PARIS – I sense a new movement on this blog toward a few uncharted territories in the way of Paris’s spoken word open mics…but also pushing the limits at the music open mics too. Is that a sentence? I mean the grammatical thing I just wrote, not sentence in terms of what lies before me. Anyway, to cut a long introduction short: Over the last week I have twice performed in a small excerpt of the monologue that Ornella Bonventre and I performed in Milan last month, and written about on this blog. But here, we have done it in Paris, first at the Paris Lit Up open mic of spoken word at the Cabaret Culture Rapide, and then at Sheldon Forrest’s open mic at the Osmoz Café, near Montparnasse.
Paris Lit Up presentation
Our first step was to translate a portion of the show from Italian to English. Then we rehearsed, Ornella – of TAC Teatro Italy and TAC Théâtre France) acting the role of the unfortunate woman of the piece, and me on the guitar providing soundtrack and a couple of acting moments. Then we went to the Paris Lit Up spoken word eventand performed it for the first time, just an eight-minute segment of the hour-long show. Then we continued to work on the translation and to rehearse. Then we performed last night at the Osmoz. The plan is to continue like this, finding new open stages that cater to spoken word, but also finding the music open mics that “allow” spoken word, poetry, etc. A fabulous adventure. Paris Lit Up reading
While I have attended and written before about the Paris Lit Up evening – which has not changed, by the way, and remains an excellent evening – I had never attended Sheldon’s open mic at the Osmoz bar, near Montparnasse. But when I prepared to go, I was pretty sure it would be like Sheldon’s fabulous long-standing
Osmoz open mic
open mic at the Swan Bar (now closed down), and I was right. But actually, it was even better in the sense that the atmosphere at the Osmoz Café open mic feels much freer, anything-goes, compared to the often slightly uptight feeling that the Swan Bar could give….
Another Paris Lit Up Reading
It was his usual deal of Sheldon playing piano, and singers taking the mic to sing their favorite pop standards. Sheldon was joined by a violin player as well, by the way. And at the end of the evening, long after Ornella and I had done our act, Sheldon invited me up to play some songs with my guitar, if I wanted to. Naturally, I wanted! It was a great way to close the evening for me, and especially since I had not been playing music in front of an audience in that way for a while…. Singer at Osmoz Café open mic
Stay tuned for the further adventures in Spoken-Word-Land….
PARIS – I just finished a day of work at the office, and I find myself having to rush off for a meal before another, early-starting open mic tonight. That means I have no time whatsoever to do a blog item about the absolutely wonderful open mic I attended last night. But because it was so absolutely wonderful, I desperately want to write about it here – i.e., just mark it down in this blog, mark my territory, place it in the page before time takes over with another few adventures….
So with that in mind, and feeling desperate about being late for my dinner rendezvous and not being able to write anything that will live up to the great atmosphere of last night’s open mic, it suddenly occurred to me that, hey, how long does it really take to write a blog item just to get SOMETHING down on paper!?! (On the screen, not paper….) So then I thought of a challenge: Give myself a limit of three minutes and that’s the end of it! It doesn’t cost much in the grand scheme of things, maybe not even the metro I have to catch!
OK, but here we are now and I realize that it has taken me three minutes to write the above two paragraphs and I am losing my own self-imposed challenge! So I have to conclude this now before a fourth minute passes. IE, the open mic in question was the Wednesday night vocal jam session of the Swan Bar in Montparnasse, and despite it having a theme of jazz standards, it is entirely open to just about every kind of music, as you will see from the few videos I managed to take (and upload earlier in the day).
This is a very fun open mic of a different format, and much of the fun is thanks to the incredibly wonderful hosting of Sheldon Forrest, the pianist MC, organizer of the open mic who plays along with singers who do not otherwise play an instrument. Bring your sheet music and play with Sheldon, and now a sax or clarinet man and bassist. Or if you have a guitar or for that matter a harp, you can go and play that!
Anyway, I have now failed because that fourth minute has come and gone and I MUST go! Bear with me if you read through all this crap that I have laid down on the screen in the last four minutes and a bit more.
Hugely mixed emotions yesterday night as I had a couple of literary evenings mixed with music to attend. The first was not mixed with music, in fact, but was the most bittersweet. That was a visit to The Village Voice Bookshop, for a party to “celebrate” the closure of this Paris institution of the last 30 years. The store is closing as it can no longer survive as an independent bookshop in our Internet and ebook world. The second event was a celebration of Bloomsday, at the Swan Bar, where I was invited to play music and to listen to readings of James Joyce prose and other Irish things.
The Village Voice was one of my first Paris hangouts, and I went there in the second year of its existence, starting in 1983. I had seen many readings there, met many people, and got to know Odile Hellier, the woman who started the shop and has run it all these years. She is a fascinating woman who loves American literature, and decided to open a store with the true feel of the American literary expat bookshop in Paris – I guess she is a mixture of both Sylvia Beach AND Adrienne Monnier, who ran their stores only a few blocks away a few decades ago….
When I arrived for the closing celebration, I found that not even my personal invitation to the thing would save me from the impossibility of getting through the doors, so full was the two-floor shop of admirers and book lovers. In fact, they were bursting out into the street. All I could manage to do was glimpse inside and see Odile reading something from the staircase to the throngs below. I made a video of this, to give an idea.
I went off and ate a wonderful pizza dinner at a nearby pizzeria, where I also devoured the London Review of Books that I had bought in Montreal last week. Then I returned, sweating from that hot and spicy pizza, and found that I could now penetrate into the Village Voice. There I found the place now had enough room available for a visitor to wander around, and meet old friends. I started by saying hello to Odile outside the shop, where she was talking with someone and no doubt getting some fresh air after her various readings.
Inside, I found some old friends, including Jim Haynes, the American Paris expat supreme, whom, I recalled, I had met for the first time at the Village Voice in the back room cafe it used to have, in 1984, while I was reading Jim’s very own autobiography, “Thanks For Coming.” Jim and I kept contact over the years, I have been to his famous Sunday dinners at his atelier in the 15th arrondissement, and our lives have criss-crossed occasionally.
I also saw David Applefield, whom I had met at Shakespeare and Company in 1983 in the writer’s room, but whom I had probably seen more often in those early days at the Village Voice. David, at the time I met him, was working on the first Paris issue of his literary review called “Frank,” which would go on to have many more issues and a long life in Paris. Last night he passed on to me a book he has just published, right off the press, in a new imprint, and which was written by another Paris literary alumnus, John Strand.
Strand had started another Paris literary review in the early 1980s, called Exile, or Paris Exile, can’t remember quite. But I do remember him celebrating one of the issues at some kind of evening at the Village Voice in the early 1980s. Strand has gone on to become a multiple prize-winning playwright based in Washington D.C., and his novel is called, “Commieland.” I’m looking forward to reading it, and seeing where Applefield’s imprint, called, Kiwai Media, goes.
Unfortunately, I could stay long at the Village Voice as I had agreed so sing Irish songs at the Bloomsday evening at the Swan Bar, a newer American-culture hangout in Paris. In a brisk walk from the rue Princesse to Montparnasse, I managed to digest that pepperoni pizza and all the desert items – macarons – that I ate at the Village Voice. I arrived to find Sheldon Forrest hard at work accompanying a singer, and the Swan Bar was just brimming full of people.
This bode well, and as I waited to perform my first song, it occurred to me that I had a nice little story to tell about James Joyce, and I could connect it to the build up of my song. It was a story about how the journalist and novelist Eugene Jolas had spoken to Joyce one day and asked him what he accomplished that day, and Joyce responded that he had worked all day and managed to complete a sentence. “Only one sentence??!!!” “Well, yes,” said Joyce. “I knew what the seven words were, but I could not figure out what order I wanted to put them in.” I then told the audience that I had several songs, but did not know what order to sing them in. The one that went down the best, and which I did sing the best, was “Only Our Rivers Run Free,” by Mickey MacConnell.
There were lots of other musicians, lots of readers, and the evening was in general a bigger success – I felt – than last year’s such celebration at the Swan Bar.
I returned home, had a good sleep, got up today and finally, finally, after nearly four years finished the book I have been working on about my first year of musical adventures around the world. I also came up with a new, final, working title: “OUT OF A JAM: An Around-the-World Story of Healing and Rebirth through Music” In the end, I must say, that it felt appropriate to complete the book on such a literary weekend….
The announcement on Facebook immediately caught my attention: The Swan Bar was holding an exceptional jam session on Friday from 9:30 PM to 1:00 AM. The Swan Bar is an American owned a run NYC-style jazz bar in Montparnasse, and it usually has fixed acts on Friday nights followed by an open stage from 11:30 to 1 or so. So this was an exceptional jam, and announced as such by the music master MC and pianist extraordinaire, Sheldon Forrest. That meant I had to go.
Of course, ever since my first visit to the Swan Bar a couple of years ago I have always felt that it was not really a place for a sort of rocky, folky, singer songwriterly type like me. But since every single time I go I am accepted with open arms – as are all other musicians of disparate styles – I end up going, and end up pleased and proud.
Last night was no exception. Sheldon accompanied all sorts of singers in songs of traditional jazz, broadway show type songs, right up to the pop stuff I do, like Canelle De Balasy the barwoman’s rendition of Bob Dylan.
And then the stage was mine twice, alone with my guitar. I did one of my own songs, and three cover songs, in two visits to the stage. It was very far away from the jazz standards that made up the bulk of the music, but as usual, provided a break and a change.
A wonderful evening, on the whole, and let’s hope they do more….
I have always been of two minds about the open jam sessions and open mics at the Swan Bar in Montparnasse in Paris. It is a wonderful, classy bar, run by the interesting Lionel Bloom, a former university professor and adorer of Joyce and Yeats. But the emphasis is on jazz and old-time cabaret variety music. This is not the kind of music I can play, even if I like and respect it. In fact, I grew up with jazz and listen to it all the time. But when it comes to playing it myself, I’m not in the swing, so it don’t mean a thing.
But last night after the Swan Bar had been closed for the month of August, it reopened and celebrated with a jam session. Sheldon Forrest, the wonderful and genial pianist, was hosting the evening, and I know he has alway encouraged my playing there. So I went. I did not regret it. Yes, there was a lot of the usual stuff. But there were other bits and pieces too, and a warm reception for me and a pianist who decided to play along with me, and a new woman working behind the bar who also took to the stage and did a wonderful job. That was Canelle De Balasy, and she did not do jazz either. At the end of the evening she, and some of the other women singers and I all joined in together to sing “Hey Jude.” Too bad I don’t know all the lyrics!
But it was an excellent evening, and I recommend taking a chance on the Swan Bar, even if you are not a jazz musician.
Yesterday was the mythical Bloomsday, the day on which the story of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses takes place. It is celebrated around the world in various forms by Joyce scholars and Irish literature and culture lovers. And although the Swan Bar on Montparnasse in Paris is owned an operated by an American – named, oddly enough, Lionel Bloom – he is a former literature professor and something of a Joyce specialist. So it is no surprise that under the guise of an Irish Festival this American jazz bar in Paris celebrates Bloomsday, and Irish culture in general on June 16.
I was invited by the artistic director of the bar, Sheldon Forrest, to come around and sing some Irish songs. I have played there a few times in the past, and I think I must have done a few Irish songs, so Sheldon knew I could. Even so, I was really flattered and interested, because I rarely have a chance to play my Irish traditional music at the open mics. The evening ended up being fun, and fortunately for me and the audience, I was not the only musician called in to do the Irish music. I pretty much exhausted the songs I know by heart as it was, and the format of the evening was a reading from Joyce, a song, a reading from Joyce, a song… and I would never have had enough memorized songs to do that. I did bring my songbook, however, and I would have been able to sing all evening long reading from the book, but that doesn’t look so good – and it is stressful.
So we had several readers, and we had Sheldon playing some Irish music on the piano, and we had the other musician. He and I spoke about what songs we would do in advance, and as we had some crossover, I let him do “Star of the County Down,” and he let me do “Raggle Taggle Gypsies.”
The reading star of the night was the main organizer of the event, Maria D’Arcy, who did not in fact read, as she has her pieces memorized. She did a 10 minute or more number that was quite provocative, and she ended the evening by “performing” the last page of the book, which ends, of course, with the famous last word from Molly Bloom: “Yes.”