CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – How is that for amazing timing? A friend whom I met during my open mic musical travels just posted an exceptional new song and video, so exceptional that I told him I wanted to spread the news…but after five days sitting on it, I was still not sure how I could do that. What would be the context to talk about his amazing song and the fabulous video he did using footage of Josephine Baker dancing in Paris in 1927? And then, wow, today I suddenly saw the news in France that Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has agreed to enshrine Josephine Baker in the Panthéon in Paris! The first time a black woman has been given such an exceptional honor in France. And how incredibly appropriate that my friend’s song about Baker – whose bones will now rest in the Panthéon – is called: “Bad Bones.”
I have spoken about my friend Pete Cogavin in the past, and about his band, The Hobosapiens. But this time I am completely blown away by the video, and I cannot believe the timing. Baker was an American star in the roaring twenties Paris, and not only amongst the artistic expats of the time like Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, et al. She was hugely popular in France, and that right through her life, until her death in Paris in 1975. She was a human rights activist, a women’s rights activist, a civil rights activist – she was from St Louis, Missouri – and had also worked in the French resistance during World War II. She was also known for having adopted 12 children, and one of them – Brian Bouillon-Baker – was involved in making this request to Macron.
In fact, the request to place her in the Panthéon – among the bones of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Jaurès, Jean Moulin, Jean Monnet, Pierre et Marie Curie, André Malraux and Alexandre Dumas and others – was also made by the novelist Pascal Bruckner, the singer Laurent Voulzy, the entrepreneur Jennifer Guesdon, the essay writer Laurent Kupferman. Macron apparently gave his go-ahead on 21 July, but the story has just come out in in the French media overnight.
Above all, or rather, to start with, Josephine Baker was an exceptional performer, famous for her dancing costume of a belt of bananas. As you will see in the video above. (Even if the bananas are not featured in this particular video.)
And while I am at it talking about Pete Cogavin and the Hobosapiens, and while we are also on this French theme in Pete’s music – he is an Irishman who I met while he was living in Nice – I want to draw your attention also to this beautiful rendition he also just did – solo, chez lui – of the famous song by Piaf: La Vie en Rose. He starts off in English, then moves into excellent French! Chapeau Pete!
A previous request to place Josephine Baker in the Panthéon had been made in 2013 to François Hollande, then president, and he rejected it. Simone Veil, another great woman activist, was accepted amongst the mostly men in the Panthéon three years ago.
Kupferman said this decision regarding Baker was just what was needed in today’s political environment in a statement I translate from French: “It’s a very strong message for universality. Joséphine Baker incarnates that which we all need right now, which is to say, to get together as one. She is the proof that in the French republic, anything is possible. That an equality of opportunities exists. And that next to our rights, we also have obligations.”
First, as a reminder, the idea behind this regular – but occasional – column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to do without it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged wisdom and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T exercise. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing it. So when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – or jogging – which does bore me to a degree – or riding the apartment cycle in front of the TV, which staves off the boredom – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from musicians at open mics (and including EPs on SoundCloud or other sites) or from any other source.
I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, deep knee bends, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.
The thing that really gave me the kick in the butt to get my 11th edition of this morning exercise rundown out fast was the reception yesterday of this video to a new project by Pete Cogavin, his new band called: Pete and the HoboSapiens. I just loved this song, “Time and Place,” and sound and video so much that I thought I should get the thing up on my blog along with the other stuff I have been exercising to as quickly as possible. Pete I met in 2010 or 2011 when he was hosting his own evening of music at Shapko in Nice, France. He let me go up on stage to sing a few songs, as he did most people who asked, in his informal open mic at the time. We met the following year too, I believe, and have kept in touch ever since. I loved his voice and music at the time, but it is clearly growing and developing. There is a song-writing skill here, the music is bright and uplifting, it just bounces along, the voice has its distinct Pete Cogavin quality, and there has been some nice effort put into the video. You can also find Pete and the HoboSapiens’ full new CD on Spotify.
The Downtown Merrylegs: Pollen Cloud
I discovered this Paris-based English band through performing at the Rush Bar open mic, hosted by the genial Charlie Seymour, an Englishman who has spent decades playing music in bars in Paris without us somehow having run into each other until he began hosting that open mic this year! I usually arrived at the open mic too late to hear his opening set – of which I am ashamed – but one day recently when I gave him a copy of my CD, he gave me a copy of his. What a fabulous surprise this CD and band, The Downtown Merrylegs, most of the songs of which Seymour writes and sings. This is British folk rock of a kind I like, but the thing that was extraordinary was when I suddenly realized how close this man’s voice sounds to one of my favorite singing voices of recent years: Wally Page. Page is a little-known Irishman who has, nevertheless, written songs and performed with Christy Moore, the great Irish traditional singer songwriter of Planxty fame. But while Seymour’s voice may be a dead-ringer for Page’s, the stories they tell are entirely their own.
Aaron Bowen and his Wide Sky and other CDs
Wide Sky – Aaron Bowen
Aaron Bowen has a story to tell in his music, sure, like most singer songwriters. But this San Diego musician who visits Paris regularly, also has a very cool story to tell about his music, the latest which release is “Wide Sky” from More Than Folk Records in Paris. Working in a business in his 20s he suddenly had to sell the business, and found himself deciding to make a life in music. One day, jamming with a friend, he had written a song and wanted the friend or someone to sing it. “Oh, you can try to sing it yourself,” said the friend. Bowen, a fabulous guitar player from a musical family, said to his friend that he could not sing at all. The friend pushed him to try. He sang the song, and out poured the most mellifluous and original voice the friend had heard in a while – and it hit every single note perfectly. Comparisons now often come to the voice of Paul Simon. Whatever. A new singing, songwriting career was born, and Bowen never looked back. I love this CD, Wide Sky, one of two he gave me in recent months, the other being a thing call Spring Demo. But I’ll keep that to myself for the moment! Oh, and by the way, I just wrote that story about his vocals from memory after a night at a Paris open mic many months ago. It is quite possible that I got some details wrong, but that’s the gist of it!!!!
Scott Bricklin, Not Lost at all, on Lost Till Dawn
Scott Bricklin – Lost Till Dawn
Scott Bricklin is a hugely talented multi-instrumentalist from Philadelphia, who had a previous life on a label somewhere in the U.S. with a band with his brother. Now a permanent Paris expat, he is keeping very busy playing here and around Europe, and has just come out with another album of his cool, laid back folk rock. (At least that’s the way I hear it.) What makes this very homogenous album really interesting for me, and maybe for one or two readers of this blog, is that unlike the last CD of Bricklin that I heard – on which he played basically all the instruments – here on “Lost Till Dawn,” a good most of the CD consists of Bricklin playing along with Félix Beguin and Jeremy Norris. These are the same three performers who played on the first five songs on my CD, “Out of a Jam.” (Beguin also played on two of the other five tracks on my CD.) So it was really cool to hear what other fabulous sounds these guys could make, and it was not a disappointment.
Wrapping Up With Rose Gabriel, Box for Letters and Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick
And so I come to the round up area at the end of this morning exercise report. I’m not rounding up these final CDs because they are in any way lesser in my heart, but because, holy crap, if I don’t get this page out there tonight, who knows how much longer I’ll be sitting on it before I finish it! It has already been so long!
I am not one to love country music, but the songs, stories and vocals of Rose Gabriel’s very personal “Desert Flowers” completely subjugated me. Rose is from Austin, Texas, and I have also seen her a couple of times in Paris. But it was not until I listened to her CD that I really sat back and realized the original voice and stories she had to tell – although the last performance I saw of her at the Rush Bar in Paris was so great that I wasted no time at all listening to the CD she had given me that night!! All about life growing up in Texas, this is very coollll… or rather, hot.
Box for Letters
I met the lead singer, songwriter, for the Malaysian Band “Box for Letters,” on my last trip to Kuala Lumpur last year, and found a highly original voice and temperament, and another extraordinary story to tell: Here was a man with a promising musical career who suddenly, very young, had a terrible motorcycle accident. Among the multiple injuries were a severely fractured jaw. It seemed his singing and playing career was over. But no. It took him a year or two, but he came back with this beautiful recording – Cerap.
Alderighi and Trick
Finally, and this is not last as least, Double Trio, is the fabulous live album of Paolo Alderighi and Stephanie Trick, a married couple who are both leading stride piano players. I have written about them several times before on this blog, which is why I am not doing more here now, but this CD (with Marty Eggers on bass and Danny Coots on drums) is a real fabulous demonstration of what this couple can do live in their four-hands act. I had the great pleasure of hearing them in Milan recently, and I can attest to it that this CD is a perfect representation of what they do. Alderighi is from Milan, by the way, and is certainly Italy’s greatest young jazz export, and Trick is from the home of stride piano, St. Louis – where they both spend much of the little time they have when not travelling to put on shows!
Well, that rounds that up. Another morning exercise crop of CDs and SoundClouds, my 12th edition since I started doing this in April of 2013….