Temas Especiales

24 de Jan de 2021


Good and bad improvisation

I was at the educational part of the Panama Jazz Festival, catching the tail end of an improv class with the Berklee College of Music Ja...

I was at the educational part of the Panama Jazz Festival, catching the tail end of an improv class with the Berklee College of Music Jazz Quartet – a laid-back but brainy little session for young musicians at various levels of sophistication, one that would have been improved a bit had the ACP had one of its Japanese interpreters on hand – when pianist Julian Shore explained different sorts of improvisation. Some bands create a tight structure in advance, he explained, determining the order in which people will do their solos, who will go way out, in what tempo soloists will conclude and so on. Others, he said, will agree on how the number will start and end, and leave everything else up for grabs. "Some kinds of improvisation are more dangerous," he pointed out, adding that there are even varieties in which there is no prior agreement about the beginning and end.

This is Shore's first brief exposure to Panama, and it is his great fortune to have classmate and bandmate Jahziel Arrocha, one of our own, for his guide. Surely he wouldn't have known much about the improvisation in our nation's transportation policies.

That same day, it was announced that soon one will not be able to walk – or jog, or push a baby stroller – along the sidewalk on what had been the city's Avenida Balboa waterfront. Despite the occasionally dangerous cracks and holes of a footpath maintained to Third World Standards, it has been one of the nicer pedestrian features of our capital city. Walking there early in the morning, I have encountered many a prizefighter in training doing his – or her – roadwork.

On the Shabat, whole families of observant Jews would take to the Malecon for their Saturday strolls. Fitness freaks, young mothers with babies who need to get out of the house, folks without the spare change to get across town in a taxi or on a bus, people who want to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the city's skyline – it's a fascinating social mix.

Now, thanks to an improvised stick-up for the benefit of the Brazilian-based Odebrecht construction company, the undisclosed shareholders in its Panamanian subsidiary, hotelier Herman Bern and the rabiblancos at the Club de Yates y Pesca, the government is shutting down the sidewalk along the old seawall, and from what I have seen of the plans (but those are themselves a constantly changing work of improvisation), there really won't be a comparable walk once the Cinta Costera is done. The plan seems to be mostly cars, parking lots and private hotel and yacht club extensions along the waterfront, with dangerous traffic blocking the shoreline to the city's pedestrians.

Yep. "Dangerous improvisation."

And that same day, it was announced that the bidding process in the Torrijos administration's plans to buy a fleet of 400-odd buses would be delayed, because something in the specifications wasn't right.

Yep. Improvisation on a theme. The theme is repeating North America's worst urban policy mistake, designing things for cars rather than people.

I once lived with a jazz band, during the heyday of punk rock. We used to joke about punk jazz, about The Pestilential Jazz Quintet. Now that would be a good forum for Martín's improvisations.