Jazz in a Crowded Place

Jazz and blues stall, Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok.

It would seem almost impossible for Bangkok's famously hot, messy, crowded Chatuchak Weekend Market to be anybody's idea of a place to find even a moment's relaxation. Inside you can buy a pet snake, an aphrodisiac potion, used Levi jeans, and almost anything else in an atomsphere of frantic commerce…

Jazz and blues stall, Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok.

It would seem almost impossible for Bangkok's famously hot, messy, crowded Chatuchak Weekend Market to be anybody's idea of a place to find even a moment's relaxation. Inside you can buy a pet snake, an aphrodisiac potion, used Levi jeans, and almost anything else in an atomsphere of frantic commerce. Once introduced to its inner wonders by a Thai girlfriend, I largely furnished a house, bought a wardrobe, found excellent paintings and acquired a working vintage barber pole within its teeming confines. But every visit for me seemed to end in sweat and tears as the heat of the day would press down on the tiny alleyways and I would panic, wondering how the medics would get a large farang writhing in cardiac arrest out of here.

That was until the day I heard the sweet round tones of Sonny Rollins noodling away on "I'm An Old Cowhand" off his classic 1950s Way Out West album as I trudged through the market. I didn't think much of it at the time, until I walked past the same area again. This time it was Muddy Waters. What the hell? The only music in this place on a normal day is Thai pop at deafening volume screeching above the bark of buy and sell.

But there is a tiny cubicle, hardly large enough to accommodate three shoppers, where a vintage tube amplifier is warmed up on the weekend and the sound of straight ahead jazz and blues is pumped out through a pair of massive old cloth-covered speakers. Browse the shelves and you can find some surprising music, all culled from the proprietors' extensive music collection, which he sells, one pirated copy at a time, for about US$2.50 per dubbed disc, complete with photocopied cover art..

He has Rollins and Miles, Muddy and Howlin' Wolf, a nice sampling of Latin jazz and a handful of blues-tinged classic rock like the Allman Brothers. I have picked up Tito Puente, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday and a wonderful disc featuring bluesmen Stevie Ray Vaughn and Albert King playing together. There is no Avril Lavigne, no rap, no backpacker-approved Buddha Bar techno-mix.

Given the somewhat shady nature of the business, he doesn't like to give out his name but he will say that he is a university professor and he acquired his taste in music while studying in the US many years ago. He finds it relaxing to spend his weekend here, listening to his tunes, talking music with whoever wanders by. Make a request for something he doesn't have on hand and he will try to find a copy and have it ready the following weekend.

Never mind Chatuchak, this is the only place in Thailand where I know I can hear -- and buy – something like Money Jungle, the magical 1962 trio date featuring Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Charles Mingus. Now if I have to brave the stalls in search of, say, a stuffed iguana or a bauble for the significant other, I can look forward to a long respite with my favorite pirate.

Directions? Just get to Chatuchak and keep your ears open.

A. Lin Neumann

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