The Amazing Birthday Do-Over

Every year, on my birthday, I try to take extreme precautions. I’m superstitious about that day as I believe it can set the tone for the entire coming year (my own personal “New Year”).

Most years, I plan something for myself… a trip, something interesting, even if that means going away by myself.

Last year I was in Amsterdam on my birthday … solo. It was an interesting birthday (I was serenaded by a band in a blues club in Amsterdam – I was the only one in the bar), but I also found myself feeling lonely many thousands of miles away from home on my own.

So this year, I decided I was not going to go on a trip on my birthday. Instead I was going to stay close to home so I could be around people that care about me.

And in fact, I had a few offers to go out on my birthday. Unfortunately, the choice I made for that particular night was a very bad one. I won’t say anything more about it. Those who know what happened know why it was such a bad night. I’ll leave it there.

However, my very dear friend Michelle, who is so sweet and wonderful offered me a birthday do-over. And this year, I wholeheartedly accepted.

Tonight, Michelle took me to Dirt Candy, a reservation-only vegetarian restaurant in the East Village. People wait months to score a table there, and Michelle had planned well in advance (because she is such an awesome friend!) We had a fantastic meal, it was inventive and tasty.

Afterwards, we had some “time” before her next surprise, so we stopped at a charming bar called Booker and Dax, also in the East Village. We sat and chatted for a while, before heading off to 55 Bar, our final stop.

At Booker and Dax, for part of the birthday do-over!

At Booker and Dax, for part of the birthday do-over!

And what a stop it was! Playing tonight at 55 Bar was the Chris Bergson Band — an amazingly talented blues band.

 

Chris Bergson and his very talented band

Chris Bergson and his very talented band

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Chris Bergson ... and Craig the highly talented sax and keyboard player in the background

Chris Bergson … and Craig the highly talented sax and keyboard player in the background

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This is a YouTube video of Chris Bergson playing at the Jazz Standard, it’s worth watching.

I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday this year. Tonight was so incredible, from dinner to a charming stop along the way, and winding up at 55 Bar to watch live blues…truly an amazing night.

And so it is that I can now officially declare my birthday this year to have been phenomenal. (And how lucky am I to have such an amazing friend?!) I’m ready for the rest of the year to come. 🙂

 

 

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Buddy Guy Live at the Wellmont!

Last night I got the chance to see one of my all time favorite blues musicians play live. At 77, Buddy Guy is a dynamo.  He still has more energy of a musician half his age, with three times the talent.

He has an immense stage presence and is an amazing showman. He knows how to play – an audience.

Buddy Guy on stage at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ. 6-6-2014

Buddy Guy on stage at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ. 6-6-2014

Buddy started out playing Damn Right I Got the Blues, which is a signature song for him. The crowd roared its approval, in the small Wellmont theater venue.

Buddy Guy singing passionately to the audience

Buddy Guy singing passionately to the audience

Buddy’s band put out a HUGE sound considering he only has four other guys on stage with him. Aside from the drummer and base player, he had another guitarist and a piano/organ player. They all did a great job and brought their own energy to the performance.

Buddy and his other guitar player do an acoustic tune together.

Buddy and his other guitar player do an acoustic tune together.

One of the most thrilling moments of the performance was when he came down off the stage and walked through the entire theater, playing his guitar amidst the thronging fans. I got SO excited to see him and of course everyone raced to get photos of him playing. I was only able to shoot a few from the back…

Buddy Guy comes off the stage and walks into the audience for a THRILLING performance moment!

Buddy Guy comes off the stage and walks into the audience for a THRILLING performance moment!

Another shot of Buddy, with a great view of his guitar!

Another shot of Buddy, with a great view of his guitar!

Towards the end of his hour and a half performance, Buddy did a kind of medley of other guitar players he likes, and did partial tunes by Albert King, Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton and a few others. He does these riffs so effortlessly, and his talent as a guitarist is unquestionable, it was truly an honor to be able to watch this master of his craft do his thing.

The biggest disappointment I had last night, was in the audience. At the end of the performance, a lot of people got up and left (!!) instead of staying and screaming/shouting/hooting and hollering for an encore – as I did! I’m SURE we would have gotten an encore if the audience had been more appreciative, but with those that stayed we were unable to make enough noise to make it happen… and so we got no encore. 😦

But I am more than thrilled to have been able to sit and watch Buddy Guy perform live, and I’m sorry I waited so long to see him. I would easily buy tickets to see him again, and hopefully next time I’ll also see an encore!

That's me, yes, in POLKA DOTS, excited to see Buddy Guy live for the first time!

That’s me, yes, in POLKA DOTS, excited to see Buddy Guy live for the first time!

Big Joe Turner, Slim and Slam, and Jump Boogie

While I was in the car recently, I flipped through my dials … and all of a sudden the wonderful sound of a bluesy jazzy piano filled my car. A man was singing:

I’ve got a pocket full of pencils, can’t even write a doggone line;

I’ve got a pocket full of pencils, can’t even write a doggone line;

I’ve got a mouthful of gold; and I don’t have a lousy dime.

The man singing was Big Joe Turner, and the song was A Pocket Full of Pencils, a track on Texas Style.  I highly recommend the album.

Joe Turner - Texas Style

Joe Turner – Texas Style

What I loved about the Joe Turner song, and Turner’s style, is that it’s both Blues AND Jazz. I’m not an expert on this era, but I know enough about it to know it was an interim period when Blues and Jazz intermingled more freely.

Check this out… Big Joe Turner singing Shake, Rattle and Roll, from 1954.

What’s especially interesting to me, as a huge BB King fan, is that now… years later, listening to Joe Turner for the first time, I can clearly see BB King’s lineage as a musician. It comes directly from Turner, who had hits Ain’t Nobody’s Business, which BB King made a central staple in his own repetoire throughout his career.

You should also notice the name of the base player in the center of the Texas Style album cover: Slam Stewart.

Slam was, at one time, part of a duo called Slim and Slam. Slim Galliard, another musician I’ve been turned onto through a drummer friend of mine recently, is an AMAZING talent. Slim is a very funny guy, and in all of his live recordings, the audience laughs as much as they clap with joy.

Galliard songs like Flat Footed Floozy with the Floy Floy are classics in the “Jump Boogie Style.”

Just like Turner. Which is why Slam, Slim’s partner, would be playing his base on the Turner album.

Which is a strange way of me saying… hmm, when I listen to music I start seeing these connections between the musicians. I don’t consider myself knowledgeable about the Jump Boogie era, but I know what I love and I love Swing Jazz, and I love the Blues, so it makes sense that I would also love Jump Boogie.

But PLEASE don’t take my word for it.

Watch this clip, from Hellzapoppin which features Slim Galliard on piano/guitar and Slam Stewart on base, and an amazing set of musicians and dancers. What a gem!

Jazz musicians today don’t achieve the same level of “entertainer” status as they did in the 1940’s.

For instance, watch Slim Galliard play Cement Mixer on piano with his hands UPSIDE DOWN. He’s got amazing piano player hands.

This music is exciting for me to “discover” as I expand my jazz education. Jazz is leading me back into the Blues roots I love, and now finding extraordinary Jump Boogie musical talents like Big Joe Turner, Slim Galliard, and Slam Stewart make it fun to connect all the dots.

Big Joe Turner - Greatest Hits

Big Joe Turner – Greatest Hits

Cultural Gluttony: BB King, The Armory Show and more

This week I’ve binged on culture and this post covers my wanderings.

I saw BB King and Robert Cray live, went to the 100 year retrospective on the Armory Show at the NY Historical Society, and saw blues artist Joe Nemeth for his one night NYC performance.

I've got a golden ticket!

I’ve got a golden ticket!

Read on for details!

BB King and Robert Cray – live at the State Theater

BB King is now 88 years old, and I’d never seen him play live, so it was a treat to see him this week.

His eight piece back-up band, consisting of 4 horns, a keyboardist, drummer, base player and guitarist were great, and from their ages I’d say they’ve been playing with BB a long, long time.

BB with the band - 8 pieces!

BB with the band – 8 pieces!

The State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ is an intimate setting, and for my $100 (USD) ticket I got a seat in the “front balcony” of the theater, above the main hall and overlooking the stage. I could see what was happening on stage clearly, but I wasn’t close enough to get good cell phone photos. Still, you can see some of the stage set-up… :-}

Lovely view of the State Theater stage before the show

Lovely view of the State Theater stage before the show

Robert Cray and his band opened the show with a one hour performance of some of his classic popular blues hits like Strong Persuader, but I’m sorry to say he never played Smoking Gun, probably his biggest hit. Still, Cray’s voice and guitar playing are top notch.

The Robert Cray Band

The Robert Cray Band

It occured to me, during Cray’s set, there’s a reason why he made it as a professional. His stage presence is strong but easy going; he’s so obviously a talented and capable musician.

After Cray’s band finished, the re-set up process created about a 45 minute intermission before BB King’s band came on.

Once BB’s band came on, they played two numbers without him as a warm-up, and then he joined his band and played perhaps five or six songs total to finish the evening.

BB likes to patter with the audience and joke around, which fans know if you’ve seen videos of his performances or listened to his live albums. This performance was no exception, and BB delighted in leading the audience in a sing-a-long of “You Are My Sunshine” and then kidded around with some of the folks down in front near the stage.

It was extremely charming that as his band was playing When the Saints Come Marching In to end the show, BB didn’t really want to leave the stage. People rushed to the front of the auditorium to shake his hand, take his photo and get his autograph… while they still can.

BB King is rushed by adoring fans at the end of the show!

BB King is rushed by adoring fans at the end of the show!

I can’t blame them – BB King is a living Blues legend.

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The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution – new show at the NY Historical Society Museum

Original 1913 Armory Show set up

Original 1913 Armory Show set up

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Cutout of Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase in front of the NY Historical Society

Cutout of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase in front of the NY Historical Society

I’d been greatly anticipating seeing this show at the NY Historical Society and finally got the chance to go yesterday. The show will be up until early 2014, so there’s plenty of time to see it.

Duchamp - Nude Descending a Staircase

Duchamp – Nude Descending a Staircase

Travel Tip: Since it’s only the second weekend since the show opened, I’m happy to report it was crowded. Still, tickets are readily available at the museum, you may not need to reserve them online. (I called the museum to check on ticket availability and was told to come in.)

Matisse - Blue Nude - 1907

Matisse – Blue Nude – 1907

This retrospective show is very small compared to the original Armory show, which had hundreds of artworks. In fact, the entire NY Historical Society coverage consisted of two galleries, while a third gallery covered pieces shown “soon after” the Armory show but not from the show itself.

Still, the curators of this show have gone to lengths to explain the original placement of the artworks and the cultural context for the showing of these works. One thing that fascinated me was the curator’s emphasis on how the artists were found for the show. Half of the works at the original show were American, the other half European. There is a lot of good reading material in the show too, and if you’re interested, there is a catalogue for sale.

What surprised me most about the show was that many of the works shown were not only “not shocking” they were traditional landscapes and portraits. It turns out that the organizers of the original Armory show were trying to show viewers an art trajectory, from the classical European, to the American point of view, and then the big divergence with Cubism and Fauvism and so the traditional works were a purposeful lead in, to help the viewer acclimate to what they saw in the final gallery.

Van Gogh - Mountains at St. Remy - 1889

Van Gogh – Mountains at St. Remy – 1889

This final gallery was the only section of the original Armory show which showcased the “new” works, and the public was shocked by them due to their bold colors, multi-varied perspectives, non-traditional forms and in some cases content.

One of my favorite “put-down’s” of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase was that it looked like a “splinter salad.” The reaction was clear: critics of this art were severely challenged to understand the new forms.

Although today’s viewers will likely not be shocked by the Matisse, Duchamp, Gauguin and other paintings and sculptures they see, it’s good to be reminded how new art forms CAN shake viewers up, and CAN challenge them to think about art in new ways.

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Joe Nemeth at Terra Blues, Thurs, Oct 17th

What can you say about Terra Blues on Bleeker Street in NYC except that it’s a Blues Institution. This venue attracts top talent from all over the world to come and play blues, and yes, sometimes the acts are only in town one night – as was the case with Joe Nemeth, a blues harmonica player and five time Grammy nominated musician.

Joe Nemeth - Blues harmonica and lead singer

Joe Nemeth – Blues harmonica and lead singer

Nemeth and his band played a funky blues first set, and then… the electrical power went out for the amps in the back of the stage.

Nemeth was undaunted by the set-back, and sent his band offstage to take a break, while he decided to sing solo, just a boy and his harmonica, and he brought down the house.

Joe Nemeth at Terra Blues in NYC (bad lighting!)

Joe Nemeth and his base player too at Terra Blues (bad lighting!)

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However, after his one solo song, the power had not come back on, and so he too took a break. Unfortunately, many in the audience didn’t wait for the electrical repair and got up and left. Since it was only Thursday night, and I knew I had a busy few days ahead (to see BB King the next night, and then off to the Armory show too) I also decided to call it a night.

Young drummer for the Joe Nemeth band

Young drummer for the Joe Nemeth band

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The very talented lead guitarist for the Joe Nemeth band

The very talented lead guitarist for the Joe Nemeth band

Does it look like I was sitting right next to the stage? Because I was at the very first table next to the stage. I could have almost reached out and touched the lead guitarist’s cowboy boot!

Enjoy!

Still More Dutch treats: Bourbon St. Blues and Jazz, Amsterdam

The stage set up at Bourbon Street Blues & Jazz Club in Amsterdam

The stage set up at Bourbon Street Blues & Jazz Club in Amsterdam

If you’re looking at the photo (above) of the Bourbon Street Blues & Jazz Club in Amsterdam and you’ve noticed a disco ball hanging over the center of the dance floor and wondering, do they really use that thing? The answer is Yes, They Do.

On my last Saturday night in Amsterdam, my wish to hear the blues was finally fulfilled by Reuben and the Jets. That is not a real band name by the way, but those cats played some phenomenal blues anyway. It was a group of four musicians who happened to be available to play together that night and they totally rocked the house.

Reuben (Klebbers) played lead guitar, and the drummer and bass player I had seen play before on a previous night I had stopped in to check out Bourbon St. They also had a French harmonica player, which Reuben admitted to the crowd he just met. But when the four of them put it all together: WOW, they put out a very original set of blues interpretations for the four or so sets I stayed for during that final Saturday night. (I listened to them until the wee hours… 2am!)

During one of the breaks between sets Reuben came down off the stage and I requested “Got My Mojo Workin'” which they played during the next set. He did a call back with the audience that was so much fun, the entire crowd kept singing “got my mojo workin'” calling back to Reuben as he sung his heart out, and then the harp player blew a mean streak on his harmonica. The guy made it sound like a freight train. I was really knocked out by their performance!

Bourbon Street Jazz and Blues Club (Amsterdam) has a “reputation” as being the place where people go late into the night, after they get drunk somewhere else. I can tell you that the crowds at Bourbon St. are larger than those at Alto or Maloe Melo because the place is bigger, and just in front of the stage it’s not uncommon to have a dozen people dancing (oddly, they are usually dancing by themselves… especially the guys.)

But even if the place does get a little rowdy, which it can, it’s still an extremely fun venue. If you show up before 11pm you don’t have to pay a door fee. I don’t know the door fee because I always showed up before 11… before things really got started.

A funny thing about clubs in Amsterdam is that they bill themselves as jazz or blues or whatnot, but they don’t always PLAY jazz or blues – but offer the whatnot (see my post about Maloe Melo). The exception for me was Alto, because they only played jazz when I went, but I was only there twice. (I’m sure it would have been the same if I had made it to Bim Haus, which is the Amsterdam equivalent of Jazz at Lincoln Center and seats 200+. Bim Haus is located behind Central Station, which is sketchy late at night … one reason I decided not to go on my own.)

Anyway, another thing I loved about Bourbon Street was the bartending staff. They were so friendly, bopped along to the music, clapped and sang along and participated in creating a fun vibe. There was one particular bartender, a black guy who wore a bow tie… I wish I had gotten his name, he was so nice to me every time I came in he made me feel particularly welcome.

Bourbon Street Jazz and Blues is located beside a canal, and just around the corner from Alto Jazz Cafe, near the Leidseplein. They are open 7 days a week. I highly recommend this venue, it’s got a large space to spread out, an ample dance floor, rocking bands, and a super friendly staff that adds up to a guaranteed night of musical fun!

More Dutch Treats: Maloe Melo Blues Club, Amsterdam

Maloe Melo is a club famous for showcasing Blues acts in Amsterdam. In fact, it’s known as a hard core Blues joint for blues fans, and regular readers of my blog know how much I love the blues. So there was no way for me to miss Maloe Melo while I was in town!

Finding the club was a challenge. It is tucked in a residential neighborhood, alongside a canal called “Lijnbaans gracht” – the word “gracht” means canal in Dutch. This area gets kinda spooky at night. It’s not a bustling neighborhood; the streets are empty after midnight. It might not be a great idea to go alone, or if you do, have a transportation plan mapped out beforehand.

But, I was so excited to hear blues, and having learned my lesson at Alto Jazz Cafe (where I showed up at 9pm and sat for an hour before the music started…) I found my way to the front door of Maloe Melo at 10pm.

In front of the door, or should I say, blocking the doorway, was a bruiser of a Dutch guy, with mini-mutton chop sideburns, chomping an unlit black cigar. (It turns out this bruiser is a sweetheart…and…the bartender. His name is Patrick. Still, I wouldn’t want to piss him off. 😉 )

“Are you open?” I said.

He looked at me and stepped aside, letting me see that the bar behind him was empty.

“Oh! What time does the music start?” I asked.

“Eleven o’clock,” he said in a thick Dutch accent.

“Damn it!” I slipped, I was so surprised. He laughed at that.

I just couldn’t believe I’d been stumped again by showing up an hour early – and on a Tuesday night no less. Amsterdamers must be party animals to start that late during the week, I thought.

“Well, I guess I’m here to keep you company,” I said and flashed him my most charming American tourist smile. He smiled back.

We went inside together.

“Tonight’s my birthday…” I added, “and I really want to hear some blues!” I said, feeling happy at the thought.

“Happy Birthday,” he said, and stepped behind the bar.

I ordered a “Coca Light” (Euro-speak for Diet Coke) and he produced a tiny bottle with about six ounces of soda, like the ones I’d been given at all the cafes.

(Travel Tip: These midget bottles cost between $2-3 euros, typically… somewhere between $2.50-4 US dollars. In all the music clubs I went to there was no drink minimum. No one will bother you if you want to hang out and listen to the music while you nurse a drink.)

I took a moment to look around the bar, which I noticed smelled kind of smoky. Posters for European and American blues festivals and guitar legends plastered the walls and ceiling. An Aunt Jemima bust sat perched behind the teensy “stage” where barely two people could stand, with nowhere to put a drum kit.

The postage stamp sized "stage" in the front bar at Maloe Melo

The postage stamp sized “stage” in the front bar at Maloe Melo

Hmm, I thought.

“What kind of blues will they play tonight?” I asked the bartender. “Chicago style, country style, something else?”

“The band tonight is really good,” he said, “but they don’t play blues.”

“What?!” I said. “Oh no!”

“They are really good, you’ll like them,” he said.

I nodded, but sighed heavily. No blues at the blues club. I put on the best face I could, and said quietly, “I guess it’s too much to want to hear some Buddy Guy on my birthday…”

He gave me a Cheshire cat smile, a big wide grin, and popped a tape into the bar’s audio system. Buddy Guy belted out “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues” over the loudspeakers.

I laughed and thanked him; I figured recorded blues on my birthday is better than no blues at all.

And then… the guitar player showed up. He was a petite fellow, very thin, with the worn lines of a rocker who has seen a lot in his years etched on his face. He introduced himself as “Kevin, but I prefer Kev…” with a pronounced British accent, although he told me he’d been living in Amsterdam for decades.

We began to chat, and the bartender mentioned to Kev that it was my birthday… and that I had come to hear blues. Kev told me that he and his two band-mates were going to do some low-key original stuff, no microphones, no drums.

Soon the other two band mates showed up, looking similarly well-worn from the lives they’ve led as experienced musicians. The second guitarist (who was the lead vocalist) was a Dutch guy, who reminded me a lot of Ronny Wood; he wore a black vest with white skulls all over it and beat up sneakers. Then the bassist showed up, and he reminded me of Gene Simmons, with dyed jet black hair in a ponytail, thick lips and olive colored skin. Kev was something of a Mick Jagger type, I’d say.

Unfortunately, as the band began their set-up for the evening, “Ronny Wood” and “Gene Simmons” decided to roll their own cigarettes (big, fat ones) and to smoke (tobacco).

When I asked about it, Kev told me that yes, it’s technically not legal to smoke in bars in Amsterdam, but that some bars have a lenient policy towards smoking (of both cigarettes and pot) and that in Maloe Melo, smoking was tolerated. I wasn’t happy about this development, because I knew my clothes and hair would reek after a few minutes of being in that cloud, but I was there to listen to the band… so I stayed.

At about 11:15pm, the trio began their first set… even though it was still just me and the bartender in the place. They played a personal performance for me for about a half hour. Kev kept saying it was fate that brought me there to hear them on my birthday. Maybe so.

I clapped appreciatively after each song and chatted with the band in between, mostly with Kev, who I think took a liking to me. I say that because when Kev went to the bathroom during one of the breaks, “Ronny Wood” came over to tell me, ‘Kev may look like crap, but he’s a really nice guy.’ That made me laugh, but I knew I wasn’t there to be a groupie for the evening! In any case, all three guys were amiable, but I could tell “Gene Simmons” wasn’t too happy about having an audience of one. I can’t blame him.

I didn’t know any of the tunes they played because they were all originals. The lead singer (“Ronny”), who was also the lyricist, liked to sing about love and romance, chasing girls, good friends, and hanging out with the boys in Amsterdam. All the songs were variations on those themes. “Ronny” and Kev did decent two-part harmonies; it was enjoyable but a bit mellow for me, especially considering I was looking for foot stomping blues.

Eventually other people came in, several who were good friends of the band, and they sat at the table nearest the ‘stage.’ A highlight for me was when one of their friends took out a pair of drum sticks, got up and stood next to me and used the vinyl covered bar stool as a drum and played along with the band on one of their songs. It was a fantastic impromtu performance.

The bar didn’t wind up with more than 20 people in it, but the heavy cloud of smoke hovering below the low ceiling was starting to get to me from both the band and many of the patrons, so I decided to leave after two sets (I heard one song twice, not sure if that was an accident)… around 12:40. I figured I would have to walk back to my hotel because of the time.

I did the proper thing and waited until the end of the set to go, and Kev came over and gave me a big hug and kissed my hand. He wished me a happy birthday again. “Ronny” also shook my hand, as did “Gene.” I was starting to feel like family in there, but it was time to go.

When I got out to the street, I ran into a couple on bicycles chatting under a street light. They were the only people around.

“Which way do I have to walk to get back to Central Station,” I asked them, dreading the long walk back in the dark and too-quiet neighborhood.

“That way,” the guy said, pointing.

The girl looked at me, “But if you hurry, you can probably catch the last tram. It doesn’t leave until 12:45…”

“I thought the last tram was midnight?” I said.

“Yes, the last trams leave Central Station at midnight,” she said, “but they get out here later before they circle back.”

Amsterdam: full of its own mysterious ways.

I quickly thanked them and started running toward the corner. I kept running, hoping that if the tram came down the track, that I would be on it.

When I was three quarters of the way toward the corner, the tram pulled up. I pushed myself to run faster before the tram doors slammed shut.

I flew into the open front door of the tram, breathing hard, but in just enough time to swipe my card, and take a comfy seat back to Central Station.

Blues Play List

It’s about time I posted some links to YouTube videos for some truly fantastic, amazing, mind blowing LIVE BLUES by some of the greats.

Enjoy at your own risk… once you listen to these, you will be addicted to the Blues!

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King – Pride and Joy

Joe Bonamassa, Derek Trucks, Dusty Hill & Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) – Going Down

BB King, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Jim Vaughn – Rock Me Baby

John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones – Boogie Chillin’

Susan Tedeschi – Back to the River

The Original Blues Master – Robert Johnson – Sweet Home Chicago

Blues Jam Session – Sweet Home Chicago (see if you can name all the musicians!)

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band – Deja VooDoo

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All comments welcome!

Vacation Planning: Amsterdam

With all the running I do through airports, you’d almost think that I’d prefer to stay home for vacation instead of getting on a plane, but nah, this explorer and traveler is ready for interesting adventures once again.

I decided after numerous travels across the United States, Canada and some of Mexico in the past several years that it was time to return to Europe. (The Asia Pacific region will have to wait, as will the Mahgreb, and Central America… so many places, not enough time.)

Previously I’ve been fortunate to visit Paris, London and the southern coast of Portugal so when I began thinking about where to go this year, I knew I didn’t want to repeat any of those.

Europe is big and varied, there are so many regions offering any number of experiences, so… where to go?

After looking at a map and pondering for a while, I narrowed my list to Amsterdam, Barcelona and Dublin. I’ve never been to any of them; each had their unique charms.

It was a very tough decision, but I’ve decided to go to Amsterdam and the Netherlands. (The image below is of Amsterdam’s famous canals that surround the center of the city in concentric rings.)

Amsterdam Canal Rings

Dublin and Barcelona are still on my European wish-list along with Prague, and various cities in Spain, Greece, France and Italy.

I will have the luxury of being in the Netherlands for nine (9) days (not counting my two days needed to fly there and back), which is nice because I will be able to see a lot.

Dutch friends have already told me that it won’t make sense to spend all 9 days in Amsterdam… even though I will need plenty of time to see the museums housing Van Gogh, Vermeer, Rembrandt and lots of contemporary art and galleries. I’m really excited to see Vermeer’s work in person and to get a sense of the local art scene, which I understand is vibrant.

AND I’m extremely pleased because I’ve investigated music venues too, and blues and jazz clubs are all over Amsterdam. I think I mentioned in my post about Jr. Mack playing at Terra Blues, that he told the crowd in NYC that night he had just returned from Amsterdam the previous day… so it makes sense that blues venues are popular there. That is so cool.

So now I begin the work of figuring out where else to go in the Netherlands. Do I go to Rotterdam? Maybe Kinderdijk with its charming windmills? These are places I could probably go on day trips so that might be cool. (If I was really ambitious I could probably visit Antwerp or Bruges in Belgium, but that might be too ambitious.)

Some of you, my dear readers, live in the Netherlands and others who have traveled in that area… please feel free to make suggestions for your favorite places, restaurants, music venues, and other fun stuff to do in Amsterdam, and the Netherlands (links are also welcome.)

In any case, as my plans firm up for my “Return to the Continent” I’ll let you know.

Jr. Mack at Terra Blues!

Sometimes you see live music and you’re so blown away you have to tell everybody.

Tonight was one of those nights.

After having dinner with a friend, I decided to head over to my favorite Blues club in Manhattan (actually, it’s the ONLY Blues club in Manhattan) … Terra Blues. They attract the best local and international talent around, and Jr. Mack and his band proved again tonight why Terra has the stellar reputation it does as a showcase.

Jr. Mack just got back from Amsterdam, he told the crowd, and he said he was a little jet lagged. If this is how he plays when he’s jet lagged, I can’t imagine how he plays fully rested! He and the band repeatedly brought the house down with his renditions of Born Under a Bad Sign, Melissa (he sits in with the Allman Brothers when they come to NYC) and original tunes like I Believe I Need to Make a Change.

Clip of Jr. Mack playing I Believe I Need to Make a Change:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suACaSou_JY

Not only does Mack play the blues, he is also a jazz musician and sprinkled in jazz riffs throughout the night. His band backed him up every time, and the second guitarist (Bobby Bryan) did an amazing job alternating the lead parts with Mack and then singing a few tunes too. The bass and drums were also impeccable.

Oh yeah, did I mention Mack was just nominated for a Grammy? Yep, his album And Still I Rise, with the Heritage Blues Band was nominated for Best Blues Album in 2012. He’s really the real, real deal.

If you’ve never been to Terra Blues and you are in the New York City area and like live Blues, you absolutely must go. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear talented guitarists like Jr. Mack wail out the blues with such emotion and force, you can hardly stand up when he’s done.

 

New York City Music: Dizzy’s Club and Terra Blues

The other night I decided to “stay up late” and go to Dizzy’s Club for the ‘hang set’ at Jazz at Lincoln Center to see the Bryan Carter Trio.

It was the first time I’ve seen a live performance at Dizzy’s Club, which is located in the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle on 59th Street (at the southern edge of Central Park.) The club is a beautiful space with a wood paneled interior and an intimate, cozy club setting with small tables facing the stage.

Also unlike some clubs in New York, the tables were far enough apart that everyone has their own space, as opposed to some clubs where you are practically sitting on top of the people next to you.

Dizzy’s Club was set up to give everyone who wants to see live jazz a chance to do it in a great setting for an extremely reasonable price. The cover charge at the door for the ‘hang set’ which runs from 11pm – 12:30am Tues, Wed, and Thurs is a mere $5 per person. Once you get in, you do have another $5 minimum drink or food requirement per person, but it would be impossible to find such a fantastic place with a great view at that price.

The Bryan Carter Trio was a group of three young musicians, a pianist, base player and drummer who made their debut at Dizzy’s Club the night I saw them. Not only had they never played at Jazz at Lincoln Center before, it was also the first time the three of them were playing together for a crowd. They did not disappoint either, they gave us an hour and a half of high energy jazz, some laughs and a great time.

In addition to Dizzy’s Club, I have another favorite music hang out in New York City: Terra Blues. As far as I know, Terra Blues is the only Blues club in Manhattan (unfortunately BB King’s club in Times Square is NOT a Blues club).

Terra Blues is a small venue located on Bleeker Street. They have the most authentic local and national blues talent come to play there, and on any night you can hear some truly amazing acoustic or electric blues depending on whether or not you see the early set (acoustic begins at 7pm) or the late set (electric blues begins at 10pm and runs until 2am during the week or later on the weekends.)

The cover at Terra Blues is $10 bucks a person, but you can come in for the acoustic set and stay through the electric set and it’s all covered by your $10 spot. They do have a drink requirement too, I think it might be 2 drinks per set per person, but it’s well worth it for an entire night of Blues entertainment.

I’d like to mention a special shout out for Saron Crenshaw. He’s an extremely talented bluesman who plays Terra Blues regularly for both the acoustic and electric sets (I’ve seen him play both.) Crenshaw has what I’d call a Blues soul, someone who has been playing blues all his life and when he gets up on stage his talent and energy is unstoppable. If you get the chance to see him live for the electric set with his band, you’ll know what I mean.

Terra Blues Calendar: http://www.terrablues.com/cal/thismonth.html

If you enjoy jazz or blues in Manhattan and want to shout out the name of your favorite club or venue in the comments section – please feel free – and keep on grooving, these musicians need their audiences to thrive!

And Now for Something Completely Different

Yes, the title of my blog post has been stolen directly from Monty Python, but I like it and it suits what you are about to read because today, my dear readers, I’m going to completely break with my normal subjects. In fact…

Normally, I write about:

  • Writing
  • Short Stories
  • Submitting Short Stories to Literary Journals
  • Publishing Short Stories
  • Thoughts on the plight of the short story, and short story writers…….

But today I’m going to write about:

  • Music

That’s right, you heard me (in your head, with a voice that sounds nothing like mine unless you know me personally…)

I could try to make this about writing again and tell you that I don’t listen to music when I write, which is true, but it’s off topic for this post since this post is about Music.

Ahem.

So, about Music. I like it. I don’t listen to music as often as I should because I’m usually spending my free time… hey, wait a minute, I know where this is going! And you need to just stop right there and get back onto the topic. (Sorry.)

Alrighty then, Music.

I grew up listening to Rock-n-Roll, and I was raised on Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Jethro Tull, Steeley Dan (and Donald Fagan’s solo albums which I highly recommend), Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, The Doors, The Allman Brothers, The Doobies, Peter Frampton… I could go on, but this is to give you a flavor of the kind of music I listened to at the time.

If I keep going backwards, I’d also have to say I listened to a lot of Disco. And I liked it. That’s not as much of a stigma to admit today as it was in the 80’s and early 90’s. But when I listen to Tragedy by the Bee Gee’s, it’s still damn good and I’m going to keep listening to the Bee Gee’s until I get old (well, I may already be somewhat old so I’ll just say older and we’ll leave it at that, m’kay?)

I’m ALSO going to keep listening to Frankie Valley, and Seals n Crofts, James Taylor, Chicago, and John Denver (yes, I said JOHN DENVER), Little River Band, Wings, Queen, Michael Jackson and many, many other pop artists too numerous to count.

I have to create a special mention for Stevie Wonder in his own paragraph because Stevie Wonder is, you will undoubtedly agree, a GENIUS. The guy has written rock, motown, pop, ballads and everything in between and he has done it brilliantly. I love his entire catalogue and so should you because he is a national treasure.

Now, I’ve already confessed to loving Rock-n-Roll, Disco, some forms of Pop and Motown, but I haven’t really said anything about how much I love the Blues.

In fact, I love the Blues SO much, I may have to write another post about it in the future because I can’t even begin to do the Blues justice in a few sentences or paragraphs.

Let me say this for now, and we’ll come back to this topic again later.

I’ve made pilgrimages for the Blues. I drove to Memphis, TN from New Jersey a few years ago to eat ribs and to hang out on Beale Street at the music shop for hours buying blues CD’s and talking with the manager of the store to find out about artists I didn’t know. I bought SO many CD’s that day that he gave me a free t-shirt. (Trust me, it was a lot of CD’s.)

The Blues is uniquely American, of course, and has its roots in the South, specifically black culture, and some of the best Rock gets its riffs and deep sounds from the Blues.

BB King’s album, Live from San Quentin, is a great set to listen to if you’re not that familiar with the Blues but you want to get into it and have a good time.

I’m a huge fan of sooooo many artists, I cannot possibly do them justice here. Kenny Wayne Shepherd is a real stand out talent, in my opinion, from the last two decades of blues-rock fusion. Pick up the first four albums and just sit back and listen to all of them. It’s fantastic stuff. Then consider he was, like, 18 years old or so (maybe younger?) when the first album came out (I think Ledbetter Heights is the first?), and then pick yourself up off the floor and listen to it again.

So there you have it: music. I don’t normally talk about it, but I wanted to share some of the flavors of what I like and now that you know what I like, you can make suggestions from what you like and I can check it out too.

Who are you listening to these days?

Flash Fiction Story: Blues Man

Blues man

Eddie Brown sat in a wooden chair with a beat up acoustic guitar over his knee, tapping his foot to the ancient rhythms of the blues. He rocked back and forth in time with his strumming.

“That sweet talking woman, she done lied to me…”

Riley wiped down the bar and then tucked the towel into her apron beneath her bump of a three month grown belly. She had heard all of Eddie’s songs, but she never tired of listening to him sing.

Her four o’ clock regular came in and sat at the end of the bar on the same ripped vinyl stool he’d kept warm for the last few years.

“Hey Frank,” Riley said. She put down a shot glass in front of him and poured a generous helping of whiskey. He downed it in one gulp.

“Thanks Riley. Hit me again, wouldja?” he held up the shot glass and Riley obliged him.

“That’s ten Frank. You know what Sonny said – no more tabs.”

Frank grumbled, “Come on Riley, it’s not like I don’t pay my share. Payday is Friday, you know that.”

I know, but it’s Sonny’s place and we play by his rules. Are you going to argue with that?”

He thought about it for a moment. “Hell, I guess not.” He took his wallet out and removed a twenty and put it on the bar.

Riley took the twenty and put it in the cash register. She counted out ten singles and put them in front of him. Frank set two dollars aside for her and turned his attention to the silent images of the ball game on the T.V. at the other end of the bar as he nursed his ego and his shot.

Eddie propped his guitar against the chair. “Darlin’ I’m going for a smoke, back in a few.”

Alright,” Riley said.

After a few minutes she heard a commotion outside. It was the muffled sound of two men arguing, something Riley had heard before, usually at the end of a long night of drinking. She came out from behind the bar and opened the door leading out to the unpaved parking lot.

You liar,” Sonny was shouting at Eddie.

Sonny turned to Riley and grabbed her by the arm. He squeezed her flesh until it hurt.

You bitch,” he said through clenched teeth. “After all I’ve done for you?”

Sonny, you’re hurting me. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, trying to twist away from him.

Let her go,” Eddie said.

She’s my woman and I’ll do what I want to her.” Sonny grabbed Riley by the hair.

Ow, Eddie, help!”

I’m telling you man,” Eddie pulled a switchblade out of his boot and pointed it at Sonny, “you better let her go.”

What are you gonna do with that you fool; put that thing away.”

Sonny yanked Riley’s hair until she stumbled backwards. She fell on her behind with a thud.

Eddie lunged towards Sonny and sliced into his left hand. Sonny caught Eddie in the chest with his right fist and Eddie wheezed for breath. Eddie jabbed at Sonny again, this time trying to connect with his cheek. As Sonny pulled away, Eddie’s blade cut alongside Sonny’s ear.

Sonny looked up in surprise as he put his good hand to the ear. Blood seeped between his fingers. Sonny staggered around the parking lot in a daze until he sat down in the dirt.

Baby, we gotta go,” Eddie said. He pulled Riley up off the ground and she brushed off the back of her jeans.

I’ll go get my guitar.” He threw the door open and disappeared inside.

Sonny turned to Riley, still holding the side of his head. “You told him you’re carrying his baby?”

I can’t raise this baby with you Sonny. I love you, but you’re too mean,” she said.

He’s gonna find out the truth when that baby comes.” Red droplets trickled down his hand into the dirt.

Eddie came back out of the bar with a towel and threw it at Sonny. “Clean yourself up old man. Come on Riley.”

She took one last look at Sonny then crossed her arms over her chest and got in Eddie’s pickup. A cloud of dust stirred behind the rear wheels as they pulled out of the parking lot. Sonny pulled himself to his feet with the bloody towel held to his neck and watched them drive away.

Are you alright?” Eddie said. He put his hand on her belly with his right hand as he steered the truck with his left. “Is our little man okay?”

“I’m shook up Eddie.”

“You slide over here and sit beside me, everything’s gonna be better now.”

She nestled into the crook of his arm.

Six months later, the baby was born and she could see a little bit of Sonny and some of her own father. Eddie said the little man looked like him and bought her a bouquet of red roses.

But when the baby turned a year old, Riley mailed Sonny a picture of the baby, without a return address. Not too long after that, she went back to Sonny with the baby in tow. Sonny took her in and managed, in all the years they lived together, never to raise his hand to her again.

Despite that, Eddie swore to his dying day that the baby was his, and for the sake of his blues, he decided to believe it.