20 March 2015

Post 189: SMOKING

When my father was a soldier during the Second World War, one of the kindest and most generous things wives or relatives thought they could do was to send packets of cigarettes to 'our boys'. Smoking was considered fashionable and normal.
How times have changed!

I'm lucky. I am a non-smoker. Several times, in my youth, I wished I could give up non-smoking, but I lacked the will to do it.

When I was 60 years old and trying to play traditional jazz, I was kindly allowed to sit in with a band playing regularly in a Norfolk pub here in England. It was a great learning experience for me. I joined the band and stayed with it for several years. But breathing inside the pub was unpleasant: there was a fug of tobacco smoke. Many in the audience (not to mention three members of the band - one of them a doctor!) were serious smokers. At the end of every gig, my eyes were sore, my hair and skin were stinking and my clothes needed to go straight in the wash.

On top of all this, goodness knows what damage was being done to the health of everyone in the pub. (Those three smoker musicians, by the way, have all since died.)

After a few years, at the start of 2004, the pub landlord was enlightened enough to put up a notice banning smoking from the bar in which the band played (though not in the rest of the pub). This made a huge difference. I enjoyed the gigs so much more.

As you may know, a ban on smoking in public places was eventually introduced by law in the UK in July 2007. Since then, playing in jazz bands in indoor venues has become much more pleasurable.

Why am I picking on this subject today? Because a blog reader told me how sad it was to see musicians having to endure such a smoky atmosphere when they played at some jazz venues in America. This blog reader (O.K. - it's Wally, from Canada) admits that he himself is a smoker. And yet he is understanding enough to appreciate that singers and trumpet players, for example, have to gulp air in through the mouth rapidly and frequently while performing. They need to fill the lungs with good air - not something choking and lethal.
Sadly, some of the musicians themselves are smokers - even among those young stars in New Orleans whose generation ought to know better. I am saddened. We have come to love these brilliant young people; and their music brings us so much pleasure. It is a pity they do something that not only makes their work harder but will probably shorten their lives.

But there is some good news. I visited New Orleans in April 2015, and was pleased to note that smoking was by then banned in some of the venues in which the bands play. And I noticed very little smoking during my several visits to The Spotted Cat. I was also told by locals that a law-enforceable ban (as in England) was due to come into force on April 22, a few days after I left.