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 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….
The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.
More Experience Than Existing Open Mics
Unfortunately, given the ephemeral nature of open mics – and bars themselves – in virtually all of the cities in the guide my own personal experience of playing open mics in the city in question usually goes way beyond the number of venues listed, since they things arise and close very frequently.
Mostly Open Mics and Jam Sessions in Nice, Not Monaco
I do not claim that this worldwide open mic directory is anything other than a quirky Brad Spurgeon centric guide, based mostly on my travel as a journalist following the Formula One series around the world. It is for that reason, in fact, that I include Monaco on this latest list: Monaco is where the race takes place, and most of the people who attend the race stay in Nice, because it’s cheaper than Monaco. It is also more conducive to open mics and open jam sessions. Over the years I have always been able to play in Monaco, but usually as an invited guest by generous musicians. So there is no real listing for Monaco!!! McCarthy’s Pub was a mainstay, but I heard it was all over now, and I have not yet confirmed if that was an illusion… I no doubt will, though, so keep posted…!
NICE, France – Nice is a kind of mini city with a little bit of everything, and last night, on my first night of six in this Mediterranean wonderland, I had a mini experience of the kind I love and speak about so often on this blog. It was the kind that started bad and ended great – but there was something mini about it anyway.
I had begun with the doubtful prospect of finding an open mic at the King’s Pub. I say doubtful because I had not yet managed to find an open mic at the King’s Pub on my Tuesday nights in Nice in the past, so I doubted the Internet site that said there would be one.
It All Started With a Le Cenac Dinner
Still, I went out for a great dinner at a favorite restaurant, Le Cenac, eating fruits de mer and a good red wine of Provence. Then I walked toward old Nice, the old town, where I knew that my first stop would be at the King’s Pub, and if, as I expected, there was no open mic, then I would head off and visit the several other bars and pubs and venues where I have played in the past, hoping to stumble upon music in at least one of them.
At King’s Pub, I was told by the man who organizes the music, that, No, there was no open mic last night. On the other hand, he told me there was one on Sunday night, and that it starts pretty late – so I knew I had some good times ahead on the weekend.
I left the pub and decided to visit each of the other places that came to mind and in the most logical order: Paddy’s Pub, the Snug pub, Shapko Bar and then Jonathan’s…oh, and it started with a place the name I know not. At each successive bar I found that there was either no music, or no open mic. Mostly no music. That will come later in the week – Shapko is only open Wednesday to Sunday, but it does not exactly have an open mic, from what I can see.
I was feeling really crappy, and my entire sense of optimism faded. In fact, before I visited the last bar, Jonathan’s, I began feeling as if my entire good sense and feeling for the city of Nice was suddenly changing. Had the place gone down hill? I thought of all the fun musical evenings I have had in the past, and I felt I was facing the lowest ebb of musical nullity yet.
I then had the option of breaking out of the old town by turning right and heading the shortest route back to my hotel near the Nice train station, or turning left and taking a longer, more scenic route through the old town where I would perhaps run into a few more bars that, who knew, might have live music?
And Then There Was De Klomp
No sooner had I opted for the optimistic, left turn down a narrow street – like most in the old town – than I heard music coming from a bar on the left, saw hip looking people standing outside smoking, and began to examine the front of the pub, and saw the name of the place: De Klomp. Then, at the same moment I noticed the word “Jam,” chalked up on a sign, and I heard a man from behind asking me if I played music – he saw my guitar on my back – and if I did and I wanted, I could go in and play in the jam.
Wow! So I entered, feeling much lighter and immediately better about Nice and its music scene. It turned out to be a cool, young crowd of listeners, and a nice, low-ceilinged pub with plenty of choices of draught beer. And the man behind the mic playing a Godin guitar – same company as my Seagull S6 – had a great voice and played well. He was young contemporary, the whole place and vibe was just that.
Enter Harry, the Musical Host of the Open Jam at De Klomp
So I approached him after he sang a couple of songs and I ordered a beer, and he said before I had a chance: “I saw you have a guitar. Do you want to play? It’s not actually a jam session tonight, but you are welcome to play.”
This is the attitude I love! It’s the real music attitude, and at once common and not also rarer than it should be, around the world. So I accepted. His name, by the way, was Harry, and he not only plays that night, but also said that he runs a jam session at the bar on Sunday nights, and that I should come. Hmm, that makes for two on Sunday!
After I played my first song, “Wicked Game,” Harry returned and asked if he could play lead with me. So began at least 45 minutes of playing together, and the audience built in size, came closer to the stage, listened, sang along, and applauded warmly. I took a break after sweating out my insides to the point of no return, and Harry took over again completely.
Oh, and another audience member eventually joined Harry for one song, so it did become a kind of open mic, open jam, after all. Still, it was a kind of mini one…. But boy was it gratifying! First night in Nice, very, very nice….
I discovered the Shapko Bar in Nice on Tuesday evening as I was walking around the streets with a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness as I sought a place to play. As I mentioned on the previous post, I had decided to pass by and mourn the passing of Johnny’s Wine Bar, and it turned out that right next door on rue Rossetti was this Shapko bar and standing outside of it was Mr. Dimitri Shapko himself and we struck up a conversation.
I told him a little bit about what I was doing, but not much. In fact, maybe I just told him I was looking for a place to play, and I also told him I had been in Istanbul and found Nublu, which also exists in New York City, and which is also a venue – like Shapko’s – that is run by a saxophone player. Shapko being a very cool seeming guy with open ideas, invited me to show up last night – the following day – as it was the one night of the week where the music was not jazz, but more folk, pop, rock. He said his regular musician for that night was an Irishman named Peter Cogavin, and he said Peter called his night, “Peter Cogavin and Friends,” and that there was a chance Peter would let me get up and play. Peter, he said, did that a lot – he was very open too.
So I went, I found the bar to be a fabulous venue, great little stage, nice sound system, several listening areas, big crowd of listeners, and above all a general ambience of the kind I love, with Peter Cogavin being not only a fabulous singer and good guitar player, but as Dimitri said, very open and friendly to other musicians. Peter played most of the evening, and he invited me up to play after his first set. I did four songs. He also invited up a friend of his from Ireland who had never played in public before, and it was the guy’s birthday, he did a song and it was interesting. Later on, Jake Hall, one of the buskers I met the previous night took the stage and played as well, doing that tapping stuff he did with my guitar, but also singing in his rich, deep voice.
It turned out the rest of the busking band was there too, and now I learned their name: Hobo Chic. I had, in fact, found them on the street busking before I went to Shapko’s and I did some videos of them. I was also there when a French painter named Morassut gave them a painting of them that he did.
But back to Shapko’s bar. No, back to Shapko. I have not yet heard his music, but I am very keen to do so, because after discovering Ilhan Ersahin in Istanbul, I think I have just discovered another very interesting sax player, if Shapko’s biography on his bar’s web site is anything to go by. Shapko, who is from Russia, has played with an extraordinary number of top musicians, such as “Wynton Marsalis, Al Grey, Doc Cheatham, Benny Waters, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Sol Yeaget, Lorna Watson, Ali Jackson, Jeniffer Vincent, Steve Kirby , Debora Brown, Rob Agerbeek , Doug Sides , Margorie Barns and Debora Carter.
And he has played with his band at the Newport Jazz Festival, The North Sea Jazz Festival, The Montreaux Jazz, Juan Les Pins Festival, Maastricht Jazz Festival, Breda Jazz Festival, Harlem Jazz Festival, New York Jazz Festival, Festival du Jazz du St.Germain Des Pres, Montreal Jazz Festival, Vancouver Jazz Fesival, Calgary Jazz Festival and many others.
Pretty impressive. And here he is running a very cool venue in Nice. What a discovery. And what an honor to have played there! It was, in essence, if not strictly speaking, an open mic. I even managed to interview Peter for my film.