SHANGHAI – 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.
SHANGHAI – Word-of-mouth got me to the open jam session at the cubby-hole Karma Lounge in Shanghai last night after someone I met at the previous night’s open mic told me about the good Karma jam…. But the moment I entered the bar, I realized that I had already met the owner, jam leader and performer, John, who is known throughout Shanghai by musicians for his reputation of starting jams and open mics all over the city. I had met him last year at the Comptoir jam, which was a high point of my visit last year.
So I had a very good idea of what kind of night I had ahead of me, or thought I did. One thing I did not expect was to hear a voice from the bar call my name also a few moments after I entered the bar. I turned to see a man who looked vaguely familiar, but I was not sure why, and I felt slight worried I was not recognizing an old acquaintance. It turned out to be Tony Tse, who is Hong Kong-based business man in the textiles industry who travels around Asia for his work…and takes part in open mics and jam sessions.
“They often tell me when I get somewhere that you had just preceded me,” he said, noting that people made the connection between us since we both have jobs that take us around the world to do other things, and we take advantage of that to go to an open mic to perform. Another such persona that stands out in my memory is Danny Fonfeder, who is in the schools supplies business in Canada, but take his guitar on his travels around the world to play in open mics. And if I also started up this non-profit blog (I call it that not out of principle, but out of a lack of ideas on how to make money out of it!) as a sideline to the open mic journey, Danny ended up starting a very nifty business of creating and selling guitars, which he calls Blueberry Guitars.
Hmm, so, Tony, now it’s your turn! A line of busking clothing? High-class, protective cloth guitar cases for travelling?
Anyway, the jam at the minuscule Karma Lounge was really interesting both for the amazing quality of the musicians and for the fantastically warm members of the audience. Jammer John is rightfully proud as he is the owner of this venue, and he told me that he is planning another jamming location to add to it soon. It felt as if there was an equal number of expats and Chinese people in the audience, in a truly multicultural experience.
But for open mic musicians, do be warned: The style of this jam is not really one of the solo open mic sort, as you really have to sit in the circle of musicians and play music that everyone can jam along to. It did seem that priority goes to the regulars, and that is no doubt because they are the ones who best “get” the idea of this particular jam, and share regular songs, thus facilitating the free, non-stop flow of music well into the night.
Definitely worth a visit as either a musician or a spectator.