultimately the novel comes down on the side of sanity--that the high-art form of modern jazz is far from insane. Or does it? I would say emphatically, yes, but there is enough ambiguity that you are left to ponder through the enigmas of outside-inside insane-sane esoteric-accessible standards-freedom dichotomies. Outside In is the right title because the inside of the outside is much different than being on the outside of outside, or in other words there are those who are inside the sphere of modern "outside" jazz and others, a majority, who do not get "inside" the music.

The novel brings us in a fantasy fashion directly to grips with the dilemma--give up the more comfortable and livable outside world to get inside the music or do not and lose the very thing that you are as an artist?

The book is a page turner, well-written, funny and tragic, a fable filled with insights on the music and the world in which it does or does not exist. Surely any lover of jazz will respond to it. But also perhaps those who do not understand jazz will get stimulated to listen again.

Either way Shachter captivates. It's a great read that will also get you thinking.

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