Have you ever seen a ghost? I never have, but there have been many times when I longed for a ghost to appear. Let me explain. Many years ago I wrote an article with this same title for a jazz magazine. Even by that time many of my favourite musicians had ‘passed on’ – to use a popular euphemism. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were two who left particular gaps. But these great masters were not the musicians I most regretted. The ghosts of my article were lesser men, but I’d heard them play in person many times. Even more significant was the fact that the places where they played still existed. When revisiting these clubs or bars I always had the feeling that when I went through the doors or down the steps, I would be greeted by the sight and sound of Tubby Hayes or Ken Colyer playing as they did when I was in my twenties and they were in their prime. In my article I teased the readers by referring to an exceptional, but short-lived group led by the great drummer Phil Seamen. Who, I asked, was the ghost on guitar? It was a wonderful musician, the late Dave Goldberg, now, sadly, forgotten by most fans.
These days I can summon up my jazz ghosts on YouTube. It is an enjoyable but often a very moving experience. Again, the videos which stir the strongest feelings are not the gods of jazz, but fine players captured playing some tune that I remember well. For example, two great trumpet players, Billy Butterfield and Yank Lawson, duetting on “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” and even exchanging a mute mid chorus.
But we have had photographs for a very long time. They invite us to return to places and people that can summon up a store of memories. As one great French theorist has pointed out, photographs can be sorted into two separate groups. The first, and the largest group, includes those photographs which provide a valuable record, but do not touch us. The second, much smaller, group is made up of photographs which have a special quality. They capture that special gesture or look which brings back to life for us a mother, a father, a wife – someone special.
Sometimes the ghosts can reach out to touch us themselves. Forty years ago my office was at one end of a dimly lit corridor. One of my colleagues had an office at the other end, about thirty feet away. He had the same height, build and bearing as my late father, who had died two years earlier. Several times as I came out of my office my colleague was standing outside his. For a brief moment in that light I thought I saw my father. Ghosts can return to take us by surprise…