The center of town is the place where most tourists come to when they visit Chiang Mai. It is the place that holds all of the wats that they want to visit, and has the best restaurants, and sites. The most impressive site is a a large wall that surrounds this square section of town the sits over an ancient moat. The moat is all there and they maintain it nicely, and there are still a lot of the sections of the wall left but mainly on the corners of the square and at the places where the ancient gates used to be. Despite it being a cool thing to check out, it is also a way of designating places as they are located near certain parts of the wall. This is how I ended up at the North Gate Jazz Co-op last night.
Jazz clubs can be an interesting place to go to because the term jazz is used very loosely these days. It can mean anything from rap, rock, blues and what most people traditionally think of as jazz. The problem with this definition is that most of the time, you do not get to see jazz at these clubs because it is the one style of music that brings in the smallest crowds. The places try to fancy themselves up as a lounge that really has nothing to do with the origin of the music style, and most of the artists that play in these clubs are good but could never let the moment take over them as they let the music just pour out of them. It isn’t like the traditional places that are holes in the wall with a small stage and musicians showing up to join the house band to make some great music.
The North Gate Jazz Co-op is one of those places in the world where you can experience a more traditional jazz experience. They do have bands that are scheduled to play at certain times and they are strong musicians with great musical theory that allows them to explore a song for all that it has to offer them. The musicians progressively get better as the night goes on. You can tell that sometimes the musicians have not played with each other before and they don’t know where they can take a musical thread. There is a lot of handoffs with the song and nods of approval as moments of brilliance are played out on the stage. And there are the special guests that have just popped in and join the band for a song.
This is where the guy with the purple socks with golden doughnuts on them comes in. He stood on the periphery of the club the whole night and would have been easy to miss if it wasn’t for the fact that other guests came up to him to get there picture taken with him. The other musicians would step away from their songs to talk to him for a minute before making it back for their turn at the mic. He seemed like somebody important, and it was in the middle of one of the sets that he finally showed his worth.
I know it is not the best picture of the guy but if you look closely you can see the socks I am talking about. Despite the fashion choice, he did grab one of the mics and impressed the crowd with his ability to improvise a scat mixed with a rap. It was good, and the crowd loved it. After his one song, he returned to his seat and the rest of the set went on as normal.
It begs the question as to who this guy was. Is he a famous Thai singer that just happened to be in the area that night and decided to join in for a song like what happens at all of the great jazz bars in the world? Was he a local favorite that happened to stop by and would do so again in the near future? Was it just some random guy that convinced the band that he was good enough to join them and proved it with his chops? Or was it a musician that plays at the Co-op from time to time and just decided to come down this night to have a little fun? I have no idea but it added a little flavor to the evening and made a great experience even a little more fun.
The North Gate Jazz Co-op is a must if you are in town. The music is great and it is a favorite of locals and tourists alike, and you never know who might pop in to share in on the fun.