Bim Bong

2 Nov

latin jazz

Before I left for France, I had one goal for my experience abroad and one goal only: to find the nearest Latin American jazz singing group and make it my family.

I know, I know, that’s such a “French cliché,” like buying baguettes and wearing berets. I mean, could I be any more of a basic betch abroad. What’s next, running around Paris in search of pumpkin spice lattes? (It’s not “next” because it already. Happened.)

Okay people, obviously Latin jazz wasn’t on my radar. Who even knew that Latin American jazz vocalists exist in France, let alone in a small mountain town.

But, when my colleague approached me about joining such a group, I couldn’t say no…mostly because I couldn’t think of a way to politely decline in French, so I literally just couldn’t say no…but also because my colleague was sitting next to the bread and cheese at lunch and I didn’t want to insult her and lose access to these things…but also because I have this deep, mostly subconscious dream of being the first Franco-American, female version of Enrique Iglesias…

So I said, “Sure, that sounds great! I love Latin America and jazz vocal skills are a great way to impress and seduce men in suburban French bars! Sign me up!”

My colleague told me that there would be a “petite audition” and that – if accepted – I would have to pay a 40-euro fine to join the group.

Wow, I thought. This sounds serious. Acca-serious.

My two-week vacation came and went, and when I arrived home to France, I had ten unread emails about my “jazz vocal audition” in my inbox. The group coordinator – whose email username is the French equivalent of “Jazz Dude 2015” – had sent us two songs that we were to sing at our audition.

One of the songs was “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”

Ah yes, the classically Latin American tune, “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” The embodiment of Latin American jazz.

The second song was entitled, “Bim Bong.” That was the full title. Nothing more, nothing less. Just the word “Bim,” followed by the word, “Bong.”

Jazz Dude 2015 had sent along the audio files for these songs. And so, on the twenty-second Halloween day of my young life, I spent more than several minutes (hours) sitting at my kitchen table, singing the complex, emotionally-charged lyrics, “bim bong, bim bim bong. Bim bong, bim, bim bong.”

I nearly had the entire song memorized. I was ready to nail this audition. No one could bim or bong better, more in tune, and more on tempo than I.

Let me preface this by reiterating – as I always do – that communication in a second language can often result in misunderstandings. Memos can be sent out but not comprehended. People can think they’re entering one kind of experience and can enter into a totally different kind of experience. Young, Latin jazz hopefuls can give up more than three hours of their Halloween evening to mysterious vocal ensembles. These things just have a way of happening.

I showed up to my “audition” fifteen minutes early.

The only activities for which I EVER arrive early are waiting in lines that will lead me to food, and waiting in a line that will lead me to meet Amy Schumer. So, you can imagine how seriously I’d decided to take this audition.

This was THE audition of the season. Every Latin jazz vocalist who was any Latin jazz vocalist would be there. This was The Voice of Latin jazz. Adam Levine was just waiting to turn his chair around for the most promising contender. I needed to excel.

The audition that I’d built up so epically was in a yoga studio. When I walked in, six middle-aged adults were taking off their shoes and setting up chairs. They were all dressed very comfortably and artsy, while I – as a Halloween fanatic and a soon-to-be guest at a Halloween housewarming party – was wearing a tight black skirt, an orange top, and heeled booties. I looked like Bridget Jones, ready for a Tarts and Vicars party. All of my fellow Latin jazz singers kept asking me if I was cold (which is a middle-aged person’s way of saying, “Please put on a cardigan to cover your sideboob”).

First impressions aside, I was still totally ready to nail this audition!

I prepared myself to sing warm-up scales and to stare down the competition. There was my colleague. Then there was a young girl in her 20s who looked like the French version of an NYU student. There was also a librarian who stared at me every time I spoke French and told me she loved my “English accent.” And finally, there was Robert, who fumbled with his sheet music and felt the need to explain to us that hadn’t yet learned the music “by heart” (which was to say, he hadn’t learned the music at all).

“I’d like to begin by singing a song together,” said Jazz Dude 2015.

What Jazz Dude neglected to specify was that “singing together” was how he intended to spend the ENTIRE “audition.”

And so, one hour turned into two hours, which turned into three hours. Three hours that I spent singing, “bim bong, bim, bim bong” alongside my six compatriots, as Robert continued to struggle with his sheet music and to try to make sounds come out of his mouth.

By the end of the third hour, I was starving and in desperate need of Halloween festivities. When Jazz Dude started to wind down his improvisational jam session, I slowly began to gather my belongings.

“Dear, if you need to go, please go! You don’t need to ask anyone’s permission,” said Jazz Dude. “This was just meant to be a chance to get to know each other and to ‘jam’ a little bit,” he said.

“Ok, merci,” I said, as I scurried out of the studio.

THREE HOURS. Who needs THREE HOURS to get to know someone?? I could have interrogated each and every one of those vocalists in ten-minute intervals and learned more about them than I learned from three hours of bim and bong.

Three hours of bim and bong, and I was still unsure of what I’d just been a part of. Had that been one of those stealthy, secret auditions where you’re just supposed to act natural while being observed? Was I in the group? Was I on my way to being the female Enrique? (Enriqua?? Someone spellcheck/culture check me on that.) Time will tell. (Although apparently, three hours isn’t enough time to “tell” these things, so I guess the really applicable expression is “More time will tell.”)

I was unclear on all of the above. But, I had not needed to part with my $40, and so could purchase enough Halloween candy to make it all worthwhile.

Bim bong to that.


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