Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Brazil

December 8, 2014

Sao Paulo skyline

Sao Paulo skyline

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 Sao Paulo since I first started.

Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Sao Paulo Edition

January 31, 2014

Sao Paulo skyline

Sao Paulo skyline

For my 22d city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Sao Paulo 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.

Sao Paulo’s Hidden Open Mic/Open Jam Scene in the Middle of the Land of Bossa Nova

Brazil, as most people know, is a musical country, famous for the distinctive sounds of bossa nova and samba and many other styles. It all came very much alive in the 1960s with the Tropicália music movement that transformed traditional Brazilian music – and other arts – into a pop-rock form. One of the most influential bands was the São Paulo-founded Os Mutantes, which, over the decades, would influence many musicians – including David Byrne and Beck. And there were people like Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and even people like Stan Getz, the American jazz sax player, who helped popularize the music in the west. So you would expect that Sao Paulo would be a vibrant open mic, or especially, open jam, city. But for the foreigner to step into this capital of Brazil of 20 million people and try to find an open mic or jam, it just is not so easy. The city is, yes, very much alive with music. It is just bubbling with music everywhere, from single singers with guitars in small bars and restaurants, to venues with larger stages and play areas that put on special events and live music of all kinds. But there is soooo much live music that there is practically – and I say “practically” – no need for the open mic or jam. They do exist, but in general, they are put on at the drop of a hat, in a neighbourhood bar or restaurant, with no prior planning, and mostly among friends. As I mention in my guide, there is a Brazilian equivalent of the open mic, called the Sarau, but it is not always easy to predict where one may arise….

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 more than 20 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.

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Sao Paulo Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on venues.

Don’t Think Twice, Music Ain’t Alright in Sao Paulo Hotels at 9:30 at Night

November 22, 2013

musical brazil?

musical brazil?

SAO PAULO – For the last five years I have carried my guitar around to all the races of the Formula One series and found places to play in open mics and open jam sessions. I am now in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on the last leg of my journey this year. This marks five full years of playing on every continent except Africa and Antarctica. (I used to live in Africa, so I have played there before; and Antarctica is too cold anyway.) But tonight, just five minutes ago, I have encountered for the first time ever – in a hotel where I have stayed for four of the last five years – a complaint from the front desk for the music I have played in my room with my acoustic guitar and vocals.

I arrived this morning in Brazil and I’m dead tired, and intended to go to bed very soon. But I just went out for a meal in an Italian restaurant, and returning to my hotel room, I decided to pick up my guitar and play a couple of songs just to keep in shape, and for my pleasure. It was only 21:40 at night, and we are in swinging, moving, great rockin’, bossa nova’in Brazil. And I’m in a hotel I know well in central Sao Paulo. So I picked up my guitar and sang two Bob Dylan songs: “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” and “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”

Halfway through Baby Blue the phone rang and it was the front desk. The poor guy could not speak English very well and had to break up his words with use of the computer keyboard to find a translating web page so he could find his words. But here is what the message was in the end: “A neighbor of yours on your floor is complaining about the noise in your room. Can you please keep it quiet.” I told him that he had just won the prize of being the first hotel in five years where I have had a complaint about playing some songs in my room. He then responded, “I’m very sorry, but in Brazil, you cannot make noise after 10 PM at night.” Of course, the fact that it was 21:55 went beyond him….

In any case, I’d love to know who this cowardly and nasty and thin skinned neighbor is, and I’m very disappointed in Brazil! But now I know why my favorite open jam open mic here has been thrown from one venue to another over the five years that I have come here, each time because of complaints from neighbors over the music.

Jeez. So much for musical Brazil. Of course, perhaps had I been playing some much quieter bossa nova, it would have been tolerated???

Still, the first time ever in five years that I receive a complaint from a neighbour in a hotel and the hotel acts on it, and it had to be in Sao Paulo?!?!

We’ll see how well the weekend progresses after this.

PS, I suspect this is some silly European or American who intends to get up at 4:30 AM to sight-see…. (or go to the racetrack?!?!)

World Travel 2012 Pithy Wrap Up Part I: Brazil

December 1, 2012

I left everyone hanging at just the worst moment, and I’m really sorry that you all lost sleep over it! I had just arrived in Sao Paulo for the last leg of my 20 country and every continent – except Africa and Antarctica – tour of 2012 and I wrote more details of my magical musical adventure in Austin, Texas. And then, suddenly, the man vanishes. As if eaten by the criminals of Sao Paulo. Where is the musical adventure of the Brazilian city of the samba and bossa nova and all that jazz?

Well, time just became too much with me. First, the reason this report is so late is that I had a two-day travel back from Sao Paulo via New York’s JFK airport, where I spent 11 hours working on my stories for my final work-related event of the year. That also consisted of two night flights. So I was really out of commission as far as this blog and music go, for days. Then upon my return, I had to sleep away Wednesday day in order to have the energy to play a gig on Wednesday night that suddenly materialized when I received a phone call as I arrived in the bus at the Sao Paul airport. That will be the subject of tomorrow’s blog item, that gig.

So I will return the final leg of my world open mic, open jam musical adventure. In fact, Sao Paulo ended on a down note on the final night. In the four years of this adventure readers of this blog will have noticed that I found only one true open jam session in Sao Paulo, and it takes place on the Sunday night and goes all night long. It has been one of the best open jam experiences I have ever had, and it is largely bossa nova and other Brazilian forms of music, played by professional and amateur musicians sitting all together around a table in a bar all night long. People join the jam as they please, drop out when they want, then return again.

This year, after I contacted one of my friends who takes part in the jam to find out if it was still taking place at the same location, I learned that in fact, no, it wasn’t. I had missed the jam two years ago after it had moved to a new location and I had not known how to find the new one. This time, I was told the jam had moved again and that on Sunday night, it would take place at around 8 PM in two different places, starting in one place and then moving to the other at around 22:00. Well, I had a load of work to do for the racing job I do, since the title was decided and it required a lot more writing than usual.

So I could only make it to the second location of the jam. I went out to dinner with my friend, the musician Bruno Santos, and after the meal he drove me over to the second location of the jam. We got there after midnight. We could see from the car that there were only two people in the place – one man with a guitar, and someone else. It was a bar in Vila Madalena, but it was clearly, clearly not a huge success, this jam. I asked Bruno to please just drive me back to my hotel, which was near his apartment. My thought was that if the jam DID get going, it would clearly take a couple of hours, and I did not want to risk staying up all night for what might not be so great.

Open mics and open jams are not a big part of the culture in Sao Paulo. I heard back from my friend that she had gone to the first place and stayed longer and it had been quite a success. She then went on to the second place, and I have to tell her still why I did not show up.

Okay. Now. I do not want my faithful – or even unfaithful – readers of this blog to think that my worldwide open mic and open jam adventure ended on a failure. In fact, I there is a complete other part to this year’s adventure, which I have mentioned several times on this blog, and in that area, the visit to Sao Paulo was a huge success. My goal this year, one of my projects, was to record myself on my little Roland R26 recorder playing music in every country I visited, playing with a local musician. This I succeeded at: 20 countries, including France (although I have to get back to that part in tomorrow’s post), and Brazil was no exception.

The first day I was there, on the Thursday, I went to the aforesaid Bruno’s apartment and we played music for hours. It represented the only break from work I have had for 3 weeks – aside from the open mics in Austin – and together we played my songs, with me on vocals and guitar, and Bruno accompanying on guitar, keyboards and drums. He also sang some of his songs. The part we recorded on the Roland was with me playing my song and singing and playing my guitar, and Bruno playing drums.

Unlike in any of the other countries where I recorded, however, this little experiment turned out to be massively productive, as we chose to play a song that I wrote recently, but for which there was still a question mark hanging over it as to whether I had truly found the right structure. Bruno listened to me play it a couple of times, then he played along. Then he said immediately that he thought he detected a problem. We discussed it, and while my first reaction was that I did not want to write more lyrics to it, my second reaction was that I suddenly realized I did NOT have to write more lyrics, but just change the order of the lyrics and parts of the song. So we did it again, with me changing the structural order but using exactly the same lyrics, verses, chorus and bridge. It worked better than ever.

Now, this was all possible because Bruno Santos – who was born in Brazil but grew up on just about every continent except the really cold one – is one kick-ass musician. I wrote extensively about him and his album last year, and he continues to develop his music and musicianship – the keyboards being a recent addition – and I predict a brilliant career for this guy. In fact, I know that his self-made album – where he plays all instruments and produced the thing himself – is selling steadily and has had huge media attention in Brazil.

So the long and short of this long and involved, if late, report, is that the Brazil weekend went beautifully in terms of me playing music in Brazil, and I COULD have played in that last Sunday night jam. But I decided for once that I had achieved enough, and needed sleep more than anything else in an effort at preparing for the coming two nights of sleep on the flights and days in the airports. I left Brazil walking on the clouds – literally – especially after that telephone call offering me the gig in Paris as soon as I arrived. More on my delight over that one, in tomorrow’s post.

Sao Paulo Adventure Begins

November 24, 2011

I arrived at my hotel in Sao Paulo last night after the dinner hour and in an area of the city where I have never stayed. So I felt lethargic and said to myself, well, too bad, I’ll miss a night of the musical adventure; it is too late to venture out into Vila Madalena and Pinheiros or Bela Vista to find a music joint to play in, I’ll just play in my room, eat somewhere near the hotel and forget about music for one night.

So I played some songs and then went out of my hotel – near the Republica square – and I began crossing the street to what looked like a busy bar or restaurant on the other side. Before I got halfway across the street I heard loud music from behind that sounded like it was a live band. I turned to see some popular cafe/bar with its doors wide open.

I immediately back-tracked and entered the place to find a large, community-like bar with a stage at the end of it, with two musicians, a young man and woman, playing some lively popular Brazilian music and some of the clients of the bar dancing in front of the stage. I ordered a hamburger and a Brahma beer and I set about listening to the music, observing the scene and suddenly remembering that you do not need to make all that much effort to find music in Sao Paulo. I had suddenly stepped into a festive, life-affirming moment in a neighborhood bar.

Unfortunately I had arrived a little late for the band, and they played only around three songs before they packed it up for the night. The woman sang and played guitar, the guy played a small drum set.

I then left the bar and decided to check out the one or two others on the street and suddenly my ears were accosted by yet more drumming. This was very lively, almost military or perhaps carnival-like drumming. It came from the square, so I immediately turned on my camera and headed over to the sound to finally find a big group of young people marching about the drumming. I foolishly did not approach them to ask what the occasion was. But I think it will not be the last time on this trip that I have a chance. This is Sao Paulo, there is music everywhere. (Finding an open jam session is not quite as easy over the weekend, but I have a few ideas in mind, one of which for the final day is a pretty sure thing….)

How I Missed the Lua Nova, but Found the Club Cem and Discovered “The Kid”

November 8, 2010

I am sitting in a Starbucks in Sao Paulo and I’m in a huge rush to get to the airport. But I wanted to close off, end, finish this Sao Paulo tale, especially to draw to a conclusion the story of the Hunt for the Lua Nova bar and jam session.

Yes, this is a crazy story. I have just a very short time to write it before I go to the airport. So I will be as pithy as possible. Who could believe that in five days of efforts to find the Lua Nova, I actually ended up walking right into it and not realizing I was there, so I left and continued looking for it, and then found a completely different venue.

Here’s what happened: As you know from the previous posts, I have been hunting every day since arriving in Sao Paulo for the Lua Nova bar, where I had an all-night jam on the Sunday of the Formula One race last year. I almost thought it was a figment of my imagination as it no longer seemed to exist. In the end, I found what looked like the bar, but closed down.

So I gave up, or almost. Last night I returned, however, to the Artur Azevedo street and passed Finnegan’s and continued on toward where the Lua Nova used to be. Not long after passing the closed down Finnegan’s Pub, however, on the same sidewalk, I noticed a bar/restaurant, and I heard the distinct sound of some Brazilian music coming from inside. A few people stood outside smoking cigarettes, and I entered the bar to check out the music.

The place was pretty full of clients at tables all over the place, and at one table near the back sat a guy playing a classical guitar with some pretty bouncy Brazilian rhythms and he sang along. Another person played some kind of bongo drum. My immediate thought, my instantaneous feeling was that I had found another jam session with the same vibe as the Lua Nova. I moved in a little closer to take a look to see if maybe I might even recognize the guitar player/singer as one of the people from last year. Could it be, I wondered, if some of the musicians who had played at the Lua Nova jam had moved up the street to this bar to play, since it seemed the Lua Nova was closed.

Well, I did not recognize the musician. And I was keen to see if somehow the Lua Nova might have magically re-opened only on Sunday night. And Since there seemed only to be one musician here at the moment, I felt like I might really be intruding on this situation if I approached with my guitar. So I decided I would move on and look for the Lua Nova up the street, and if I still found it closed, I would continue deep into Vila Madalena to see if I could find another Sunday night jam. After all, if I had seen Lua Nova last year, and then in this bar near Finnegan’s there were people playing around a table like that, maybe there were more jams than I thought.

Up the street, same result at the former Lua Nova bar. All closed down, soon to be a paper shop. No luck, I had to accept that I would not have my jam session at the Lua Nova. But I decided I would continue into Vila Madalena, and then return to the bar near Finnegan’s to see if that jam had developed and maybe I could take part in it.

But as I entered Vila Madalena I passed a club where I had heard some great samba music last year, and had not entered to listen. This time, the front door was open, a man stood there with a guitar case, and from within I heard some sublime guitar music. I poked my head inside to see if it was someone playing live music. There were several other people at the entrance, and they asked me if I liked the guitar music. I said I did, and I asked if it was live.

“No, he’s long dead,” they said. “It’s just a recording.”

We got to talking. They saw my guitar, they asked me about me, my music, etc., and I asked them about the club. I have to keep this short, remember, so let me conclude quickly. Brazil, as Vanessa said in the previous post, is an open mic.

Bit by bit, things pieced together, and I found myself inside this venue, which I learned was called Club CEM, and which has existed 8 years., It is owned and run by a guy named Paulo Kannec, who is also a pianist. It is only for Brazilian music, and the club was now closed for the night. But since they LOVE music, and they were curious and open, Paulo invited me in to show me around his club. It has a high-ceiling, it is a kind of loft-like place, but it has a cute little stage of wood and on it a piano, amplifiers, microphones, spotlights. I loved it, and Paulo was keen to hear my music.

So he invited me to play, and he invited the guitarist to play along with me. So that’s how I ended up playing in one of the coolest clubs in Vila Madalena last night, doing my song Borderline, doing Crazy Love and doing Just Like A Woman. And the guitar player played a seven string classical guitar along with me. Just our private concert and jam session together. He played a little of his own stuff, but we had to stop because the club was closed, after all, and they had to clean the floor.

The guitar player was Joao Nepomueceno, and I really liked his style. We exchanged contact information and will see each other when he comes to Paris in June.

But I also met a piano player named Pedro. And he is the one who made the DVD of the guitar music that had attracted me to poke my head in in the first place. We discussed that music, and he told me that it was a Brazilian guitar player from the 40s and 50s, who is one of Brazil’s best kept secrets. A genius guitar player named, Garoto, which means, “The Kid.” He was called “The Kid” as a nickname because he was playing professional since the age of 8, but he was too young of course to play in bars…and they called him “The Kid.” The music on the DVD was apparently produced by Egberto Gismonte, and the DVD has images on it that Pedro had put together. In any case, I look forward to listening to it on the flight back to Paris, as Pedro decided to give me the DVD!

I left the Club CEM feeling like I was walking on the clouds again. But that was in my head. My feet, on the other hand, were a bloodbath of blisters from all the walking I had done over the previous five nights. I decided I would walk back past that bar near Finnegan’s where I had heard the guitarist. But as I walked along and realized I had another perhaps 3 kilometers walk to go, and my feet were in a horrendous pain, I decided that I should take a cab, return to the hotel, my mission was accomplished.

It was only this morning when I awoke that I found a comment on my previous post from a woman named Vania, whom I had met at the Lua Nova last year. She had been the only person there who had really spoken any good English, and she was the one who filled me in on what was happening there that night.

Vania sent a comment to my post, and also an email to my personal email address. It turned out that I had been right about the Lua Nova. It had been closed down, and I had found it. What I did not realize, however, was that the bar I walked into last night was in fact, the new location of the Lua Nova, and the man I had seen and heard was playing in what was the beginning of the Sunday night jam. It turned out that Vania had seen me enter the bar, had recognized me, but I had left the place too soon for her to grab me. Had I passed back that way after the Club CEM, I would certainly have had my jam at the Lua Nova again, all night long.

The moral? Never give up. I should have pushed myself onwards after the Club CEM. But at least I got a good story out of it!!! And at least the jam session still exists, and at least my feelings about the open arms of Brazilian musicians has been reinforced. What a musical country! Hope I return next year, and if I do, I will play the jam at the Lua Nova, or at least contact Vania to find out where it is next year, if it has again moved. As she said, “Different location, same music!”

Playing at the Baia de Guanabara, thanks to the Urugayans – or Brazil is an Open Mic

November 7, 2010

As I was walking through Vila Madalena last night having still had no luck in finding a place to play my music after four nights in the city, I had a couple of thoughts dominating my mind. One was a phrase and an attitude that Vanessa gave me when she said, “Brazil is an open mic, all you have to do is just go into a bar and they’ll see your guitar and you start playing music.”

The other thought I had as I walked through this vibrant section of town so full of restaurants, bars, boutiques and venues of all kinds, was that it reminded me – musically – more of Istanbul than perhaps any other country on my world travels. There was must blaring from just about every public room, from the popular folk harmonies of several bars, to the sitar music in an oriental restaurant, to the rock of several other venues and the bossa nova in another bar, to the jazz in a place called piano bar, and the happy birthday song being played by a brass band across the street.

It was not quite the wall of sound of certain quarters of Istanbul, but it was a very refreshing approximation to it and like nothing else around the world in my experience. But there is a very key difference to it all, and that has been a theme of my four days here so far on this blog: the open jam, open mic, open arms mentality is not a part of this musical scene in Sao Paulo as it is in Istanbul. In Turkey, it sometimes felt that every bar I passed by the waiters or owners would stretch out their arms when they saw my guitar and they would invite me in to play. Here, each musician, group and bar owner to himself.

I did get stopped by the owner of one bar – the name of which I could not find – who had a couple of fine harmonizing musicians sing pop songs with one of them playing guitar. (I have put a recording of this below.) And he asked if I was a musician, if I was playing somewhere, etc. I decided to have a beer at this place, listen to the music, and hope that maybe I would be invited to play. I was thinking of Vanessa’s suggestion. But no, it never happened, the invitation. And I just did not ultimately feel the vibe was right to propose it.

So I moved on through the area and decided to check out every venue I could find and look for one quiet place I had discovered last year. I headed toward Wisard street, a lively part of Vila Madalena, and as I walked by the tables of the Baia de Guanabara bar spilling out into the street with all the chatter and carousing of the clients drinking and merrymaking, a man at one of the tables reached out to me and asked if he could play my guitar.

It was a table of about eight men, and they were all beseeching me to allow their friend to play. I needed little provocation. Here it was, the beginnings of what would possibly be my own chance to play a few songs, if not in an open mic, then at least…. but wait, Vanessa had said this would happen. Brazil is an open mic. “Just go to a bar and they will see your guitar and ask you to play. It will be your open mic.”

So I opened the guitar case and gave the man the guitar. He sang and played well, but the noise in the bar and the street was so loud it was difficult to hear. It turned out that the men were all in town in order to attend the Formula One race, and that they came from Uruguay, not Brazil.

So he played several songs and they asked me to sit with them, they bought me a beer and then they asked me to play some songs. I started with “Crazy Love” because I thought I could get some volume out of the vocals and guitar despite the street and bar noise. They clapped along on the chorus each time and we managed to get some people to stop by the table to listen. But mostly the event passed as a normal part of the evening at the bar, as if it was normal to play music at a bar table on the sidewalk in the Vila Madalena.

After “Crazy Love,” a bit of further surprising synchronicity occurred when the singer man asked me if I could sing any Cat Stevens, and he said, “Father and Son?” Readers of this blog will know that it is one of the songs I sing regularly, and to usually great response from my listeners. So how incredible was that?

I sang it, did one of my own, called, “Borderline,” and another one or two, and then the man played one or two more of his, and I filmed him below in the darkness and noise. And then they had to leave in order to get up early to go to the race. I finished my beer, and went on through the streets to seek out another venue, but found none – yet I did feel a huge sense of relief that I had indeed finally found a place to play in Brazil, which is, it seems, its own open mic….

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