“Is that what I have to do to get a crowd around this place?” ; those were the last words I spoke as I left Essouria. And it was true, it was by far the largest crowd of the evening, but the way it came about was all wrong.
I was swimming in a sea of indifference. Playing street music in Morocco was a kind of street theater in reality. Inserting this strange custom and music into a completely unexpected environment, was interesting. What would they do? Would they become angry, fascinated, bored, curious, enjoy. I had no clue how they would react. Most just walked on by, ignoring the fact that a foreigner was playing a jazz concert in the middle of their main shopping street. They’d no doubt seen many foreigners do strange things through the years, and this was not the strangest. We know he has money and that he will go away soon, so just be patient.
A few people had stopped to listen, many had slowed down, a few kids had paused in front for a few moments before breaking down into teasing and showing off. Most people who stopped had a kind of confused skeptical glare. I was ok with that too. It was a reaction. I was the action.
After about 30 minutes, 2 attractive black woman passed by and seemed interested, giving the thumbs up. I grandly motioned that they were welcome to stay. They laughed and walked away, but came back a few minutes later. It turned out to be a mother and daughter from England daughter. Both were attractive, the mother in a more sultry way. Turned out she was a jazz singer and was looking to put a band together for some hotel work in Marakech. That’s whynshe had come back. I told her I might be interested. I told her she had to audition though. So I convinced her to sing a version of summertime right there on the street. I could tell she was a singer because she immediately started complaining that her vocal cords weren’t warmed up, that the pitch of the song was too high, that she didn’t know the lyrics, and that the British pound had recently been devalued. That’s how singers usually are, always complaining and making excuses. I could see that she was pretty good, but also that she wasn’t in her element, and she was a little narrow in her musicality. She needed a microphone to sound good. The basic talent and style was definitely there though. After singing the melody, I took a solo and then tried to get her to scat and trade solos. Neither was easy for her but she did it laughing. The next song, autumn leaves, her daughter joined in. We had a real show stopper, but still almost everyone passed by. ” what u need is a mike” I offered. It was try, her voice was tiny. I didn’t blame her for not belting it out. After all, no one was even stopping. ” I just happen to know of a place where we can play, it’s just there around the corner.” mother and daughter looked at each other and spoke their secret language. Somehow they had decided to go with me. It was true, there was a restaurant that I had played just around the corner for the last 2 nights . Played at but not necessarily liked. As I played with young G’nowan musicians their expression never changed. It looked sullen and serious. Yet when I asked them thumbs up or down, they always gave me a thumbs up. Either I was misreading them severely , or they were just putting me on for business. The 3 of us entered the empty restaurant and I asked if we could play there. They were happy to let us do that, the cute waitress whose eye I had caught 2 nights ago on the street, gave me another sparkle. We ordered avocado smoothies all around, without checking the price and played a number of jazz songs, including Summertime, All of Me. As usual they songs were too high or too low for the singer, but we had a good time singing and playing together. Even the young daughter started singing with us. Perhaps she was more talented than her mother, who had a good voice, but had problems singing in rhythm and time. The problem came at the end when it came time to pay the bill. At a small shop, you could get a smoothie for 7 dirhams, and in a normal restaurant it was 15, but they charged us 30 a piece. The singer protested loudly. She couldn’t believe it. She had been in Essouria for a month and knew the prices. There was nothing to do though, they insisted on that and in the end I had to pay the 90 myself, about 11 dollars. Maybe they were on a strict budget. We went back onto the street, a little deflated. They should have paid us just to play in their shitty restaurant, instead of scalping us. Just to prove a point, the singer took me to her smoothie place and bought me another avocado smoothie for 7 dirham. It was even better than the other one which cost 30. As we drank, we watched as a crazy woman begged for money across the street. If I had to make a diagnosis I would say, severly manic with psychotic tendencies. Her garb was made from trash, yet looked like she was trying to imitate royal dress. She had a cape across her back made from a black garbage bag. A dirty white cloth served as a flowing white robe. If you used your imagination a little, you could imagine she looked elegant. Her royal highness. And she had a scepter too, a thick straight wooden stick about a meter long and 2 3 inches in diameter that she shook at passers-by who jeered at her or who wouldn’t give her money. Sometimes she would carry on long conversations with these people, long after they were gone. I was starting to feel bored and had a little time to kill, so I figured I would try to play right there. As the old troll came forward towards the food cart, other customers scurried away. A crazy woman with a big stick was not to be messed with. I hurried over and sat down on the broad steps where she had been a moment before and took out my horn. The singer and the daughter followed me over. Before the crazy woman knew what had happened, there was music in the air, and I had transformed the spot. Everyone looked startled and worried, wondering what would happen. To our surprise, she came back to the other side of the steps, sat down, and started smiling and looking dreamy like a baby. She loved the music. She completely calmed down and started rocking to it. All the assembled people, shop owners, people at the food carts, and passers-by we’re amazed. I think they had never seen her smile. She had been subdued. I played a few songs like that, and then I wanted to involve the singers, so I played one that they could sing with. Amost immediately, the crazy’s demeanor changed. she started to look uncomfortable, she started muttering, and then she exploded into angry ravings. I didn’t think to stop, we just sang on. Suddenly the old woman sprang to her feet, brandishing the large rod at me. Suppressing an instinct to laugh at her, I backed up. Crazy people are dangerous because they aren’t constrained by normal societal restraints. A large crowd started to gather as the foreigner faced off with the crazy lady. For my part, I was playing it both ways, part of me was being careful that I didn’t get clubbed, but another part of me was playing up the ridiculousness of the situation. It was funny. I over- reacted, feigned great fear and angst. The crowd appreciated my performance. I was at a safe distance now, but then the woman threatened to attract my saxophone and amp with her club. I had to go back in there. The amused crowd was growing and laughing, but I had the sense that they would help me if I needed it. They wouldn’t let the woman hurt me, they would restrain her if necessary. I went into get my things. The woman raised the club. She had me. If she had wanted to club me or my things, she could have. Her arm was cocked. I gauged the situation. I didn’t think she would do it. I ran in, head up to watch her arm. She feigned a swing but I didn’t fall for it, grabbed my stuff and comically ran out. The crowd of about 50 people, cheered. The woman slumped back to here original spot muttering viciously. I was a little miffed too. I didn’t like getting threatened by her. As a parting shot I took out my camera and consciously set the flash on, then took a picture of her royal highness with a bright flash. That really set her off. Taking pictures without permission was a no-no here, but this time, the crowd was behind me. They understood my gesture and roared approval with their laughter. The old woman jumped up to go after me, but I was too quick for her and out of her reach. I heard a voice from the past say, “Frank, it’s not nice to taunt crazy people.” and I knew it was not nice, but, it made for pretty good street theater.
It was time for me to walk to the bus station to go to my next destination, Rabat. I said goodbye to the singers and waved to the dissolving crowd. Then to the singers a parting word, “Is that what I have to do to get a crowd around this place?”


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