Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

The Beat Goes on in Nice – or Does It?

May 24, 2015

Joe Danger at Jonathan's in Nice

Joe Danger at Jonathan’s in Nice

NICE, France – The question running through my mind over the last couple of nights as I have walked the streets of Nice, mostly the old town, is whether my imagination is playing havoc on my memory, or whether Nice had a brighter period for roaming musicians than at the moment? I passed many of the previous places I had played in here over the years to find either the businesses no longer existed, or there was a change of style, a change of owner, a different zeitgeist.

Shapko still exists, but I saw nothing inviting in the way of the jam that was kind of slapped on to the end of a jazz night of band gigs. The King’s Pub told me they no longer host a jam or an open mic, and only show sports on TV. Johnny’s Wine Bar is long since gone.

There are other examples of things past, but I’ll forget about them for the moment. There remains hope in places one would expect, though. I dropped in to Paddy’s pub to find a musician doing a nice little gig on the nice little stage, and warmly coming up afterwards to say hello, as I had a compliment to make of his music. I asked him about open mics and jams, and he only knew of one that I will try tonight – hoping it still exists. But his stage was not open, as it has been in the past during other gigs. That said, Paddy’s apparently has an open mic every Tuesday night, so that’s great news.

From there, I decided to head on down to the first of the former Johnny’s venues, this one called Jonathan’s Live Music Pub. There, as soon as I saw that it was Friday night, and therefore one of the nights served by one of the three D’s – three musicians all having the letter D as their first initial somewhere – and I saw it was Joe Danger, I knew I was at least in for a fun moment of music.

And as with years past, it was the same climate: Go into the bar before Joe is onstage and you’ll find it empty, or nearly empty of clients. Wait a bit, Joe Danger takes to his musical chair, and suddenly the whole cellar room of this great bar fills up with people, mostly young people, keen to go crazy with the music of Joe Danger as a backdrop.

Joe, an Austrian originally, but who sings and speaks in perfect English, has been playing Jonathan’s pub for 15 years. He is really part of the walls, I think. Or at least the playing stool. He also has the great warm trait of offering the stage to people who ask, to play a song or two, although it is not an open mic.

So he saw me with my guitar, we chatted, he remembered me from the past, and he invited me up to play. I high, high point of the week.

Last night, I dropped by the Snug, where there is an open mic on Monday nights, and there was a singer. She played some lovely material, and after when I complimented her, we got to talking about my guitar. She normally plays an acoustic, loved my guitar, and I offered to let her use it on her next set. All over wonderful time – but I didn’t play anything.

So there are bits and pieces of music and open stages still in Nice, but I still feel things have got a little reduced in recent years….

Changes at Shapko Bar in Nice – and a Word on Marjorie Martinez and Wednesday Night

May 24, 2014

Marjorie Martinez

Marjorie Martinez

NICE, France – My feeling is that it is better to be late and short than to completely ignore my experience playing my songs, and listening to those of Marjorie Martinez, at Shapko Bar in Nice on Wednesday night. I mean, here I am on the Riviera, having suddenly disappeared from this blog and got sucked up by the sudden appearance of sunlight and sea air – or something like that.

But the more important reason for writing a post here on my evening playing music at Shapko Bar in Nice on Wednesday night is for the record of this blog: I’ve written about the amazing Shapko Bar on rue Rossetti in the old town of Nice since 2011. It became the highlight for me of coming to play in Nice.

So it was at first a shock to arrive for the Wednesday night jam session at Shapko and to find that rather than a band occupying the neat little stage on the lower part of the room it was now several tables full of patrons sitting there drinking, talking, and listening to the music of a woman playing at the mic on the new stage area in front of the bar at the front of the venue.

I learned immediately that Dimitri Shapko, the wonderful Russian saxophone player who founded the bar had just recently sold it to a new owner. I then approached the woman behind the mic – with her Gibson acoustic – after she finished her set, and I asked her if there was some kind of open jam, as there always had been. She said, “No,” but then immediately, in the spirit of Shapko, said that if I wanted to play some songs I could.

So I took the stage after her next set and I sang three or four songs, mostly mine, and “Wicked Game.” I then later spoke to the new owner of the bar, and he said he planned to continue the same spirit of the old Shapko bar – and he has maintained the same name – including having any concerts that start the evening finish as a jam. But there is also an official jam session night on Thursdays, and any kind of music goes.

A Change of Ownership at Shapko Bar

So the good news is that we have not entirely lost Shapko Bar. But let’s see how it develops….

In the meantime, Marjorie Martinez impressed the hell out of me: She had a very cool way of playing that guitar, ranging from folk rock, soft rock and blues into some very adept and fabulous sounding jazz stuff. That came in handy when she opened the stage for the jam, and a saxophone player went up and jammed with her. I mention Marjorie’s range and guitar playing first, but it is her singing voice that is the real center of her show: She sounds like a cross between Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt.

She is French, but her English accent is almost impeccable. In fact, in the gig it was impeccable. It was just in hearing her on her albums – that I bought and later listened to, that I noticed the slightest hint of a French accent. She writes most of her own music, but does not shy away from cover songs either, especially the jazz stuff. In fact, a lot of her own songs have a jazz feel to them in parts, and her backing musicians are clearly jazz-oriented. A very, very interesting discovery, this Marjorie Martinez of the French Riviera – because she is a local….

Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Nice (& Monaco) Edition

May 24, 2013

Cote d'AzurMONACO – For my seventh city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Nice (& Monaco) 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.

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 20 and more 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.

More Experience Than Existing Open Mics

Unfortunately, given the ephemeral nature of open mics – and bars themselves – in virtually all of the cities in the guide my own personal experience of playing open mics in the city in question usually goes way beyond the number of venues listed, since they things arise and close very frequently.

Mostly Open Mics and Jam Sessions in Nice, Not Monaco

I do not claim that this worldwide open mic directory is anything other than a quirky Brad Spurgeon centric guide, based mostly on my travel as a journalist following the Formula One series around the world. It is for that reason, in fact, that I include Monaco on this latest list: Monaco is where the race takes place, and most of the people who attend the race stay in Nice, because it’s cheaper than Monaco. It is also more conducive to open mics and open jam sessions. Over the years I have always been able to play in Monaco, but usually as an invited guest by generous musicians. So there is no real listing for Monaco!!! McCarthy’s Pub was a mainstay, but I heard it was all over now, and I have not yet confirmed if that was an illusion… I no doubt will, though, so keep posted…!

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Nice (& Monaco) Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on the venues – i.e., especially if they close down!

Playing in the Jazz Jam at the Shapko Bar in Nice, and Running Out of Batteries, but not Steam

May 23, 2013

shapko jam

shapko jam

NICE, France – I mentioned in my post yesterday that one of the places I stopped off at looking for a jam was the Shapko Bar in old nice. So last night, I stopped off there again, and who should be standing in the doorway with his sax around his neck and greeting me but Mr. Dimitri Shapko himself.

“Come in! You’ve come to the right place!” he said, when I told him I was looking for music. “It’s a jam session – we’re just taking a break.”

“With that sax around your neck, I can see it’s a real break,” I said, or something like that.

Shapko is the coolest Russian sax player I know – OK, the only one too – and he lives in Nice – which if you go back a century had a lot of other Russians – and he owns and operates this extremely cool and laid back music bar. Wednesdays, it turned out, was the vocal jam night, open to anyone, but with some very fine musicians on the nice round stage to back up any singer brave enough – or with a big enough misplaced ego – to join them.

It Was an Open Jam at Shapko and Not Just Jazz

I say misplaced ego, because although it was clearly a jazz jam, I decided after at first rejecting the offer from the guitar player, to take to the stage to sing a song. And after all, Dimitri, in his career has played with people like Wynton Marsalis, Al Grey, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Ali Jackson, Jeniffer Vincent, Steve Kirby, Doug Sides and Debora Carter. But in fact, I had reasoned that some of the songs – like “Route 66,” and like “Summertime” – did not necessarily have to be interpreted as jazz. So I reached into the deep well of my easily-played popular song bag, and I came up with the entirely non-jazz song of “Wicked Game.” I just knew that if I played those three chords throughout, then Dimitri, the lead guitarist, the pianist, the woman drummer, and the upright acoustic base player would be able to work magic behind my three chords, and I’d get to sing in Shapko’s with these insanely great musicians.

SO that’s what I did, and I loved it. So much fun, and so beautiful to be able to play with such talent, especially when it is NOT a pop/rock night.

And the Batteries Died on My Recording Devices for the Jam Session

AND especially when the evening had actually begun in a very inauspicious and stupid way. My batteries on my Zoom recorder ran out after I had recorded only two songs. And when I reached into my guitar bag to get the extra batteries I always carry with me, I found them gone. AND then I decided to record some stuff with my iPhone, and before I could even get to the camera on it, the iPhone ran out of battery power.

So I was left with just the two videos of a night full of fabulous performers and vocalists. But it was a great, great evening anyway. This venue is one of THE venues to visit in Nice if you happen to visit – either to play or simply to listen. There is no cover charge, and for music of this quality in most major cities, there WOULD be a cover charge.

Thanks Dimitri and the gang at Shapko, I’ll no doubt drop by again before the weekend is over, even if not to consider playing….

Jack Daniel and Friends at Shapko in Nice

May 24, 2012

Shapko Bar Nice

Shapko Bar Nice

Fishing around for places to play in Nice, I was always going to try out the amazing Shapko bar on the rue Rossetti. And last night, I was in the presence of my friend Baptiste W. Hamon, the inimitable French redneck hillbilly singer songwriter, and it turned out that the theme of the music at Shapko was fairly close to redneck, so I thought Baptiste and I should make a visit.

We had also been considering going to King’s Pub again, where I had played the night before and was invited to play again last night. But I really wanted to take another look at Shapko, where I managed to play some songs last year during a similar acoustic night, hosted by someone else – Peter Cogavin. Peter, in fact, told me yesterday that he knew the guy hosting the evening at Shapko, and that he thought he might be open to letting me play.

That guy was a British musician with the somewhat bourbon soaked hillbilly name of Jack Daniel. It is his real name. And he plays a wicked fingerpicking blues and country guitar and lays a nice laid back vocal on top of it. He had a harmonica player, and then his “friends,” who joined in as the even progressed.

Shapko, the man who owns the bar, is a saxophone player from Russia, and he is a real mean sax player. I mean good, not nasty. He is also a music-loving performer who opens his stage to other players as much as he can while maintaining a good professional business and show. I was really flattered when I walked in last night and he immediately remembered me, although I had visited his bar only twice last year: ‘The Canadian!” he said.

At the break, I spoke to Jack Daniel about the possibility of playing, and he more or less accepted. But as the evening went on with the second set, it became clear that the music was moving further and further away from what either I or Baptiste do, so we ultimately decided to cut out and check out the scene at the King’s Pub. It turned out that that was pretty quiet and the musicians were doing a long set, and we ultimately decided that it was getting too late to hang around much longer. So we both left and went our ways.

But the night was really enriching in terms of the music at Shapko, which was fabulous – especially in the middle of the jam during the second set.

Playing With Jaspa at McCarthy’s Pub in Monaco

May 30, 2011

I learned my lesson again on my last night at the Monaco Grand Prix. My worldwide tour of open mics and jam sessions is supposed to be something whereby I play in every country I travel to for the Formula One races. It’s a challenge, because I’m not choosing where I go – my job as a journalist is parachuting me into the countries where there are races. I must then work within that constraint to find a place to play. Well, in all the years I have covered the Monaco Grand Prix, I have never stayed in Monaco. I have always stayed in places like St. Jean Cap Ferrat, Menton and especially Nice. This last couple of years due to the musical adventure, I have stayed increasingly in Nice. And this last week, I made so many musical friends and discovered so many places, that I got comfortable. (Rather than the usual sense of panic as to whether I would find a place to play or not.)

Well, yesterday morning on my last day down there, I awoke early and set out to the track knowing that in the night I would be able to return and go and listen to Jake Hall, one of the musicians I mentioned earlier from Hobo Chic, who was to play at Shapko’s bar Sunday night. But I suddenly realized that I had made NO effort to find a place to play in Monaco itself, despite playing twice in Nice. So I was faced with the horrible decision: Return to the hotel and grab my guitar and explore Monaco after the race and my day’s work ended and miss out on a comfortable and fun night at Shapko, or go back and get the guitar and pursue my dream and my challenge and try to find a place to play in Monaco. After all, it really would be cheating to say I played in every country there was a race if I just decided that Nice was a substitute for Monaco.

But I yearned for the comfort of a fun night in familiar surroundings. And the only chance that I felt I had in Monaco was at McCarthy’s pub, where I played last year. But that was a long walk to the other side of Monaco, there would be a limited choice of restaurants, and I had called the place up on the phone a couple days earlier only to hear that there was no jam session, open mic or other thing but a house band that might or might not let me play. Still, as I walked toward Nice station in the morning heavy footed at the indecision and the thought that I would let myself down, I suddenly said, “No, this is a challenge, I must face it and sacrifice a potentially comfortable fun evening.” So I turned back, got the guitar – which, by the way, I also did not want to carry into the media center in Monaco, looking like a pretentious idiot – and then I set out again for my day. But I noticed that there was a newly found bounce in my walk, a sense of purpose, and a general feeling of contentedness.

So I did my day, then walked to McCarthy’s and found the place empty. But I was early. Still, the music would not start until 11 PM, and again I had to go through all the thought processes of the morning. I arrived at the same conclusion. I went out and ate a Mexican meal across the street in the only cheap restaurant on the street – one pizzeria was cheap, but once inside I was handed a menu that had items costing around 4 euros more than on the menu outside, because, I think, it was a Grand Prix weekend and they wanted to get all they could…so I left before ordering. Anyway, I ate the meal, returned to McCarthy’s, waited around for the musicians and had a great conversation with a fellow Canadian at the bar.

The musicians arrived, it was a band called Jaspa, of French and British musicians (the signer is English), and I listened to their first set and made some videos. They played so many popular recent songs and in such a lively manner that I was again putting myself to shame on the limits of my own repertoire. But at the break, I approached, and the singer immediately started chatting to me about the videos. I then told her about how I travel the world and like to play in different spots as I travel for my job, and she immediately and delightedly invited me to play with them in the next set. So I set up the guitar, and I opened the set with them, doing three songs. We all played together, the audience loved it, my Canadian friend complimented me, and the band invited me back to do more songs later. I agreed, but then realized the time was really passing and I had to get up early to travel back to Paris. So I left.

But I had sooooo much fun singing and playing with this band, and having the audience sing along on “Unchained Melody,” and I had such a feeling of pride and happiness at having actually pissed on my territory in Monaco itself, and adding a sixth country to the adventure this year, that I realized I had once again learned the lesson for life through the adventure: Push yourself and don’t get too “comfortable” because the true comfort is the thrill and pleasure of following your dreams. But of course, none of it would have happened without the open arms and humanity of McCarthy’s, and above all, the band Jaspa. A lot of bands jealously guard their territory, but the ones who seem to have the most open spirit in both human and musical terms, are often arms open and curious when it comes to inviting other musicians they have never heard to play during their gig.

Scott Allen Trio at Shapko’s Bar

May 29, 2011

It was back to being a spectator again last night as I dropped by the Shapko Bar to see what was touted as one of the feature, top acts of the venue, the Scott Allen Trio, with Allen as the bass player and lead singer. In fact, it was the trio of Allen, Peter Thomas on drums and Ronnie Ray Jr. on keyboards, plus two cool lead guitarists.

I thoroughly enjoyed the music and it really got me to thinking about the whole nature of what music is; what various styles and modes of expression are. Both Allen and Thomas sing extremely well, both have flashy, lively stage presence. They are both such good singers, in fact, that we can even forget how good their are on bass and drums. That’s rare. But I was also interested in the music’s quality; it was a cross between funk, soul, Motown, a little jazz, but not much.

And they were so good that I said, so this is like flashy cool competent pizazz, and what the hell do I or so many other people at open mics do by comparison? Technically, these lead guitarists too were light years ahead of my playing. And I enjoyed the keyboard breaks by the interesting Scotsman whom I spoke with afterwards, who showed interesting musical culture by not only being adept at this music but also knowing who Dick Gaughan was, and bringing up the name of Aly Bain, a great Scottish fiddler who played with the Boys of the Lough, among many many others (including people like Rosanne Cash and James Taylor).

But then, I’ve been reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles over the last couple of weeks, and Dylan has been bringing up all sorts of other ideas about what a musician is – and most of it has to do with his models like Woody Guthrie, etc., although he also loves a vast number of other styles of musician, including the Neville brothers, rap, etc. So. I’m saying, Okay, the Scott Allen Trio is quite brilliant and their soul, funk, Motown and a little jazz is great. But the rest of it is music too.

I get kind of an inferiority complex sometimes when I hear really good musicians. Anyway, off to see what my last night in Monaco/Nice will present me with.

The Elusiveness of Open Mics in Nice

May 27, 2011

I ran around in circles last night in Nice seeking out open mics that had been recommended to me by various people. First, I returned to Shapko’s bar, oh, and I almost forgot to mention: Returning to Nice from Monaco, I got off the train at the station in Nice and as I walked out the main door of the station, I saw Dimitri Shapko entering the station. We said a quick hello, but he was on his way to a gig in… Monaco.

Anyway, I returned first to his bar on rue Rossetti just to see what was happening. Not much of interest to me, although I understand tonight and tomorrow night should be very good musically, as we get into the meat of the Shapko jazz weekend. From there I headed off to Paddy’s Pub, not far down the street around the corner in the old town. I had been there a couple of days before as I had been told there was an open mic there. Not only was there no open mic, but the bartender did not think there ever was one. But he said he did not really know for sure! So I returned last night and found the same situation, nothing. But outside the door I was told by someone else, a musician, that there was an open mic at a pub down the street called, King’s pub.

So I headed down there and found a sign outside that indicated that basically there was an open mic every night the pub was open. There was always live music, and amateur, unknown, unannounced musicians, could ask to go up and play a little. So I went into the place and spoke to the guy at the bar and he said that, no, despite the announcement, they don’t actually do that – at least not in the summer months.

Ok. During this walk I also ran into Johnny, the Canadian man who owned and ran two musical joints in the past, one a pub that is still called Johnny’s, but which does not have an open mic, and the other being the place where I played two years ago, Johnny’s Wine Bar. Johnny sold both of these places and both became dead places after he infused them with spirit and success and had wonderful open musical nights almost every night of the week. I was amazed to run into Johnny, and he was amazed I remembered so many details about him and his joint from two years ago, like the fact that he played with a Seagull parlor sized guitar and that he had a German blues guitar player with him… I did not tell him that I had taken notes immediately after playing there and had incorporated the stuff into my open mic book-in-progress. So I cheated, in terms of the memory thing.

Johnny told me I would find a friend of his playing at a bar around the corner called Bar a Degustation, but when I went there, there was no music. I had seen a slam thing there on Tuesday night, however.

In any case, I was feeling that open mics were becoming very elusive things in Nice indeed. I had a wonderful moment seeing a busker, however, and talking to a friend of hers who approached me as I filmed, and who saved my evening’s sense of despair…

Part of the despair was the open mic chase, another part was spending half an hour at Wayne’s pub, where I was also told there was live music, but where I find the atmosphere claustrophobic. I nevertheless recorded a little video of the band doing a Beatles song….

Playing at the Extraordinary Shapko Bar in Nice

May 26, 2011

I discovered the Shapko Bar in Nice on Tuesday evening as I was walking around the streets with a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness as I sought a place to play. As I mentioned on the previous post, I had decided to pass by and mourn the passing of Johnny’s Wine Bar, and it turned out that right next door on rue Rossetti was this Shapko bar and standing outside of it was Mr. Dimitri Shapko himself and we struck up a conversation.

I told him a little bit about what I was doing, but not much. In fact, maybe I just told him I was looking for a place to play, and I also told him I had been in Istanbul and found Nublu, which also exists in New York City, and which is also a venue – like Shapko’s – that is run by a saxophone player. Shapko being a very cool seeming guy with open ideas, invited me to show up last night – the following day – as it was the one night of the week where the music was not jazz, but more folk, pop, rock. He said his regular musician for that night was an Irishman named Peter Cogavin, and he said Peter called his night, “Peter Cogavin and Friends,” and that there was a chance Peter would let me get up and play. Peter, he said, did that a lot – he was very open too.

So I went, I found the bar to be a fabulous venue, great little stage, nice sound system, several listening areas, big crowd of listeners, and above all a general ambience of the kind I love, with Peter Cogavin being not only a fabulous singer and good guitar player, but as Dimitri said, very open and friendly to other musicians. Peter played most of the evening, and he invited me up to play after his first set. I did four songs. He also invited up a friend of his from Ireland who had never played in public before, and it was the guy’s birthday, he did a song and it was interesting. Later on, Jake Hall, one of the buskers I met the previous night took the stage and played as well, doing that tapping stuff he did with my guitar, but also singing in his rich, deep voice.

It turned out the rest of the busking band was there too, and now I learned their name: Hobo Chic. I had, in fact, found them on the street busking before I went to Shapko’s and I did some videos of them. I was also there when a French painter named Morassut gave them a painting of them that he did.

But back to Shapko’s bar. No, back to Shapko. I have not yet heard his music, but I am very keen to do so, because after discovering Ilhan Ersahin in Istanbul, I think I have just discovered another very interesting sax player, if Shapko’s biography on his bar’s web site is anything to go by. Shapko, who is from Russia, has played with an extraordinary number of top musicians, such as “Wynton Marsalis, Al Grey, Doc Cheatham, Benny Waters, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Sol Yeaget, Lorna Watson, Ali Jackson, Jeniffer Vincent, Steve Kirby , Debora Brown, Rob Agerbeek , Doug Sides , Margorie Barns and Debora Carter.

And he has played with his band at the Newport Jazz Festival, The North Sea Jazz Festival, The Montreaux Jazz, Juan Les Pins Festival, Maastricht Jazz Festival, Breda Jazz Festival, Harlem Jazz Festival, New York Jazz Festival, Festival du Jazz du St.Germain Des Pres, Montreal Jazz Festival, Vancouver Jazz Fesival, Calgary Jazz Festival and many others.

Pretty impressive. And here he is running a very cool venue in Nice. What a discovery. And what an honor to have played there! It was, in essence, if not strictly speaking, an open mic. I even managed to interview Peter for my film.

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