ABU DHABI – I was greatly relieved to find that one of the rare open mic, open jam events in Abu Dhabi, one that I had found last year, still exists this year, and was as fun and open as ever. This is the Friday night jazz night at the Mood Indigo Lounge in the Mercure City Center hotel, in downtown Abu Dhabi. It is hosted and led by the genial and talented Rob Millner, who plays piano and sings, and he had a drummer and bass player backing him up throughout the evening. It is organized by Bruce Olsen. It is mostly geared towards jazz, as I say, but like any great open stage, just about anything is acceptable. But what I did find out to my great disappointment is that if I had gone directly there on Wednesday night upon arriving in Abu Dhabi, I’d have found a similar evening devoted more to folk, acoustic music, with this time Rob Millner on the Irish fiddle!
And I can confirm by what I heard through a short snippet of a recording, Rob is as adept on the fiddle as he is on the piano! In any case, the stage was certainly open on Friday, and although this might be one of the best kept secrets in Abu Dhabi, as the place was no overflowing with jammers, there was a very agreeable saxophone player who joined in, and I had my moment behind the mic, with the band, too. First at Mood Indigo Lounge jam in Abu Dhabi
I kind of get tired of always playing the same standard songs in my repertoire whenever it is a jam situation – i.e., playing with musicians I’ve never played with before on songs they don’t know – so I decided to try something a little new. I felt confident with Rob’s piano as well as the drumming and bass playing, so I decided to risk doing Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat,” which has two, three, maybe even four different chord structured parts to it and can take other musicians by surprise if you don’t know it. I also did a couple of Bob Dylan songs, and of course, “Mad World.” Second at Mood Indigo in Abu Dhabi
To my amazement, it went over just fine – at least I’m judging by the way I felt we only went off the rails a couple of times, and by how a number of people in the audience were dancing away to it. It was a great pleasure, especially in this oasis of a night club in Abu Dhabi, which is not dry of musical joints, but has only about three other open mics from what I can make out – and none of the others took place this weekend….
If I can get back again to the Mood Indigo Lounge, I will!
SAO PAULO – As so often happens in my worldwide travels to find open mics and jam sessions around the world, I make discoveries thanks to the people I meet from year to year in previous jams and open mics. Sao Paulo is one of the most difficult places for me to find such places, partly due to the barrier of language, and partly thanks to a completely different musical culture compared to many other places around the world.
I have always managed to go to the open jam session of the Lua Nova, as I have mentioned in almost all of my visits to Sao Paulo on this blog, and every year almost the location of the Lua Nova jam changes location. Last year I found a fabulous open mic near my hotel, but that open mic has ceased to exist. First at Bar do Julinho in Sao Paulo
So last night, just as I was resigning myself to being in yet another city with a reduction of open mics, and maybe even not being able to play in Sao Paulo at all, I was in touch with one of my friends from Lua Nova. She told me that not only is Lua Nova happening on Sunday night as usual, and not only has it again changed location, but guess what? There was last night an open mic at the same new location where Lua Nova takes place.
This is a fabulous bar devoted to music and located in Pinheiros, near Vila Madelena, where I have most often played on my visits to Sao Paulo. The bar is called Bar do Julinho, after the man who owns the bar, a musician named Julinho.
So I decided to make my way over there, despite the late hour of past 10 PM, and I found that not only was the location a warm environment with guitars and other musical instruments hung up on all of the walls, with photos of Brazilian musicians and others, all over the place, with a nice stage area and a great sound system, but ALSO, there was a feature act playing when I arrived. Second at Bar do Julinho in Sao Paulo
It was a fabulous feature act, the fabulous woman singer, Iion Papas, with a guitar player, drummer, and bongo player. She and her band played Brazilian music until about 11:45, when the open mic began.
And in fact, it was all Brazilian music. And fabulous Brazilian music. Nothing but wonderful accoplished musicians and singers. I found myself feeling that familiar sense of dread and wondering if I really fit in from more than one point of view – talent and musical style.
But once my turn came up, once again, as also so often happens – especially here in Brazil – suddenly, I could play any of my usual songs, and the band joined in and completely changed musical styles, fitting in perfectly with what I do.
It was a fabulous evening, and I am so happy to have discovered another open mic in Brazil, another venue, another great taste of the local musical culture – as you’ll be able to see from the videos on this page that I made last night….
MEXICO CITY – One of the occasional side shows of open mics around the world is the attendance of unusual people meeting on the level playing field of the amateur stage. Sometimes this comes in the form of professional musicians, actual rock stars, opera stars, or symphony violinists taking to the stage. Sometimes it comes in the form of actors or actresses trying their hand at the similarly thespian art of singing and performing live music instead of inhabiting theatrical roles. Last night at Mexico City’s only open mic, this cameo guest role came in the form of the somewhat eccentric, controversial and talented director of classic rock videos by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Roger Waters and, for me most significantly, “Runaway Train,” by Soul Asylum. Oh, and of course, this rather private man, Tony Kaye, is above all known as the renegade director of the film, American History X. So what the hell was he doing at the Black Horse open mic in Mexico City?
Well, first of all, if you go to Tony Kaye’s Wikipedia page entry, you will find him defined as: “Director, cinematographer, producer, screenwriter, actor, writer, poet, singer/songwriter, painter.” Yes, singer/songwriter. So what could be more natural than for him to show up at an open mic in a town where he is apparently doing some filming? And guess what? I could see from his performances and the lyrics and music of his songs that Tony Kaye is definitely expressing himself in song. This is not just a capricious night out to give a try behind the open mic. In fact, I learned that he had also attended the same open mic the week before. (NOTE: After posting this blog item, I learned through amazing synchronicity in a conversation with someone who knew someone else who is working with Kaye now in Mexico on an advertisement for Mr. Muscle, a Mexican cleaning product like Mr. Clean. So that’s why Kaye is here; directing a commercial. It all makes clean sense now!)
Mounting the stage, he put on a hat that made him look vaguely like the Wicked Witch of the West, and had his by now trademark long white beard, and round spectacles, and definitely had a “presence.” And yet, it was interesting to see this legendary – if not very productive – film director (and ad man) then go on to apologize before his performance: “Thanks for letting me indulge in my hobby here before you,” he said, or something very similar. And he repeated two or three times that, “I’m only an amateur…”
That made me think, nevertheless, that maybe Tony Kaye has not done THAT many open mics or public performances, since I think there is a moment where you stop apologizing and just get on with doing your best. But there was not much of a way of learning the background to it all, for Tony off stage was actually a lot more private than onstage. He sat mostly by himself, and when I tried to venture over and start a conversation, I found it roadblocked most of the time. Is this his nature? Is it because as I learned from the IMDB that Kaye has had a severe speech impediment since childhood? What I really wanted to talk most about was that song, “Runaway Train,” which is one of the few cover songs that I do.
In fact, I was really tempted to sing my version of the song, and to preface it with my usual statement that while most people tend to use a respectable term for covering other musicians music by calling it “interpretation,” for me I say that I always try to cover another performer’s song in EXACTLY the way they do it… and I fuck up completely, but the fuck up ends up being called “interpretation,” and sometimes it is considered slightly original!
Tony Kaye at Black Horse in Mexico City
But in the end, I opted to do “Mad World,” and two of my own songs. Not only did I not quite have the nerve to do “Runaway Train,” but I felt it to be too fawning. I did, however, tell him that for me, that song had never represented the interpretation he had given it in the video, i.e., about teenagers who run away from home. Despite having run away from home myself briefly at age 17, I told him, I always felt the song was much more likely about such a thing as drug addiction, or perhaps addiction to a relationship one cannot break away from. (The band itself refers to it being about depression.)
In any case, it much to my great and huge delight to hear Tony Kaye respond to me very quickly about my observation by answering: “Oh, I put a spin on it.” In other words, he had very creatively interpreted the song his own way – and as it turned out, that was an important interpretation, as it is said to have helped save many relationships as many runaways were subsequently found.
Part of me thinks I should not be writing that on the blog, since I had not intended to “interview” him, but this blog is a conversational thing that I generally write in as if I’m sharing stories with my friends. And I’ve already told a few friends about that conversation. So rightly or wrongly, I quote him there. Maybe, in fact, that is part of the reason he remained so private and closed-mouthed in general throughout the evening. But I think, now having looked up his career in Hollywood and the ad world, that possibly that has more to do with just how this eccentric director happens to be as a person.
I felt slightly embarrassed for Kaye when he got up to do his first song and after a few words of introduction – those apologies – he was entirely drowned out by the cheers of a large number of Mexicans watching an important soccer match with a Mexican team, precisely coinciding with the penalty shootout! When the cheers were explained to Kaye, he said in a very good natured way: “Well, I can’t compete with that, can I?”
In any case, Tony Kaye made the evening for a lot of people last night by showing up to do more of his very personal music, and I continue to feel justified in loving the open mic format.
But I should NOT being talking only about Tony Kaye. The evening at the Black Horse was another classic open mic evening, with a wonderful hosting job done by both Natalia – who did a great rendition of the Mercedes Benz song by Janis Joplin – and by Jairus, whom I had met last year when I attended.
There were many other fun and interesting performers as well, by the way, especially the couple of model-musicians who do music together as well as model together, with the woman on keyboards and the guy on guitar, and both on vocals. They did among other songs, a Pink Floyd….
Anyway, why could there not be MORE open mics in Mexico City!!!???? Perhaps there would be even more meetings with remarkable men…(and women)….
PS, a few hours after posting this blog item, I learned of a fabulous video that shows Jairus McDonald and his band in a recent live recording they did of some of their songs and some covers. The quality of this video, and especially the quality of the sound is spectacular – to say nothing of the quality of the musicianship. This is truly the Jairus I saw in his brief live appearance at the open mic last night, too. Apparently this video is one of a series of such live videos recorded in Mexico City of basically only Latin American bands, and Jairus and his band are the exception. I can see why. Very cool….
My last night in Austin before flying off to Mexico City – where I’m writing these words – was another great night at the open mics: I went to two of them, and they were diametrically opposed in terms of vibe. And I loved both.
The Austin Songwriters Group has moved from its warehouse/clubhouse kind of place on the outskirts of town where I visited last year to a legendary saloon-like location called Threadgill’s. This is a room with a long musical history, in fact, and when you see the style of the room, the neat stage, and the general setup for listening to music, you can understand why. Panorama of Threadgill’s
And when I say legendary, and music… the story behind this place is that the original spot opened up in 1933 as a Gulf gas station, but the owner loved music. He got a beer licence, and it became a favorite winding down spot for performing musicians. Eventually he held a Wednesday open night, and there was a real cross of generations mixing the country musicians and the new 60s flower children. People like Janis Joplin, honed their style there, not to mention appearances by Jerry Lee Lewis and Captain Beefheart! sixth at Threadgill’s
The Austin Songwriters Group had to move here from their previous place, and I can’t imagine it a loss – although at the other place they could stay later. This open mic starts early, with sign up at 6:30 PM and the open mic starting at 7 PM and finishing precisely at 9:45 PM. That’s what I call early. Paris terrorist song at Threadgill’s
But it DOES allow for musicians who are still hungry for music to go to any of several other open mics in Austin, and my choice on Monday was the Speakeasy, a not-to-far-walk over the bridge to Congress Street, where I have played in previous years, but never in the real Speakeasy joint on the rooftop café. It’s windy up there! And apparently cold in the winter. Shredder at Speakeasy
In any event, after the laid back singer songwriter night at Threadgill’s it suddenly went into overdrive weird at the Speakeasy, with just about every kind of performer imaginable playing on the neat little stage amongst the potted plants. First at Speakeasy
Unfortunately I had my flight to catch fairly early the next morning, so I ended up being able to play only one song. Otherwise, I’d have loved to have stayed until the end, which is apparently around 2 AM. harmony at speakeasy
The big discovery was the new location (and day) for the Austin Songwriters Group’s open mic, on Monday’s at the legendary Threadgill’s off South Congress by the river in the center of town. I still have yet to do my blog write up about that one, as well as my visit to Speakeasy last night after the ASG event. (Two in one night.) But as I had a few minutes free in the airport before I fly to Atlanta and then Mexico City, I decided to update the guide.
AUSTIN, Texas – In the last week and a half I have travelled from Japan to Paris (leaving out Dubai) to Milan and then back to Paris and then to Austin (leaving out Atlanta) and here I am in the sun in Texas after two musical nights with my friend from Paris who used to run the amazing Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic…. Wait, let me backtrack. That’s the problem with these blog posts that cover a week and a half!!!!
Last week, at the new location of TAC I arrived just in time to see the presentation of the teachers of the TAC of their upcoming year of instruction in the theater arts at TAC. There was a fabulous and fun improvisation group, that teaches improvisation, and which put on a small show that I caught bits of in video. Anyway, I’ll probably write more about TAC in the future, suffice it to say that probably this all-purpose theater is best summed up in the name, which is short for Teatro a Chiamata, which basically has to do with the “calling” of the theater. For Ornella, theater is not just about a stage and actors facing an audience; for her the stage, the actors and the audience are all one. And the brief look I had at TAC confirms that concept. A Dario Fo moment at Ligera
After the evening of presentation of the upcoming courses, some of us went across the street and visited Ligera again. I had not been back since early September, and despite feeling quite wiped out, fatigued from a cold, I had my guitar with me, and although I didn’t really feel like playing, and the evening was more about drinking, carousing, and talking, suddenly, someone pulled out a guitar, and suddenly, there was again an ambience of music in the Spazio Ligera. A “pop-up jam session” dare I call it? It became absolutely impossible to refuse the idea of playing. More of jam at Ligera in Milan
And this, by the way was the day after the death of Dario Fo, the Nobel Prize winning Italian dramatist, and the same day after the winning of the Nobel Prize by Bob Dylan. So after some of the people in the bar – including one of the owners – played a tribute to Dario Fo, it seemed normal, or inevitable, that I would play a Dylan song…. And that was the beginning of many more songs, and much more fun. I absolutely love the Spazio Ligera. Another moment of the improv group at TAC Teatro
And then back to Paris before flying off to Austin and the meeting with Sundown
I took a train from Milan back to Paris, packed, then caught a very early morning flight to Atlanta and from there on to Austin, and no sooner had I got my rental car on Wednesday night than I drove off to meet up with my friend Ollie Joe Yaco of Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of “Some Girls” open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of Sundown fame all over the world. I’m referring to the guy who I have mentioned for years on this blog, who ran those open mics, and who now has his band called Sundown. It turned out that Ollie was in Austin travelling around on what seems like his once or twice a year visit to the U.S. for playing music in some great cities like Austin and L.A. First at Stay Gold
I think I had just missed him in Austin last year, so I was determined not miss him this year. He was doing a gig at a place in the east end of town, called Stay Gold. So I showed up for that, and from there he led me off to a very cool bar called the White Horse, which could not sound more British, or be more Austin-like. More on that place later, I think, but hearing and seeing Ollie playing his music in Austin was a fabulous moment – although in fact I arrived too late on Wednesday to catch his set. Second at Stay Gold
But that was fixed by him inviting me to his next gig, at a place on East 12th Street, called Dozen Street, last night. In fact, Ollie got the stage for himself last night, and decided in his typical way to share it with friends. So it was that he did a nice set with both solo stuff, and guy on the spoons, and then the French barman at the Dozen Street bar, who played lead guitar for him. I played a short set, and two fabulous women singer songwriters played sets as well. Those the completely opposite style performers Alison Gail Self and Cari Q. Four handed piano moment at the White Horse in Austin
The Dozen Street bar has existed for about two years, and it is one of the many long, long bars with a back stage and a back courtyard of a type I’ve seen spotted all about Austin. The evening finished off with another band that had nothing to do with the rest of us, and which went on until quite late, I think. Very cool, all together, very very cool. A kind of evening that really makes you realize just how unique and cool Austin is musically. This kind of thing is just going on all over the city. It can take a while to find the hot spots, in fact, but once you do, you realize they are all over the place. Sundown and spoons
NAGOYA, Japan – And then came one of those dream nights as I love them: A combination of a fabulous stage, a fabulous sound system, a fabulous crowd, a bunch of fabulous “other” musicians, and lots of fabulous people to talk to! That describes in a (fabulous) nutshell the evening I spent at the Plastic Factory last night in Nagoya. Any regular readers of this blog will know that I have been going to the Plastic Factory annually for a few years now, but I have to say I think that was one of the top two times I spent at this very cool, in-place in Imaike, owned and run by the fabulous Heinz Senn, of Switzerland.
I had to stay late at the racetrack, interview lots of people, pack in a few stories and organize my racing life. So I figured that I would not have the time to make it to the Plastic Factory, where Heinz told me that I was welcome to come, and maybe even if those who had booked the night allowed it, I would be able to play some songs. “Those” people being a group of musicians who meet at the Plastic Factory once a week, or once a month, or once in a while, to play a kind of open mic that actually consists of each of the musicians taking the stage for two or three songs and then handing it on to the next musician…. first at plastic factory
And so on until the early hours of the morning. And so it went last night, with a nice mix of expat musicians and some Japanese people in the crowd, and the wonderful Japanese harmonica player who accompanied me on “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” of Bob Dylan, and with some other musicians. fourth at plastic factory
In any case, I had the most amazing time, and I was so glad that once again I proved to myself that I must never take “no” for an answer to myself. I realized as I got to the Nagoya station from the Shiroko station – near Suzuka – that if I ate a horrendous fast-food meal in the Nagoya station, and if I did not go back to my hotel to pick up my guitar, then I would make it to the Plastic Factory easily in time to see much of the show – and maybe even play. second at plastic factory
And that’s what happened. The Plastic Factory is a fabulous venue with, as I said, a great stage and sound system, and on the first floor a space that is used sometimes as a gallery, sometimes for other things, and all together, it is a great meeting place for like-minded individuals looking for…great music, fun and chat. third at plastic factory
What can I say. Just check it out. And check out the videos on this page to see the variety of musicians! They call their group, I believe – writing this from memory – “The Good ‘Ole Boys.” And indeed they were.
PS, and I almost forgot to mention! On the last weekend of the month, or something like that, they also have a real bona fide open mic at the Plastic Factory. So when in town and looking for an experience, or a place to play, check out the Plastic Factory.