Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Four Nights of a Week, Culminating in a Gig (And thence onward to Wynton Marsalis, the Olympia, the Giant, the Orgasmic Master and the Smelly Woman)

February 7, 2016

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

PARIS – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Those were the nights out this week. More than lately as I work on various personal projects and the blog gets left a little bit behind. Where I would have done four posts in the past, I’m doing one. Things will no doubt change as the projects I’m working on get caught up…. But in any case, it was a great four nights out and it varied from regular open mics to a cool new jam to an incredible concert at the Olympia by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra!
Someone at Bliss

On Monday I dropped off at an open mic that just began its second year: The open mic of the Bliss bar near Les Halles. This is a posh back room to a sizeable bar brasserie, and the sound system is great, there are lots of musicians, a jam feel to the thing, but ultimately also if you are into live karaoke – i.e., you sing but need a backup band – then this is also the place for you. They say they accept basically all styles, but from what I saw, the accent is on soul – maybe funk too. I’ll have to return to confirm, as I got there too late to get up on stage, and I only stayed for around three songs.
Group at Some Girls

Knowing I had failed to arrive early enough, I moved on fast to the Some Girls open mic on the Rue de Lappe, which is quickly becoming a personal favorite, and which is quickly become a personal favorite for many other musicians, I can see that! From there I went up the street to the Yellow Mad Monkey, but I was too late to play there as well, alas.
Someone at Some Girls

On Tuesday, I decided to drop over to the Zebre Rouge to see if the open mic was still happening there, as they now have a new open mic and jam on Thursdays. In fact, no. The old open mic was not happening, but there was a wild and cool jam in the basement. This was jazz, funk, far out stuff, sax players, drummer, guitar, bass, all sorts of mad stuff. Very free and easy and worth it if you want a classic cool instrumental jam.
Jam at Zebre Rouge

I went from there to La Féline to take part again in this, hopefully, growing open mic on the amazing stage of this popular bar near the Menilmontant metro. I know it would be a much wilder success already if it took place on one of the bar’s busier nights – but in fact the bar does not need the open mic on the busier nights, obviously, because the place is packed on those nights….
Another at the Feline

From there I wandered over to the Café Oz open mic where things were just booming. It felt at that time of around 10:30 PM as if the verdict is in and the old Coolin vibe – of one of Paris’s then best open mics now defunct – has now transferred to the Café Oz. Again, though, I was too late to get my name on the list. But I had a great time talking to friends….
One at the Cafe Oz

And thence onward to Wynton Marsalis, the Olympia, the Giant, the Orgasmic Master and the Smelly Woman

Thursday was the day of being a spectator, no playing music for me – although I still find it difficult to go somewhere as a spectator alone. And I must say, although attending a concert by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was a musical experience I will remember for the rest of my life, the seating arrangement as a spectator was something that made the trip nearly persuade me that I never wanted to be a spectator again!
Threesome at the Feline

I bought a very, very expensive ticket of 90 euros in order to get as close as my bank account would reasonably allow, and I found myself in a triple disaster situation: Sitting two rows ahead of me was the tallest man in the audience, which blocked my view of the stage (which was still half the hall away). Sitting behind me was a man of perhaps 60, 65 years old who seemed to enjoy the music so much that during periods when the entire audience was quiet due to being enthralled by the virtuosos onstage – particularly during a solo, piano, sax, trumpet or other – the man seemed to have mini-orgasms, letting out high-pitched, rather feminine cries of joy that while intended for no one but him, seemed to come directly into my ear on every important note of the solo. But the final horror outweighed both the orgasmic master seated behind, and the giant seated in front. This was the woman sitting one seat away from mine on my right, who smelled of some absolute horror killing odor that was impossible to identify. As soon as she came in and sat down, looks from all around – including the orgasmic master right behind – centered on the woman and whatever her smell was. It was so bad that you gagged. In fact, I had to breathe through my mouth for the entire concert. Had she failed to correctly dry her coat after a wash, and it spoiled? Had she spilt milk all over the whole thing a few hours before and let it dry out? Did the putrid chemical smell in fact come from her???!!! It was this latter possibility that led me to hold my breath on speaking to the usher and asking that I be moved to some better seat – but the place was pretty much full….
Communal Well at les Agapes

But still, the concert was so good, I mean the music, that I had no regrets about my fluke seating situation. These were amongst the tightest playing, most modern jazz musicians I’ve ever heard live. My references range from seeing as a child or teenager both the Duke Ellington Orchestra (with Ellington) and the Count Basie Orchestra (with Basie) and this Lincoln Center orchestra with Marsalis was just so crisp and hot. The sound quality reminded me that however good recorded sound is, live sound is better. These people played those saxes and trumpets like they were keyboards – just astounding. Hearing the clarinet of Rhapsody in Blue in a live situation for the first time, was an amazing experience like few I’ve had before, musically. (And I even enjoyed the Tuba rendition at the end of the Jackson’s song “Blame it on the boogie.”)

Friday was more relaxed. I was invited to perform a gig, as a warm up act for a local Paris band of Americana and blues, called, The Communal Well. I had met one of the members a couple of years ago, and had been meaning to go for some time to see a gig. Well, when I announced my CD being out a couple of weeks or so ago, the guy invited me to perform as an opening act in a 30 minute set for them at show they were putting on at a bar/brasserie in the 16th Arrondissement in Paris, a restaurant called, “Les Agapes.” I jumped at the chance, asked Félix Beguin if he could join me on lead (yes, he said), and so went and had a fabulously fun 45 minute or so set just before the main act.
Another Communal Well at les Agapes

Communal Well were very cool, a cross between The Band and … their band…! Very much how they describe themselves, in fact: between Americana and blues, a little of both, and more. I took some short videos to put up here.
Woman singer with Communal Well

From there, I went on to celebrate the birthday of a friend, and we ended up, of all places, spending quite some time drinking down the Pigalle Country Club, which is where the photo on my CD was taken….
Yet another Communal Well

A fabulous week, all in all…. Oh, and now it’s time to go watch the Super Bowl. So excuse me….

Three Nights, Five Open Mics, an End of a Week Feast in Paris

January 30, 2016

Zebre Rouge

Zebre Rouge

PARIS – The last three nights were a rollercoaster of exploration for me in Paris as I bopped from one open mic to another, visiting four new open mics out of five attended. The verdict? From potential to good to great!

It all started on Wednesday, when I went to a new basement open mic in a hip bar in Montmartre. That was the first time I attended an open mic so high up on the hill leading to Montmartre, and while it was pretty quiet that first night, it shows great potential. The bar, called L’Atelier Montmartre, has a neat “living room” feel to the ground floor, which is on two levels, and it has a kind of almost North American recreation room basement to it, complete with smoking room.
Brian presenting the Soiree Buzz

I learned from the MCs that they had actually held one event already, but that it fell on the Wednesday after the Paris attacks in November, and basically no one went. Of course, those were dark days. So they held off in December and launched it again on Wednesday. It’s a classic open mic and jam if you want that kind of affair. I played three songs, handed out my CD and then left, as I knew that there was the much more established “Soirée Buzz” at the Très Honoré bar on the place St. Honoré, not far from the Opera, and I could walk there in 25 minutes.
first at L’atelier montmartre

I also knew that my new friend from New Haven, the blues, rock and soul man Greg Sherrod, would likely be there. So it was a great contrast to find the hugely bopping, exciting, burlesque and live-karaoke scene at the Très Honoré. There are some top quality voices each week, and this time, as I mentioned, the super neat set of Great Sherrod, with a real backing band (compared to the last time, at Some Girls, backed by guitar and sax only). And I too played a couple of songs with the band – drums, bass and sax, with me on my acoustic guitar.
First at Soiree Buzz

Thursday night it was time to try out the new open mic of Thursday nights at the Zebre Rouge, run by several people who were regulars at the Baroc. I’ve mentioned an open mic on Tuesdays at the Zebre Rouge, but this one had a much bigger turnout, and the feel was more jam than open mic. But the neat little bar near the rue J.P. Timbaud is a great, warm place to jam.
Greg killin em at Soiree Buzz

I had heard that there was another new open mic just around the corner from there at the genial, loft-like space of the bar called the Quartier General, so I left the Zebre Rouge, walked about five minutes and found myself at Renan Mazeas’s new open mic at this really cool bar on the rue Oberkampf, with its fabulous little stage and excellent sound system, and the wrap-around-the-corner windows that expose the bar (and stage) to passersby on the the street.
Oma God at Soiree Buzz

There were not that many musicians, and not really that many bar patrons at that point, but that all meant that I got around eight songs on that fabulous stage and had a feeling like I was providing the soundtrack to the bar, with a happy, genuinely warm audience, even if they were there to only half listen to the music. It was a great experience and I’ll gladly return, if it continues – which is not yet certain.
Piaf stuff at Soiree Buzz

Renan told me that he was also hosting another open mic the next night, last night, Friday. In fact, it was not entirely new, as he had already hosted it around 10 times. But it was certainly new for me, and 10 editions is still far from some that have been around for years. This one would be a completely different kind of thing, in a classic Irish pub called Murphy’s, which is located on a slightly off the beaten track street behind the opera Garnier. It is an absolutely fabulous Irish pub, with lots of regulars, and the open mic set up right near the bar at the front of the pub works just fine, as the music can be heard throughout the pub.
Second at L’Atelier Montmartre

I was at first worried that the chatter from the patrons meant they were not there for the music at all, but as the evening progressed, as well as for me, as my set progressed, things got warmer and warmer and warmer! I got some encores after my “What’s Up!” and regretted only that I did not have another really great foot stomping sort of pub favorite as that to do. But I nevertheless had a fabulous time and wonderful reception.
Insu blues at Zebre Rouge

Renan did some neat duets with other musicians – including the fabulous Laetitia – and he was also available to play guitar for “live karaoke” for anyone else who wanted to sing. I managed to stay quite late chatting to lots of different and interesting people, and basically had a fabulous evening. This open mic is just once a month, the next being 26 Feb. But if it keeps going the way it did last night, it’s an excellent new edition to Paris’s ever-growing open mic scene.
Renan and Stephanie at Quartier General

Not bad, four new open mics in three days in Paris! And I’m sure I missed some others too!
Renan with lead at Quartier General

Rocking the Zebre Rouge

Another from Laetitia at Murphy’s Pub

Laetitia at Murphy’s pub

Opener at Murphy’s pub

Renan with Laetitia at Murphy’s pub

Renan with another at Murphy’s Pub

Great Vibes, Great Music, a New Haven Discovery and Just Plain Great Fun on the Rue de Lappe in Paris

January 26, 2016

Some Girls

Some Girls

PARIS – For a while last night I felt I had stepped back in time three years to the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic in Paris. That was one of the best open mics in Paris until it closed in 2013, and since then, the city has not matched anything quite like that intimate and hip vibe. I’m not saying there are not lots of fabulous other open mics, but nothing quite like that one. Last night, still in the opening stages of this new open mic at the Some Girls bar on the Rue de Lappe, near Bastille, suddenly, it felt like the Ptit Bonheur. Of course, the fact that it’s the same Ollie hosting this one who hosted that one might have something to do with it.

Greg Sherrod Album

Greg Sherrod Album

Other things that have to do with it are the perfect mix of the small size of the bar, the clients who come not for the music but for socializing – but who like the music – and the clients who come for the music. And then, there were the musicians. Oh, yes, last night was a great one. Some of the people from the Ptit Bonheur came around, now having learned of Ollie’s new joint, and then there were the unexpected guests, the discoveries, the people from out of town who just suddenly show up on their European tour to take in a Paris open mic and have some singing fun. That was the high point of the night, was that: Greg Sherrod, a blues, soul, rock singer from New England. Having come to Europe to play in England, Belgium, France and the Netherlands – did I miss anything? – Greg was on the last leg of his journey, visiting Paris. And the people in the Some Girls bar last night were in for a treat.
First Greg song at Some Girls

When he told me he sang the blues, I prepared myself to hear the usual guttural howl of the blues voice we know all over the world that is transmitted like some kind of disease for which there seems to be no cure. But then I heard Greg, and suddenly the room lit up, and I knew I had to get a bit of him on film, and I knew he was a bona fide original.
Girls duet at Some Girls

When we posed for a photo afterwards, Greg and Ollie and I, I said to him, “I feel like I’m about to get my photo taken with Jimmy Rushing.” Actually, it’s not really true. I’d say, Greg’s voice falls somewhere between Rushing and Joe Williams. But really neither. He’s got his own voice.
Girl at Some Girls

He sang a couple of classics, with Ollie on the guitar, he invited Aurelia to join him, and today as I looked up a few details about Greg on the Internet, I found that he was just doing what he does all the time: Tying together the band and the public in a single bond. Great and cool surprise at the open mic, in any case, was this Greg Sherrod of New England, a local legend in New Haven.
Another at Some Girls

I had intended to take part in two or three open mics last night, but the vibe was so good at Some Girls on the rue de Lappe that there was nowhere else to go….
First one at Some Girls

Another bit at the Some Girls

8 Bars, 2 Days, One Week Later in Paris – One Closure, One Opener

January 25, 2016



PARIS – If it were not for the fact that a few things dictate that I keep a record of my Sunday and Tuesday last week, I would let it slide. I was so busy in the intervening time with having received my CD, “Out of a Jam,” that I led the blog slide and did not write about those two nights. But both the fact of the CD, and the fact of taking part in one new open mic on the Tuesday, and then discovering that I had also taken part in the last open mic of one particular venue on the Sunday, mean I gotta write a little about it.

I have to just at least acknowledge those two nights, 8 bars, and the end of the O’Sullivan’s Rebel Bar on Sunday night last week. This was a fairly cool open mic run by Etienne Belin, the host of the absolutely phenomenally cool Coolin’ bar open mic that closed down a while back after the bar was bought up by a big conglomerate. The Rebel open mic was a great place to go on Sunday night’s in Paris, but unfortunately it did not consistently reach the highs of the Coolin, and Etienne has said he has many other projects he needs to focus on – like a CD – so that’s the end of that.
Duet at the Green Linnet

It was fabulous night, that last one – which we did not know was the last – and followed on the 4-bar crawl I was doing: I started out at the lnce-monthly Green Linnet bar open mic right near the Coolin’, where it was calmer than the previous month, but still fun – with Stephen Saxo and Andy Bone’s warm MCing – and then I wandered off for a look at the Ondulatoire Mechanique’s big birthday party for a friend. That was also to feature a new band by some friends, but alas, I was too late for the show, and arrived just as they were packing up.
Duet at the Galway

After the Rebel Bar, I then moved on with some friends to the Galway, where there was a duet playing most of the night. Some nice talk, a Kilkenny, and it was back to home for a day of recuperation.
French trio at the Rebel Bar

The CD arrived on Tuesday, and I HAD to get out to the bars again and start handing out some copies. (More on this blog soon about the CD!!!) I started by checking out the Zebre Rouge open mic, which had turned into a real jam session, and because I needed to do several bars, I opted not to stay. I handed out a few CDs at the Zebre Rouge, then went over to finally try out the nearby Féline bar open mic, which has been running for two or three months now.
Her hopes and expectations at the Green Linnet

This could be one of the best open mics in Paris if it gets the crowds it merits – although with so many other open mics on Tuesday nights in Paris, it is not sure that will happen. The stage is absolutely fabulous, and the management loves music. In fact, the management created this fabulous little stage – complete with a kind of proscenium arch style, spotlights and half decent sound system – because he wants more music, clearly.
Jules at the Rebel Bar

I handed out some CDs there and played a long set of maybe five or six songs. Then I went on to the Pigalle Country Club bar’s open mic, not far from the place Pigalle (!!). That is the place where the photo that adorns the cover and back of my CD was taken. So I had to go there and leave a few copies. It was a very lively night, and I was offered the mic, but I wanted to get going to my final destination, the Café Oz bar open mic next to the place Blanche.
Young one at the Green Linnet

I was too late to make the list, but the Oz was buzzing with musicians and music as usual. Some great acts, and a nice environment, and the usual great presentation of the evening by Brislee Adams….
In their heads at the Pigalle Country Club

First at the Feline Bar open mic

Duet at the Café Oz

Duet at the Feline

Another from duet at the Pigalle Country Club

A View From the Stage in Fat Albert’s Open Mic in Toronto c. 1982-1983

January 16, 2016

Fat Albert's

Fat Albert’s

Fat Albert’s is one of the longest running open mics in the world. It was founded it 1967 in a church basement on Bloor St. in Toronto, the Bloor Street United Church, where it continued until 2003, run from 1967 to 1996 by the same guys, Ray Peak and his helper, Ed Matthews. It is still running today, but in a different location. I used to attend in the 1970s and the early 1980s, and last night as I was going through some old bits of fiction writing in my hard disks, I discovered this scene I set at Fat Albert’s from a novel that I wrote in 1983, and which was set in late 1982 and early 1983. The novel is about the break up of a relationship for a University of Toronto student, and his girlfriend. It is called, “The Prince.” I thought I would put this little section of – desolate and nasty – writing up on the blog, since it paints this scene from a legendary open mic in Toronto (which is still going now but in a different location), from the point of view of one of the occasional musicians, and open mics have by chance become not just a big thing in my life, but the main subject of this blog. The attitude of this character, of course, is in no way MY attitude today. But it has its historical-sociological interest, perhaps. Also, in researching background just now on Fat Albert’s, I learned the Ray Peak died just four months ago, in his 80s, so it seems right to put this up on the blog, since the “old guy” is depicted herein. What I found amusing in re-reading it after all these years, 32, 33 years later, is that the scene could have depicted attendance at an open mic today. No change! Check out my chapter in Fat Albert’s in the fiction section of this blog.

From Spoken Word to Sung Songs and Surprise Meetings with – and at – Some Girls

January 13, 2016

Paris Skyline

Paris Skyline

PARIS – Just a quick one today. Because in fact there’s not much new, but just a bit worth noting. I ended up doing just one open mic on Monday this week because I decided to check out the spoken word open mic at the Chat Noir on rue Jean Pierre Timbaud before heading off – or not – to the Bastille area to try out the same three open mics I did last week.

I had heard about, and been curious about, the Paris spoken word scene for a few years, and I knew about the Chat Noir bar’s basement meeting each week. So I finally, finally managed to get there. I thought I was early, but the room was full of a religiously silent and highly diverse audience listening to someone read her poetry when I arrived sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 PM. So I took an unobtrusive stance in a doorway against the back wall and listened.
First at Some Girls open mic

A couple of poems from this woman followed by a stand-up comic, followed by a musician with guitar, mic and song. A bit of a talk from the MC, and I don’t know what else. Suffice it to say that in 15 minutes there, I started itchy really strongly for a return to what feels to me like the more relaxed, and casual and cool feel of the music open mic world I’m used to. I felt at once that although I was delighted with the vast cross-section of spectators – from old and retired to young and not yet active (in the working world) – I just felt like anything I could contribute would still be better in the music open mic scene.

So I left the Chat Noir spoken word evening and headed on over to the Bastille – stopping briefly for a 7 euro-meal of two lamb chops and frites at a North African restaurant at Menilmontant – and I poked my head into the Yellow Mad Monkey open mic on the rue de Lappe to find it looking quite active and full. I said to myself that I would first more casually check out the Some Girls open mic up the street, where I felt I could speak to at least the MC, and have a casual beer, maybe play a song or two and then return to the Yellow Mad Monkey.
Second at Some Girls open mic

Turned out that I was in for a surprise at the Some Girls because not only was the open mic in full swing – and with a different MC than last week – but that I met a couple of women I used to talk to regularly at open mics more than three years ago and whom I had not seen since. Then, surprise, surprise, a musician I had not seen for more than four years turned up and we had a great talk about what had happened in the intervening years.

This was a guy who I had met in Paris at open mics, and then one day met again at the open mic of the Ruby Room in Tokyo!!! So we again spoke about the global village of open mics and their denizens, and we spoke about many other musical things.

A fabulous evening, but it meant not taking part in either the Yellow Mad Monkey open mic or the one at Madame Louis on the Ile St. Louis. To say nothing of the Galway or the Tennessee…. Did I miss any?

An Update to My Paris Open Mic Guide

January 8, 2016

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Just a note to say that I have updated my main open mic city guide, The Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

I removed the open mics of the Kolok and the Café Oz Denfert, neither of which exist anymore (Café Oz Blanche still thrives!!!), and I added three open mics on Monday night, two of which are located on the rue de Lappe! I also added the open mic of the Nul Bar Ailleurs, not too far from the rue de Lappe either, but on Tuesdays….

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