Lubeck/Kiel (Germany) – 2015

Lubeck, Germany – 2015

Arrivederci, Roma! (That’s a song). We got on a flight to Munich and then connected to Hamburg. How truly interesting! I had just spoken to some press person and promoter about first timing in Rome and singing a little improv jingle Christmas Greeting over the radio. That song is on my first and only Christmas record (2008) titled “My Christmas Tree”. And so now, going to Hamburg, the birth of my career on the continent, just after being in Rome really does trigger some flashbacks and visions of yesterday. And I start daydreaming and starring out the window again.

We operated from Hamburg as home base for concerts in two cities that are conveniently close. I came here just after the release of “We Got By” (my first record) and played a little club called Uncle Po for about a week. That booking was a really big success with great local reviews and within 6 months I was at the Berlin Jazz festival…then Paris and Rome and the rest of Europe. And so it was wonderfully trippy to talk with lots of people after the Lubeck show who had been at Uncle Po in 1976. What’s really amazing is when they show up with their kids who are 18 or 19 years old (just about the age that the mom or dad was when they heard me first).

I searched back through my memory and concluded, and I think I’m right, that I had never played in Lubeck before. So I’m really glad to be meeting a new audience with new faces. Toddy from our promoter’s office assured me that we did not go there with the NDR Big Band and Joe Sample three years ago. This date is part of a concert series called Schleswig-Holstein that includes a show in Copenhagen. All of this has been going on for 20 or so years and I never knew. Well never mind! I’m glad I know now and we’ll make some new friends at perhaps what is the most wonderful and possible time in my life, when I’ll meet some jazzers/pop/R&B people for the first time and will seriously broaden my audience.

We arrive at a serious concert venue which is real classical symphony-ish. No wings so to speak. Just a great broad stage that would hold a one hundred piece orchestra with a back wall that very often has a pipe organ (exposed pipes—but not today). My manager sets us up so that we’re really close to the first row, and if there had been an orchestra conductor, he would have been standing where I was at center stage close to the front row. I can reach out and touch ‘em. There’s a double wrap-around balcony and we’re sold out, and I think to myself, “twenty years of jazz festivals with a lot of serious music being played.” I HOPE THEY’RE NOT TOO SERIOUS TO HAVE FUN!!!

A short introduction from Christian, and I make the walk from the side doors of the stage with Larry. The two of us are conspicuously alone as Larry starts the piano introduction for “Your Song”. No smash ‘em bash ‘em beginning here. Just stark and simple and inviting!?!

A good choice for tonight. They even sing some improvised loo’s and lah’s with me and Larry during the intro. The finish of this opening song goes seamlessly into a fan fare, which kind of announces the arrival of something important and pretty soon we’re bouncing along to the beat and melody of “Mornin”. And they’re recognizing it and into it.

And there she is, center seat of the first row with a black and white pattern dress, and she’s with her friend. Her name is Silvie and they are going to have fun tonight come hell or high water. They truly were wonderful. Their openness and energy was infectious—not only for the rest of the audience but for the band, and me too. At home they might be quietly listening to Train or Bird, but tonight they’re gonna rock in their seat and stomp their feet.

It’s really popping and sparking on all eight when we start improvising new little pieces of music that start with me stating a rhythmic pattern and an improvised bass line, and pretty soon everybody in the band finds their niche and we cook for a minute. When we abruptly stop in the middle of a phrase, it becomes apparent that what we just did was made up on the spot.

Early on Mark Simmons gets right in their face with some serious drumming that you got to react to if you love Billy Cobham or Ringo Starr. As we move along in our program, they got to hear Larry Williams stop playing keyboards and pick up his silver flute then go back to the keyboards and play a solo just after John Calderon had lifted them up with an acoustic guitar solo flashing between Julian Breeme and John McLaughlin.

You could see their heads nod up and down as I talked about the importance of George Duke and my tribute record to him, “My Old Friend”. The lyric is so appropriate. “Great City”….A new song in our repertoire and never recorded yet. It’s poppin’, blues-y and Bassie-ish and immediately gets them clapping their hands. We go quick and slow with samba and a ballad and into an old standby closer, “Boogie Down”, and triple encores. They’re all standing up and applauding and some are yelling and screaming. How satisfying!

Backstage, the band and I were laughing and grinning with each other. High 5’s implied. There’s a big smile on Christian’s face which itself implies that we got to do this again next year.

Man I was tired! …But happy. I get to do this again tomorrow.

Kiel, Germany – 2015

And before you know it, with too little sleep, it’s tomorrow and we’re driving to sound check. I’m so glad Sam brought some good strong coffee! I’m actually feeling pretty good.

Now I have played Kiel before, but please don’t ask me when. Lubeck and Kiel and Hamburg are in Northern Germany up by the North Sea. And thank God it’s cooler and a little cloudy. I’m ready for this. France and Italy were boiling!

We arrive, and my manager is telling me about this matron of the festival named Birgit who is friendly and infectiously happy and joyful. He was right! Here she comes and she took over with one delightful quip and remembrance after another and I pretty soon realize that she was one of the festival’s founders along with her friend (a classical pianist) who had this vision of a music festival.

I sat on a stool at center stage and told some familiar stories about those early beginnings. I even remembered to introduce Birgit to the audience (she was around ten rows back in the middle). “She’s an originator of the festival”. If you were observing and watching closely you’d have felt the whole evening take off on a tangent angle that made things different now. Well, I’ve never pointed to a festival organizer and asked them to stand. Deep intake of breath…refreshing.

In the front row, there’s a pretty 16-year-old girl named Judith who is waving her pen and a piece of paper, and before I knew it she was up on stage laughing and smiling, almost tugging at my shirt sleeve, just delighting the audience with her youthful exuberance and innocent fearlessness. I find myself singing the song to her while doing an autograph and encouraging her to sing little parts of the song too. All of this gets cheers and applause and even the band is grinning and shaking their heads. She slips back off of the stage and into the audience but should have collected a check from me as a band member J.

We partied hard with Roof Garden and look up to the second tier balcony on the right and wave (I’m looking on out and past them to the heavens saying thank you). This has been at least as good as Lubeck.

Amazing! Birgit and her friends come to hug me, meet me, and greet me in my dressing room after the show. I’m smiling and grinning now as I think about this night. I’d love to come back next year!

Thanks, Germany! I’ll see you soon and off to Denmark!



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