But the problem is, and this is slightly depressing, most of the updating I did on the list was to remove open mics and venues that no longer exist. I was unable to update with any new venue, although I was able to improve my section about the House of Blues & Jazz, as I had not actually played there until this trip….
I was really, seriously, beginning to lose faith in my last days in Shanghai. I mean, the trajectory of my worldwide open mic adventure has almost invariably been, up. Like every city I go to year after year there is a snowball effect of discovering new venues, new scenes, new musicians and a kind of inexorable growth sense. (Don’t mind me, I’ve just traveled 24 hours back to Paris from Shanghai after not sleeping for like about the same length of time before that.) And I began really feeling bad about things in Shanghai because it seemed that all of the places I had played in the past had disappeared: Bee Dees; Karma Lounge; Not Me; Oscar’s; and like, did the Melting Pot still have its Sunday jam?
No matter how much research I did every single day, I could not find evidence that an open mic I had attended in the past still existed today. And so it was that my open mic for my first four nights was my own hotel room. I played away, morning and night, whenever I could find a down moment between an otherwise massively busy weekend at the racetrack.
And I wrote emails to friends, acquaintances and fellow musicians I have met over the years in Shanghai. And either they did not respond, or they did not exist, or they now existed elsewhere.
And then…and then… finally, on the last night of my stay in China, I remembered the House of Blues & Jazz. I remembered they had a jam on the Sunday night. I remembered it was probably not too far from my hotel. I then learned it was 15 minutes’ walk from my hotel. And I went. I still could not tell if it was really still a jam session on the Sunday night.
And my music is neither blues nor jazz. And I remember this place made me feel a little insecure the first time I went there about three or four years ago, and I remember walking out without trying the jam, so much was I scared. But last night, waiting for my 7 AM flight back to Paris, I had no choice. If I did not play on the House of Blues & Jazz stage, then I would have lost my week in Shanghai in terms of the buzz I seek on the open mic stages of the world. What a horrible lost opportunity that would be.
But it was, honestly, very sad to go to this city where in the past at my peak I was able to play in maybe six different places, and find that nothing existed anymore. Or practically. The one I did last year on the Monday still exists, but it’s now Monday and I’m back in Paris….
So I went to the House of Blues & Jazz, and I found this fabulous stage again – big enough to hold a piano, drum set, bass player, lead player, a singer or two – and a great sound system, and a vibe somewhere between laid back and classy, with its wood panel interior, and the three or four television screens of the stage action ensuring that everyone gets to see and hear what’s happening.
And I listened to the fabulous house band led by Greg on the vocals and guitar. And when he announced the jam, the open stage, I finally knew I had to push for it, and that my drought of a week in Shanghai would end. And boy did it end. It was like, after four nights in the hotel playing to no audience, I suddenly had an audience, and I could explode.
I only got two songs, but it was enough to play with the backing band, and before this great, fabulous, large audience, and just let go. I had the time of my week in Shanghai. And I not only recommend this excellent jam – which has much more than jazz and blues – but I will definitely be returning myself. (If I have the good fortune to get back to Shanghai….)
PARIS – A couple of weeks after being there, I have now finally found the time to update my Thumbnail Guide to Shanghai Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Unfortunately, I have only one place to add to the list, the amazing YYT open mic, which I have finally managed to do myself (the principle behind my guide being that I give personal experience accounts to what it’s like to perform in the venues.) And I ended up cutting out several other open mics in Shanghai that have ended since I started this worldwide guide two years ago. I plan to update all of my Worldwide Thumbnail Guides as I travel the world again this year – so keep posted! (Oh, and the Paris Thumbnail guide to open mics, the original of them all, is due for a major update too, since there have been many changes in recent months here in Paris’s open mics.
BAHRAIN – So here I am writing about what I did during my time off in Shanghai, China, but from Bahrain where I am at the moment. I have 15 minutes free before I have to get down to work for the evening, so I decided to do what I could to reverse this trend of getting behind my little reports of life on the road at the open mics. I got behind in China for obvious reasons to readers of this blog – if you read the post before this one. But, yes, I did attend an open mic in Shanghai, and I did love it, and there were some really outrageous acts.
I had heard of the YYT open mic – for YuYinTang – for at least two years, but I never managed to get there. I think it’s because it happens on Monday nights, and I had to leave the country in recent years past. But this time around I was there Monday night so I took the immediately first opportunity to attend this open mic, and I’m glad I did.
Although when I arrived to find the room full of spectators, and a high, sizeable stage set up with drums, a half dozen guitars and other instruments, I thought, Oh, no, this is a jam session for a full band kind of situation. That meant so much for my solo bit with my guitar, and that of a Brazilian colleague of mine who I arranged to meet there.
In the end, I did not have to worry, as the YYT is really open to all kinds of acts, solo or otherwise. Oh, you’re at a disadvantage in that situation going solo, since the crowd gets really wild and hot when the bands go up. But I had plenty of thumbs-up signs from spectators through the evening after my two-song set early on. And they were immensely respectful during the songs.
The MC is a wonderful presenter, and if you had a case of the nerves, he’ll be there to warm you up, as he was with my colleague, going up and speaking between his songs in a Chinese that we could not understand, but that warmed the audience up further….
Of the outrageous acts, my favorite was the man with the rage. This was a Chinese guy who had a cool foreign backing band, with a slick lead and smooth bass player, but this man yelled, yelled, yelled with rage into the mic. Even the band was amused. Check it out.
The other fun band was the very young and inexperienced group that looked almost like teenagers, and who played almost exclusively Led Zeppelin songs, with the woman singing. Delightful!
Finally, I met the bass player, spoke to him afterwards, and found he was a Frenchman, longtime expat in Shanghai, with a talent for gypsy jazz, which he plays frequently in China.
Altogether worth attending ever time I get a chance!
SHANGHAI, China – I think the only way to understand the frustration of trying to do a blog once a year for a few days in Shanghai is to come to Shanghai and try it yourself. Let me just say that the Chinese government control of the Internet is quite effective, even if there is such a thing that exists called a VPN, that allows persistent people to fight through the great firewall. I’m not feeling very energetic tonight, so I decided I will keep this post very short.
I just simply wanted to say that I have been in China since Wednesday, and I have not posted partly out of discouragement from the necessary pains trying to do so, and partly because I have not actually attended any open mics so far on this visit. I intend to attend open mics in the next two days, though, hopefully two open mics. And I will duly report on those. Both will be new experiences for me, as I have attended neither of them in the past.
I have been playing LOTS of music in my hotel room, though, as my last couple of weeks or whatever it was in Paris, I did little playing thanks to a new neighbor who hates music, and thanks to my own other occupations. So I have been going absolutely crazy playing in my hotel room with Shanghai lit up 18 floors beneath me.
My only other reason for posting is to mention on this blog a very worthwhile project that needs crowdfunding: My daughter, Emily, is working on an end-of-the-year short film project at her film school, the Ecole de la Cité, and she needs to raise a budget. The budget, it turns out, is a very real need. I spoke with her about where it goes, and if she is learning a lot at the film school, I’m learning a lot through her about what it takes to become a filmmaker – including where the budget goes!!! So go to her crowd fund-raising page and support her film: Yes Yeux Ouverts or what she is calling, Opening the Eyes in English. She has reached nearly 50 percent of her budget so far, and needs to get 100 percent, as you probably know in the principles of crowd fundraising.
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.
SHANGHAI – Monday night I stopped in to play a few songs at the Tennessee bar open mic in Paris for the first time in a long time. It was back to its old lively self, it seemed to me, with lots of spectators and lots of new musicians. I was delighted to find an audience of people who had never heard my songs, so I could do whatever I wanted without feeling it was already long ago memorized by the spectators…. The same thing happened last night, but in China.
I got up Tuesday morning and spent two days travelling to Shanghai and finding myself all set for a perfect transition into Chinese night time and not jet lag despite the 6-hour time difference to Paris, thanks to not sleeping on the two flights I took, by way of Dubai. But I had to fill in the final hours of the evening by some sort of activity that would keep me awake. So I did an internet search and found an open mic at a place called the Thirsty Seahorse, bar and restaurant.
It turned out that this venue was withing a 20 minutes walk from my hotel, and it was located in the neat former French Concession. So I took the walk, ordered a very Chinese meal of bacon and cheese burger, and took part in the open mic. It is a pretty hip and cool bar run by Chinese people, but the open mic attendees were from the U.S. and Italy, and me. The open mic has only existed for a couple of months, and it is run by Neil, from the U.S. but with a Peruvian background too.
It was a very cool and basic open mic, with a mic and all you can play style of slot…. So there was Burna…or was it Barna!?! from Italy, the very creative Ladd Mercer from Indiana and me. Check out Ladd’s bandcamp site. His voice made me want to ask him to sing that 1980s song, “Boys Don’t Cry,” or whatever it was called, but I never did get around to that.
In any case, it’s a nice new addition to the Shanghai open mic scene. I’ll be back. Last night I was pleased that like at the Tennessee no one had heard my songs, but I’ll happily do without that aspect if I can return again next year….
The first ever open mic that I did after my decades-long break from performing was in Shanghai in a bar called the Blues Room, in October 2008 after the Chinese Grand Prix. There was only one other musician at the open mic, and that was John. Last night, four and a half years later, after I found that the original open mic I intended to go to was running a band instead, I found there was another open mic, at a place called Windows Scoreboard. When I walked in, I found only one other musician present – and playing – and that was John.
It ended up being quite a fun night with lots of people coming to this massive bar to play pool, ping pong and to watch the television and listen to the music. As it turned out, this would not be a massive night for other musicians, and I ended up doing three sets and playing for perhaps an hour and a half in total. As did John.
He told me a lot of his regular musicians had the flu, and I believe it – he was suffering too!
I did not do any open mics or other musical performances in Shanghai last night, aside from writing a song in my hotel room and putting together the promised Shanghai version of my Thumbnail Guide to Open Mics.