A Woman Who Likes Jazz

Initially I said it as a joke: “If I meet a single woman who really likes jazz, I’ll marry her.” Dex and Christian chuckled. In our experience most women don’t like jazz music, some say they do but never actually listen, and the few who really do are already sharing it with husbands or boyfriends. I used to repeat the line occasionally, only half joking.

Then I met Clarice. We were at adjacent tables in a branch of Costa Coffee. I took a copy of Ben Ratliff’s book Coltrane from my bag and left it face up for a moment as I sipped at my cappuccino. She glanced across and said: “What’s your favourite album? Giant Steps? My Favourite Things? A Love Supreme?” I looked at her face –soft brown eyes, petite nose and short dark hair – then the third finger of her left hand and saw there was no ring. This would never happen again.

“Probably Favourite Things,” I replied. But I like what he did with Miles Davis the most. They were the perfect pair.

“I know. My dad brought me up on Kind of Blue.”

I silently thanked her dad.

The conversation went easily. She had over three hundred jazz CDs and soon mentioned that the boyfriend she had recently dumped didn’t have the good taste to enjoy them. It drifted towards talk of gigs, a music club we both knew, and a band playing there the following week. We agreed to meet, swapped numbers, found that we lived about two miles from each other, then she had to leave for a meeting. I stared at my book but couldn’t read a word. This was too good, but it was real.

Our first date was a success. We went to club in Stoke Newington, listened to a quintet of middle aged British guys playing a bunch of original numbers that began with clear tunes then soared into musical skies before easing back to the original line. It was the type of stuff that would drive most people a little mad but appealed to listeners with a jazz ear, and Clarice and I sat through it with smiles on our faces. After the gig we lingered over a drink, then I drove her to outside her flat, we swapped one kiss and an agreement to meet again the following week.

The next date was a movie – a Spanish film director’s reflections on his deranged father and a young, unrequited love – then a pizza followed by the journey home and another single kiss. Then came another gig, two Norwegian guys on piano and bass and a Welsh woman playing harp in a small hall that was just right for the classical vibe. I was hooked by it; Clarice seemed interested but didn’t smile. Afterwards she told me what she thought before I asked.

“Good in parts, but there was something very polite about it.”

“I thought it was all very inventive,” I replied. “Especially how the harpist trickled around the piano lines.”

“Maybe that’s it, I couldn’t get into the harp. It’s for folkies and the lounges of posh hotels.”

We agreed to disagree. When I got her home we went beyond the kiss into a teenage grope that lasted a couple of minutes before she said she had to be up and early, but parted with a wink and the words: “Next time.”

The next date was more relaxed. An afternoon stroll along the South Bank, a meal in a slightly posh restaurant, and a stroll back over the river. Clarice led me into a small supermarket, picked up a toothbrush and said: “You’re going to need this.” Two hours later we lay in bed, sliding hands, feet and tongues around each other’s flesh, and smiling and feeling another round of sexual tingling. I stayed the night and in the morning we did it again.

When I told Dex and Christian, and showed a photo of Clarice on my phone, they asked if I had found her by selling my soul to the Devil. But they followed it with encouraging smiles and asking if she had any nice friends. I felt very pleased with myself.

Our next date was in a club off Oxford Street, listening to an eight-piece band playing a wild fusion of African, free form and heavy techno. Maybe it could be defined as jazz, but to my ears it was a messy noise that never hit a decent groove and made me feel there were limits to what I wanted to hear. I felt ready to leave at the interval, but Clarice was smiling, so I smiled back and stuck it out through the second set. I was relieved when it ended and a little impatient that she went to the table where the band were selling CDs and stood talking with them for ten minutes. We didn’t talk about the gig on the way back to her place, but spent another night together, which as much fun as the first, and the next morning were lingering over breakfast when she decided it was time for some music. I expected something easy on the ears, but instead she put on the new CD. The first thump of heavy bass and deranged squawk from an alto sax made me wince.

“Do you mind?” I asked. “Not something I can appreciate at this time of day.”



Her face twisted a little, a hint of scowl, then fell back into a smile. She removed the CD, didn’t bother finding a replacement, and stated the obvious.

“You didn’t enjoy that last night, did you?”

“Not really. I like music that pushes boundaries, but I felt that went beyond them and got lost in its own madness. It was musical chaos.”

She paused before answering. I had the impression I was being sized up.

“What’s wrong with some chaos occasionally?”

I thought for a moment. It was eight in the morning, I was on my second cup of coffee but not in the mood for a discussion about musical sensibilities.

“I suppose it depends on your ears. Mine might be good for a touch of wildness, but chaos is one step further, beyond music into noise.”

I felt quite pleased with the reply. She smiled. I guessed she was indulging me but thought it was all harmless. We finished breakfast, she had a friend to meet and I had family to visit, and I left her with a kiss and promise to call in a couple of days.

I didn’t have a firm idea about the next date and called ready for Clarice to make a suggestion. It was a Tuesday and I was open to Thursday or Saturday.

“No.” She sounded awkward. “I think I’ll pass.”

“Something else going on? We can do Sunday afternoon.”

“No, I’ll pass, for good.”

I’m not sure how long I was silent. Long enough for her to ask if I was still there.

“Sorry, what does that mean?”

“I don’t think we should take this any further.”

“Why not? Are you seeing someone else?”

“No, I’m not, but I don’t feel right about it.”

She was sounding more sure of herself. I had a ridiculous thought.

“Is this because of the gig the other night, and then what happened at breakfast?”

This time she was silent, long enough to convey there was something in it.

“Well,” she said. “It’s made me feel there’s a gap between us.”

“A gap? You mean that stream of free form African techno funk?”

“I found it very stimulating.”

“Fair enough. And am I right in thinking you found the gig before that dull?

“Not dull, but safe. At least for me.”

“Why should that make a difference?”

“Because I can’t help feeling that it means that you’re safe, and that doesn’t do it for me.”

Another pause. I could get a weird kind of sense in what she saying, but it still sounded all wrong.

“Surely you don’t expect us to like all the same things?”

“Of course not, but there are some things, if you don’t like them, then I don’t think we would work.”

“So you’re dumping me.”

“Let’s say I’m loving and leaving. That sounds nicer.”

I waited a moment, maybe long enough to make her feel bad, then put down the phone.

The rest of the evening I spent on the sofa, no TV, no music, staring at the wall and wrapping my head around what had happened. I had found a woman who liked jazz, then she had dumped me … because I liked the wrong type of jazz.

Image from Twice25 at it.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons