I had all of Monday off to relax and get acquainted with my surroundings. I took a walk to the “Arc de Triomphe” and shot some photos. It’s an amazing structure to see in person after seeing it so many photos and videos over the years. The stone work and carving are massive but I was also struck by how this is really just a monument to war, oppression and death. It’s fascinating as a structure and for historical relevance but I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the violence it celebrated.
I was able to pick up free wi-fi at a nearby McDonald’s and check my email, facebook etc. Our hotel charges a decent amount for access and I’ve been trying to save my money, although today (Thursday) I broke down and got the three day package so I can be connected until the end of the trip. I was still feeling a little tired from the jet lag so I returned to the room to read, rest and recuperate. It feels like I’ve been going non-stop for the last few months and having some down time in a quiet room was just what the doctor ordered. My father had given me a few Cormac McCarthy books for Christmas and I started reading ‘Outer Dark’ to take my mind off of things.
Monday was James Anderson’s birthday and I received a message on a slip of paper under my door that I was invited to go out and celebrate with the gang if I was down. The note said meet in the lobby at 10pm. At 10:55 pm Thornetta, James, Simo, Skeeto, Keith and myself headed out to the Latin Quarter in search of a few clubs that had been recommended to us by our good friend and fellow world traveler Brett Lucas (who plays guitar with Bettye LaVette among other artists.) We initially planned to take the Metro/subway over but were faced with a very long line to buy tickets after climbing down the stairs. One question for the French metro system repeated itself in my mind: Why is there only one ticket machine? Seriously. There was plenty of room for more machines and they had ONE machine with a ‘que’ of about 40 people behind it and things were moving SLOWLY. After waiting 10 minutes with little advancement in our position we decided to take a cab. We found a mini-van cab that could accommodate the whole group and headed out into the night.
We checked out one of the clubs that Brett had recommended but there was no music playing when we arrived. We were told there was a boogie woogie piano player and his group who would be on later. Cover was 12 Euros per person so we decided to keep on moving. We walked through the narrow crowded streets full of souvenir shops, sidewalk cafe’s, piano bars and Gyros vendors.
We stopped at a little pizza place, order two pies and beverages and toasted James on his birthday. After this refueling we set off in search of more music, however the places we went to didn’t have anything going on (this was a Monday night.) Not sure what we were going to do we walked by another bar called “Aux Trois Mailletz” and heard a young woman singing along with a piano player. They sounded good so we decided to listen. We were told there was live music in the basement so we headed downstairs. We descended into what looked like catacombs with arched ceilings made of many small stones. There was no cell phone reception down here. This place had been here for awhile, and Keith later found out that John Coltrane and other jazz greats had played here back in the day. The house band sounded good but there was a 20 Euro cover charge per person. While we wanted to stay and listen we all felt it was a little bit too extravagant a cost. Luckily ‘Detroit Hustles Harder’ and after some negotiation and explanation of who we were and what we were doing the club waived it’s cover charge and let us in as long as we order some drinks (done and done son…) We entered the small, warm room and sat at the front of the stage with three of us on each side of a long table which went down the center of the room. There were also tables along the side walls full of couples enjoying the music and libations. There was a young girl in a black dress vigorously dancing on the long table and a great band laying down serious afro-pop grooves as well as a number of different singers giving it their all. It looks like we finally found a spot we could hang!
We ordered our drinks and enjoyed the show. The band consisted of bass, guitar, keyboard, sax/violin, percussion and a drummer playing (slight gasp of horror) V-drums!
These guys were good and it was a pleasure to listen to them. It appeared some of them were from Senegal and they had a warm welcoming spirit about them that reminded me of bass player/singer Pathe Jassi. The material they played ranged from really great grooves to some very passionate and slow ballads. Many of the songs were in French (surprise!) and it reminded me of how strong the cabaret culture is here. The singers performed in a round robin style (there must have been at least 10 of them) often joining in with each other to either duet or take the next verse and they encouraged the audience to sing, clap and dance along with each number. Eventually James Anderson got up and sat in on the congas and soon after James Simonson sat in on the 5-string Music Man bass. Our homeboys represented fiercely and Simo eventually ripped an amazing solo over a three chord ‘Fela’ type of groove that had the audience and the band howling for more.
Thorn and I later got up to join the band and when we returned to our table we learned that our 92 Euro tab (…seriously ??!!!) had been taken care of by the club owner! BONUS! We eventually performed “Use Me” and “Please Send me Someone to Love” around 2:30 am as an entire group along with the house guitar player. Keith Kaminski unfortunately did not have his saxophone with him so he listened from the audience. This turned out to be important because he was able to inform us that the house engineer turned us down once we started and didn’t give us the same mix treatment as the house band (are we noticing a trend here?) Skeeto was not happy to have to play the V-drums and I don’t blame him. From where I was sitting at the keyboard it sounded like bad Roland Sound Canvas drum samples and it really took some of the fire and energy out of the sound we’re used to hearing. (I guess they must get complaints from the neighbors about volume) Still, we put it over and the crowd seemed to enjoy what we did (though to be honest it was totally different from anything they had heard all night.) The night wound down and we left to catch a cab back to the hotel. We were unable to find another mini-van capable of transporting us all together so we had to take two cabs. Upon returning to the hotel once again I couldn’t sleep so I ended up grabbing breakfast at 6:30am and then I finally was ready to fall hit the pillow and crashed out around 8:00 am.
I slept most of Tuesday. We were to be in the club to set up at 6:30pm. They had a new portable Hammond B3 with a Leslie 122 for me as well as my preferred keyboard the Nord Stage 88 which was plugged into a Peavey Keyboard amp which rested upon the Leslie. It’s like the keyboard equivalent of a Marshall stack! I’ve played the new Hammond once before when I was at the Jakarta Jazz Festival with Harvey Mason and Perry Hughes in 2009. It’s a nice piece of gear and it sounds very close to the original especially when put through a Leslie speaker. I don’t think they’ve nailed the exact sound of the Chorus/Vibrato (it’s subtle but I can hear it) and again I think the keyboard is too stiff but it was a lot better than the last organ I played. Once again the volume pedal had a Leslie switch on but at least there was an additonal switch mounted on the left hand side of the organ. The drums were behind one of those plastic/acrylic drum barrier things which I guess is necessary when you have a really loud drummer but isn’t so necessary with a master of subtle dynamics such as Skeeto Valdez. It seemed to be the house policy to have it up there though so we made do. We weren’t allowed to make any ‘noise’ during set up so we went to grab dinner in the employee cafeteria and returned to sound check at 9:00 pm. We got a decent mix and hit the stage at 10:15pm. Our show went well and the audience and staff seemed to dig it. One minor complaint. Our breaks are SUPER short as in 15 minutes. We play three sets. The first is an hour, the second is 75 minutes and the third is 45 minutes. 15 minutes goes by SUPER quick and it’s been quite an adjustment for us all to get used to. You’ve got barely enough time to hit the WC, grab a drink and relax a moment. But it does make the night go by quicker. I took a hot bath to relax after the show and hit the pillow.
I awoke early again and grabbed another delicious breakfast while reading the newspaper. I decided to set out on a walk after finishing the McCarthy book and headed off down the Champs Elysees. It was a beautiful day that got very warm and I took in the sights and sounds of the afternoon. I have to say I’m really in awe of the amazing stone work and detail that exists on so many of the building in Paris. I walked passed the Grand Palais and through beautiful gardens until I eventually ended up at the Louvre. The Louver is stunning in it’s size and full of intricate carving and stone work on just about every square inch of this massive, sprawling structure. I got my ticket for 10 Euros and headed off into the galleries. I saw many great works of art and got within 20 feet of the Mona Lisa. I proceeded to check out a little over half of the museum. I really enjoyed the more ‘primitive pieces’ of art as opposed to thousands of paintings and sculpture of war and religious imagery which seems to be the main focus of most European art. (Not that I don’t respect the technique and skill required to create them, but it’s really not my cup of tea.) The museum is massive and I don’t think that you could really even check out the whole place in the course of one day. I walked around in a state of amazement thinking ‘this is unreal, I can barely believe how much art and history is here.’ I had been walking around for the last five hours and my legs and feet we’re starting to let me know it was time to get some rest. After studying a map and noting the similarities to the New York subway I ended up hopping on the metro and got off at the stop nearby our hotel saving myself another 4 mile walk back. I met up with Simo, Skeeto, Thorn, Keith and James in the employee cafeteria and then took a short nap after dinner.
We started our Wednesday night show to an even bigger crowd than the night before and proceeded to give the audience a great show even getting some of them on to their feet and dancing. After the show I returned to my room to rest and got a few hours of sleep but it seems that my body clock is now set to wake up at 7:30 am so I was up and started to get ready for the day. I was able to pop on a free wi-fi network that popped up for a little while and discovered I had an overdraft in my bank account that was caused by a bounced check from a gig I did a few weeks ago. I’ve sent the offending check writer a message about it and we’ll see what happens, the ball is in his court.