A wedding party celebrated on a large East End deck on a sunny Sunday afternoon and on into a moonlit evening, with a live local band — Steve Morgan and the Kingfish. They were six musicians — drums, keyboard, saxophone, and three different guitars. They all sang as well. The music was great, and the crowd was in a happy frenzy. Even the mosquitos did not deter them.
Of all the arts, music may be the most prevalent in our everyday lives and at the same time the most taken for granted, the most unexamined, and perhaps the least understood. We each have our own musical preferences, from Bach to reggae, and these accompany us through our lives. Where exactly did music originate in human culture? How did it come to us? Was it derived from nature — from the rhythm of rain on rooftops, wind in trees, the breaking of waves on a beach? Did it mimic the songs of birds? Did song precede speech? Was the first music in service of the divine?
I remember being profoundly moved by the evening call to prayer broadcast in a small Indonesian town. It was not my religion, but it spoke to something deep within me. Was music fashioned for the telling of stories? Are all songs essentially love songs? Isn’t their purpose to accompany courtship and passion?
After the party, I asked Steve Morgan where his music came from. He hails from St. Louis and worked in Kansas City, so his basic musical language is the blues. The blues are difficult to pin down; the music just has “a feel.” There is some technical definition about having 12 bars, which eludes me, but the bottom line is the ironic, bittersweet approach to life and, especially, love, in the lyrics. There is a great deal to do with the intricacies of relationships, the ups and, more often, the downs.
We agreed that the blues are germane to aging. While Morgan has been playing on the Cape since 1992, he brings his origins with him: the influences of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and traditional Black musicians, filtered through the experience of playing in a Southern rock band out West for almost 10 years, in country bars and in front of hay wagons in barns. His early learning was on a Bob Dylan songbook.
But it was less the blues and more swing music and oldies that predominated on that beautiful evening. The Kingfish are a dance band. The marriage of lyrics and instrumental sounds soars out to the people on the dance floor — and they move to it, a few by themselves, a few in groups, but mostly couples. Some move fast and some move slow: there are no incorrect responses.
There was bouncing, swaying, hip and butt wiggling, arms akimbo and waving, hands clapping, fingers snapping, shoulders shimmying, and knees high-stepping. It was difficult to discern which instrument conveyed the most energy: the sweet mellow sax, the percussion, the throbbing bass, or the guitars. Certainly, it was a combination. The mystery of music is linked inextricably to the same in dance. It seems an innate response to music, to move your body rhythmically; little children, even babies, do it. So, if it is within us, it must reside right alongside our sense of music, in the same neuronal neighborhood.
Who knows? William Butler Yeats wrote: “Oh body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
People — the players, the dancers, the listeners — were having fun. Joy was in the air. Life and love were being celebrated. In a few hours the sun would begin its rise and the moonlight on the water would dissipate. The happy crowd would likewise disperse, never to assemble in quite that way again. The music ends, and the instruments are packed away. There is nothing left behind.
Where has the music gone? Has it vanished entirely? No: A harmony once heard, a lyric that resonates for its aptness, can never be forgotten. We carry them with us. Of course, to capture the ephemeral, there are recordings: Steve Morgan and the Kingfish, like many working bands, have just released their fourth CD (When Will I Know?).
But it is not really about the CDs; it’s about the music in the air, the music that is in us.