Music And Performance


Week 2 Recap- Berlin Redux

Shaolin Berlin 3

The second week in Berlin was quite something; a Birthday for C but also a medical scare that resulted in Surgery (she’s doing quite well now), a Classical Concert in an apartment, several great walks before a hellacious heat wave set in, and the flip-side of the Jam experience.

What follows are accounts of some of the highlights and low-lights, but this shall be the last Full Week Chronicle (first off, it ends up being just too damn much text). From here on out it will just be occasional dispatches about discrete events/thoughts. Things are beginning to happen faster than I can recount in depth, and I don’t want to spend all my time pecking away about every little thing.

Plus, I shall be up in Denmark next week, and I need to spend much time staring at trees and water instead of a computer screen (I am LONG overdue for some communing with Nature).

 

7/31

Went out walking tonight trying to get lost. The fact that I’m sitting here typing this is testament to the fact that I didn’t succeed, but then again I didn’t try real hard.

Apparently it’s perfectly legal and socially acceptable to walk down the street drinking a beer here, a state of affairs which I was quite eager to take advantage of, but the one beer I had with my felafel sandwich got me so buzzed I didn’t really need another one. In my defense, it was a rather large beer and I just can’t put away the suds when I’m not horking down all the meat I did back in ‘Merka.

And yes, I went walking around Berlin on a Friday night and ended up having a felafel sandwich! What of it? It was a little hole in the wall with a few picnic tables in front (one of which had some very boisterous working class German folks sitting at it) and a middle-aged Middle Eastern man behind the counter cooking up all sorts of great smelling stuff. I took about ten steps past it before I turned around and walked back into it. It felt too much like a Berlin equivalent of what I call the Classic Chicago Cholesterol Hut to pass by.

I ended up just settling for the falafel instead of something nice and meaty greasy (they had some burgers that looked like they wouldn’t be a bit out of place in Chicago), but I’ve been off the meat wagon since I got here and wasn’t ready for a burger [besides they are an especially unsustainable food item and need to be phased out of existence /End Soapbox]. The next time I might have the Chicken Dinner; the sign for which I didn’t notice until I was already tucking into my felafel sandwich at one of the other picnic tables. It was probably the best felafel I’d ever had, absolutely delicious!

It’s really not that strange to eat Middle Eastern food in Berlin. I’m not sure I’ve even seen an actual German Restaurant since I’ve arrived. Tonight during my circuitous perambulations; I saw at least 7 Indian Restaurants, 5 or so Chinese Restaurants, a couple Sushi joints, several Italian Restaurants/Pizza Places, many Middle Eastern joints, and some Thai- but not a single Essen House/Brauhaus type of Deutsche Restaurant like back in the American Midwest. Of course they probably don’t stand out here and I just may not be paying enough attention. My eyes are always drawn to that which is different.

But nonetheless, there is a heavy multicultural presence (at least in this part of Berlin) such that it’s not surprising that skinheads and other German right wingers are getting their panties in a wad just like the Velveeta Eatin’ Tea Party turds back home. “I want my country back/Ich will mein Land zurück!”

Well, tough titty to both of y’all! It’s just one big globe now, and the illusory conceit of “pure” culture has gone the way of the rotary phone. Just like the concept of national borders.

Europe will soon find it can’t stop the waves of African and Arab people seeking sanctuary and survival any more than the US could stop the tide that continues to roll in from Latin America. No matter how many fences you build, no matter how many patrols you send out, no matter how many dipshits with rifles, binoculars, and coolers plop their asses down in lawn chairs.

When things get too shitty and/or dangerous in a place, people are going to go where it’s better; or where they think that it’s better, or where they heard from a cousin of somebody’s friend that it’s better. If you don’t like it, do something to make the places they are coming from less shitty and dangerous. And if you do manage to keep them out, prepare to watch your agricultural system fall to pieces (like in Alabama and Georgia) because there’s nobody to pick the freaking crops.

There’s a part of me that sardonically chuckles at all the Europeans, who for decades have decried America’s intolerance toward the torrent of Latinos surging across its border (or Haitians or Cubans in boats), but suddenly are spouting the same rhetoric as an Arizona Militiaman now that they are facing their own tide of dusky desperate humans washing up on their shores. Get used to it, my friends, it’s the true New World Order. Just like freak heat waves, droughts, and unusually powerful storms.

Ooops! I seem to have climbed back up on that soapbox again. My apologies.

My walks have been getting longer and longer, and this is my first night walk. I’m trying to get used to navigating in cities without a grid. Chicago’s almost perfectly Cartesian layout has spoiled me in the decades I have lived there, and when I go to other places now I get easily disoriented. The capillary configurations of Chinese cities confounded me back in 2010 and I’ve been using Berlin as a practice field to try and get some ability to find my way in non-linear layouts.

I walk along without the aid of a map for a while, going by feel and following what looks interesting. Then I will attempt to work back towards the place where I started, following what I think is the correct compass heading in my mind. Eventually the certainty that I am going the right way will break down, and I will consult my map to make sure that I am where I think I am. The more I do this the better I get and now more often than not I am almost exactly where I thought I was.

I’m also trying to get the feel/smell/vibe of this city, and I know from my experience as a tourist guide in Chicago that the “real” essence of a city isn’t found where all the tourists go (or are told to go); it’s in those out of the way nooks and crannies that look scary and forbidding to those who travel on packaged tours and stay in brand name hotels. You could learn more about Chicago in one Saturday night at the now long departed Lakeview Lounge than a hundred nights at Navy Pier.

But tonight’s foray has been the longest yet by far, and my feet and legs ache tremendously. It’s time to stop pecking at this keyboard and get some sleep. Gute Nacht, Berlin!

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An Unexpected Sonata

I’m sitting in my room on Saturday morning recovering from my big Friday night walk, when I hear the sounds of a live cello being played with great skill from somewhere in the building. I mentioned it to R & C later on and they said that a downstairs neighbor, T, is a retired Professor who has been hosting Classical Music Mini Concerts (a true European Salon) out of his apartment for many years. The cello I heard was no doubt someone preparing for another session at some point. They said they had been to a few; sometimes T puts invites into people’s mailboxes, other times it was just a matter of running into him a day or so before one was to occur. I hoped that one or the other would happen so I might have a chance to hear that cello player (or any classical virtuoso) from a shorter distance.

Fortunately, C ran into him while getting the mail that very afternoon and he told her there was to be a cello/piano recital that very evening and that they (me included) were invited to attend. This made me quite excited, as I adore classical music (though I don’t know as much about it as I’d like) and consider all live music performance (all live performance actually) to be a sacred act.

When I was a child, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra would occasionally come to my hometown to play concerts in the High School Auditorium (kind of an outreach program to the sticks I guess), and my parents would always make me come along with them. Although I often resisted when I was younger (sometimes because I felt it was uncool for a young rocker, other times because I didn’t want to dress up in nice clothes), yet once things got started I would be captivated by the sheer force of a live symphony (a seriously intense experience that I cannot recommend highly enough). And I’ve listened to classical radio over the decades and always told myself that I would seriously get into it once I was in my 50’s (having recently turned 52 I suppose I best get on that forthwith).

Anyway, I digress yet again.

We all went down to T’s apartment at the appointed time and were greeted by him at the door. His place was a smaller version of R & C’s, and there were floor to almost ceiling bookshelves in the front hall jammed with books in German and English on all sorts of fascinating subjects (History, Music, Culture, Politics, Philosophy etc.). The room where the musicians were going to play had shelves jammed with books on one wall and then ones stacked high with classical CD’s on another, plus TWO baby grand pianos, one in each opposite corner. This was some SERIOUS Old World Culture.

People were already there and many of the chairs in the main room were taken, so I tried to grab a chair in the back of the adjoining overflow room; overcome by my usual shyness and feeling like an uncultured buffoon (which of course I was) in my Target ensemble of black khakis & black polo shirt. But T shepherded me into the main room and a chair right up against the end of the piano that was to be played and directly behind where the cellist was to sit. Well, at least I was going to get some good sound!

Stranded by myself in this little island, I made nervous small talk with a woman who turned out to be T’s sister, and was about as proper of a German Frau as you could imagine. Eventually the musicians entered the room and the concert began.

T made a long introduction in German welcoming everyone there and expounding upon his series of concerts (I could only catch a word or phrase here and there), which had been going on for thirty-plus years. The musicians began with a sonata by Gabriel Pierne (I’m typing off of a program given me, BTW) which was quite soft, mellow, and entrancing. The late evening sun was shining through the window and everyone was trying not to nod off, despite their enjoyment of the music (it’s apparently a common occurrence at these Salons). My seat was the best in the house, the piano was going directly into my skeleton and I could read the sheet music over the cellist’s shoulder.

The next sonata was by Camille Saint-Saens and was quite moving, that much music done by such skilled practitioners in that small of a space was incredibly intense. It was all I could do to keep from weeping with joy at the beauty of it. The sonata concluded and the musicians left to take a break, making the international symbol that everyone should drink.

During the break I had a chance to check out the books more closely. An incredible array of works, like an overview the last 400 years of Western Culture. Also had a nice conversation with a German man who taught German Language and Culture at a University in France.

The musicians returned for their final piece, a sonata by Gabriel Faure, written later in his life and during WWI. It was an incredibly robust and heartfelt piece and the musicians dove into it with gusto. This time I couldn’t contain my emotion and by the end of the piece I was unsuccessfully fighting back tears. I was a tad embarrassing, but I wasn’t the only one, and the musicians were obviously quite gratified at the effect their work had upon us.

I thanked T for the concert and he said I should thank the musicians instead. I wanted to do so but they were cloistered in a closed room (no doubt coming down from what must have been an amazingly intense performance high). R & C wanted to go back upstairs and the thought of being by myself in the midst of such a cultured group of people was more than my shyness could bear, so I headed up as well. But I was immensely grateful that I got to experience such a wonderful interlude.

 

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The Jam Giveth And The Jam Taketh Away

In retrospect, I should have stressed in my first dispatch from Berlin what a rarity it is to be able to walk into a jam in an unfamiliar locale and get plugged into the mix as easily as I was last week.

Many factors are at play, particularly the players who are in attendance on a given night and what music is getting played. Jams tend to regiment over time and regular ensembles form and do the tunes they are comfortable with, and it’s often difficult for someone new to even be fit in at all. There is also a pecking order and etiquette that is flouted at one’s peril.

My second go round at Rickenbackers was a bit anti-climactic. With the heat wave beginning to grip the city, both nights (Monday night it was still hot as hell even at 10PM and it was like an oven inside the club) had much sparser attendance in terms of audience and musicians, and most of the folks I played with the week before not even there. ST wasn’t in on Tuesday night for the Blues Rock Jam (and there were more local harmonica players) so I wasn’t able to get on at all. Although I had a great time listening to the music.

But on Monday night I broke several of the top rules of The Jam and paid the price: 1. Don’t force your way into a situation where you’re not welcome, especially with musicians who play music you’re not comfortable with. 2. Don’t be too intoxicated when you play. 3. Don’t be motivated by anything other than a desire to express yourself musically. 4. Accept the fact that sometimes you just don’t get on to play.

The main folks I had played with the Monday before also weren’t there (the sultry San Francisco Chanteuse and a German Bassist/Guitarist/Keyboardist woman) and it came to the last session of the night with the ensemble onstage playing funk and pop covers (not my wheelhouse). The guy who wrangled the players (a.k.a. the Jam Leader) had told me he’d try to get me on to play something bluesy, but that wasn’t a promise since he wasn’t the leader for that session. The Jam Leader sort of chooses the main players/ensemble for each session but the Session Leader has ultimate authority over what gets played.

There was a new singer in the house who sat in with that last session to do one tune. She was a gorgeous woman with an angelic voice who brought the house down on a pop cover. She did another pop cover (an encore you might call it) and again rocked the roof off the place. The Session Leader said something to the effect of “If there aren’t any more singers in the house we’re going to call it a night” and it was the perfect place to end things.

But there were some wild ladies who had seen me play the week before and wanted to hear me again and they urged me to step forward. I should have just let it slide and let things end, but I was a bit tipsy (not that much to drink but dehydrated and empty-stomached) and wanted to impress them (WTF Mike?), so I foolishly came forward and took the stage.

The Jam Leader was playing bass and the Session Leader, who was American and more than a bit of an arrogant prick (aren’t we all?!), was on guitar. We talked for a bit and I asked them if they could play something bluesy in A or D that I could riff over, and it seemed like they agreed- but then they launched into a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”—a bit of a dick move but I should have just smiled and walked off the stage and let them close things out. Instead, I called them on it and kind of demanded they play something bluesy like they said- directing my pleas to the Jam Leader (who was like “It’s not my call”).

They started again and the groove was a bit more funky than I like (I play almost everything but Funk is my musical kryptonite) but I surged forward trying to fit my Blues Peg into a Funk-Shaped Hole. I was doing OK but I wasn’t on the top of my game (angst, heat, & alcohol), plus Session Leader was sneering at me every second while they played. Instead of a Jam it was more of a brawl with me taking on 6 opponents, yet I managed to leave the stage metaphorically standing (albeit bloodied).

The wild ladies (and many of the folks in attendance) still dug it, and as I stepped down the wild ladies came up and congratulated me (although they wondered what was up with Session Leader). They said they would come back tomorrow night to hear me again on the Blues Rock Night. Session Leader (who was still onstage packing up his stuff) overheard this and started woofing and talking shit “Yeah, you come back for tomorrow night, tonight is for REAL musicians!” etc. etc.

Having understood that I shouldn’t have gone up there in the first place (and had breached Jam etiquette in multiple ways), at first I ignored him and just kept talking to folks as he continued spouting off. Then I went outside and talked to the Jam Leader for a couple minutes (he was kind of sheepish but we both knew I had brought it on myself) and sort of debriefed with him. I came back in and Session Leader was still talking his shit to the air (or maybe started again). At first I ignored him again, but then he talked some shit about the Blues “We don’t play that ratty-ass Blues here we play tight-ass killer Funk” (more like Corporate Event covers actually- plus he wasn’t nearly as good as he thought he was) and that made me see red. So I turned and walked up to the stage and started woofing back up in his face “You know, you coulda been magnanimous about shit but instead you were just a bitch!” He kept up his tirade (although not speaking directly to me or looking me in the eye- he could tell I was ready to throw down) and I kept expounding on what an asshole he was. He shut up for a bit, so I turned to join the other folks, but then he made one last diss over his shoulder as he scrambled off the stage and out the door. I turned around and screamed “And you can take your ass to an airport hotel lounge Mother…….!!!” to his retreating back.

All-in-all just a BAD SCENE. Many folks were quite shocked/uncomfortable at this raw display of American Style Aggression, and I was just plain ashamed all around. The Jam Leader came and gave me my free drink ticket (we both sort of chuckled at that) but I was definitely not in the mood for another drink; so I said my goodbyes to the wild ladies and a few other folks and made my way out.

As I was passing the sidewalk tables in the front of the place, a very nice German woman stopped me and asked what was up with me and Session Leader. Her take was that he had been pretty rude to me with the way he’d acted when I was onstage (yes, but I had never should have gone up to begin with). I was still a bit wound up but talked with her for a while as she asked me about where I was from and what I was doing in Berlin and whatnot. Then we bid each other farewell and I returned back to the apartment to come down from all the adrenaline and bad vibes.

It was all I could do not to fall into a shame spiral and get really down on myself. “Jeeezuz, Michael!” I said to myself “You left America to get away from all the anger & aggression and become your Best Self- then you go forcing your way into a Jam and getting into a woofing match with an American asshole?!” “Nice freaking job, Herr Zen-Meister!!!”

After a bit of meditation and breathing and hydration and reflection, I finally got to a “Well, live and learn” space of personal forgiveness. I promised myself to keep to the high road and respect The Jam the next night (although I hoped I’d get a chance to redeem myself a bit musically) and forever after in all my travels (a lesson I thought I had already learned).

It was only appropriate that I didn’t get to fit into a spot on Tuesday. I pretty much deserved it after the previous night. Except this time I was cool about it.

 ____________________

Now if only Berlin’s Weather could cool off a bit! 100 Degrees Fahrenheit is scary enough when there’s A/C to be had, and that’s a rarity here in Berlin. The few places that do have it only seem to keep things “Luke-Cold” (an ingenious phrase coined by my gracious host R).

I’m looking longingly at the weather reports where I’m heading to in Denmark, where temps in the 60’s and 70’s will seem like a soft kiss from the Goddess Of Weather.

Meanwhile, I’m hunkered down trying to keep cool and hydrated- and working on this latest mega-dispatch.

Take care, Everyone— And I Shall Type At You Again!!!

Much Love,

MichaelC

 

 

 

 

nunscooters

I am now officially on my wild adventure to bring Chicago to the World.

For those of you who may not have heard, I purchased a one-way ticket to Berlin and plan to travel the world as an Itinerant Professional Chicagoan- heading whichever way the wind takes me. It’s a disorganized haphazard quest, but I have reached a point in my life where it’s time to live my beliefs and my Art and see the World while I still can (and while it’s still there).

Valuable Background Info

In 2010, I spent several months in and around Shanghai, China. My Cousin J had a music club there and the open freewheeling vibe of the place (and Shanghai in general) combined with where I was at in my life (it had just blown up in my face like a bad science experiment) spurred me to have a Musical Epiphany.

In addition to reconnecting with singing, I discovered that my harmonica playing (which I had mostly been doing by myself in my apartment for 30 years) sounded as good to other people as it did to me; and I began playing and singing every night in Jams in Shanghai (with people from all over the world), writing songs, doing my Performance Poetry, and even sitting in regularly (eventually for money) with a trio of Chinese musicians at a Chinese Jazz Club in Hangzhou.

Having done many different kinds of Performance throughout my life (most notably Acting, Standup Comedy, Storytelling, Performance Poetry, and Improv) I still longed to someday play music (something I had adored since birth) seriously— so this time in China was like opening the door to a previously shuttered wing in the Mansion Of My Soul.

When I returned to my “normal” life in Chicago as a Lecturer, Historian, and Tour Guide; I continued to play music at various jams around the city and with several musician friends. The book I had co-written in 2008-2009, the publishing of which falling into indefinite limbo was one of the major factors in the aforementioned “Life Explosion” (along with my Mother’s Death and a few other horrible things), finally was published in 2013. After a year or so of flogging it I began thinking about traveling again.

I longed to return to China but several factors had changed my direction, most notably my Cousin J passing away from ALS (RIP). Also, many of the people I had most strongly bonded with had returned to their respective European Countries. I also had several longtime friends who lived in Europe, and thus my crazy scheme was hatched.

Here is the recounting of my first week:

 

 

Week One- The Adventure Begins:

The trip here went about as well as it could. My Carry-On Bag was overloaded by 5 pounds (and the checked bag was just a few ounces in the clear) but I was able to switch some stuff over to my little Printers Row Lit Fest canvas bag enough to get through the check in process at Air Lingus.

I was still overloaded on both counts for the next flight from Dublin to Berlin but the woman behind the counter at O’Hare took pity on me and gave my boarding pass for the next flight so I could go straight to my flight with my overloaded carry-on (once she saw that it was the right size & just a little heavy she got much cooler about things) and put a big HEAVY BAG Transfer sticker on my massive checked bag. I got through security with no problem at all, they didn’t even freak out at my bag of harmonicas (which look really sinister in an X-Ray) and my paranoid worry about some bizarre Homeland Security “exit interview” was unfounded.

The flights were both blissfully without incident and went smoothly- didn’t have to “earn it” the way I did going to Shanghai in 2010, when I had a 10 hour delay on top of a 2 hour layover in New York before I even got on the flight to China. The transatlantic flight seemed like it was not long at all compared to that 14 hour flight and the Dublin to Berlin flight was a veritable puddle jump.

Oh what a relief it was to see that big bag of stuff on the carousel when I arrived in Berlin! Then to walk through those doors to the arrival gate and see my friend R emerge from the crowd. I had a nasty irrational fear that something would happen and I’d be stuck at Berlin Schoenfeld airport with no phone and nobody to contact or help me.

A quick drive from the airport to R (& his wife C’s) place and that was that. I was on The Continent! [as I had heard said in countless cheesy old movies and parodies of them]

Their apartment is large and labyrinthine; with immensely high ceilings, wood floors, and lots of french doors between the various sections. It’s seems out of some sort of Architectural Central Casting for a “big elegant European apartment.” The neighborhood is sort of sleepy and calm, it used to be a Jewish neighborhood back before the war and is mostly elderly folks and small businesses.

The first several days were just about getting acclimated and shaking off the jet lag and culture shock. On Friday I took my first Berlin subway ride (just 2 stops) to meet my friend V, who gave me one of her old cast off phones (still infinitely fancier than any I’ve ever had) with a prepaid card service number. Perhaps I’ll learn how to do something other than text and receive calls with it, but it’s unlikely!

We went and had some iced tea at this American-ish place called Bikini Bar that overlooked the Berlin Zoo (old, nasty and depressing even by Zoo standards) and chatted a bit before wandering around the area, which was quite “mall-ified” and not too interesting. There was a cool Art Museum/Center called The America House, however, and we wandered into their gift shop and perused the large selection of gorgeous Coffee Table Art Books (mostly about Photography) and talked about Art and Photography (I hipped her to Vivian Meier, who apparently isn’t that well known outside of the US/Chicago).

It’s always interesting to meet someone in person that you’ve only known through Social Media, a situation where the Avatar becomes a Person. Fortunately that went really well and we both were satisfied with the others Analog Self and fell into the same comfortable Art and World of Ideas conversations that we had been having online. After a couple hours we said our goodbyes and I walked back to the nest, having survived my first solo flight unscathed.

Saturday I was feeling a bit out of sorts; as my sleep patterns were still fitfull and my body was going through sugar and fat withdrawal from the lack of garbage American food. “Tough Shit, Body!” I told it. One of the many reasons I am on this crazy adventure excursion is to escape the American Obesity Matrix long enough to get back to a healthy weight.

But I was also getting into a weird anxious Hermit Spiral from the newness of the situation (similar to when I first arrived in China and was staying with my Cousin J) to the point where R & C had to sit me down for a “WTF Mike?!?” talk (similar to what Cousin J had to do in Shanghai). Although a bit intense and uncomfortable, it cleared the air all around and things got much better. That night we watched the film The Woman In Gold (superb), which also helped me get some of my gumption back.

Sunday morning I went shopping with C and got some items I was needing, not the least of which was some high-caffieine instant coffee (R’s little high-tech espresso nodules just weren’t delivering the payload I needed!). A big cup of that also did much to put me back on track.

Then I went for an exploratory walk through more of the surrounding area with my camera and a map. It was a gorgeous afternoon and Berliners were out in force enjoying it. I wandered around a flea market and through a couple adorable little parks and started to get the feel of the town and feel much more comfortable in my own skin. German words started to slowly trickle back and I took several photos of interesting things (at least to my eye and mind). After about an hour I was really getting into it; strolling along reading the street signs aloud to myself and doing a running commentary in my recovering (but still woefully weak) German. “A woman with a dog.” “A man and woman with a child.” I felt like Bruno Ganz in Wings Of Desire right after he fell to earth in Berlin.

By the time I got back to the nest I was feeling right as rain and had even come up with a stirring song to remember their address. Michael was starting to get some traction!

________________

SOOO, I’m sitting around R & C’s apartment on Monday night when I Google “Blues Jams Berlin.” Several cool results pop up, most notably Rickenbackers Music Inn, which was just 2 blocks away from where I was sitting.

“Holy Shit!” I exclaimed to myself, “I must go check this out forthwith.” But I see that the Blues/Rock Jam is Tuesday night and tonight is the Pro Jam (which implies you’d better be fucking able to bring it). At first I hesitated and wondered if I should wait till Tuesday (sorry if a bad 80’s song just popped into your head) but remembered the encouraging words of my friend E (a great musician I played with in Shanghai) a few months ago and considered the fact that I was playing so much with many fine Chicago musicians at The Roots Room (and other places) before I left that my chops were pretty much back. So I said “What the Hell, I’ll at least get to check the place out even if I don’t get on to play.” So I cleaned the harps and headed on down there.

And my was I sure glad I did! First off, the place was JAM packed on a Monday night with cool folks watching some killer musicians tearing it up onstage. Then everyone; from the bartender, to the people watching, to the cats who ran the jam, to the musicians in attendance, made me feel so welcome and comfortable that I didn’t even care if I was able to fit into the mix that night- I already felt like I was home.

But, Gentle Reader, I was able to get into the mix at the very end of the night and played some harp along with a gaggle of great musicians and a sultry chanteuse on two tunes- the Screaming Jay Hawkins classic “I Put A Spell On You” and the Chicago Blues chestnut “I Just Wanna Make Love To You”- and acquitted myself rather well if I do say so myself.

Everyone else seemed to agree [!] and I was like “Hey, you should hear me on a tune I’ve actually played before!”

I thought that perhaps I might be availed that opportunity the next night- not that I mind the thrill of jumping on board an unfamiliar song and hanging on for dear life by my fingernails.

_____________________

Night 2 at Rickenbackers Music Inn for the Blues/Rock Jam.

Even more packed- to the point where I quickly got claustrophobic and had to flee to the little beer garden outside until the break (fortunately I could still hear the smoking hot ensemble that was playing). Once the break came I found the guy in charge of the jam, introduced myself, asked if I could sit in at some point, and let him know that I wanted to play blues.

He introduced me to a man called S.T., who bore a striking resemblance to my late Cousin J, in whose honor I was wearing my Polkacide t-shirt (one of the many great SF area bands he played in over the decades).

After a set by yet another hot combo, S.T. had the stage and graciously let me sit in with his group for several tunes. The first one was the U2 song they did with B.B. King called “When Love Comes To Town.” Never played it before but it’s the kind of bluesy tune I can really sink my teeth into. S.T. was quite the showman (did I mention that he was dressed in a vintage white 3 piece suit with matching white shoes?) who brought it hot and heavy on guitar & vocals and wrangled the band with an expert hand (it takes a special talent to do arrangements on the fly with a bunch of cats all thrown together) and it was another “grab the tiger by your fingernails and hold the hell on” scenario.

He thanked me after that first song and I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to stay up there, but he did and I cooked with he and the band for a few more songs. One was the blues standard (made famous by B.B. King) “Rock Me,” and I’ll try and remember what the other ones were later. Playing with musicians (especially really great ones) just turns my brain to jello.

Anyway, I was able to bring it pretty well and everyone seemed to really dig it yet again. And the rest of the night was spent digging the subsequent ensembles and talking to all the cool folks who were in attendance.

__________________________

Its now Wednesday evening in Berlin and I’m recovering from my two nights in a row out jamming, chronicling my week, and still trying to remember what were the other tune(s?) I played on the night before!

Fortunately for me, Berlin is (at least so far) much like Shanghai was; lots of Guitar players and not too many Harmonica players (although there was a very nice harp player there last night), which makes it easier for me to get into the mix.

At some point I’d love to be able to get some players together and do some of my crazy ass Swamp Demon original material on a jam; but all in good time.

So far it’s been two great jams, which earned me two free drink tickets (hey, you take what you can get in this world!) and some valuable playing experience.

Hopefully I (or rather Michael LaGrange) will also be able to get in on some Standup Comedy Open Mics (much more Standup in English here than I thought) and some Storytelling before I head up to Denmark (where further wonderment awaits). There are also several other music jams here as well.

We shall see what transpires.

Regardless, The Adventure Has Truly Begun!

ATTENTION CHICAGO MUSICIANS, POETS, STORYTELLERS, STAND-UP COMICS, MAGICIANS & PERFORMERS OF ALL KINDS!!!

I’m Hosting An Open Mic

  Friday, May 8

It will also be a Celebration Of My Birthday

(3 days off but close enough)

And (OF COURSE) I’ll be bringing my Internationally Acclaimed

Homemade Hummus!!!

rockinout

LET IT ROAR!!!

 

 

The Roots Room is a great space and this night is perfect for working out new material and expanding horizons as an Artist/Performer.

When I host Open Stages I create an atmosphere of respect for all genres of performance where Artists can feel safe and secure. [No stylistic cliquishness OR DISRESPECT allowed!]

My greatest joy comes from seeing someone perform for the first time or watching an Artist try out a new genre: a Writer reading their work in front of others for the first time, a Musician doing Storytelling, a Storyteller doing Stand-Up, a Poet playing Music, a Stand-Up reading a poem— The Place Where The Boundaries Meet & Overlap Is Where True Magic Happens.

And there is nothing like the feeling of opening a door into a new room in the mansion of your soul— SO COME ON DOWN & GO ON UP!!!

The Roots Room: 5203 N Kimball

BYOB & All Ages.
$10 Suggested Donation (or pay what you can).

In Case Ya Missed It:

Much fun was had at the Roots Room last night! Began the night with a brilliant singer named DeWayne and had a contingent of poets and writers do some fantastic work. Stann Champion displayed his guitar mastery.

And I got to do some poems, standup (very rusty but I had my moments), a long story piece, and just generally get my shamanic jibber-jabber on— which felt tremendous after a long Winter of Hermitude.

I always hope for what I call a “Triumphant Moment” in my Open Stages- that moment where someone feels comfortable and/or bold enough to stretch themselves as a Performer/Artist (or to perform/read for the very first time).

Last night’s Triumphant Moment: When Writer/Actor Robert Strasser got up on stage (again) and borrowed Stann’s guitar to do a heartfelt rendition of Long Black Veil.

The next Open Mic at The Roots Room shall be on May 8 (a mere 3 days after my Birthday).

Please Stop By And Be My Triumphant Moment!!!

singin

Sometimes Ya Just Gotta Let It All Hang Out. And This Is One Of Those Times!!!

 

Every once in a while I like to discuss a Chicago-related documentary not created by Kartemquin Films just to see what it feels like. 😉

 

Musician (2007)

Subject: Ken Vandermark

Produced by Jason Davis and Daniel Kraus. Cinematography and Editing by Daniel Kraus. Additional Crew: Joe Chellman, Amanda Kraus, Ryan Bartelmay. Released by Facets Multimedia Studios.

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Musician is Part 2 of The Work Series, a documentary project conceived and created by Daniel Kraus; the other 3 being Sheriff (2005), Professor (2009), and Preacher (2011). The series is currently on hiatus while Kraus works on a series of writing projects, although he hopes to return to the series to profile several women at some point (fingers crossed on this!).

 

The Work Series is a documentary project inspired by the oral histories collected by Studs Terkel, most notably his volume entitled Working. Featuring no narrator or any typical documentary film drama-enhancing bells and whistles, the series uses the “fly-on-the-wall” technique to try and bring the viewer as far as possible into the work and life of the subject.

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Tearin’ it up on Baritone. Photo: Juan-Carlos Hernandez

 

 

This technique is perfect for the subject of Musician, the Chicago-based musical genius (literally so, as he won a coveted MacArthur Fellowship in 1999) and Civic Treasure, Ken Vandermark. Musician opens with Vandermark composing a new tune in his basement workspace, worrying and fretting over each note as he tries to actualize the sounds he hears in his head, and then cuts to a segment of the finished composition being performed by an ensemble.

 

The film then follows him as he goes about the Herculean task of being a working original Jazz musician/composer in America (which unsurprisingly includes several trips to Europe and other foreign locales where quality musicianship is more readily accepted by the public). Musician doggedly chronicles the whole experience; talking on the phone with bookers and club owners, coordinating/rehearsing with other musicians, hauling gear to and from gigs, endless hours in airports or behind the wheel, and of course the performances themselves. The film also illustrates Vandermark’s struggle to maintain his relationship and home life in the face of constant travel and work, something he approaches with the same calm rationality and good humor he brings to his work.

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Cookin’ with Ken. Dave Rempis on Sax and Tim Daisy on Drums. Photo: Juan-Carlos Hernandez

 

 

Vandermark was the perfect choice for the Work Series, because DAMN does he work! If he hadn’t won a MacArthur grant so early in his life this film would have been a perfect “audition” for the coveted Genius Grant; because you simply cannot watch this film without coming away thinking that the man is a genius. Even if you don’t enjoy/get his music (and I truly pity you if that is so) you still have to award him the moniker by the “99% Perspiration” benchmark (easily 110% in his case). The sequence that shows the CD covers of all the bands and projects he has either headed or participated in (over 100 albums with almost 40 ensembles) is an apt testament to this fact.

 

Musician is available for streaming (as is the entire WORK Series) and has several bonus segments of Vandermark and some of his various ensembles playing his music.

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Solo improvisation is incredibly difficult, but Vandermark pulls it off with uncanny skill. Photo: Amanda Kraus

And let’s discuss the music! A multi-Reedist (tenor and baritone saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet), Vandermark has absorbed and embodies the style of Modern Jazz known as “Post Bop” but there are also echoes of Punk and Thrash in the mix. Those familiar with avant-garde Jazz will recognize several of his influences in the music; John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, John Gilmore (from The Sun Ra Arkestra), Roland Kirk, Ornette Coleman, Booker Ervin and several other Sax Giants are combined and augmented in a sound that is traditional yet original. His compositions are also stunning and powerful, by turns beautiful & blistering and always uniquely his own. Vandermark has a well-earned reputation for playing with the best musicians around and his various ensembles are always brilliant and tight.

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Genius At Work. Photo: Amanda Kraus

So there you have it, Gentle Reader. Either stream this film or rent the DVD from Netflix (I’ve been hogging a copy for the last several weeks but I finally returned it over the weekend) and make a point to go see Ken Vandermark whenever you are able. Because like many cultural treasures of Chicago, he’s criminally under-appreciated by the mainstream.

 

And let’s hope that Daniel Kraus continues this series as soon as possible!

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This is a very interesting piece of work and is definitely worth a look by those who are fascinated with the creative process.

The Artsiders is a documentary project by Chris Olsen which examines the lives of several artists from various genres and features them discussing what inspired them to become artists, what inspires them to continue along that path, and all aspects of their creative process. It is an ongoing series but this particular DVD (I rented it from Netflix but it is also available online) is the full length original project that started things off.

The artists run the full gamut of artistic genres: visual artists, dancers, a percussionist, even a voice-over artist. They all discuss their lives and their art with candor, providing insight into what drives the creative mind and just exactly what the life of an artist entails (hint: it isn’t generally wealth and glamor). Personally I love listening to artists discuss their process (even if you don’t particularly like them or their art there is always something to be learned) so this film was really in my wheelhouse, but even those not totally obsessed with art will find it fun and edifying.

prlflogo

 

Yes, this day has finally arrived!!! I appear with Arnie and Robert K Elder at Printers Row Lit Fest at 1PM today.

Those of you who clicked for tickets need to show up at least 20 minutes in advance to get your seat in the room- and those who missed out on the “ticket clicking” can just wait in line and you will be seated once all the ticket holders have been seated and the 20 minutes before presentation deadline has passed.

I am so looking forward to seeing you all!!!

 

 

Hooray, Hooray!!! HOLM 2 Drops TODAY!!!

The long and winding path has finally reached its end.

And another one begins:

I managed to get some extremely heavy cats to play with me on a video to commemorate this historic book launch. Seasoned Chicago music fans will immediately recognize them.

 

 

 

 

The Fires Of Creativity Burn Furiously At The Frankenstone

The Fires Of Creativity Burn Furiously At The Frankenstone

 

In honor of National Poetry Month I am hosting a second Hootenanny in April at the Frankenstone Art Center. Special guest will be Muse O’ Fire; an ensemble featuring featuring the words of noted Poet, Writer, Educator, Administrator, and Frankenstone “Poet In Residence” Carolyn Aguila, backed by some of Chicago’s finest Jazz improvisors (including the brilliant Steve Hashimoto). Not to be missed!!!

Frankenstone Art Center

3310 W Foster Ave

Monday, April 22nd. 7PM

Cover- $1.99  (actually $2 but you get a hand-hewn Penny Necklace!) BYOB

Acoustic music and all genres of performance are welcome!!!

I will be bringing my usual melange of Poetry, Storytelling and Standup.

 

I will be rockin’ the ‘Stone twice this month in honor of National Poetry Month. The first one will be this coming Monday, April 8.

3310 W Foster. Sign-up at 6:30, Show starts 7ish.

All types of performer are welcome.

 

Chicago Stand-Up Comic Michael LaGrange made an appearance at the last one, probably will show up again this Monday. He is one twisted soul, you really ought to check him out. Here is a picture of him in Guizhou, China, chillin with some Miao honeys.

Michael Chills With Some Miao Honeys

The Miao (pronounced like the cat sound) are a hill tribe distantly related to the Hmong.

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