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 – A couple of weeks after being there, I have now finally found the time to update my Thumbnail Guide to Shanghai Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Unfortunately, I have only one place to add to the list, the amazing YYT open mic, which I have finally managed to do myself (the principle behind my guide being that I give personal experience accounts to what it’s like to perform in the venues.) And I ended up cutting out several other open mics in Shanghai that have ended since I started this worldwide guide two years ago. I plan to update all of my Worldwide Thumbnail Guides as I travel the world again this year – so keep posted! (Oh, and the Paris Thumbnail guide to open mics, the original of them all, is due for a major update too, since there have been many changes in recent months here in Paris’s open mics.
SHANGHAI, China – I think the only way to understand the frustration of trying to do a blog once a year for a few days in Shanghai is to come to Shanghai and try it yourself. Let me just say that the Chinese government control of the Internet is quite effective, even if there is such a thing that exists called a VPN, that allows persistent people to fight through the great firewall. I’m not feeling very energetic tonight, so I decided I will keep this post very short.
I just simply wanted to say that I have been in China since Wednesday, and I have not posted partly out of discouragement from the necessary pains trying to do so, and partly because I have not actually attended any open mics so far on this visit. I intend to attend open mics in the next two days, though, hopefully two open mics. And I will duly report on those. Both will be new experiences for me, as I have attended neither of them in the past.
I have been playing LOTS of music in my hotel room, though, as my last couple of weeks or whatever it was in Paris, I did little playing thanks to a new neighbor who hates music, and thanks to my own other occupations. So I have been going absolutely crazy playing in my hotel room with Shanghai lit up 18 floors beneath me.
My only other reason for posting is to mention on this blog a very worthwhile project that needs crowdfunding: My daughter, Emily, is working on an end-of-the-year short film project at her film school, the Ecole de la Cité, and she needs to raise a budget. The budget, it turns out, is a very real need. I spoke with her about where it goes, and if she is learning a lot at the film school, I’m learning a lot through her about what it takes to become a filmmaker – including where the budget goes!!! So go to her crowd fund-raising page and support her film: Yes Yeux Ouverts or what she is calling, Opening the Eyes in English. She has reached nearly 50 percent of her budget so far, and needs to get 100 percent, as you probably know in the principles of crowd fundraising.
SHANGHAI – 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.
SHANGHAI – Word-of-mouth got me to the open jam session at the cubby-hole Karma Lounge in Shanghai last night after someone I met at the previous night’s open mic told me about the good Karma jam…. But the moment I entered the bar, I realized that I had already met the owner, jam leader and performer, John, who is known throughout Shanghai by musicians for his reputation of starting jams and open mics all over the city. I had met him last year at the Comptoir jam, which was a high point of my visit last year.
So I had a very good idea of what kind of night I had ahead of me, or thought I did. One thing I did not expect was to hear a voice from the bar call my name also a few moments after I entered the bar. I turned to see a man who looked vaguely familiar, but I was not sure why, and I felt slight worried I was not recognizing an old acquaintance. It turned out to be Tony Tse, who is Hong Kong-based business man in the textiles industry who travels around Asia for his work…and takes part in open mics and jam sessions.
“They often tell me when I get somewhere that you had just preceded me,” he said, noting that people made the connection between us since we both have jobs that take us around the world to do other things, and we take advantage of that to go to an open mic to perform. Another such persona that stands out in my memory is Danny Fonfeder, who is in the schools supplies business in Canada, but take his guitar on his travels around the world to play in open mics. And if I also started up this non-profit blog (I call it that not out of principle, but out of a lack of ideas on how to make money out of it!) as a sideline to the open mic journey, Danny ended up starting a very nifty business of creating and selling guitars, which he calls Blueberry Guitars.
Hmm, so, Tony, now it’s your turn! A line of busking clothing? High-class, protective cloth guitar cases for travelling?
Anyway, the jam at the minuscule Karma Lounge was really interesting both for the amazing quality of the musicians and for the fantastically warm members of the audience. Jammer John is rightfully proud as he is the owner of this venue, and he told me that he is planning another jamming location to add to it soon. It felt as if there was an equal number of expats and Chinese people in the audience, in a truly multicultural experience.
But for open mic musicians, do be warned: The style of this jam is not really one of the solo open mic sort, as you really have to sit in the circle of musicians and play music that everyone can jam along to. It did seem that priority goes to the regulars, and that is no doubt because they are the ones who best “get” the idea of this particular jam, and share regular songs, thus facilitating the free, non-stop flow of music well into the night.
Definitely worth a visit as either a musician or a spectator.
I did not do any open mics or other musical performances in Shanghai last night, aside from writing a song in my hotel room and putting together the promised Shanghai version of my Thumbnail Guide to Open Mics.
When I left Bee Dees bar after the jam session last year I have a vivid memory of my talk with Jeffrey Davis on the sidewalk out front. I had been coming to this great bar to play music in the Tuesday and Thursday jam session on my visits to Shanghai for the previous two or three years. Jeff told me that there was bad news: The bar was going to close in June. The rent was going up too much for him, but he did not despair because he had a new plan he could not tell me in detail. But he said it involved music, and jam sessions, and the spirit of Bee Dees would live on.
I could never have imagined that I would return this year to find that Bee Dees is still here, the jam session is still running but Jeff is gone. He died in the fall of some kind of nerve disease, thought to be Lou Gehrig’s disease. In fact, I had learned of his death in the fall over Facebook, but I knew few details.
Upon returning to Bee Dees last night I found the great news that the bar was only closed briefly before it was taken over by a new manager, that it is been cleaned up to a degree but without losing its charm or the original concept of being like in someone’s living room, and that the jam sessions do continue in the same spirit on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
And I learned a little more about Jeff’s unexpected death. It is clear, however, that Jeff would be very happy that his creation has lived on. I thought of him quite a bit last night, during the sets of the other musicians, when I hoped to see him go up with his guitar and screaming blues vocals, and when I went up to play, and thought of absence.
For the first time at Bee Dees I played with other musicians, a drummer, bassist and lead guitarist. I started solo on my “Crazy Lady,” and then did “Wicked Game” and “Mad World,” in order to facilitate playing with the other musicians.
There were some other great acts, like the guys who did the jazz fusion, and the African with his bamboo xylophone – or whatever it is. And now that Jeff is gone, the genial Nathan, of Kentucky, is acting as the organizer of the jam. Nathan is also a singer and guitar player.
Another interesting moment was my talk with a French drummer who lived in Belgium until he moved to Shanghai a week or so ago in order to look for work as a musician. He said he thought Shanghai, China was the place to go for European musicians looking for a future in music….
Unfortunately, my first night in Shanghai last night was all about having my style crimped and finding two of my former open mic haunts either closed or no longer offering an open mic.
On the style side, I’m talking about the difficulting of accessing Facebook and a blog via the Internet here in China. It’s not really supposed to happen at all, and at the moment my only solution has meant that it happens very, very slowly. There may quite possibly be a long delay before my videos of open mics make it to the blog in the coming days.
But I will continue the open mic adventure, and I will post my latest edition of the Thumbnail Guides to open mics, Shanghai Edition, when the right moment comes.
Last night after a great meal at the very cool Bao Luo restaurant – delving into a menu I had little idea of what I was getting (boiled beef, noodles, beans, unidentifiable whatevers) – I walked on to Oscar’s pub, where I did a great open mic in previous years, to find there was a house musician but no open mic.
No big deal, the real plan was to go to the sublime and hip Not Me bar, where I had discovered the wonderful Chinese-run open mic two years ago – as opposed tothe “Irish Pub solution” of Oscar’s. I went with a fellow Formula One journalist friend in order to introduce him to this cool establishment.
When we got there, we found it was no longer there. It no longer exists. Not Me, is now Not Here. Gone. We popped into a pub next door and I learned that Not Me closed down five or six months ago, but no reason could be given as to why.
Such, in fact, is the open mic adventure: Open mics, and the bars in which they take place, tend to be very quickly moving targets.
I returned to Bee Dee’s last night for my final night in Shanghai before I head off today to Bahrain. I only learned at the end of the evening that Bee Dee’s will cease to operate in a few months, when its lease runs out, and so I will never play in its wonderful jam night again, as I have no plans to return to China before this time next year. That’s crappy news, as Bee Dee’s is one of the great little open mic and jam venues of Shanghai. So go while you can! Oh, there is some good news, though.
The good news is that since Bee Dee’s opened up just a few years ago, Shanghai has sprouted up all sorts of live music joints for jamming and open mics. So maybe I will have no problem finding places to play next year if I do come. The other good news is that Jeff Davis, the Bee Dee’s owner and brains and jammer, tells me that he is working on a very interesting project, that if it comes to fruition, will be a worthy thing to have seen Bee Dee’s sacrficed for….
There was some fun jamming at Bee Dee’s last night, with a far bigger crowd and more musicians than last Thursday. I particularly enjoyed the dueling keyboard and guitar moment, and the woman drummer, Helena from Sweden. What I clearly do not particularly enjoy is once again being defeated by the Chinese Internet policy, which means that unfortunately, for a second day in a row I have had very poor access to getting videos up on YouTube for this blog. In fact, the first of the videos I wanted to put up is only 58 percent up at the moment after a couple of hours of uploading… and I have to run off to the airport. So the videos will have to wait until whenever Bahrain gives me a chance to put them up….