PARIS – Just a very short post to celebrate that in this time Paris when night music joint after night music joint is closing down as the Parisian population becomes more and more bourgeois and gentrified and refuses to accept the sound of music at nighttime, I can celebrate with a few words to say that a longtime mainstay of the Paris live music scene has returned after months of being closed down. The Caveau des Oubliettes on the Rue Galande in the 5th Arrondissement, near Shakespeare and Company and Notre Dame, has re-opened after its change in ownership and renovation. And it looks the same as it ever did.
Well, of course, the little problem of paying 12 euros for a 50 cl of IPA beer will steer away many a poor musician. Or at least no doubt limit their spending to say, one beer, rather than probably three beers at 5 euros each (and therefore earning more money for the bar).
In any case, the jam I attended on Sunday night was one of the many it has during each week, and this one was the blues jam, now led by Youva Sid, who I met a few years ago at his own bar venue in Menilmontant.
The great news is that this place looks as if it has basically not changed at all. It has just cleaned everything up to make it look more stylish – but the jam principle is the same. Bring your instruments, make your presence known, get up on stage and play!
MILAN – This is just the kind of thing that confirms my increasing belief and understanding about the Milan cultural scene: It took until Wednesday evening for me to discover one of the coolest open jams in the city. And the Arci Turro open blues jam has been going on weekly for more than three years. How could I have missed it? The answer is simple and goes back to that bit about my understanding….
Milan is spread out all over the place. There is no real concentration of any particular kind of life in the city – except perhaps the most easily recognizable Duomo kind of life and its major commercial center in the middle of the city. Elsewhere, to find an open mic, an open jam, a theater, a music venue, you have to know where they are, either by word-of-mouth, or long, long experience and contacts. Arci Turro blues jam second
Of course, it is all up there on the internet in one form or another, but that seems not very clearly communicated either. In any case, the xxx open jam takes place in one of the coolest bars I have discovered so far.
Located in a completely residential and/or business area just off the via Padova area, the venue sits on a side street with complete anonymity. It has a completely laid back club house sort of feel to it, with large dining tables in the front room, a neat bar in the back, a giant billiards table – the kind with no ball pockets – and a multi-level back porch with more tables and chairs. It is also decorated in almost a clubhouse kind of way, with newspaper clippings pinned to a corkboard, books in shelves, and various other bric-a-brac. Arci Turro blues jam first
In fact, it is something of a clubhouse, as it is the location of an association that is linked to all sorts of events, and just happens to have this bar and jam – the blues jam is run by Giulio Brouzet, who joins in on harmonica and vocals, depending on the situation. There is also an upright piano, and basically it seems every kind of instrument is accepted.
I played with my guitar and sang, and accompanying me were a trumpet player, a violin player, a harmonica player, a drummer, and a lead guitar player. There may have been more, but as you sit in something close to a circle halfway between the two main rooms of the venue, I’m not sure I saw all the people who were playing along when I did my number! And, yes, I did not do a blues song, since I don’t know how to play any – so although the emphasis here is about 90 percent blues, the jam is open to other things, or at least a broad definition of blues. Arci Turro blues jam … after the jam around midnight….
In any case, the atmosphere is so cool at the Arci Turro in both the jam and the bar in general, that I will be sure to return whenever I can. It also happens to be on the same night of the week as the Joy Milano jam that I have written about several times, but as it turns out, the Arci Turro ends around 23:30 and the Joy Milano only really gets swinging into high action at around that time, so you can go from the one to the other. As did several of the musicians last Wednesday, I was told. But I was so comfortable at the Arci Turro that I hung around for another hour or so talking to people on the back porch and drinking some of the many available wines….
LIEGE, Belgium – That was easily one of the longest periods that I have ever gone in the more than six years of this blog without putting up a post. In fact, and of course, it was almost one of the longest periods during that same period where I did not go out and play music in public somewhere, crying out my insides on stage for all those willing to subject themselves to it. And it all goes down to my summer vacation, which was spent entirely working on my job writing and writing and writing, and doing all sorts of other administrative chores that I really don’t even want to have to think about, let alone talk about. And it all ended last night in Liège, at the Friday night jam of the Blues-sphere club not far from the Meuse in this fabulous Belgian city.
The Blues-sphere is a really classic kind of blues-jazz bar with a long front entrance leading into a room full of photographs of historical blues and jazz musicians, with a big stage with keyboards and drums, and a multi-pronged room allowing for every kind of spectator – from those who want to listen, to those who want to talk. A great sound system, and above all, a barman-manager who not only loves music, but also loves to get up and play his harmonica from time to time when he feels inspired by the music.
I’ve written about the Blues-sphere before, and I’ve probably usually mentioned about how intimidated I am about going to this very cool venue outre-Meuse because it is so much Blues and so little mainstream pop or rock – at least in my perception of it each time I go. But last night, debating with myself as to whether or not I should go, I found myself realizing that I had really no excuses whatsoever, and having overcome a few of the biggest hurdles of my year in other levels, I decided I needed the break, and the first time on stage in more than three weeks…. Third at the Blues sphere in Liege
So I went with much trepidation. I need not have worried. It turned out to be just the elixir that I needed. I was also very lucky in finding that at this open jam evening there was a crew of people from nearby Aachen who were there and looking for someone to play along with – they were a bass player, guitarist, keyboard player, and a local drummer. And I said, “Sure, but forget the blues with me!” Well, except to the extent that all rock and pop comes somehow from blues roots. Pretty much. Interpretation at the Blues sphere in Liege
So we got up after some pretty fabulous local musicians – and an American from a nearby Dutch town – and we played whatever came into our heads. I got to exchange between leading the group with my guitar and vocals on my songs, to playing along with the bass player doing his songs and singing. I was almost invisible during those moments, as my capacity to really jam is somewhat limited! But sometimes that’s the best thing, is to be invisible on stage. First at the Blues sphere in Liege
In any case, it was a fabulous night of music and human warmth at the Blues-sphere, and it recharged my batteries, and I highly recommend this venue to anyone wanting to recharge theirs…. Second at the Blues sphere in Liege
But the problem is, and this is slightly depressing, most of the updating I did on the list was to remove open mics and venues that no longer exist. I was unable to update with any new venue, although I was able to improve my section about the House of Blues & Jazz, as I had not actually played there until this trip….
I was really, seriously, beginning to lose faith in my last days in Shanghai. I mean, the trajectory of my worldwide open mic adventure has almost invariably been, up. Like every city I go to year after year there is a snowball effect of discovering new venues, new scenes, new musicians and a kind of inexorable growth sense. (Don’t mind me, I’ve just traveled 24 hours back to Paris from Shanghai after not sleeping for like about the same length of time before that.) And I began really feeling bad about things in Shanghai because it seemed that all of the places I had played in the past had disappeared: Bee Dees; Karma Lounge; Not Me; Oscar’s; and like, did the Melting Pot still have its Sunday jam?
No matter how much research I did every single day, I could not find evidence that an open mic I had attended in the past still existed today. And so it was that my open mic for my first four nights was my own hotel room. I played away, morning and night, whenever I could find a down moment between an otherwise massively busy weekend at the racetrack.
And I wrote emails to friends, acquaintances and fellow musicians I have met over the years in Shanghai. And either they did not respond, or they did not exist, or they now existed elsewhere.
And then…and then… finally, on the last night of my stay in China, I remembered the House of Blues & Jazz. I remembered they had a jam on the Sunday night. I remembered it was probably not too far from my hotel. I then learned it was 15 minutes’ walk from my hotel. And I went. I still could not tell if it was really still a jam session on the Sunday night.
And my music is neither blues nor jazz. And I remember this place made me feel a little insecure the first time I went there about three or four years ago, and I remember walking out without trying the jam, so much was I scared. But last night, waiting for my 7 AM flight back to Paris, I had no choice. If I did not play on the House of Blues & Jazz stage, then I would have lost my week in Shanghai in terms of the buzz I seek on the open mic stages of the world. What a horrible lost opportunity that would be.
But it was, honestly, very sad to go to this city where in the past at my peak I was able to play in maybe six different places, and find that nothing existed anymore. Or practically. The one I did last year on the Monday still exists, but it’s now Monday and I’m back in Paris….
So I went to the House of Blues & Jazz, and I found this fabulous stage again – big enough to hold a piano, drum set, bass player, lead player, a singer or two – and a great sound system, and a vibe somewhere between laid back and classy, with its wood panel interior, and the three or four television screens of the stage action ensuring that everyone gets to see and hear what’s happening.
And I listened to the fabulous house band led by Greg on the vocals and guitar. And when he announced the jam, the open stage, I finally knew I had to push for it, and that my drought of a week in Shanghai would end. And boy did it end. It was like, after four nights in the hotel playing to no audience, I suddenly had an audience, and I could explode.
I only got two songs, but it was enough to play with the backing band, and before this great, fabulous, large audience, and just let go. I had the time of my week in Shanghai. And I not only recommend this excellent jam – which has much more than jazz and blues – but I will definitely be returning myself. (If I have the good fortune to get back to Shanghai….)
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…. Follow @BradSpurgeon
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
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
Belgium? Liège? My weekend across the border turned out to be my least interesting in recent years in Belgium. So I just want to post a few words before moving on to more fun times at the open mics in Paris in the coming days.
The whole trip from Thursday to Sunday in Liège might have taken another turn, but the new open mic/jam session that I seemed to notice on the Internet on Thursdays was impossible for me to attend, as I had an important meeting Thursday night for my job (which is why I’m sent there in the first place!)….
So I took the first opportunity to explore on Friday night, with the Surlet open mic and the Blues-Sphere open mic being the only ones left for the weekend, according to my research and knowledge. But when I showed up at the Surlet – on rue Surlet – I found it to have apparently transformed itself into a laid back chicha bar with no music “in sight.”
That was a disappointment, obviously, as the rare number of open mics in Liège seems to have been diminished even more – although I’ll have to confirm that before removing the Surlet from my open mic list for Liège. I then walked up the street to the Blues-Sphere bar, which has one of the city’s best known jam sessions, on Friday night.
But entering the bar for probably the fourth year in a row I was still recognized by no one, and when I asked for a beer and noticed that they practically only had Leffe on draught, I said I wanted any beer at all except Leffe. So the guy served me some kind of strawberry or raspberry flavored beer, which I felt was a reaction to what he took for a not-very-macho dislike of Leffe! I took it as an insult, but made no comment, and simply drank the beer, which was nevertheless tasty as a fruit juice.
As I drank it, I watched the jam go on, and at no point did any musician or organizer approach me to ask if I wanted to take part, although everyone saw my guitar bag. So listening to the jam, pure blues, pure electric, I said to myself finally, “I don’t need this. In the past, I’d have taken to the stage just to mark my territory in Liège. But this time, I have nothing to prove to anyone, least of all myself, and I just don’t see the point of invading the stage and doing a couple of songs that are not the blues….”
So I finished my beer when their set ended, and I left without anyone saying a word to me about whether I wanted to play or not. No problem. The Blues-Sphere is a very cool club, but not really for me this last weekend – despite having spent some cool nights playing there, maybe twice on stage as I had come too late last year, I think….
Still, I never give up on my open mic mission attending the Formula One races, and on Saturday night I went out to dine with some colleagues, and brought my guitar with me – just in case, and as I always do when checking out the terrain. We had a fabulous meal in an Italian restaurant, and then went bar-hopping in the Carré district, and on the way back to the hotel I suddenly felt the inspiration and need to whip out the guitar and play a few songs in a public square. I was then joined by a local North African guy who did a rap in French while I played the backing sound on the guitar – my Gibson J-200.
That moment in the square was more fun than anything I’d have done at either the Surlet or the Blues-Sphere, so I considered the musical part of the weekend to be a success of a kind after all…. But not the kind I really seek out at open mics. Liège seems to be dying, musically….
MILAN – Playing together with other musicians is the essence, even the definition of a jam session, and how it differs from an open mic, where individual performers may take to the stage and do their thing solo. But the one thing that an open jam and an open mic do share in common is that word “open,” and the musical freedom that it entails. Last night in Milan, the open jam session at the Fermento Art ‘n Pub proved to me once and for all that it is really, and truly open.
Last night was my fourth year in a row at which I have attended the Fermento jam during the weekend of the Italian Grand Prix in the nearby suburb of Monza. But it was the first time that I was invited by Lucio Omar Falco, the cool bass-playing MC and organizer of the jam to take to the stage all by myself with just my voice and guitar.
In fact, it was the first time I have seen any solo performance at the Fermento jam. Of course, wiser readers than I might interpret this as Lucio’s way of saying, “OK, Brad, we’ve heard enough of you in the past three years to know that we’d rather not play with you!”
In fact, no. I don’t think so, given that Lucio kept on signalling me on from the wings to do another song. In the end, I did four, two of my own and two covers. I probably chose badly the last one, “Wicked Game,” and depressed them all, and thus lost the stage. But it made my night.
No, wait. What also made my night was the level of the quality of the jam session, both with the regular musicians of Lucio’s band, and those of the participants.
I forgot to mention another thing on the “open” theme: Although this jam session is primarily blues-based, Lucio knows I don’t really play any classic blues, and he let me play anyway. And that’s another aspect of the “open” thing. There was a lot of the music that was more rock and even a little fusion jazz stuff. All in all, a fun night at a cool restaurant/bar and art space.
Liège, Belgium – On this, my fifth year of my worldwide open mic adventure, I think no other city that I visit has the distinction of providing me with a different place to play almost every year the way Liège has. And that is not necessarily a good distinction: Unfortunately, each year that I come here a place I jammed at the previous year no longer exists.
But so far, the good thing is that each time I come here I DO find another place to play. Last night, I actually had two choices, on the same street, less than 10 minutes’ walk from my hotel. Last night, I visited both the Surlet bar and the Blues-sphere bar, both located on the rue Surlet, in downtown Liège, in Outremeuse.
I was with a work colleague after a long day at the track, and so I felt I had to decide between to the two venues and not do both of them the same night as I would otherwise have done. So we visited both of them, and I was welcomed warmly by each.
Each of these bars holds an open jam session on the Friday night in Liège. The Surlet is a little more open, from what I could tell, allowing any music anyone wishes to play. But last night I had the sense also that it was pretty much loud rock and pop oriented.
The True Open Jam Approach at the Blues-sphere
When I arrived around 10 PM, it was not particularly well attended, either, but the musicians were just warming up. I went to the Blues-sphere and found it deep in the action. The downside was it was geared specifically to jazz and blues, and I’m not adept at either. But the delightfully friendly and encouraging Jean-Paul (I think his name is!) who runs the bar and the jam, said I was welcome to play something as long as it approached the jazz blues area, rather than something purely in the pop vein.
The room has a fabulous feel to it, the stage in the corner was irresistible and the sound was excellent. The walls were decorated with photos of musicians, there were tables spotted about the place and a very well attended open jam with many spectators and musicians made it so I had an easy choice to make: I settled for the Blues-sphere.
As I said, I would have performed at both places under different circumstances. But as it was, I was really pleased with my choice, as I got to do two songs – Wicked Game and Mad World – and I had a drummer, bassist, lead guitar player and pianist (on the first song) play along with me. And a receptive, warm, audience.
Th Blues-sphere, according to Jean-Paul, has been in operation in this spot for about a year, and before that they had organized jams in two or three other spots over the last two years. The place hosts concerts at other times, mostly blues and jazz, like the jam. It has very much the look and feel of a New York jazz bar, and I was delighted to play there.
A Better Musical Scene Than Meets the Eye in Liège
The level of many of the musicians – there was a very good 15-year-old guitarist, by the way – was such that it reinforced my feeling about the musicality of Liège, and made me realize that if I could spend more time in the city and seek out more places, I’d probably find a much richer musical scene than the one I have found so far with each successive bar closing down or jam stopping. I was very sad to see on Thursday night, for instance, that the famous Bouldou bar and venue in the center of town where I had played two years ago was now boarded up and looking like a ghost house. All done. Just like the Café L’Art from 2009-2010. I am now hoping that the jam I attended at the Cuba Libré bar last year is still around and holding a jam and that I will finally be able to play in the same place twice!