We are now two weeks into our residency here in the UK. We have tackled several large and complicated projects - concerts focusing more on collaboration and ensemble playing than extended soloing. So when the band did a runout to Basingstoke to do a plain old big band gig, it was anything but plain. The cats REALLY wanted to play, and you could feel that on stage. Ryan Kisor played a solo on my arrangement of Ceora that was two choruses of some of the greatest improvising I have ever heard. Dave Robinson (our sound man) recorded the concert and I plan to transcribe this solo and distribute it to as many students as possible.
At different points during the two very well-paced sets of music, we would look at each other and just shake our heads - “Man, it’s good to play!” Everyone in the band played inspired and creative solos, and the rhythm section was on fire. During intermission there was a wonderful energy, a collective “ahhh” from the band. It’s like we had two weeks of foreplay, and finally...well, you get the point.
The next day was a very well-deserved day off. “No further activities” as tour manager Boss Murphy would write in our daily. Although it was another sleepy, rainy day, I spent most of it sightseeing, doing some touristy stuff. At one point I passed a gourmet cheese shop - a very old-fashioned place with big ochre-colored wheels on pine shelves, and polite men with matching aprons. A real step backwards in time. Could have been a movie set. I thought it might be nice to have something for the hotel room, to eat with some crackers. I tried a few samples before settling on something very soft and stinky. Like brie with an attitude.
Later, during the tube ride back to Islington I noticed that, despite being well wrapped up, this cheese was pretty strong. I felt a bit conspicuous carrying it. A couple times people near me looked around trying to figure out where this smell was coming from. I pretended to look around as well.
Before returning to the hotel room I stopped at a market and picked up a package of water crackers and a bottle of red wine, which will be great late in the evening when I get the munchies, maybe in front of the telly. I put the cheese in the ice bucket and went back out for more exploring.
Later, when I returned to the hotel, the room smelled like dirty feet. I opened the window and pulled the offending delicacy out of the ice bucket, double-wrapping it and putting it back in the bucket, sealing it tightly. I wasn’t hungry having just come from dinner, and left it for the night.
The next morning the band had to check out of the hotel to fly to Paris for a one-nighter. When I woke, the room still smelled slightly of cheese. This time I triply-wrapped it before sticking it, along with the bottle of wine, into my suitcase.
At the airport, despite being triply-wrapped, and inside my suitcase, I was drawing the same kind of reaction I did on the tube. Then I thought, what the hell am I doing to begin with bringing WINE and CHEESE to France? It’s like bringing sand to the beach. I came close to grabbing the cheese and throwing it into the nearest bin, but reminded myself that I paid 5 pounds for it, and you never know when your next meal will be.
We arrived at Hotel Lutetia just in time for me to change into my Brooks Brothers gig clothes and run down to the lobby for a 45 minute interview for Jazz Hot Magazine. The hotel was a five star - one of the most luxurious in Paris - and of course we would only be in it for a few hours. Rule #1: great hotel - short stay; sad hotel - long stay.
The concert that night was in the legendary Olympia Hall, where some of the biggest names in music have performed over the years. Live recordings by Duke, Basie, Oscar Peterson, Miles and Trane have come from this iconic space. Although we didn’t record our concert, I am sure the performance will be well documented in the minds of a packed and enthusiastic crowd.
In the audience that night was a friend, Craig Kuehl, who we met in Istanbul a few years ago, and who worked for the Embassy, and who saved my ass when, later that same tour, I left my passport on the equipment truck and couldn’t leave Spain. Craig arranged for me to get a new passport the next morning. I was in and out of the Consulate in Barcelona in less than half an hour, and was able to get to London just in time for the concert that night.
After our performance in Paris, I was able to finally thank Craig for his good deed by allowing him to buy a bottle of wine for a few of us to enjoy at a cafe around the corner from the venue. After a few laughs, and a some light appetizers, I said au revoir and grabbed the metro back to Hotel Lutetia to have a few short hours of sleep before leaving for the airport early in the morning. When I entered the room, there was that familiar smell. I opened up the window, added a fourth layer of wrapping to the cheese, and went to sleep.
(To be continued)