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.
NICE, France – The idea Sunday night was to enjoy a good, simple meal in the old town of Nice, take a walk along the Promenade des Anglais, maybe film a few scenes for my next song video, the song of which has now been all nicely mixed and ready for posting. Then, somehow, an open mic intervened. I just happened to stop by at the De Klomp bar, in the old town, and discovered that the open mic still existed, that a crowd was building, and that there was a place for me to play. I couldn’t resist.
And then the was the listening to the very cool voice and neat music of the new MC, Erik Marchini, who for a newcomer to performing his music, is pretty hot. He said he has only being playing in public for around three months. Amazing.
De Klomp is a pretty hip bar, with a central bar area and two different, but connected rooms, so that with the music on one side and a drinking room on the other, people can choose whether they want to listen or talk. Of course, you get a bit of both, like anywhere. But it is a very nifty, and has a kind of underground feel to this place – I highly recommend it.
It was really one of my favorite open mic situations: You don’t plan to attend an open mic, you enjoy a meal at a restaurant, show up in a bar, there’s an open mic, they invite you up, you play, you have fun, you listen to others, you leave. Perfect recipe for a night out….
NICE, France – My feeling is that it is better to be late and short than to completely ignore my experience playing my songs, and listening to those of Marjorie Martinez, at Shapko Bar in Nice on Wednesday night. I mean, here I am on the Riviera, having suddenly disappeared from this blog and got sucked up by the sudden appearance of sunlight and sea air – or something like that.
But the more important reason for writing a post here on my evening playing music at Shapko Bar in Nice on Wednesday night is for the record of this blog: I’ve written about the amazing Shapko Bar on rue Rossetti in the old town of Nice since 2011. It became the highlight for me of coming to play in Nice.
So it was at first a shock to arrive for the Wednesday night jam session at Shapko and to find that rather than a band occupying the neat little stage on the lower part of the room it was now several tables full of patrons sitting there drinking, talking, and listening to the music of a woman playing at the mic on the new stage area in front of the bar at the front of the venue.
I learned immediately that Dimitri Shapko, the wonderful Russian saxophone player who founded the bar had just recently sold it to a new owner. I then approached the woman behind the mic – with her Gibson acoustic – after she finished her set, and I asked her if there was some kind of open jam, as there always had been. She said, “No,” but then immediately, in the spirit of Shapko, said that if I wanted to play some songs I could.
So I took the stage after her next set and I sang three or four songs, mostly mine, and “Wicked Game.” I then later spoke to the new owner of the bar, and he said he planned to continue the same spirit of the old Shapko bar – and he has maintained the same name – including having any concerts that start the evening finish as a jam. But there is also an official jam session night on Thursdays, and any kind of music goes.
A Change of Ownership at Shapko Bar
So the good news is that we have not entirely lost Shapko Bar. But let’s see how it develops….
In the meantime, Marjorie Martinez impressed the hell out of me: She had a very cool way of playing that guitar, ranging from folk rock, soft rock and blues into some very adept and fabulous sounding jazz stuff. That came in handy when she opened the stage for the jam, and a saxophone player went up and jammed with her. I mention Marjorie’s range and guitar playing first, but it is her singing voice that is the real center of her show: She sounds like a cross between Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt.
She is French, but her English accent is almost impeccable. In fact, in the gig it was impeccable. It was just in hearing her on her albums – that I bought and later listened to, that I noticed the slightest hint of a French accent. She writes most of her own music, but does not shy away from cover songs either, especially the jazz stuff. In fact, a lot of her own songs have a jazz feel to them in parts, and her backing musicians are clearly jazz-oriented. A very, very interesting discovery, this Marjorie Martinez of the French Riviera – because she is a local….
NICE, France – The last thing I expected upon arrival in Nice last night in the sun and heat was that I would get all that much hotter as the night went on, and that it would get sunnier when the sun went down. I’m talking about having discovered a new – for me – open mic in a section of the city where I never played before. Finding it was a breeze, since all I did was enter the words “jam” and “Nice” and “France” into the Internet search engine and up came a link to the Jam bar in Nice, that specialises in live music, including an open mic on Tuesday nights….
It is located in the pedestrians’ only streets near the Promenade des Anglais, but not in the old town, which was the only section of town where I had played in open mics prior to this. It was my kind of place also in starting after 9 p.m. but having a slot for me to play every when I got there after a pizza up the street after 10 p.m.
What I loved about this place was that a), it has a cocktail lounge kind of feel to it, but at the same time, it maintains a simplicity of any open mic in any open mic I’ve been to, and b) it was brimming full of people. The crowd could be loud at times, but when a comic went on before me, they kept very quiet for him, and then when I went up, they continued being respectfully quiet. I think that had to do with me going up only on acoustic guitar and vocals, whereas most of the talking happened when it was a full band formation.
Most of the evening did consist of the full band formation, with musicians exchanging places and instruments: a classic jam. But it was also a classic open mic, allowing, as I said, a comic and me only on the guitar and vocals. All in all, I found the atmosphere to be a fabulous, anything-goes, perfect open mic atmosphere. Really glad to have discovered it – in fact, it has been going for only a year, apparently, so that’s why I missed it in my previous visits to Nice….
PARIS – Thursday night was the May 1st public holiday, the Fête du Travail, in France. So it was a great day to think of nothing but maybe going to attend a little gig by some friends and acquaintances that I have met at open mics in Paris, and who have now decided to perform as often as possible in gigs as opposed to open mics.
Well, not all of them. But in any case, I’ve mentioned or filmed each of these performers on my blog in the past, and seen a couple of them several times, and one just once. They all impressed me and showed me another side of their talent at this entirely entertaining 2 and a half-hour gig they put on at very neat bar venue called L’Angora, just off the place de la Bastille in Paris.
I’m talking about the French guitar player singer who calls himself Ventru; about the American singer songwriter from Seattle, Shelita Burke; and about the visiting American from San Diego, Aaron Bowen. Together, they put on a highly entertaining evening that allowed the fairly large crowd or spectators to see different sides to their talent than what their open mic appearances allow for, due partly to the often raucous spectators at open mics, and the often bad sound systems, and the often too low quota of songs.
Ventru started the show, and played his distinctive rhythmic guitar style and vocals in French; he was followed by Aaron Bowen, who deftly managed to pull of a different style of song in just about every single piece he played, from quiet, ethereal singing melodies to hard hitting rhythms and jazzy leads and chords….all of which was tied together by his own unmistakable style. And then the evening was closed by Shelita, with her hard hitting rhythmic guitar playing and vocals that for me seem to be a cross between Tori Amos and Bjork….
The Warm and Funky Venue of L’Angora, in Paris
I just was not bored throughout the evening. And the Angora is a great discovery: Located at No. 3 Boulevard Richard Lenoir, it has a real 19th Century feel to it both on the ground floor with its fabulous long, oak bar, its old fashioned ceiling mouldings and on the first floor where the music takes place, in a low-ceilinged private room with a piano, carpet and great acoustics. There is a blue jam on Sundays, but on the ground floor, since they do not have the right to use drums on the first floor. Definitely worth the visit.
PARIS – As it turned out, I could have played in all of the three musical locations that I visited in Paris last night – but I played in none of them. And as it turned out, I was just as happy with that situation as going somewhere to play myself, as my real idea was to take in three in one night for a completely different cultural experience each time.
The first was the one where, I will admit, the idea of playing there myself is greatly exaggerated. The only reason I mention it at all was that when I arrived at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore to hear Gary Lucas play his guitar and talk about and read from his book, Lucas actually had a guy singing with him in a vaguely Jeff Buckley manner. The guy, it turned out, was just someone Lucas did not know or had never heard sing, and he had asked in advance if he could join in and sing along when Lucas performed at the bookstore. Lucas agreed, and it was a cool effect and a nice little addition to a very cool presentation. So it occurred to me that perhaps if I had asked, too, he’d have given me a chance – even if it was a longshot….
Gary Lucas was at Shakespeare and Company to promote his book “Touched by Grace,” which recounts his experience working with Jeff Buckley, with whom he wrote a dozen or more songs, including the famous “Grace,” and “Mojo Pin.” But Buckley is not his only claim to fame as a collaborator. Lucas has played guitar or otherwise collaborated with a Who’s Who of popular musical geniuses – to say nothing of Leonard Bernstein – from Captain Beefheart to Patti Smith to Lou Reed to Iggy Pop…oh and even people like Peter Stampfl, of the Holy Modal Rounders….
Lucas played his Gibson J-45 in opening tuning, filling the Shakespeare and Company bookstore and its full-house of people with the ethereal sounds that are his trademark. I bought one of his CDs, which I will be including in my next Morning Exercise Music review. Oh, and I must add that I was just delighted that although I arrived a little late, and the bookstore was entirely full to the point that the front door could not be opened, I was ushered up through the first floor library by another door into the building, and led down to the back of the “stage” to listen to Lucas. That, by the way, is why you only get my videos of Lucas from off to the side of the musician, and from behind.
From the Books to the Taps, it Was Time for a Beer at the Open Mic of the Tennessee Bar
From Shakespeare and Company I headed over to the Tennessee Bar to check out the open mic. There, of course, I’d have been able to play if I wanted to. But I had that third date of the night coming up, so I just stayed and listened to a few songs – including by the mainstay of the Tireuse open mic, Wayne Standley – and also by someone else using a Gibson, similar to the J-45 of Lucas, but which was either a Dove or a Hummingbird, and they were also using it in a similar manner. But to slightly less effect. Still, it was an incredibly beautiful sounding guitar and nifty playing. Once I had assured myself that my favorite Thursday night was going strong, I finished my beer and went off to the third location.
This final stop of the evening bore no resemblance to the first two. I was invited to this one by a Brazilian friend, who said that she had a Brazilian friend playing Brazilian music in this hotel – the Hotel Athenee. I was a little confused when I got there, as I had for mixed it up in my mind with the Plaza Athenee, or whatever it is. But this was quite a posh joint as it turned out, with a long lobby cocktail bar room in plush furniture and walls covered with casting photo portraits of famous Hollywood stars from the past.
With a Final Glass of Wine at the Hotel Athenee and Brazilian Music
The Brazilian music was guitar and vocals, mostly bossa nova stuff, and it was a very cool and relaxed evening and foretaste of my imminent trip to Sao Paulo. My friend got up and did a song too, by the way, and she invited me to play, saying the mic was open…. So that’s how I tie in that final unforeseen possibility of being able to play in all three venues, had I wanted to. But there at the Athenee, I felt that the atmosphere was so laid-back Brazilian bossa nova style stuff that my own songs or covers would be far too big a contrast, although I was definitely tempted.
In any case, it was a really cool evening, kind of like an all you can eat buffet of different foods and sauces, on the Paris plate….
PS, It turns out that in arriving late at the Shakespeare and Company performance by Gary Lucas, and hearing him talk about about his singer as someone who just contacted him and he’d never heard of him before, I had no doubt missed a more correct introduction beforehand. I’ve since learned from a reader of this bog – as you can see in the comments below – that the singer was Tim Watt, and he is a musician who was already known to Gary, and the two prepared together in advance… So the very premise of this whole blog post was faulty, as I’d never have been able to play at Shakespeare and Company after all!! 😉
PARIS – In 30 years living in Paris I never set foot inside the Hotel de Ville until last night. At the invitation of a friend, who is a friend of one of the band members, I went to see the African band Debademba in the great salon of the Hotel de Ville. The band was giving a concert to celebrate Ramadan.
The inside of the Hotel de Ville, in fact, is well worth a visit. It is massive and ornate and just…extraordinary. I have done no research on it, so I will leave this blog description as silly and basic as that.
There were hundreds and maybe even more than a thousand people present in the vast room for the music, which started with a maghreb band walking around playing drums and some kind of screeching horn. I did a bit of research on that, and thought it was something like a bombarde, often used in Brittany, but I could not really name it accurately.
But Debademba were just fabulous. The guitar player, Abdoulaye Traoré, is really strong, and the vocalist – who sings the guitar player’s compositions – had an amazing high-pitched, almost feminine voice. The music was a mixture of everything, with a strong overtone frequently of jazz fusion.
I had never heard any African music in concert that was like this, and it was very strong. The band was particularly good at understanding an audience, too, as just about every song was different, had a different tempo, mood, melody.