Thursday, September 26, 2002

Brian's Bohemian Blues Diary - The jazz gang has headed back to Toronto and I made my way to Hamburg to rendezvous with harmonica ace Butch Coulter and head out on a tour of the Czech Republic. We spent a day in Hamburg and I had a chance to hang out in a cafe on their equivalent of Queen St West, except it was across from a boarded-up historic building that is full of squatters trying to get the city to turn it into a drop-in centre. The city already provided a place a few doors down where junkies could get a clean needle (or methadone). Didn't get to hear any music but walked by the the place where Beatles played before they made it and dropped into a music store in the Reeperbaum, though we had to make our way through street after street of strip bars and sleaze joints.

Next morning, Butch and I got on a train to the Czech Republic. Butch had bragged about the punctuality of German trains but as it turns out this one was delayed due to an accident on the previous train, so we were a half-hour late for our connection but they held the train and we were on our way through the former East Germany into Czech Republic.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Day 3 - Started the day with breakfast in an elegant dining room in the Arbanazi Palace. It's supposed to be a hotel, but we seem to be the only guests. Beautiful tapestries on the wall. Tai chi on the deck. There's an ancient fortress nearby and we took a quick look but didn't climb the road to it because it was raining. Headed off on the drive to Varna. Near Varna, we stopped at a little-known site where there are huge stone pillar-shapes, covered with fossils. It is reputed to be a "power spot" and there was one circle that someone had marked with stone. I felt more of a "vibe" at another spot facing the pillar known as "fertility". No one has been able to figure out how they were formed but it all fits with the theory that this is the area that was under the sea and that suddenly the sea dropped (maybe at the time of the Great Flood?) and they were left standing. Some archeologists are actually searching for the remains of Noah's Ark in the Black Sea. Others Claim the remains of Atlantis are down there somewhere.

At 5pm, we arrive at a government-owned estate by the sea called Evksinograd that is reserved for the exclusive use of diplomats and visiting dignitaries. Military guards at the gate and patrolling throughout. Even the attractive young woman who greeted us at the entrance to our guest house looked like she had some martial arts training. Strict instructions to stay within our designated area - which includes a huge private beach. I found out later that we had been bumped out of the house we were origially going to have because a delegation from France had arrived - and I guess they were more important than a bunch of festival organizers.

That young woman in the lime green suit/uniform was stationed at a small desk at the entrance and everytime I came around the corner, she would snap to attention. I must have driven her crazy when I would start down the stairs, then in my inimitable fashion, remember that I forgot something, go back up, then back down, etc...

We are staying in one of many guest houses on the estate - this place must have been the ultimate in Eastern Block luxury - but sometimes the plumbing is still a bit of a challenge. There doesn't seem to be too much in the way of industry standards for plumbing and it's always hit-or miss which will be hot water (if at all) and trying to figure out where to push to get a toilet to flush is a new game we've developed. Doors open weird and sometimes don't seem to fit right, in some cases because they've been hanging there for hundreds of years but in other cases because somebody just didn't care that's not the case in this place - where shoddy worksmanship would have been grounds for the firing squad if you incurred the wrath of the czar. Our place must have about 8-10 suites plus the large suite for the head of the delegation which included a living room big enough to have a party (a communist party, ha. ha). We were invited to have a guided tour of the estate on our second day there. It includes more guest houses than I can count, a 25m indoor swimming pool with salt water, filtered and heated, a bowling alley (yes, we see a lot of them in Bulgaria - but not usually private ones) and one of the most complete and beautifully designed garden/greenhouse/ecological centres you could imagine. All kinds of species were planted throughout the park and they are very developed because they started doing it 140 years ago. The gardens are spectacular, one done in the english style another designed bu Louis 14th's gardener.A shame this place isn't open to the public. Thene there's a winery (they produced 120,000 bottles a year of white, red and cognac) which has been let go a bit in recent years but they's just brought back the master winemaker who was there for 30 years but has just returned to get it back in shape. He led us through a wine tasting - what an education that was! more later

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Bulgarian Blues Diary

Day 1 - Sept 11. My birthday (a date no one will ever forget anymore) I won't forget this one either - for one thing it laster 31 hours, with time change and all. We landed in Sofia and after freshening up at the hotel (very old-world hotel) we made our way to a restaurant for a veritable banquet with a lot of the artists who came to Canada and other Bulgarians who worked at this end to help the Bulgarian Cultural Festival in Toronto that the Downtown Jazz office produced in 2000 and 2001 (hence the reason I am here). The guests around the table include world-renowned musicians and singers, a documentary filmaker, diplomats, radio producer, etc. At the end of the meal, the lights went dim and a giant birthday cake came out and they all launched into "Happy Birthday" - then the Bulgarian equivalent. Then most of us made our way to the club I will be playing nex Wednesday, called "The Swinging Place" One of the guests at the banquet was kaval (recorder like instrument) player Theodossi Spassov who joined me to sit in with a pop group that was playing (two of the guys had studied at Berklee). I did a couple of tunes even though I was pretty wiped out by then. I though the crowd was more disco oriented - and the general Bulgarian attitude made me feel that they would prefer disco to blues, but they gave me a great round of applause...and, one again a spontaneous launch into happy birthday as I was about to leave the stage. Theodossi played incredible on tha Kaval - he had a pick-up and went through the PA with an octavider or something and he rocked. I knew he was regarded as a national treasure, but didn't realize how big he was until the next day when we were doing a tour of a reconstructed medieval village in Etura and I was in the little shack where a woman made the kaval the same way they have for centuries, and there on the wall was a poster (1984) of Theodossi. The only thing in the place that was not 200 or more years old. He says he'll be joining me again at the gig on Wednesday and I look forward to doing more with him in a duo setting. Must remember to bring a set of strings to give the guitar player who lent me his strat - sinceI broke a string as I finished up my guest appearance.

Day Two: Forgot my passport at the hotel in Sofia - I won't let it out of my sight again! We visited a reconstructed village from the middle ages (mostly used for outings from Bulgarian school kids and some dedicated tourists (something like Puck's Farm) - it's quite a ways off the beaten path - and off the beaten path in Bulgaria can get pretty rough. On the way the traffic had come to a standstill because of a serious accident but our inventive driver got us around it. The washroom facilities were almost as primitive as the rest of the village but I'm advised that I will be seeing more like that throughout the country. After visiting the tourist re-creation we went to another village which is renown as a "artisan village" and we got to see some great craftsmen at work. In the evening we arrived at an amazing hotel called the Abarnazi Palace. It's a small, exclusive mountaintop hotel that was one of the residences of the former president/dictator of Bulgaria. Pat Taylor was instaled in the President's Suite - very luxurious and official looking. You got the feeling that a lot of very important decisions were made in those rooms (not too many that benefited the country). Did my tai-chi on the huge deck - overlooking the heliport,valley and mountains.

Monday, September 9, 2002

Sept 9 - 11:00 a.m. - Woobine Racetrack (45 minutes outside Toronto). I've driven up with Jerome Godboo and just as we settle in, we see Terry Wilkins come over the horizon lugging his big bull bass. He was looking very sharp and that's good because it was a condition of our contract "Suits and ties - Blues Brothers look" it said, finishing with "Look Sharp" The other band playing (at the other entrance) looked *really* sharp. Black suits and black shirts - it was Sandy Maintyre on fiddle with guitar and hand drum accompanyment.

So we played some instrumental blues for the folks - Jerome jumped in with a vocal on a few songs (and did a lot of jumping, generally - you can't hold Jerome down. He even had some fancy footwork for the gamblers. There's no PA but I told Terry it would be fine because although hundreds of people walk by you, they don't make a sound. When they get to the racetrack, their intent on only one thing ands they don't make small talk with their friends and neighbours.

In the slot machine area (a giant fantasyland arcade) it was quite different. There was a caucophony of sound emanting from thousands of slot machines making spinning (and occasional) wilnning noises. It sounds like sopmething Phillip Glass would create.

After the gig, I went (almost) straight to my sound engineer's house to put together a quickie demo to take on my trip to Bulgaria and Beyond. I've just been listening to the racks and now I'm going to sleep on it.

Sunday, September 8, 2002

Sept 8 - The Southside Shuffle, Port Credit. This is the fifth year for this festival - the first year I've performed in it and, as it turns out, this was the year I didn't see anything of the event except my own gig. Isn't that the way it is when you're a busy artist on the festival circuit - ha ha). I heard a little bit of soull music across the street (and Purple rain - was Prince in the house?) and then on a break I took a walk over this picturesque bridge and heard some great guitar playing. In oft-seen guitar fashion, from a distance *all* I could hear was the guitar. Even when he went into a solo, I wondered if he was just playing without any accompanyment - which would have been weird...but then i heard a bit of drums and I knew it was a band. never figured out who they were. The club I played (solo) had a very loud streo system and house music was pumping out, even though nobody in the place was that young - including the owner/DJ who obviously took great pride in his selection of music. You really had to shout over the music. Some people actually left because it was so loud ) then again, I think some people may have left because I wasn't loiud enough). When I asked him to lower it a bit towards the end of the evening (because , in fact, I had used up all my loud, hi-energy numbers and wanted to get a bit more laid back. As it turns out, it got very laid back as a singer songwriter came up a did a couple of tunes with me - that's what festivals are for, right? Besides she said I was the best thing she heard on the whole damn street. Her name is Mary Lynn Wren and she did a dynamite version of Ode to Billie Joe (Last time I played that tune (and the first first time I ever played it) was with Tracy K at one of my Tranzac Thursdays - reminds me, I've got to contact the club about the month of October - I made arrangements for guests while I was away but I didn't make any for when I get back).

I think I better crash now so that I get at least a little sleep before the early call tomorrow - 11am showtime at the North Entrance to the Woodbine Racetrack (by the slots). I'll be playing with Jerome Godboo and Terry Wilkins. We'll have a great time. Terry left me with a musical "tip" so let me pass it along: It's about how jazz has a standard pattern much the same way that blues has the 12-bar form. The atypical jazz form is called "the Rhythm" Change and everybody knows it because it's the changes to the song "I've Got Rhythm". If you can figure out that song, you've tapped into the holy grail of jazz. He says after that, 'Round Midnight will make sense. I'm going to try it!

Saturday, September 7, 2002

Started my day picking up the newsletters from the printer and distributing them to jazz clubs around town (this is the jazz newsletter which I do in addition to the blues newsletter). Since we were already in the west end, I called my nail technician to see if he could fit me in and he said come right over. I said I'd be there in five minutes, but when we were in sight of his place, the road was torn up with a detour that didn't take us anywhere near the place I wanted to go. Finally, I walked from where we parked - right in fron of Hugh's Room

A half-hour later we were into the CD launch party of Mose Scarlett. He started with Marg Stowe on guitar, then Tony Quarington, Jeff Healey and producer Ken Whiteley.

Friday, September 6, 2002

Tonight was my "Bon Voyage" party at my house gig at the Tranzac. Every Thursday for a year now I've been doing this solo gig and inviting a different guest each time. I've had the greatest blues players in the country as my guests: Michael Picjkett, Carlos del Junco, Michael Jerome Browne, Morgan Davis and my first (and only repeat guest) Paul Reddick of the Sidemen.

So, tonight my guest was Gary Kendall, long-time bass player for Downchild and we were having fun, no doubt about it. Halfway through the evening I told Gary that this was a gig where people could feel comfortable to try something completely different (and he did! he played a couple of originals on the guitar - I'll be posting a picture of me and Gary with him playing the guitar and *me* playing his bass. This should be worth money.

Before my gig, I dropped in to the Silver Dollar where there was an early show of Michelle Willson (the "evil gal" from Boston) I had just been to the club where she had a long-standing house gig called Glenn's in Newburyport. I told her that when I had a few moments to say hello before she went on. I then had a "foot-in-mouth" lapse when I asked her what happened to her star organist Ken Clarke...Obviously he didn't leave on good terms and she recoilled at the topic of the organ - that it really took up a lot of the sonic space as well as the energy of setting up, etc. Still he was a great part of the show (his piece de resistance was when he did a burning solo with his stockinged feet on the pedals). Michelle's new band was great though and she was in fine vocal form - there's just no one that sings with her confidence and abandon. She asked how late my gig went but I told her we didn't go past midnight so there was no way for here to get there in time to hear (or sing).

Meanwhile, back at my gig, somebody shows up on the break and says he's going down to Jeff Healey's club and that for the last set they will be inviting guests and he could arrange for me to sit in. I've never really met Jeff though we have exchanged words on the phone a few times when he called the jazz festival office, so even if he recognized my name, I don't think he would know me as a player. By the time I'd packed up, I didn't feel like going anywhere (except maybe a restaurant) but as I headed off, a little voice told me to head down to Healey's and boy am I glad I did!

Not only was Jeff in fine form (he wasn't talking about it tonight but heannounced from the stage last week-end that he was geiing engaged - how's that for juicy gossip in the blues diary) but he had a couple a players that I've worked with in the band and I was able to wrangle them into playing with me at the Woodbine Racetrack. I've done the gig before - it's totally acoustic. We stand around the entrance to the slot machines - no PA - no vocals necessary. So i'm going to do it with Jerome Godboo, harp and Terry Wilkins, bass. This is Terry's favourite kind of gig - totally acoustic. It's going to rock!

Meanwhile, since this is the first post, I should mention that I am also the resident desktop publisher and (barely)managing editor of several newsletters and websites for the Toronto Downtown Jazz festival, the Toronto Blues Society (MapleBlues), the Toronto Musicians Association (Crescendo) and others. Tonight on the way to the gig I had to stop by my printer and slip the pages under his door. Earlier in the day, I had the worst possible thing happened. Just after I had photocopied the final master pages of Downtown Jazz, I lost the originals. I looked everywhere and finally gave up in disgust and went and printed the whole thing again. That's what my days are like.

I'm taking the time to set up this blog because I've been highly enetertained by an ongong diary of a "big-time recording engineer" in a real life, real-time recording situation. It's hilarious - check it out at