Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Finding Wings at the Swan Bar Jam in Paris

September 2, 2011
bradspurgeon

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.

Irish Festival at the Swan Bar in Paris on Bloomsday

June 17, 2011
bradspurgeon

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.”

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