Yes, it’s been hella long since I put one of these up. My latest travels were split up into two parts over the course of a month.
Switzerland and Bulgaria
I flew into Zurich on Sept. 16th to visit my Tapmotif friend Anabel Felix and to play at her Basel Tap Jam. This was my first trip to Switzerland, and I have to say Switzerland totally rocks. I had two very strong artistic revelations on this trip. The first was in Zurich at the Fraumünster church, home of the famous stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall. It’s always revelatory to feel the power of great art; suffice to say I could have stayed and stared up at those windows all day, or probably for several days on end. The designs and the way Chagall used color were mesmerizing. My second revelation, also in a church, was in Basel where I spent the day being shown around the city by Kay, Anabel’s boyfriend. We wandered into an organ concert in an old Baroque church; the effect was overpowering, to say the least. I had heard plenty of organ music before, but never ‘in context’. To hear that music (in this case a piece by César Franck) played on a beautiful instrument in the reverb-filled spaces of that type of church, well, it all made sense. It was rock and roll, it was revelatory, it was incredible. Again, I could have stayed all day listening, but we had other fish to fry, namely, the Basel Tap Jam that was happening that night.
Anabel, who I met at Tapmotif in Greece in 2010, was inspired by her experiences there to start a tap jam of her own. She found some exceptional young musicians to play at the jam, and has been hosting it for over a year now. Held in the very hip bar of the Hotel Stücki, Anabel’s jam is a lot of fun. I had a great time playing with the dancers who attended, and jamming with the house band. These young guys are badass, and play together as a unit like few their age. Anabel has succeeded in taking tap one step farther in Switzerland. I look forward to the next time I can be part of the jam. Thanks for having me Anabel and Kay!
With Anabel and Kay at the Basel Tap Jam
The next morning we drove a few kilometers across the border to Germany, to hear Anabel’s father Michael Felix play in the Bad Säckingen Cathedral for Sunday mass. Quite a renowned organist, Michael also helped with the design and rebuilding of the cathedral’s organ. After the service he took me inside the three-story instrument to show me the construction of the organ.
Michael Felix and the Bad Säckingen Cathedral organ
We then played a few pieces together, with me on tenor and then soprano sax for Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’. Playing with Michael was such a new challenge for me, and it got me thinking about doing a concert of music for organ and soprano…
I was soon off to Sofia, Bulgaria, for a week-long tour put together by NYC-based Bulgarian bassist Trifon Dimitrov, and sponsored by the US Embassy in Sofia. Having played with Trifon in NY, I knew how good he was, but I was not prepared for how good the rest of the group would be. Drummer Dimitar Dimitrov and trumpeter Ventzi Blagoev just blew me away. We played six straight days, driving over about half of the country, and every gig was better than the last. I just cannot say enough about these musicians and the fire they lit under the music every day; it was an honor to play with them. Click here to listen to our version of my original “Lucid Dreaming”.
We started out in the city of Plovdiv, at Club Alcohol. I marveled at how apropos the name of this club was considering my sometime touring habits. Hmmm…I know there’s a message in there somewhere…
Beautiful Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe, boasting both ancient Roman amphitheaters and ancient Mosques. Trifon did a surprisingly good imitation of a Roman emperor giving the thumbs down at an amphitheater excavation site just down the street from Club Alcohol.
Trifon the Mighty in Plovdiv
Our next gig was in Bulgaria’s capitol city Sofia, at Studio 5. The morning after we appeared on Bulgarian national TV, on a morning show connected with that day’s celebration of Bulgarian Independence. The episode we taped is here
; we’re on at the end, so you may have to scroll ahead a ways, which can be a bit slow on the program’s website.
After a concert on national radio that evening we went to hang at Ventzi’s regular gig, which was a lot of fun. While there we met Vasko Krupkata, a very famous blues and rock musician in Bulgaria. Vasko invited Trifon and I back to his place after the gig to hang and drink rakia. He and his family were cool peeps, and we had a great time talking music.
Hangin' in Sofia with Vasko & friends
The next day we were off to play at the Haskovo Jazz Festival, and the day after that at Melon Live Music Club in Veliko Tarnovo.
Veliko Tarnovo seen from Tsarevets Castle
Veliko Tarnovo is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen; for me it rivals even the Cidade Maravilhosa
(‘Marvelous City’), Rio de Janeiro…
Which brings me to…Rio! After flying back to NYC for a couple of days, I headed out with Max Pollak to play at the awesomely awesome (and huge) festival Rock in Rio, on the Rock Street stage. Made up of two city blocks of façade built to resemble the French Quarter in New Orleans, Rock Street featured a variety of jazz, world, rock and blues acts. Our buddy Bruce Henry, bassist and vocalist and resident of Rio for many years, hooked us up with the gig. Funny thing about that…Max and I were getting ready to board the plane for Rio at JFK. I turned to him and asked, “Are we getting picked up at the airport in Rio?” Max replied, “I don’t think so.” “Did you talk to Bruce about it?”, I asked. “No”, he responded. “Me either. Do you know what hotel we’re staying in?” “No”. Neither did I. Now that’s how you kick off a tour, you digg! As it turned out we were put up in a killer hotel in Barra da Tijuca. After spending half a day acclimating to the festival, Max and I started working the afternoon of Sept. 30th. We spent the next three days alternating sets with the other acts on Rock Street, hanging backstage and checking out the mainstage acts.
ROCK IN RIO!
On the Rock Street stage, we checked out Scott Feiner’s Pandeiro Jazz, met Brazilian percussion legends Laudir de Oliveira and Marco Suzano, and sat in with Bruce Henry’s band. We also had a great time meeting, hearing and hanging with Saxofonia, Rock Family, Al Pratt, and the River Country Trio. On the festival mainstage, Janelle Monae was a standout…super funky band, a very entertaining and high-energy show.
After a couple of days off in Rio we took the bus to São Jose dos Campos to teach a three day workshop in RumbaTap at the CBS Dance Factory. I’ve done these workshops before with Max, and I’m always impressed at how hard he works when teaching, and how clearly he’s able to break down his performance methods into bite-sized pieces. It’s truly incredible to watch this man work! The students were a great group, very motivated and very open to what Max was showing them. Thanks to everyone there, and to Adriana Brunato for bringing us to SJC!
After busing it back to Rio, Max and I prepared for our final gigs in Brazil: two shows at the SESC Theater in Copacabana. The SESC theaters in Brazil are a kind of municipal venue found in various locales, often very well run and with great equipment. In Copacabana, the SESC is a beautiful theater in the round. Our shows were in tandem with Bruce Henry and tap dancer Steven Harper, in a collaboration called Double Duo. Bruce and Steven, much like Max and I, have been performing together as a duo for years, so it was a natural fit for the four of us to do a show. The day before our first show we all went up to the favela Santa Marta. Steven, who works with the kids of Santa Marta, thought it would be great for Max and I to be part of the Dia das Crianças (Childrens’ Day) festivities being held in the favela. And it was! We got up and broke out in a funk jam that included young beatboxer Gabriel.
The shows in Copacabana were, well, elevating. Bruce and Steven really threw down, and Max and I brought our best to these concerts. I’m always knocked out at how responsive Brazilian audiences are, and these concerts were no exception. The four of us are already plotting our next Double Duo shows…