Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Discovering Sharón Clark, Mattias Nilsson and the Cercle Suédois in Paris

October 19, 2018
bradspurgeon

Sharon Clark and Mattias Nilsson in Paris

Sharón Clark and Mattias Nilsson in Paris

PARIS – I grew up with jazz.  My father was an aficionado who not only built his own hi-fi equipment and had a sizeable collection of 78s and 33s of jazz from the beginning of time, but he also made sure to take me to concerts to see some of the masters.  So it was that I saw Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Keith Jarrett, and I heard play and then met at the age of seven, Gene Krupa, the great jazz drummer, in a small club in downtown Toronto in the mid-1960s.  The aural wallpaper of my childhood included voices like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.  So it was that my jazz sensibilities, whether good or not, were accustomed to hearing the highest quality.  Perhaps it was for this that I have never much cared for listening to amateur jazz singers, and I go extremely rarely to jazz jams.  I just mention all of this as background to saying that I was bowled over last week attending a concert at the Cercle Suédois in Paris and hearing the astounding voice of Sharón Clark.  

It was all about her phrasing, her control, her range, her nuances.  It was all about authenticity.  About hearing so many of the songs she sang – lots of Sarah Vaughan, as she is a specialist on that one – in a way that sounded both familiar and new.  

So who the hell is Sharón Clark, and what was she doing at the Cercle Suédois of Paris?  And what brought ME there?!?!  

It turns out that Sharón, who is from Washington D.C., is on a tour of Europe – and Taiwan!! – accompanied by a fabulous, versatile young pianist named Mattias Nilsson, who is Swedish.  He is the boyfriend of an acquaintance of mine, and I was told he’d be doing this gig in Paris, maybe I’d like to go.  

I really did not expect much of anything – Mattias, Sharón OR the Cercle Suédois.  It turned out to be discoveries in every area, and proved once again how if you just get off your butt and check something out – outside of your regular stomping grounds – then you might find something really revitalising.

First back to Sharón.  Her story is fabulous.  Although she has sung all her life, starting out in church, as has often happened with American jazz and gospel singers (and she sings some gospel too), she only really emerged in recent years after she was fired from a full-time job – that she had as the mother of a now 15-year-old girl – and decided it was time to dive into the world of her passion and see if she could make a career out of her singing.  This answers the question that some media have asked, “Where has she been hiding???”  

No sooner did she fix her mind to it, than she scored a tour in Russia, and she has now made many contacts in Europe, with, in this case, Mattias Nilsson working hard with her – last week selling out the famous Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen.  And to quote her web site bio, “Ms. Clark appears regularly in DC at Blues Alley and Loews Madison Hotel. A featured soloist with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony, and the Baltimore Symphony, Clark has headlined the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, the Cape May Jazz Festival and the Savannah Music Festival. Both the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and The Ludacris Foundation chose Ms. Clark to perform for their separate tributes to Quincy Jones.

As to Nilsson, I am no more aware of his age than I am of Clark’s, but he looks around 35 and has already had a 15-year long career as a pianist, playing all around the world, and from jazz to classical and everything in between, including Swedish folk music.  In fact, while it has taken me a while to write about this Cercle Suédois evening, that also gave me time to listen to his CD, “Dreams of Belonging.” 

As I told him myself in a message after listening to it, it’s real mix of different styles, even some touches of Satie sound, jazz, everything.  Moments Keith Jarrett, Scott Joplin, hints of all this, but then the main thrust which is his Swedish sound.  

At the Cercle Suédois, the two were accompanied by a French bassist they had never played with before, but he added a fabulous layer of sound behind the piano and Clark’s voice.  It was a wonderful relaxed evening in this place I had never even known existed, but which has been in Paris in the same building since the 1930s, and prior to that, in another place since it was founded in the 1890s!

The current place is in one of the iconic looking buildings lining the Rue de Rivoli, near the Place de la Concorde – which is the last place I ever expected to find a jazz concert.  It is above all a private club for Swedish people, but it offers these concerts every Wednesday, and even if you are not a member you can attend, paying 15 euros for the music.  You can also order drinks, or even a meal. (Ornella and I had the salads, hers a salmon salad, mine the haddock salad.)

As  you can see from the photo and my short video excerpt, that the place is a beautiful ornate classic mansion inside – but as I said, the atmosphere is relaxed, and it also gave me naturally a taste of Sweden, including being able to touch the desk that I was told was the one that Alfred Nobel used to sign the decree launching the Nobel Prizes.  

Now that is class!  Like Clark, Nilsson and the place itself.  

A Piano City Day Ends on a Note From a Guitar Open Mic

May 30, 2017
bradspurgeon

Salumeria Open Mic

Salumeria Open Mic

I am late, late, late in coming out with this one, since a personal blog is all about momentum, and recently I lost the momentum. But I always say there is nothing to worry about on a personal blog – and in life itself – that if the momentum dips, pick up the momentum again! I’m referring to a day on my last trip to Italy that started with a piano event at the TAC Teatro that was just one of dozens set all around Milan, and ended with a fairly last-minute decision to hold an open mic at a bar-restaurant, which turned out to be a great success.

The first event, at TAC, was part of a city-wide event called “Piano City,” in which for a three-day weekend there are small piano concerts all over Milan. TAC hosted one of these little concerts, with a demonstration of four-handed piano playing. It was quite successful, with perhaps close to 30 spectators. When you consider there were dozens of these events in various locations throughout the city on the same day, that must have brought together quite an audience for the piano!

“This year, once again, pianos will invade houses, yards, stations, roofs, farmsteads, museums, schools, libraries, laboratories, parks. Music won’t stop from the sunset to the dawn and from the dawn until the sunset in a continuous love declaration for the piano, its music and for the city of Milan,” says the Piano City web site. “In these last six years, like a kaleidoscope, we changed and shaped ourselves to give voice to the music and to the most surprising urban sites. 2017 edition wants to tell about these five years of changes throughout Milan. A two-day&night journey from the centre to the suburbs on the notes of our pianos spread in the best spaces telling the story of the city from historical locations to new areas.”


Piano City event at TAC Teatro

That same night, I went to an impromptu open mic at the cool bar/restaurant near the Via Padova called, Salumeria del design. It seems the open mic was part of another related musical day event, but in any case, the bar decided to open the mic to any musicians who wanted to play. It turned out to have a wide-cross-section of styles, if there were only four or five of us in total. But that gave us the opportunity to share the mic throughout the evening.
Fifth at the Salumeria open mic in Milan

And I enjoyed hearing the different Italian musicians singing Italian songs I had never heard, and keeping the English to a minimum – or leaving it to me. I got to close the evening, playing to just a handful of people at the end who wanted to hear me, after quite a raucous night of music before that with the crowd singing along to the popular Italian repertoire….
Second at the Salumeria open mic in Milan

Paolo Alderghi, Stephane Trick and a Special Guest at the Humaniter in Milan – All (Family) Hands on Deck

February 3, 2017
bradspurgeon

Paolo and Stephanie

Paolo and Stephanie

MILAN – I don’t know if there is some kind of interesting statistical reason behind this, but two of the most interesting professional musicians that I have met in all of my world travels going to open mics – well, and Grand Prix races – have come through taking the same flight as those exceptional musicians. That said, in each case the meeting was due to me carrying my guitar on my back onto the flight, and that was the connection point that led to conversation. The first meeting was that of Pierre Bensusan, the virtuoso French guitarist – whom I have written about on this blog – and funny enough, I met Bensusan in the airport in Milan as we were about to board the same flight to Paris. The other meeting was with the remarkable Milan-based jazz pianist, Paolo Alderighi. But Paolo and I met not in Milan, but oddly enough, on an Air France flight from Tokyo to Paris. I have maintained relations with each of these musicians over the years, so when I found out that Paolo was performing in a concert in Milan last night, I jumped at the opportunity of attending. And it was all the more special because I knew it would be with his wife, Stephanie Trick, with whom he performs around the world in four-handed piano. What I did not know until I was seated in the concert hall room of the Humaniter Foundation, was that Paolo had also invited for his first public performance his father, Giorgio, who played banjo and harmonica on several numbers….
Trick and Alderighi doing the St. Blues (not in Milan!)

So it was a tremendous family affair at the Humaniter, in this grand hall with its fresco ceilings of religious something or other, and what looked like a crowd of at least 300 spectators. I had seen and heard Paolo and Stephanie’s music in both YouTube videos, and on one of their CDs. But seeing and hearing them perform in public was – like attending a Pierre Bensusan concert – a whole other affair. Stephanie is from the United States, originally from San Francisco, but not a longtime resident of St. Louis, which is one of the cultural homes of the kind of music of which she is a world recognized specialist: stride piano.
Paolo Alderighi and his father Giorgio at the Humaniter in Milan

As it turns out, Paolo is also a specialist in stride piano, and so it was perhaps natural – even though the two of them had their own successful careers as soloists – that together Paolo and Stephanie should meet on the level playing field of the four-handed piano. And boy, do they ever meet there. As a husband and wife team, I cannot imagine there have been many other similar acts. And what is absolutely fabulous is not JUST the virtuoso piano playing, but also the fun that they seem to have playing the music. They dart around the piano bench exchanging positions, throwing in different parts to each performance, being playful, appreciative, and expressing their profound delight in the “recreation” with the audience in a way that just cheers the heart of the audience.
Paolo Alderighi and Stephanie Trick at the Humaniter in Milan

And that’s to say nothing of the broad cross-section of music, from Gershwin and Cole Porter to The Beatles – with a truly remarkable rendition of “Penny Lane” that enters into a zone close to modern jazz at some point near the end – the music is truly emotional and interesting throughout. The numbers they performed with Paolo’s father, Giorgio, were emotionally touching not only because we knew that it was a family affair, but especially due to his father’s brilliant, melodious and emotional harmonica playing, and his fun banjo strumming. Giorgio was never a professional musician, but if you were in the audience last night you would not have known that – I was wondering if I had had memories of being told that his father played harmonica in sumphony orchestras, film soundtracks, or whatever. But no.

But research shows me that he has lots of experience performing in bands, lots of jazz, and it certainly seemed also that Paolo’s father is something of an expert on American popular music of all kinds. So now I see where at least part of Paolo’s inspiration came from. In any case, the four-handed team of Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi is an unforgettable one, and in music terms, a perfect marriage. No wonder they tour the world – they’re playing in Berne, Switzerland tonight, by the way, if you happen to be there and still have the time to find them….

My apologies for the poor quality of the video image of my Zoom, and I have also discovered that half of the recordings I made have a strange percussive sound that seems to be someone banging on the Zoom. I can only imagine that while I was filming, I was still tapping my foot and sending the beat through my body into the hand on the Zoom. In any case, it is a missed opportunity for some great footage on the new Osmo camera, but that would have been much less subtle than with the Zoom, especially as I sat within the first three rows of the room…. I’m adding another video, that I did not take, to this page to give a better idea of the performance without the bad Zoom image quality and the crackle of the device!

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