News from France
Chapter 1: I make it to Paris after missing a connecting flight, and the beginning of the Paris venue crawl
I arrived in Paris after one of those travel “adventures” in which one misses a flight, falls in the airport, (no broken bones), gets re-routed to Dublin, loses luggage, finds luggage, and finally got installed in my little Paris hotel in the Marais district, almost a day late, exhausted, sweaty and covered with the smog of three countries. I thought I’d probably just fall into bed, but since in this season it stays blissfully light in Paris until 10 pm, I unpacked, washed my hair and my clothes, put on my makeup, and went out onto the streets of Paris, to re-acquaint myself. That was Saturday, May 15.
The next three days were spent with single-minded focus: to see Parisian jazz venues, meet people and find a good match for our band. Last July (2009) I performed solo with Sheldon Forrest at the piano at the Swan Bar in Paris’ Montparnasse, and with the success of that venture and the reassurance that the Parisian audience would accept me, I had wanted to find the right venue for a 2010 performance in Paris to follow our cultural exchange in Lille. That did not happen and I could not figure out why, even from afar, we could not make a match for the needs of our band.
To my delight, Sunday May 16 began the Jazz Festival of St. Germain des Pres, which is one of the coolest neighborhoods (maybe the coolest) – the ancient University district, where there are several clubs with underground venues called “caves” with vaulted ceilings. I located the first performances of the festival in an outdoor venue in the square just outside the main church of the neighborhood, the church of St. Germain des Pres. There was a series of all-day concerts featuring women. I saw parts of the 2nd and 3rd concerts of the day’s schedule, and really connected with the music of the 3rd, a group called Tangora, which features a lead woman singer, an eclectic world jazz set list including lots of latin music, and a steel pan soloist from Trinidad.
Albin Suffys, the music director-producer-bassist with whom we are working in Lille had told me that he wanted to integrate a steel pan player from his own band into the ensemble he was building for our “French TWIST” band, and truthfully I had been a little skeptical. When I heard the virtuosity of the steel pan player in Tangora, I totally got it, and was glad I had not said no to Albin. Last night, at our rehearsal in Albin’s studio here in Lille, I was thrilled to hear what our own steel pan player from Trinidad, Cedric Brabant, would add to TWIST in this Saturday’s performance. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Last July, I’d had a wonderful experience at a club called Chez Georges, a two-tiered venue on a little street named Rue des Canettes, in the same neighborhood, St. Germain des Pres. The upstairs is an old-fashioned wine bar and downstairs in the “cave,” a world music DJ (Jean-Francois) holds court from Tuesday through Saturday, spinning a great mix for the throngs of students, tourists and locals that find their way to the club. Jean-Francois is third generation music curator there; the club used to host live performances by all the famous folks, Bob Dylan, etc. We had wandering in there last July, and before we knew it, he was playing our CD and we were the guests of honor. But would he still remember me, or was it just my fantasy? I had written him a thank you note and made a youtube video about my experience. Had he seen it? Would he even be there? The club was closed on Sunday and it was Sunday.
Well, yes, he was there, and he remembered me immediately, told me he had seen the video I made about him, as well as many of my performance videos, was thrilled to see me, and immediately went downstairs to play my CD so we could hear it upstairs. What a guy. It is a family business and I was introduced to his mother, brother and some friends who were hanging out on the club’s day off, among them the lovely dancer-singer Alexandre. Alexandre spoke wonderful English after spending some years in Los Angeles, and that was great, since my French brain was still warming up in the first days of the trip. I asked Jean-Francois his advice about my venue match-making and he proposed to take me around the neighborhood the following day to see venues and introduce me. FABULOUS. We’d meet at his place Monday at 15 hours (that’s 3pm).
Leaving him, I consulted my venue list and found some places not far away. Loving my iPhone, the GPS worked perfectly and I walked to a corner that included 2 more clubs, Cave des Oubliettes and Les Trois Mailletz, both of which have underground “caves” as well as an upstairs part of the venue. I was beginning to get the picture. My hope was to find a venue with a lot of Parisian atmosphere, like a downstairs cave, but also a real piano, which is central to our band’s instrumentation. Well, we sometimes play with a keyboard, but you look for the best situation, and then see what you can get, eh? Not happening. Both of these places had a clavinova downstairs. One had an upright piano upstairs, in need of tuning, but being played as I walked in by a charming pianist named Olivier. He was playing all American songs, early jazz of the 20’s for the most part, and it just so happened that they seated me right next to the piano, where I ordered a glass of white wine. Well, how could I resist? In a short while we were singing duets of all the old American standards. I asked a waitress who was the person in charge of booking and she pointed out the owner to me. A bit later I tried twice to introduce myself to him and he totally looked right through me, completely snubbed me. I wondered if I had made a faux pas by attempting to introduce myself to him, as he was a man of a certain age, and I thought maybe it was too “American” to have tried that. I later had confirmation from someone else that the guy was actually – pardon me as I don’t usually talk this way but I can’t think of any other word to describe him – a prick. I was happy that my sense of self was strong enough to not let this get me for more than a half hour. In the past it would have ruined me for a week.
Stay tuned for chapter 2, in which I find what I consider to be an appropriate Parisian venue and go to Lille for an amazing time with the cultural exchange.