Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

The New Combination at the Open Mic of the Tennessee Bar in Paris

October 22, 2013

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

DUBAI – I’m back to that strange situation of writing about the Tennessee Bar open mic in Paris while in a completely different part of the world. a few weeks ago I was writing all about the end of the open mic at the Tennessee Bar in Paris from my hotel room in Mokpo, South Korea. Now I’m in the lounge at the Dubai airport on my way to New Delhi, and I’m writing about the Tennessee open mic again. But this time it’s from firsthand experience, that of my attendance at the “new” Tennessee Bar open mic last night.

After many years of the open mic being run by James Iansiti, the Tennessee Bar open mic is now run by Ollie Joe, who also MCs the open mic at La Tireuse on Tuesday nights. Ollie has been doing it for a few weeks now, but last night was my first opportunity to attend the “new” open mic. And I am pleased to report that it is a live, well and really kicking.

Ollie has changed the format somewhat, as James used to have people play three or four songs or more, especially if they were new performers, while Ollie is doing the same thing here as he does at the Tireuse: two songs per performer, unless there is time afterwords for another round. The downside to James’s way was that sometimes people who came regularly found that there was no longer time for them to play by the end of the night.

Last night the place was just bursting at the doors with people, and it really felt to me like a cross between an open mic at the Tireuse and the old Tennessee itself. What really stood out for me was that it once again confirmed my belief that some bars are better than others for holding successful open mics, and the Tennessee is one of them. The fact of the basement being small, cosy, a great stage, but also isolated from the ground floor where people can go to talk, is one of the things that makes the Tennessee so good for an open mic.

Of course, Ollie’s superb moderating and MCing will also ensure that this place lives on.

One of the reasons I made sure I went last night despite having to pack up and get ready for my flight the next day to India was that Tim Menees was in town and intending to play. Tim wrote a fabulous article in the Pittsburgh Quarterly about his time playing at the Tennessee Bar last year while on a vacation in France, and I really wanted to meet him and perhaps play with him. I had a chance for both, and we did “Mad World” and “Wicked Game,” with me on guitar and vocals, and him on piano. And he is a mean piano player, as you will see and hear on the videos….

Tale of the Tennessee Open Mic in the Pittsburgh Quarterly

June 19, 2013

Pittsburgh Quarterly

Pittsburgh Quarterly

PARIS – The thing that keeps me going on this blog is the connection I make with its readers, the people who write in to me about it, the people I meet in open mics who say, “You’re Brad, aren’t you? I found this open mic because of your blog!” Can there be anything more satisfying than that? Well, upon my return from Montreal last week I found waiting for me in the snail mailbox the hardcopy of a glossy and classy magazine called Pittsburgh Quarterly, which is the premier popular, general interest magazine of that part of Pennsylvania. And in it was a big article by a man named Tim Menees, who is an editorial cartoon artist, a painter, a musician and a writer. And his story was entitled: “Rainy Nights in Paris: Tim Menees Lands a Flat and Plays the Blues.” In the story, in highly readable prose, Menees writes of his adventures on a vacation in Paris last year in which he plays piano at the Tennessee Bar open mic on Monday nights. And he tells the tale of how he found the place – from my blog….

The story, in the Summer 2013 issue of the Pittsburgh Quarterly, avoids most of the usual clichés of writing about renting an apartment in Paris and discovering the City of Light. Of course, it has to have some of those, and one of the more flattering ones is how he ties the ethos of the recent Woody Allen film, “Midnight in Paris,” to the current situation that I and many of my friends now live, with the Tennessee Bar’s open mic as one of the gathering places for that. The description of his evening at the open mic is just great, and I can picture it all.

Here are two of the early introductory paragraphs from that section (the story is not online):

“It’s a tiny joint on a tiny street, sitting behind a red facade and a line of bicycles: A few guys are standing around having a smoke. Down in the cave below street level, someone tunes a guitar, and James is setting up shop. He’s an expat from L.A., with intense eyes and curly blond hair poking out from under a porkpie hat. He plays in a local rock band, speaks some French and runs Monday night’s open mic. He says, “You gonna play? Cool!”

“Many Paris clubs are in caves (cellars) because there’s nowhere else to put them. I found Le Tennessee via a blog written by Canadian Brad Spurgeon about open mics and Paris jam sessions. By day he covers Formula One auto racing for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune; by night he plays guitar and tracks down open mics around the world. It’s hard to sling a keyboard over your back, so I emailed him and he quickly named three clubs with pianos.”

There is much information about renting an apartment short term in Paris, and lots of wonderful description of the open mic itself – Menees went twice – and you can easily recognize the mood, and no doubt some of the musicians. It approaches its end with the most flattering and cool aspect of all:

“In the crowd is a sculptor from Philadelphia who lives and works in Paris. Brad Spurgeon. James. The Houston girl staying another two months to perform and write music.

“Expats and the arts. The beat goes on.”

That, of course, is referring back to how he started the piece by referring to the Woody Allen film and the expat artists of the 1920s and 30s.

Yep, the beat goes on, and on, and on. Tim, who also illustrated the story with his own artwork paintings of Paris, will be returning to Paris this October for another round, and an aim to visit more than just the Tennessee Bar open mic.

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