Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Revisited: Orphee and L’Arte Café

September 29, 2012

I keep on forgetting about putting the extra “e” on “Arte,” and I might well borrow one of those “e’s” from the no doubt unnecessary two “e’s” on Orphee. But one thing is sure: Both venues hosted their open mics on Thursday and Friday respectively, and while both were not quite so full as the last time I attended, both were still very much worth going to.

Having said that, I left early from the Orphee in Pigalle since I did not feel really entirely into the groove. But I stayed as long as I could at the Arte Café, which has never let me down. The Arte Café open mic, as I mentioned in the past, exists in this tiny, sandwich-shop-sized bar with barely room to sit down for the spectators and musicians. But each time I have attended, I have ended up having a great night, thanks to the people who run the bar and those who attend.

It’s also great there is an outdoor terrace where you can escape from the confines of the inner nest of a bar. Out there you can talk and drink and smoke and just let go a little, until closing time. Somehow, don’t ask me how, the neighbors have not called the cops. Actually, I think it has to do with the basic respect of the clients and people who run the Arte Café, and all closes down at a reasonable hour – late enough that I cannot remember precisely what it is.

I arrived a little late for the open mic and only saw a couple acts before it was my turn to perform. I took advantage of the quiet room and captive audience to sing three pretty quiet songs – all of my own, at the request of the great crowd. I sang, “Crazy Lady,” “Except Her Heart,” and “Lara, Lara.” Then, next up behind the mic was my friend Marianne BP, and so as we have done before, I accompanied her on my guitar. But since we had not done it for so long, I was a bit rusty and forgetful as to which chords precisely I should use. No problem, Marianne has an amazing way of singing around and through and in and out of anything you throw at her. As a reminder, I’m going to put her superb video up on this page again. She has a few others, and a new one soon coming out – so get ready….

From Drinks With Marianne to a Musical Digestif at Coolin, Palliating the Coming Dearth of Open Mics in Paris

August 14, 2012

marianne bp

marianne bp

In terms of open mics in Paris, we are situated in the red hot moment of total desperation, angst and depression in the middle of the month of August where all of Paris has to take off and go somewhere else, leaving its tourists and musicians to play with themselves.

Last night was the end of the opulence, as there were actually and ridiculously, FOUR open mics concentrated in the same area – more or less – of the Latin Quarter. Tonight, Tuesday, there are ZERO open mics, as they all take a summer break. On the other hand, not even a brimming full Paris of open mics and the crawl it would have allowed me to take would stop me from preferring to go out for a drink with my friend Marianne BP.

I met Marianne at an open jam session one Monday night a year or so ago, and our musical paths have crossed several times, and as she was about to go off herself for a vacation, we met up for a drink last night and discussed our various projects. Marianne has recently completed the second of her music videos, as well as completing her first novel. So as I complete my various writing and video projects, we had much to discuss and share.

I mention this mainly in order to post her two music videos on the blog and by way of explanation as to why there will be so little on the blog about my open mic experience in Paris last night… that did not effectively begin until midnight, at the Coolin, having taken a pass at the other three places, the Batofar, the Tennessee Bar and the Galway. I heard from musicians who DID do a bit of an open mic crawl that things were kicking at both the Galway – where there was a list of 12 performers, and apparently Thomas Brun of the Highlander was serving as MC – and at the Tennessee. I had no spies at the Batofar, though, so I cannot say anything about that one.

I can only complain that it makes no sense for four venues to do an open mic in the same city on the same night when there are other nights this summer where there is NOTHING: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, for example!

Anyway, the Coolin seemed to become even more alive as we approached 12:30 AM, but it seemed they were looking to close down a little early too, and so I managed to do my two-song set, and see a few other performers, and then call it an early night – at around 1:30….

Marianne Bp Gives Me a Jazz Lesson

March 1, 2012

I grew up with jazz in my home. My dad was a jazz lover, I ended up seeing live performances by people like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Keith Jarrett. I heard and met Gene Krupa when I was seven, in a jazz club in Toronto. Later, I sent myself to concerts by people like Weather Report, and Jaco Pastorius in solo…. I have NEVER tried to play or sing jazz, considering it impossible. Last night over dinner with the beautiful and talented Marianne Bp, I had an important lesson in what makes up a jazz standard, and it actually changed my idea of what jazz is.

Basically, the wide-ranging conversation – Marianne writes poetic texts, songs and she is just finishing a book – ended up leading into talking about her debut music video that she just released a week or two ago. I told her again how much I loved the video, and how cool it looked and sounded. But I also sort of spoke aloud a thought I had on my mind for a long time, even before she did the video.

She had told me a couple of months ago that one of her projects was to take the lyrics from jazz standards and to put them to music and just completely turn them on their head, modernizing them and doing them her own way. The first video, in fact, was one of those songs: “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You.”

She not only uses original lyrics in English, but she also throws in some French lyrics. The whole is very inventive, and I loved both the idea and the execution. So in dreaming aloud about it last night, and thinking about the potential of the song, I said, “One of the thoughts I had about this was that it seems too cool to have not been tried before, this idea of taking the lyrics of a jazz standard and doing it completely your own way, sort of improvising out something new.” And I was thinking that I was wondering just where that could fit in with the acceptance on behalf of jazz lovers and jazz musicians.

Before I said anything about that latter bit, she said: “Oh, but that is exactly what doing a jazz standard has always been about. Taking the old song and completely reinterpreting it and doing it your own way.”


“The history of jazz music is made up of that precise thing: Taking the original and changing stuff, adding stuff, dropping stuff, doing your own music, improvising.”


“Yeah,” she said, “check it out on Wikipedia, if you want.”

The English wikipedia item on Jazz Standards does not emphasize that aspect, but the French wikipedia item on Jazz Standards certainly does. And so does a site devoted to jazz standards. In fact, all I had to think about was also how John Coltrane completely transformed “My Favorite Things….” (Even though he did not use lyrics.)

So suddenly I realized that not only was Marianne right about that, but that her interpretation of Gee Baby was not only one that I loved and thought very cool and far out, but it was actually super acceptable as part of a tradition of making standards new and different and personal.

Thanks for the lesson Marianne, and for the music.

P.S. By the way, Marianne also told me some interesting things about the filming of the video. There are parts where she seems to be walking in an odd way. She is: She filmed herself and a chauffeur walking backwards, and then the reversed the film in the video so it actually appears as if they are walking forwards…but weirdly. You see the cars behind them all going backwards. Just as original as the sound of the music.

Marianne BP’s Inaugural Video

February 11, 2012

A few days ago I wrote about the fabulous show by Marianne BP at the Cariatides in Paris. And I mentioned her clever idea of using jazz standard lyrics and setting them to her own music and chanting, singing, performing them in her own way. I had also, by the way, been hearing for a while about a video clip she was working on for the last couple of months or so. And that clip just came out tonight – well, before midnight, I think! – and I just wanted to put it up on the blog because it’s so damned worth it. I love it. Blows me away, like the concert and all other times I’ve seen her perform. Marianne BP did not do things in half-measures – check it out yourself:

Hot as Hell at Marianne BP’s Concert at the Cariatides; Cooling off at Coolin’s

February 7, 2012

Marianne BP

Marianne BP

I braved the continued freezing temperatures in Paris last night to go first to the Cariatides bar/venue to see Marianne BP do her concert before the jam session organized by Doréa SisDee, which is called “We Jam.” The thing is, I knew that no matter how freezing cold I was, Marianne’s performance would heat up my body and spirit. And I was NOT let down. It was a fabulously inventive, creative and sexy show that Marianne BP put on singing and speaking and chanting her texts to the sounds created by Thomas Kpade on the cello and bass and computer….

In fact, Marianne BP – whom I once backed on a song playing guitar to her singing at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance – was sooooo hot, that I knew I had to escape the Cariatides as quickly as possible after her performance to go and cool myself off not in the freezing air of Paris, but in the new open mic and jam over at Coolin Irish Pub, that I discovered last week. I was not let down there either.

Back to Marianne BP. It’s kind of difficult to define what she does or how she does it. I think about that a lot as I watch and listen. And I must apologize for a lot of the jerky camera work, but it’s difficult to control the handheld camera when one’s eyes are partly looking at its screen and partly drawn to the perform “en direct.” Marianne has great presence, an amazingly sexy voice and delivery and some very clever and interesting lyrics. She even tells stories a lot of the time, and has this cool approach about “transforming” herself into things like a woman in a poster in the metro, or a GPS, or a man.

And her idea of taking some classic jazz lyrics and chanting them to different melodies is very cool too, as it is usually the opposite to what happens with classic jazz. And the accompaniment by Thomas Kpade was so entertaining and intellectually pleasing as well, the two of them just did a sensational one-hour show, never losing their audience. ANYWAY…. more another time no doubt!

Coolin was great too, although it got off to a late start due to the horrible habit that so many sports bars have of leaving soccer – or football, if you prefer – matches to play out until the end even if no one is watching them! But there were a few new faces this time around, like Mary Catherine and Maddie Speed. And the late night jam went so long that it went pretty much beyond closing time, much to the chagrin of at least one bartender wanting out of that joint. I’ll be back.

Sometimes the Travel Catches Up With You – Me

November 16, 2011

I’ve been back from Abu Dhabi for more than two days now, although only two full nights. And I have to admit that for once, after such a trip, I’m whacked out of it. I did find the strength to go to two open mics, one on Monday night and one last night. But for once, I don’t quite have the strength to write detailed reports. So I’ll just put down a few main points, and a few videos, to tell the story.

First, it was a pleasure to be bag in Paris and go to the Galway on Monday night, and especially and above all, the Ptit Bonheur la Chance last night. That was the first time I had been there for many weeks, due to all the travel and the illness after India. So I was amazed to see that there had been a massive renewal of people at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance in just a few weeks. It was as crowded and full of musicians as it ever has been – Yaco is keeping the ball rolling – but the majority were new people I had not seen before. There were some wonderful regular faces, though, including a visit by the extraordinary group, Natas Loves You, and I had to record their King Crimson again.

But the most fun thing for me was doing something I had never done before quite like this, which was to accompany my friend Marianne Bp who did her piece “Bombe Lacrymoj’aime“. She’s Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg all in one, since she sings/recites and writes…. I had a real, real fun time doing that one, and hope to do more with her.

I was dissatisfied with my Gibson at the Galway, and felt pretty much bummed out of the whole performance, but I suspect it had to do with the difficulty recovering from the night flight from Abu Dhabi. Just one more trip till the end of the year, Sao Paulo next week. Looking forward to it, and to the post-trip period of life in Paris for a couple of months, grounded in one sport.

End of item for today…. just veg on the vids.

Monday Night Jam at the Nilaja, Near the Bastille

September 13, 2011

Last night I decided it was finally time to step out of my habit of attending the two usual Paris open mics – the Tennessee Bar and the Galway – in order to try a jam session I had been hearing about, at the Nilaja restaurant, which specializes in African food. Actually, I intended to check out the Nilaja jam and then go to the Galway, but that soon proved impossible as I got sucked up by the atmosphere and other things at the jam.

I had heard about the jam through Facebook where I recently discovered a Paris jam session and open mic information page run by Doréa SisDee, a singer who runs an organization for musicians called La Factory Afropéenne. It’s a collective of musicians and Doréa organizes jams, plays in them, does all sorts of different events for musicians around Paris. Doréa had discovered my Thumbnail Guide to open mics in Paris on this blog and had been really praiseful and encouraging and enthusiastic.

So it was no surprise that she was the same in person as online. What WAS a surprise was when I arrived in the middle of one of her songs and the stage was beside the entry to the restaurant and as I closed the door the door handle fell to the floor with a loud metallic ring. She stopped, I picked up the door handle and apologized for doing that as a replacement for a triangle…. She then recognized me, asked my name, and then introduced me to everyone, the whole audience of 20 or so people who were there at that moment. She was effusive in her praise for my world travel to jams and open mics and my blog.

I was thankful, but suddenly felt enormous pressure about playing in the jam – more so when I realized that it was a real classic jam session kind of thing where musicians all go up together and play jamming music while someone sings. I am still at the very early stages of my development in that area, as I usually just play my own memorized material rather than improvise with a group. Of course, that is fabulous exercise and essential for any musician. But I was scared as hell, and felt very inadequate, given that I felt the audience rightfully had great expectations of the world traveller.

Having said that, the jam was very warm, wonderful, laid-back, and there were some interesting musicians – very interesting ones. My personal favorites were Isiah Shaka, Doréa and Marianne BP, who more than anything recited a text she wrote – and reminded me of Patti Smith, and of course, the genial Hervé Samb, who organizes these jams every Monday night.

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