Lille May 28, 2010
So much has happened in the last week I hope I will have the patience AND MEMORY to write about it all.
PARIS CONTINUED: I ended up finding one venue in Paris that was a possible match for our band, with a very good piano. It is not one of those really super-atmospheric underground venues, because, as I learned in tooling around with Jean-Francois and Alexandre, (and also by myself) either you get the atmospheric black-and-white-movie-esque-underground-vaulted-ceiling “cave” with no piano or a clavinova (which is not terrible, but it is not a piano) OR you get an above ground venue with a piano, but 9 times out of 10 it is a hotel lobby. The true venues as I know them seem to be few. And a few of those true venues really book NAME acts, which I am not, as YET ☺ But I did find a venue that books a variety of styles, as well as jazz, has a Fazioli piano and would be great if I can work it so that Jason (Martineau, my San Francisco-based music director) can be here with us. It is called Archipel, like archipeligo. I did not get to see all the venues on my list, but will return to Paris this Monday, May 31, for one last trip around town before I get on a plane to L.A. The best venue I have seen so far was in the worst neighborhood. New Morning. Fully equipped with sound, light and piano, a next-door rehearsal studio, great layout, everything, and in a neighborhood that made THIS New Yorker (who is not easily daunted) a little creeped-out, IN THE DAYTIME. It is not all that far from Archipel, but it crosses the line.
Then there is the lineup of places on the very busy Rue des Lombards, which I have not been inside of, but they really are the bread and butter of the Paris jazz scene. I’ve still yet to see Le Petit Journal de Montparnasse and the Petit Journal de St. Michel. I have a feeling I am not famous enough for the first, but hope to check out the second on Monday. It looks accessible, has an upright piano and a small band space, but these are the venues. There is a famous club that hosted many French singers before it closed and has reopened in the past year, called The Three Donkeys, up in Montmartre. I hope to see that one too. The Cave de la Huchette I have heard is great, but it is on such a touristy street I can’t get myself to go in there. I sang at an open mic at Café Universel, with a house bassist and drummer and John Florencio at the (grand) piano. We pulled off Sous le Ciel de Paris in front of a Parisian audience and I was quite happy. You know, come to think of it, why not THAT venue?? It is small, but how many people do I know in Paris? Hopefully I successfully linked to a video shot with John’s Flip camera at the Cafe Universel on the night of May 18.
A typical cover charge is 15 Euros, and there are some places that don’t charge a cover but instead they have very high drink prices to compensate. I have not yet had a conversation about how a non-EU person gets paid, but I am assuming it is in cash, just like many of the clubs back home.
WELL, on to Lille.
We had an enormous experience here, which is not over yet. Candace and I arrived, she from London and I from Paris, (ah, how continental that sounds, but it is true) on Wednesday, May 19, at around 4pm. We were OVERJOYED to see our dear friend, (like a little brother), the brilliant and hard-working bassist Albin Suffys. He took us to his family’s house, which is also the headquarters of the family theater company, Les Chantiers de L’Inedit. We arrived at 164 Montebello Boulevard, to a lavishly laid out Happy Hour and Albin’s parents, Pierre and Severine, there to greet us. Albin was extremely happy to have his American “family” and his French family meet at last. After several months of planning, emailing, Skype calling, translating, press release writing and chart-sending, here we were finally, to make the music. What a thrill. We were given the tour of bedrooms, basement music rehearsal studio, costume and equipment storage, kitchen, dining room, living room, and Albin’s workroom and bedroom in the sky, on the top floor of the house. I was to understand over the next week how much he works and just how prolific a young composer and arranger he is.
The next few days we worked at a fever pitch, in small rehearsals with members of the band. First night with two brass players (firecracker trumpeter Nathalie Goutaillet who played despite a busted lip, and a terrific trombonist, Alexis Lahens) on the opening number for the show. The next day, Candace, Albin and I rehearsed the new song Candace had written for world premiere at the concert, Come Back to California. This was followed by a long rehearsal of several tunes with the rhythm section. The pianist, John Florencio, who lives in Paris, would not arrive until Friday, but we rehearsed with the three percussionists and the guitar player, all of whom are fabulous, and at the end I was elated and sure that the concert would be wonderful. Cedric Brabant, from Trinidad, played steel pans, timbales and other percussion, Magalie Sonneville played congas and the udu (for Nature Boy). She also played marimba in Albin’s band, the Musiconoclast’ Orchestra (and she often plays it in symphonies) so she is great. The sweet and talented Tohery Ravaloson comes from a very musical family from Madagascar, and was our kit drummer. Then Julien Marga on the guitar – really the first guitarist I’ve worked with that I hit it off with musically. He also speaks terrific English, so that was most helpful. We were to be joined at the dress rehearsal by an oboe (for No Borders), and two super sax players for the opener (Simon Autret) and for All I Want, (Philippe Leroy – the director of the music school!!) Albin had it all worked out and showed immense leadership, musicianship and responsibility through the whole thing.
I also had an immensely useful meeting with the jazz vocal teacher, Marine Ottolini, who had selected and prepared the students for the master class. Weeks before Albin had emailed me for what to write on the registration form for the class, and there the forms all were, in French, filled out, with the structure I had suggested, and the info I needed. Marine briefed me on the students’ levels and personalities, helped me to identify whom to work with first, and contributed greatly to the ultimate success of the class.
The following day, Friday 5/21, a week ago at this writing, we toured the music school, had a meeting with the director (Philippe Leroy), and met the Deputy Mayor of Lomme, which is where the school and the theater are located. Lomme is a municipality of Lille and is attached to Lille geographically. The Town of Lomme is the major donor to the School of Music and Dance of Lomme, which has 30 faculty members and hundreds of students from 5 years to 50 years old. The director, Philippe, has been in his position for 15 years and it is the fulfillment of his dream to open the door to music for those who would not normally have the chance. Instrument rent is something like 20 dollars A YEAR, they have several bands, private and small group lessons, a classical department, a jazz department, a dance studio, and a theater with lights attached to the school. We had an immediate meeting of the minds, took some photos together and were shown where the master class would take place the next day.
This was great because in the meantime, our pianist, John Florencio, had arrived with his partner Fred Belda. Fred flies with Air France, but luckily he was free to come along and ended up by being one of our official translators, so we were lucky to have them both. We used one of the practice rooms for a rehearsal with John, with whom I had not rehearsed since March in San Francisco. Our last act of the day was to visit the rehearsals of the youth band and the community big band, to whom Philippe wanted to present us.
All through these intense days of preparation we were sustained and taken care of by the Suffys family, for whom nothing is too much. I came to call them The Flying Suffys; in French Les Suffys Volants. The truest beauty of cultural exchange is in the relationships you form with the people you meet.
MASTER CLASS AND SHOW DAY, our subsequent radio interview and article in La Voix du Nord, and forecast for next year – in the next blog