Summer 2010 Review Part 2

In Strasbourg, France, right on the border of Germany, we performed after the Pierre Christophe Group, featuring Ronald Baker on Trumpet. Great, tight group, and they hung around for our set. It was part of the 72nd year of the Strasbourg Music Festival—Not just Jazz—Amazing! Killian, 8 years old, was in the front row, along with 5 other kids across the front. I made sure to make special welcome to them at the first pause in the music. The venue has hung acoustic baffling and curtains, and the sound is sparkling clean and inspiring. And the audience is LIVE and recognizes the very introduction of Look to the Rainbow, and so on and so on. We’ve found a new introduction for Better Than Anything that works great! It opens new improvisational ideas for me.

We find the sweet spot, well down in the set for Says, with its French lyric set in bubby syncopation. In a flash, we’re already at After All and Mornin’, our closers. I can feel the audience hurry to stand up and applaud loudly—They’re surprised that 90 minutes has zipped by. But we all know that we’re gonna come back for more. And we do. With four more songs that cover more ground and territory than was expected. Great audience! I was signing albums and CDs from the stage before the last songs. Thank you, Strasbourg, and let’s do it again!

Vauvert, France. YES, FRANCE! The home of Jazz is America, but France was so quick to adopt jazz as a child of its own, that jazz easily takes its place right alongside Champagne, Bordeaux, and escargot. And the French, in the great tradition of French procedures and culture, have studied Jazz inside and out in a way that we Americans have not, and probably will not. They study the philosophy of things, the meaning of things, and they delight in the pursuit of the inside-out structure of things and the… Liberté, égalité, fraternité, and, oi oi, la philosophie of, even the baguette—French Bread. You know what I mean. A wonderful appreciation for everything, especially the arts.

Vauvert (pronounced vo-VAIR), does its Jazz Festival in a bullring. (I was interested to learn they don’t kill the bull here. They play a cat and mouse kind of game with it. And the matador is praised for his skill in this unusual sport.) A big band opened the night and played great, to 3000 people who saw a rare thing—A kickass big band.

I stepped gingerly over a lot of backstage cables and the steel legs of the stage backdrop, and we’re on, the band hitting just seconds before me and playing me on. Good switch for the audience… The big band first, then me. They’re quick to get and appreciate the new Rainbow music program that harkens to the first times that I ever did music in France. The fresh new Joe Turano arrangements are sparkling and captivating and make for a new listen. Why has it taken me so many years to announce that After All and Mornin’ are David Foster and Jay Graydon arrangements with my lyrics? I mention that, and sense a subtle new appreciation for these classics. Mark and I keep the trip in motion with a vocal percussion encore—only one I know of anywhere—and then we do Roof Garden, otherwise known as “Bananas—everybody goes crazy.” And even though they’ve had a long and full night of music, they finally rush the stage and push past security. I’m immediately deeply touched and choked up, realizing that these people had not been allowed down front during the whole evening. Security, security… sometimes it’s just overdone, causing a missed moment, and that’s what it felt like to me that night. I wish I could have been closer to that group of people the whole night.

The mayor and staff came backstage with a city medal for me. A beautiful thing. I’m in France and I get a medal from the city. Thank you, Vauvert, Love Al Jar—Oh, oh, nevermind. Bus breakdown.

It’s never happened to me before in all my years of touring. But very quickly, we all find ourselves saying, thank you, God: The breakdown happened at the backdoor of the gig, rather than 5 miles down the road, where we’d have been really really stuck and really out of luck. Instead, the staff from the venue kindly gives us a ride right back to the hotel in Nimes, which fortunately still has room for us. Our bus driver John (the best) was bummed out big time. But we do remind him that this really could have been ugly, and he manages a smile, and calls back to headquarters, and they have a replacement bus on its way in moments. We just have to be patient til it arrives the next day. They then took us on to Vigevano, Italy.

The show in Vigevano had us on the bill with the legendary Gil Scott Heron and his group. We play in the courtyard of a fantastic 15th century castle. Onstage, Gil is slender and tall and classy and cool and oh-so-smart, and relevant. A poet. We hugged briefly in passing, again like ships in the night. But deep inside, we both know volumes. The audience is neatly seated in rows with the first row almost 20 yards away. Amazingly, there were 8 or 10 guys, ages 16-25, screaming and cheering in the front rows; their excitement fanned out to the rest of the audience. Their reaction really set the stage for a wonderful night. Whooff, poof, angel dust—It caught me by surprise when out of my mouth comes the theme from The Godfather, a cappella—Bananas. It still feels right now like somebody else sang that line. They cheered out loud like a football game in response to this flash of improvisation. We do this redesigned version of Easy with John Calderon and Larry Williams having some brilliant feature moments… John solos on nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, and then half-way through the solo section, Larry picks up the flute; No one’s ever seen this before. And you hear the combined intake of breath from the audience, and before they can exhale, Larry has moved back to acoustic piano. A magical musical moment’s connection between a musician and the audience, in which they’ve seen a master musician move to a second instrument and play the stew of that second instrument right before their very eyes. Turano does it, too, with his sax. That night, it was special.

I walk off stage right, and before I can get to our van, I realized that there was a large gathering of people just behind a divider. So I spent a few moments doing autographs and shaking hands and hugging necks. What a wonderful night.

In Vigevano, we had purposely booked a small out-of-town hotel for peace and quiet. Milan is an hour away. We were going into a few days off, and need a rest, and this setting out of town among fields should be perfect. The troubles, however, are not yet over. The air conditioning is a whisper in the blistering heat of the Italian summer, and a nighttime attempt to open the window to cool off ends with dozens of zanzare, mosquitos, buzzing around the room. The hotel is not business-oriented, and internet access is limited for the crew. Getting food is an adventuresome saga. All in all, we didn’t rest there as long as expected, and moved quickly onto Milan after our show in town.

We were all very very disappointed when a couple of Romanian dates got canceled. (Reasons still unclear.) Romania has been a wonderful new audience for me during the past few years, and I was looking forward to going back. During the time we had planned for Romania, I took the opportunity to do a lyric for a song on the new Eumir Diodato album. Double Face was the outcome of several days of hard work between me and Joe Turano, my music director. He found a way to set up a makeshift in-hotel recording studio—Thanks, Joe.

[To be continued in the next post]
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