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Crappy Time at the Jam Bar, Great Time at Le Volume – First Night in Nice

May 20, 2015
bradspurgeon

Le Volume

Le Volume

NICE, France – It’s funny how the atmosphere in music venues can change over time. In fact, the atmosphere for the clients of the Jam bar in Nice was the same last night as on the previous occasions I had come and played there. It was full of rocking, blues’n, soul’n music with neat sax and guitar and keyboard solos. It was wild and fast. And crowded. But if you are a new or unknown musician showing up at the Tuesday night open jam and open mic at the Jam in Nice, forget it. You won’t be treated equally to the regulars – at least that’s the way it felt last night.

I had, as I said, played at the Jam in the past, and I had loved the feeling, the whole thin, and I believe I had been treated OK – although I do remember a long wait even in the past. But last night? It was one of those situations where you arrive and shake hands with someone at the edge of the stage who seems to be in charge, but he says he is not in charge and sends you to “the guy with the hat” behind the bar. The guy with the hat, moment he hears your English accent in otherwise excellent French, starts speaking to you in English – and puts you in the category: English tourist.

Once in that category, I was doomed. It’s funny because in Paris I blend in with the cosmopolitain population; but here in Nice I never fail to feel like every local I speak to is fed up with meeting another “English tourist” and even when I carry out several exchanges in near perfect – but accented French – they still don’t believe I’ve lived most of my adult life in Paris and I am NOT a tourist in this country!

Anyway, so the guy with the hat feeds me a line when I ask about how I can take part in the jam: “Well, sure, yeah, just buy a drink and go and sit down and wait. The guy who does my sound set up isn’t here at the moment and he’ll have to take care of you and your guitar.”

So I buy the drink, and I go and sit at the front of the stage. And over the half hour I’m sitting there, I’m seeing one new musician after another enter the Jam bar and take to the stage – with guitars, with keyboards, for vocals, you name it. Saxophone, trumpet. Cajon. Just climbing up on the stage. And I’d already spoken before dinner to the drummer and bass player, and they saw me sitting at the table at the front of the stage with my guitar. So everyone knew that I was there to take part in the jam, but guess what? I was not a regular. The others were all known to each other.

And so it was that I discovered “Le Volume” – a fabulous musical association in Nice

Is that the idea of a free and open jam and open mic – as advertised on the Jam bar’s site? Not for me! So I got fed up and didn’t even finish the costly beer. I did a search on my iPhone and discovered to my amazement, that there was a jam session at a place I’d never heard about, going on right then, called, “Le Volume.” So that was it. I said, “Go to Le Volume. It can’t be worse than this!”

And boy was I right! I crossed town using my iPhone GPS and found Le Volume in a part of town where I never played before – facing the old town, but in the city center, on the opposite side of the tracks – and I found this stupendous place devoted to live music. My first thought was that it reminded me of the place I did the open mic in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago, because like Freedonia in Barcelona, Le Volume is an association. You have to buy a membership and leave your name and address. But don’t worry, the membership costs 2 euros and lasts a year!

I entered the building to find, like at Freedonia, two different venues in one. But unlike Freedonia, where one stage was for comedy and the other for music, here at Le Volume, it’s all music. The rooms are on one side for an acoustic jam session, and on the other side for an electric jam session, complete with drums, electric bass, etc. The acoustic jam was in full swing when I arrived.

Watch out, this is like a real underground sort of musical space where you don’t really have an audience and musicians separated by a stage and seating area. This is like two open-space performance areas divided by the central room where, like at Freedonia, there is a bar with cheap beer selling for 2 euros. (Or was it 2.50?? Can’t remember!)

As you’ll see from my videos, it was pretty free-form, but people were doing songs nevertheless, and anyone could join in, both the acoustic and electric areas. I felt complete acceptance by everyone – unlike at the Jam bar – and I joined in and did a few songs in the acoustic jam, on which I had people playing the cajon and bongos, and violin, and another guitar, and helping out on vocals too.

It felt very much like the kind of scene I have found in places like in Budapest with its Szimpla Kert jam sessions; or even a real sort of hippie feel too it.

The Volume also puts on concerts and the music faculty in the local university here is doing some demonstration soon of the fruits of its students’ work this year. So Le Volume is a really multi-purpose musical association, an just a great place to go and jam. OK, it’s not the night club feel of the Jam bar, but for me the important thing was feeling welcome! I’ll return!

P.S. The jam session usually takes place on Wednesdays, but due to a concert overlap thing, they ran the jam session on Tuesday night this week. There is also a rap open mic on Friday….

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Nice (& Monaco)

May 29, 2014
bradspurgeon

Nice, France

Nice, France

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 Nice (& Monaco) since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Changes at Shapko Bar in Nice – and a Word on Marjorie Martinez and Wednesday Night

May 24, 2014
bradspurgeon

Marjorie Martinez

Marjorie Martinez

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….

Jammin at “Jam” in Nice, France

May 21, 2014
bradspurgeon

jam bar nice

jam bar nice

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….

From the De Klomp Jam to Baby Cougar at Blue Whales – Last Night in Nice

May 27, 2013
bradspurgeon

PARIS – I’m back in Paris now writing these words, but I was in Nice last night on my last night in the city after nearly a week. And it was a great end to the trip, with an open jam session at De Klomp, which is where the week began for me last Tuesday playing along with Harry….

Harry was there again last night, organizing the jam. And I had a great time playing with him, and then doing one of my songs – “Except Her Heart” – along with a drummer and some guitar players who specialize in Jazz Manouche. It actually worked, and was fun!

From the jam at De Klomp, which takes place every Sunday, I then went over to King’s Pub to see if I could still take part in that open mic … only to be told that there was no open mic or jam, that it was mostly in the winter…. despite having been told on Tuesday that they had one, and despite their web site advertising one on Sundays and Mondays. Yes, well, that’s par for the course with King’s Pub, I’m afraid. (I will have to update my new guide to open mics in Nice accordingly.)

But I had a fall back plan: Harry had invited me over to the Blue Whales bar, which he said is one of only two that stay open late in Nice – ie, beyond 12:30 AM. So I went, and I did not regret a moment of it. Harry had invited me to see a duet/band who are friends of his. And boy were they worth it. Called Baby Cougar, it was cougar cool. Just take a listen….



Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Nice (& Monaco) Edition

May 24, 2013
bradspurgeon

Cote d'AzurMONACO – For my seventh city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Nice (& Monaco) page. As a reminder, it all started with my now very popular Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, and due to that guide’s success, I decided this year to do a similar guide for each of the cities I travel to during my worldwide open mic tour.

Worldwide Open Mic Guide Philosophy

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…!

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Nice (& Monaco) Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on the venues – i.e., especially if they close down!

Playing in the Jazz Jam at the Shapko Bar in Nice, and Running Out of Batteries, but not Steam

May 23, 2013
bradspurgeon

shapko jam

shapko jam

NICE, France – I mentioned in my post yesterday that one of the places I stopped off at looking for a jam was the Shapko Bar in old nice. So last night, I stopped off there again, and who should be standing in the doorway with his sax around his neck and greeting me but Mr. Dimitri Shapko himself.

“Come in! You’ve come to the right place!” he said, when I told him I was looking for music. “It’s a jam session – we’re just taking a break.”

“With that sax around your neck, I can see it’s a real break,” I said, or something like that.

Shapko is the coolest Russian sax player I know – OK, the only one too – and he lives in Nice – which if you go back a century had a lot of other Russians – and he owns and operates this extremely cool and laid back music bar. Wednesdays, it turned out, was the vocal jam night, open to anyone, but with some very fine musicians on the nice round stage to back up any singer brave enough – or with a big enough misplaced ego – to join them.

It Was an Open Jam at Shapko and Not Just Jazz

I say misplaced ego, because although it was clearly a jazz jam, I decided after at first rejecting the offer from the guitar player, to take to the stage to sing a song. And after all, Dimitri, in his career has played with people like Wynton Marsalis, Al Grey, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Ali Jackson, Jeniffer Vincent, Steve Kirby, Doug Sides and Debora Carter. But in fact, I had reasoned that some of the songs – like “Route 66,” and like “Summertime” – did not necessarily have to be interpreted as jazz. So I reached into the deep well of my easily-played popular song bag, and I came up with the entirely non-jazz song of “Wicked Game.” I just knew that if I played those three chords throughout, then Dimitri, the lead guitarist, the pianist, the woman drummer, and the upright acoustic base player would be able to work magic behind my three chords, and I’d get to sing in Shapko’s with these insanely great musicians.

SO that’s what I did, and I loved it. So much fun, and so beautiful to be able to play with such talent, especially when it is NOT a pop/rock night.

And the Batteries Died on My Recording Devices for the Jam Session

AND especially when the evening had actually begun in a very inauspicious and stupid way. My batteries on my Zoom recorder ran out after I had recorded only two songs. And when I reached into my guitar bag to get the extra batteries I always carry with me, I found them gone. AND then I decided to record some stuff with my iPhone, and before I could even get to the camera on it, the iPhone ran out of battery power.

So I was left with just the two videos of a night full of fabulous performers and vocalists. But it was a great, great evening anyway. This venue is one of THE venues to visit in Nice if you happen to visit – either to play or simply to listen. There is no cover charge, and for music of this quality in most major cities, there WOULD be a cover charge.

Thanks Dimitri and the gang at Shapko, I’ll no doubt drop by again before the weekend is over, even if not to consider playing….

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