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Wine Cellar Jazz and Adam’s Apples, or an evening in the underbelly of the city of lights.

Once again I’m back in Europe, having just finished a concert at Zenith in Paris. A huge hall seating 5,000 people, and it was full. In fact, it was full of boisterous French people. They were especially boisterous in the 30 minutes between the end of the opening act and the start of our show. The natives were definitely getting restless by the time we hit the stage. But even after many visits to Europe, I’m still surprised at the enthusiasm of European audiences. The appreciate jazz far more than we do in the states, as a general rule. Both Ray and the band feed off of that kind of energy, so it was an exceptionally good show.

The view from my hotel room in Paris
Larry Gillespie
Our French road manager Andre
Sacre Cour, one of my favorite spots in Paris

After the concert it was time to explore the jazz clubs of Paris, in the company of Larry Gillespie, who lived here for several years and therefore knew where to go. So we hit the Metro, Paris’s subway system, and ended up at a club called “Le Petit Oportun”, which translates to something like “The Small Opportunity” It’s a regular bar on the ground level, where I visited with several French jazz musicians. Their grasp of English was not too much better than my French, so the sentences were short. Very nice fellows who play in a quintet with my friend Larry. Larry was in his element, even though the bartender was making fun of his heavily accented and grammatically incorrect French. Then we went downstairs, where what appeared to be a wine cellar in a former incarnation has been converted into a very small jazz club. In fact, several jazz clubs I’ve been to in Paris are in wine cellars. After all, there are as many wine cellars there as there are convenience stores in the US. A fine French jazz quartet was playing original material. It was well composed music. The European jazz musicians have improved immensely in the last few years. In particular piano players and bassists have a good grasp of jazz. The weakest link is still drummers. Good technique, but they still need to learn how to swing a little bit harder. Ok, a lot harder.

We got a ride home from one of the musicians, since the subway stops at midnight, to our hotel in the Montmarte section of Paris. It’s a very confusing area, full of short winding streets and absolutely no logic. Very easy to get lost, which our bus driver taking us to the hotel from the airport did. Our French road manager Andre started screaming at him at one point, adding a bit of excitement to the journey. Andre is not one to lose his cool, so we were all just looking at him in shock. He just grinned and shrugged his shoulders. He is used to such tribulations, having been Chet Baker’s manager for a while. He tells a good story of Chet spending all of the money on drugs, and the band having to stop in the center of some town or another, playing on the street for tips to be able to buy gas to make it to the next gig. He said there was a lot of good music made that way. Too bad nobody had a tape recorder. But Chet would have probably sold it for drug money anyway.

Larry and I both decided that we needed a late night snack, so we ventured by foot through Montmarte to Pigalle. We knew where we were going this time, to the all night crepe stand next door to the Moulin Rouge. This neighborhood can be pretty interesting at 3am, filled mainly with heavily intoxicated Frenchmen and prostitutes, many of whom are not what they seem to be.

“That’s a guy”, Larry said to me. She didn’t look at all like a man to me, so I asked Larry “How can you tell?”. “You can always tell by the adam’s apple”, he replied. I guess you learn something new every day.

So Larry and I muscled our way through the crowd and managed to get our crepes. Jambon Fromage.. Ham and cheese. Not a better snack in the world than a ham and cheese crepe at 3am while dodging transvestites and the drunks pursuing them, obviously not knowing the adam’s apple trick. Or even more frightening, not caring.

Then it was time to head back through the Montmarte cemetery and up the hill to our hotel. I swear that our hotel is uphill both ways, but at least we had full stomachs to help us up the hill. Larry walks fast, like he always is running late for something. “Larry, what the hell is your hurry???” I’m shouting at him every 24.3 seconds. He will slow down momentarily, just to pick up speed and have to be scolded once again. Must be all those years he’s lived in New York. No time to smell the roses, or the jambon fromage crepes, even.

We made it safely to our microscopic hotel room. Let’s just say that it’s a bit “cozy”. Tomorrow morning at 4:00am we head to Estonia. I have no idea what to expect, since I’ve never been to Estonia. I somehow doubt if we will have to look at adam’s apples, though.


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