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.  

Garage Discoveries, Old Receipts, Musings on Human Resource Departments and other tales of Three Star Restaurants – Especially Joel Robuchon’s Jamin

July 5, 2017
bradspurgeon

My receipt from Robuchon's Jamin 1991

My receipt from Robuchon’s Jamin 1991

PARIS – I have been spending recent weeks tearing apart all the boxes and other crap in my garage and storage room, digging through a lifetime of papers and crud, trying to find anything at all that can prove to the French retirement agencies that I was employed at The Globe and Mail newspaper from the summer of 1980 to the fall of 1983. A series of emails to the human resources department of the Globe resulted in my discover that they have no record of my existence! (It led me to wonder if they even have any record of the 19 years that my father, David Spurgeon, spent reporting for the Globe from the 1950s to the 1980s! (and also made me wonder once again what human resource departments do other than fire people!!)) While I did manage to find at least one record of one period of my existence there – the last year and a half – I have still to find any official records of my own. On the other hand, I have been absolutely amazed to discover that as far as just about every receipt, metro ticket and French payslip or household bill for my subsequent 34 years in France, I have apparently been a packrat. But one of the most amazing artefacts I found was the sudden appearance last night of the actual receipt for the best meal I ever ate in a restaurant: My 1991 meal at Joel Robuchon’s great restaurant, Jamin. So I have decided to add that receipt (its nearly 3600 francs equal around 557 euros in today’s money, not counting the difference in cost-of-living fluctuations, etc.) to my very popular article about that evening, which I wrote about immediately afterwards and subsequently had rejected from many major publications many times. It has proven to be one of the most popular items on this blog, with almost daily readers from around the world ,which vindicates me a little about having been crazy enough to write it. You can see the receipt on this post, and also now accompanying the story itself in my rejection writings section under the title: A Dinner at Robuchon’s Jamin.

True Austin Open Mic at Tom’s Tabooley in Texas

October 23, 2015
bradspurgeon

Tom's Tabooley Logo

Tom’s Tabooley Logo

AUSTIN, Texas – My faith in Austin’s open mic scene has been reignited. Not that I really lost faith, I just got frustrated on my first night to find no open mics running at the three venues I visited. There were likely many others elsewhere. But last night, it was a bona fide Austin feel that I found at the open mic at Tom’s Tabooley café on Guadeloupe at 29th Street.

Run by Christy Moore – not to be confused with Christy Moore, the Irish singer – this open mic is the logical extension of the now defunct Flipnotics open mic where I met Christie a few years ago. It is singer-songwriter based, with the emphasis on original songs rather than covers. But everything is welcome.

Spectator with Tea at Tom's Tabooley

Spectator with Tea at Tom’s Tabooley

The room is a dream setup for an open mic: Very big, living room kind of furniture, a large stage with a red curtain, a good sound system, and a soundman taking careful control throughout. And never fear, if there are no spectators by the time you get up – it runs early, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. – there is a permanently stationed old butler spectator ready to listen throughout and even to serve you a tea if you need one after playing. (See photo.)

I was a little late getting there so I got up ninth on the list. And although I had a chance to move up higher as someone else wanted a later start, I chose to keep ninth in order to watch the other acts in comfort and also to eat my dinner. That’s another cool thing: The café food part is in a separate room, and you can order food to eat, and pop over to the liquor store next door to pick up a few beers or something else.
First at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

I had a great falafel, hummus and a salad. And I had some beer named after a famous local singer. Can’t remember the name. But speaking of local singers, there were a number of cover songs sound by local musicians, including the El Paso-based Tom Russell, whose stuff I quite enjoy. And that was the tone of the evening. They may not have known it – because they live here – but the feel of this place was pure Austin, Texas.
Second at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

I’ll go back – if I get the chance again, and if it continues on….
Third at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.



Fourth at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.


Fifth at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

Sixth at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

Seventh at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

Eight at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Paris

December 26, 2014
bradspurgeon

Paris Skyline

Paris Skyline

My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.

This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Paris since I first started.

From Tennessee to Shanghai and the Thirsty Seahorse Open Mic

April 17, 2014
bradspurgeon

thirst seahorse shanghai

thirst seahorse shanghai

SHANGHAI – Monday night I stopped in to play a few songs at the Tennessee bar open mic in Paris for the first time in a long time. It was back to its old lively self, it seemed to me, with lots of spectators and lots of new musicians. I was delighted to find an audience of people who had never heard my songs, so I could do whatever I wanted without feeling it was already long ago memorized by the spectators…. The same thing happened last night, but in China.

I got up Tuesday morning and spent two days travelling to Shanghai and finding myself all set for a perfect transition into Chinese night time and not jet lag despite the 6-hour time difference to Paris, thanks to not sleeping on the two flights I took, by way of Dubai. But I had to fill in the final hours of the evening by some sort of activity that would keep me awake. So I did an internet search and found an open mic at a place called the Thirsty Seahorse, bar and restaurant.

It turned out that this venue was withing a 20 minutes walk from my hotel, and it was located in the neat former French Concession. So I took the walk, ordered a very Chinese meal of bacon and cheese burger, and took part in the open mic. It is a pretty hip and cool bar run by Chinese people, but the open mic attendees were from the U.S. and Italy, and me. The open mic has only existed for a couple of months, and it is run by Neil, from the U.S. but with a Peruvian background too.

It was a very cool and basic open mic, with a mic and all you can play style of slot…. So there was Burna…or was it Barna!?! from Italy, the very creative Ladd Mercer from Indiana and me. Check out Ladd’s bandcamp site. His voice made me want to ask him to sing that 1980s song, “Boys Don’t Cry,” or whatever it was called, but I never did get around to that.

In any case, it’s a nice new addition to the Shanghai open mic scene. I’ll be back. Last night I was pleased that like at the Tennessee no one had heard my songs, but I’ll happily do without that aspect if I can return again next year….





Lost In Translation?: Playing for Japanese TV at Osaka Airport, but Not Finding the Open Mic

October 9, 2013
bradspurgeon

osaka

osaka

OSAKA, Japan – Arriving at the Kansai Airport in Osaka yesterday I no sooner got through customs and out into the airport hall where I sought a cash machine when a television crew of three people approached me from behind and asked if I could speak to them about why I was in Japan.

Was it my guitar case that attracted them? And the fact that I was clearly not Japanese? I had noticed them momentarily before, as I approached the ATM, and they were speaking to another foreigner – whom I assumed was a big star I could not recognize. So I was not totally taken by surprise.

I was fairly tired after playing in Tony’s Aussie bar in Seoul the night before, and this seemed like good fun to be interviewed by two Japanese journalists behind a TV camera, that it would help give me the electric voltage I needed to snap a bit more life into me, so I decided to play along and really got into it. Well, all except the fact that I did not really want to get into the details of my day job, and basically just emphasized the fact that I came to Japan to play in open mics and jam sessions, in addition to attending the Formula One race!

Playing Music For Japanese Television at the Airport

The interview went on and on as they spoke first in Japanese and then translated the questions into English, and I suppose perhaps translated my answers. They asked me if I wrote my own songs, if I was a professional musician, if I played with other musicians, where I played, what I intended to do… for a moment I wondered if this was a TV crew at all, or whether it was a novel idea for an interrogation by the customs people, beyond the customs wall. (Customs had asked similar questions.)

Japan TV Crew in Kansai that Interviewed Me

Japan TV crew in Kansai that interviewed me


But then I realized this must really be Japanese television when they asked me if I could play a song for them there, right there, in the airport front hall of the terminal. I immediately saw my opportunity for marking my territory in Japan in the most unusual of places, and not having to wait to find an open mic! So I whipped out the guitar and started playing my song, “Crazy Lady,” for the camera.

At some point – I think right after the song – I turned around to notice that one or two members of a Formula One team whom I know and who had been on the same flight with me and just got off, were filming me being filmed and playing my music for the Japanese TV people! Talk about a reversal of roles! I’m supposed to be doing stuff on the F1 people, not the other way around. But they were greatly amused, and in any case, I’d already jammed with that team in Singapore one night a couple of years ago after the race, so they knew about my musical adventure….

After speaking to the TV people, I had to sign a release form to say it was OK for them to use the footage if they wanted to. But I have no idea what channel it was, or whether it will make it to broadcast or not. What I do know is that it may have been a world-turned-upside-down experience from the moment I stepped off the plane into Japan, but it was only the first part of a loopy tale of Lost in Translation.

Seeking Out the Elusive Open Mic Space D45 in Osaka

I checked into my hotel and did a bit of work or something else, and then I set off for a bar that seemed to specialize in holding open mics. In fact, the bar is called: “Open Mic Space D45.” I found their page on Facebook, and from there I used the translator and saw that they had posted that yesterday it was an open mic all day long at the venue.

d45 open mic osaka

d45 open mic osaka


So knowing full well that any forays into the complicated world of a big Japanese city looking for an obscure address was inviting terror and confusion and certain defeat – for a foreigner who visits the country only for one short period per year – I decided nevertheless that I was here in this life in order to do such things, and I set off.

My iPhone was losing power at a fast clip, but I managed to find the metro stay, find the right train, and get off the metro and into the correct neighborhood of the open mic. But I then spent around 30 minutes going around in circles from street to street, block to block, building to building, and never, despite the GPS location device in the iPhone telling me where I was, never did I find the “Open Mic Space D45.”

Finding a French Restaurant in Osaka: Kitchen Coto Coto

But finally, when my iPhone did go dead – and I prayed I’d find my way back to the metro without it- I found myself standing in front of a Japanese/French restaurant, right next to where the open mic was supposed to be. And in there, I met a Japanese woman who was friends with the owner, and she spoke English because, naturally, she had once lived in Canada. So she asked, and no one knew of any music joint in the vicinity. So I decided that it did not matter, I’d already played for Japanese television at the Kansai Airport, and I’d marked my territory.

kitchen coto coto osaka

kitchen coto coto osaka


So I settled down for an excellent French-Japanese meal at “Kitchen Coto Coto,” some nice French wine and one of the best creme caramels I’ve ever had, outside Africa. (I’ll tell you more about that some other time.) And the woman who had worked in Canada opened up a notebook she had, in which she had drawn a map of France, and marked off dozens of the names and locations of great French cheeses – which she loves…as do I….

Go figure!!!

PS, I’ll see if I can get that video from the F1 team for posting here in the next few days….

In a French Jam at Le Comptoir in Shanghai

April 13, 2013
bradspurgeon

le comptoir

le comptoir

I wrote about how on my first night in Shanghai I had been disappointed about how two of the open mics I did here in past years no longer existed, and one of the bars had closed down. Last night, I found myself attending a new, and fabulously lively jam at a new, and fabulously cool bar/bistro called Le Comptoir.

It took my slow-thinking brain a little while to understand why there was a French guy behind the bar, another French guy in the hall smoking a cigarette, another French guy behind the mic, a Belgian on the drums, and another French guy later on the drums. The place was named Le Comptoir, after all!

So this is a French joint in the middle of Shanghai and has French magazines like La Revue du Vin de France in the front hall, it has posters for Cognac on the wall, it has style and quiet chic. It has been open since September, and the jam has taken place now for two months.

This was a real free for all jam, and in some ways it reminded me of the near hippie like feel of the jam at the Szimpla Kert in Budapest from a couple of years ago.

There were not only French people, either, and that is what made this Shanghai, a cosmopolitan gathering of people, including beautiful actresses and signers from Germany, Ukraine, China, Africa and all over the place!

I hope this one sticks around for a while….

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