The Darius Brubeck Quartet Tour of Poland - Nov 2018 by Elaine Crouch

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Darius Brubeck - piano
Dave O’Higgins- tenor sax
Matt Ridley Music- bass
Wesley Gibbens - drums

The idea behind this tour was to commemorate the Dave Brubeck Jazz Ambassadors tour of 1958 by playing the same cities 60 years after the event, and to celebrate 100 years of Polish independence.

We were to play mainly radio station venues and may decide to make a live CD from the best takes.

On November 5th we arrived at Berlin, where we were greeted by our driver for the tour, Rafael, an ex-Polish Special Forces guy who made us feel very safe!

When we arrived in Szczecin we met up with Sylwek, our host and promoter, at one of the many fantastic Polish restaurants we were treated to. All of his band members, with whom we were sharing the bill on this tour, were also there and it was a nice social evening to kick things off. The hospitality and accommodation were excellent throughout. 8 gigs in 13 days with travelling mainly on days off made this one of the most civilised tours I’ve been on!

The format for the first 7 concerts was Sylwester Ostrowski SO Jazz’s band, Jazz Brigade (Freddie Hendrix, Miki Hayama, Essiet Okon Essiet, Eric Allen and Dorota Miśkiewicz, playing the first set and The Darius Brubeck Quartet playing the second set. DBQ were also being filmed by a two man Dutch crew, Michiel ten Kleij and Jorne Tielemans for a future documentary, who quite literally followed us everywhere (I was very conscious of all the potential Spinal Tap moments!)

Darius’ wife and manager, Cathy, was accompanying us and there was another bus for Jazz Brigade driven by Remy, and two assistant tour managers / translators, Ania Giniewska and Izabela Rydzewska. So that made an entourage of 18 people including Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner from Jazz Sister Cities. It was a tribute to the great organisation that everything ran smoothly throughout.

A Polish friend of mine in London warned me not to drink vodka with Polish people! I should have listened.....

Matt, Wes and I spurred each other on to work out the excess by running or gym-ing most days. There were some amazingly good meals eaten (Polish food rocks!) especially duck, goose, steak, lamb.... (Matt’s vegan days are behind him), and some notable red wines, too - especially good was a Polish Rondo Regent in Krakow.

The itinerary

5 Nov arrival

6 Nov Radio Szczecin:

Beautiful run next to a lake and through a leafy park in warm sunshine

Wes lost his passport walking this route again later and had to spend all his time off in Warsaw negotiating a temporary replacement. Ironically a kind lady had found it and Facebooked him shortly after, but he’d not looked at FB until it was already cancelled.

The concert was a very exclusive radio function with a reception afterwards. Sylvek’s band also backed some local pop star singers so it was a bit of a gala variety show.

8 Nov US Ambassador Residence, Warsaw:

This was a kind of posh function. There were a couple of amusing faux pas - the Ambassador introducing Darius when he wasn’t in the room, and Darius thanking her for the invitation to play at the residence when, as a country and western fan, she’d sneaked out the building before the concert began!

On our day off we went to a fantastic concert by the @AAtom String Quartet feat. Vladyslav Sendecki.

10 Nov Radio Warsaw:

I was proud of myself for finding a local laundrette that did a service wash for a tenth of the cost of the same service at the Radisson Blu Sobieski. The downside is I now have some very tight T-shirts

The concert was in a tightly security controlled radio station and we didn’t get a chance to eat until midnight. This made us very grumpy and gave the gig a certain edge!

12 Nov Radio Kraków:

A magnificent ancient castle at the top of a hill, beautiful old town and a fire breathing dragon statue. The downside was it was teeming with tourists (including us).

13 Nov Radio Lublin:

Darius was not amused by the sampled piano, which looked like a miniature Lego take on a grand - especially with a giant like Darius sitting behind it! The engineer said it was much better than Steinway. But then again he said an SM58 was better than a Neumann…..

14 Nov Rzeszow Philharmonic Hall:

The restaurant we went to was a brewery. The drivers ate the most enormous rack of ribs and a large beer was a litre. We liked it so much we went back after with the film crew.

17 Nov Blue Note Club, Poznan:

Sub zero temperatures here for the first time this trip. An impressive old town. The National Museum was free entry on Saturdays. It housed a mesmerising collection of breathtaking art. I had time to check out Polish Art from the First Half of the Twentieth Century, Contempory Art, and loads of European Art from 1500 onwards. There were rooms for each country and the building so labyrinthine that it took us about 15min to find our way out.

The concerts seemed to get better and better as the time went on. The last night in Poznan was just DBQ so it was fun to play a lot more material. The audience made us go back for 2 encores, which was a real honour.

Thanks Sylwek, Cathy et al for organising a great tour!

Matt Bianco Autumn Tour 2019 Pt2 by Elaine Crouch

Sun  28 Oct - Portugal - Porto - Casa da Musica

We had the usual push and shove of EasyJet from Gatwick. Speedy Boarding counted for nothing on this flight which always makes me nervous about claiming some cabin space for my sax. We were accommodated in a beautiful hotel and the concert venue was equally impressive. The dressing room was an architectural showpiece! It was a late show considering it was a Sunday night. We were on at 10pm with Rudresh Mahanthappa opening up - a strange double bill! The gig went pretty well but we sensed the audience was exhausted by the end of our show... Before the gig we went to a local restaurant which was a little disappointing compared to the splendid O Cantinho De Portugal introduced to me by a Portuguese neighbour in Brixton.

Weds 31 Oct - Holland - Leiden Gebr. De Nobel

We had the reassuring familiarity of BA from Heathrow T5 again. No stress here!

Mark Van Den Berg, our Dutch manager, met us at Schiphol in a hired van just big enough for all the band. Leiden is a really beautiful town built on a labyrinth of canals. The sun was shining and I had a nice run before the soundcheck. The venue was a modern standing rock’n’roll place with 2 balconies. We played to a full house and as was the case with the other Dutch gigs on this tour the audiences were a little muted until being shaken out the tree by Seb's epic drum solo later in the set. 

Thurs 1 Nov - Holland - Bergen Ob Zoom Poppodium

We had a charming boutique Hotel De Draak experience in another idyllic Dutch town. Venue again a modern standing rock’n’roll place, and audience if anything slightly more reserved than last night until the same point in the show....!

Fri 2 Nov - Germany - Kassel Theater Stubchen

The only downside with this gig was the long drive out of our way between other gigs. It’s no secret, having married a German, that I am a fan of all things German ( microphones, bread, cars, wives!!!). The hotel was nice, but dubiously located between a brothel and a lap dancing club. Marcus, the club promoter (of the venue, not the Gentlemen's Club!) was splendidly hospitable. My wife, Judith, and 3 of her family came along and were crammed into a really packed, hot, sweaty club. The audience were crazily up for it from the off and it was a joy. The new material, all the great individual solo contributions from Martin Shaw and Rob Baron - they really know how to show their appreciation to get the most out of us.

Sat 3 Nov - Belgium - Turnhout De Warande

Another long drive. This was the worst hotel of the trip (Corsendonk Viane). It looked like an under- funded medical centre and my room had a peculiar smell that remained in spite of leaving the window full open for the duration. I have attached pictures of the stains on the wall and the carpet.... to be avoided! The venue was an enormous modern concert hall with a lovely Steinway D grand piano. The 250 strong crowd did a good job making us feel welcome, even if they didn’t quite fill the 1500 or so seats! It was also a very good on stage sound and hats off to the crew for spending time trying to fix a problem on the Fender Rhodes. Nice fish curry backstage, too!

Sun 4 Nov - Holland - Zaandam Podium De Flux

The Zaan Hotel, right opposite the train station, was a spanking new, clean, stylish affair in stark contrast to last night. I had a good explore around the town and a run later, and found the best coffee of the tour so far at De Koffeezaak. The gig was in a small, grungy club. It was packed and hot, and again we had the curious experience of the audience reacting more like their sitting on the sofa at home watching telly until getting bludgeoned with the “ huballa-bluballa” bit of the drum solo. From that point they loved it, as evidenced by the most ear-splitting whistles I’ve ever heard!

Mon 5 Nov

I’m off to Berlin now to meet the rest of the Darius Brubeck Quartet for a tour of Poland... Stay tuned…

Matt Bianco Winter Tour 2019 Pt1 by Elaine Crouch

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We just did a standalone 3 dates in Germany:

Textil Museum, Helmbrechts

Quasimodo, BerlinSchiller Bar & Lounge, Herford

We flew into and back from Frankfurt. There were 3-5 hour drives every day, so the geography was not ideal. We had a fairly comfortable “Van for Bands” so I settled into some lengthy Spotify listening sessions, checking out everything I could think of.

On all these German gigs the promoters were on top form. Everything was impeccably well organised. The hospitality was excellent and the gigs very well attended. The audiences were really attentive - clapping solos and engaging as much with the new material as the hits. All the sound engineers did a great job and we received compliments from the audience to this effect.

Looking forward to the next leg in Holland (with one more German date in the middle).

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Matt Bianco at the International Jazz Festival Bansko (Bulgaria) and Nisville Jazz Festival (Serbia). by Elaine Crouch

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So last Thurs I set the alarm for 4:30am to make an 8am flight from Heathrow to Sofia in Bulgaria.We eventually arrived in the winter ski resort of Bansko (I’d actually been skiing here before) around 6pm at a hotel rated 5* (described by one of our entourage as ‘70s council estate chic). There was a jazz festival going on a mile down the road, but no-one around to give us any info or timings other than an indecipherable program in Bulgarian. So we took the boring option of dinner and a drink at the hotel. It was still hot so drinks by the pool were nice, albeit with a speaker in every plant pot playing low grade library smooth jazz….

On Friday we had a midday soundcheck in a pleasant open air town square (it was roasting hot) and the local crew were very amenable and capable. I stayed on with Mark Reilly for a press conference like a scene with the president out of Homeland (interpreters and all that!) although the questions weren’t so challenging….

Our show was scheduled for 10:15, but the previous act overran massively and we went on very late. The show was great. The fact it was filmed for TV and that we hadn’t played for a while kept us on our toes - the vibe was excellent although when it’s being recorded you’re always conscious of the mistakes! The crowd was good and enthusiastic.

It was late by the time we got back to the hotel, and we had to leave at 8am the next morning.

The Bulgarian-Serbian border is known for being a drag, but 4.5 hours! Our 310km journey from Bansko to Nis took 10 hours! And it was killer hot. Mercifully we had aircon in the van.

When we arrived in Nis, we were greeted by a nice young girl (turned out to be only 16 years old) who had been entrusted with managing our stay. We were told that we had to go immediately to the soundcheck, 2 min walk away. So without any chance to recoup, we walked 20 min to the gig, carrying our things in the heat. Once we were there, we sat listening to another band soundcheck for 30 mins in a hot, sticky, noisy tent and had a warm beer. Our soundcheck went reasonably, but there were a few technical issues. We were keen to get some food (we’d had nothing all day and it was now 7pm) so we were taken another 2 min walk that took 20 mins to a local restaurant, which sadly was terrible. Greasy soup, salty dry chicken and cold chips. And very ropey wine. So we got out of there as fast as possible to have an hour at the hotel before having to trundle back to the gig.

Again the previous act overran and our 11.15pm show was more like 12:30am. We were all so tired it was an auto-pilot job - in front of about 8000 people and again televised.

Afterwards, everyone else had returned to the hotel bracing themselves for a 7am leave, when Mila (our host) told me and Martin Shaw that our departure time had been moved forward to 5am. This was 2am and we were still at the gig. We doubted we could get that message to the others, who’d left already. Also I expressed concern that this would be terrible if the driver was late……

So after 2 hours sleep we were up and ready to leave. The driver wasn't there. He had overslept....

We were still so early at the border (which we had to cross again to get back to Sofia airport) that it was relatively quick this time. That meant we arrived at the airport about 10am for our 2:20pm flight.

It was fun bumping into the David Dower Trio at Sofia airport. Other than that just an awful lot of hanging around. Eventually got home around 5:30pm UK time on the Sunday evening utterly exhausted. Oh the glamour!

Notes From New York - April 2018 by Elaine Crouch

On a five day break to New York with Judith O'Higgins, this is what we heard:

Friday / Saturday
Walt Weiskopf Quartet at Smalls Jazz Club
Walt Weiskopf- tenor
Peter Zak - piano
Ugonna Okegwo - bass
Jason Tiemann - drums
Perfectly balanced sound, seemed totally acoustic.
Very involving tunes and arrangements, super tight band led with great authority. Killing tenor playing. This is my favourite original music on the jazz scene today.
To me it was on a par with the Cedar Walton Quartet I heard with Bob Berg on my first ever visit to Ronnie Scotts in the 1980s. How funny to meet Martha Walton two days later!
This band was so good I went twice...

Sat Brunch
Grant Stewart at the Harlem Tavern
We heard three sets of standards and jazz evergreens with Grant on great form playing beautifully crafted melodic lines thoroughly in the tradition. A slightly weird setting of super heated covered outdoor area in front of Harlem sports bar and not a listening gig, but could still focus properly on the music.

Saturday
Sin Fronteras at Fat Cat Music
Insanely rowdy venue with pool and ping pong tables, chess, card games and fearsome beer drinking. It was hard to focus on the over amplified music, though the band was clearly quite virtuosic and played an adventurous repertoire for the setting including a darkly reharmed Nature Boy and some odd meters.

Sunday
Helen Sung Quintet at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola
Monk tribute w Dr Eddie Henderson (trumpet) and John Ellis (tenor)
They played a version of Bye Ya with challenging changing meters that took a bit of working out! This is on one of Helen Sung's CDs in case any time signature boffins want to check it out...
We had a great afters hang in a dodgy Irish bar with Martha Walton, Sylvia Cuenca, Helen Sung
and Luca Santaniello

Mon
The 11th St. Bar
When we walked in to the 11th St Bar, I was excited to see Jerry Weldon. He sat in and sounded AMAZING. His sound was incredible - it filled the room with an effortless fat authority like you can imagine Dexter would have done in his prime early 60s era. His lines swung hard and on the standard repertoire everything was just perfect. What a treat! I feel rejuvenated and thrilled to be a jazz musician again. There’s nothing quite like a trip to New York to feed the musical soul!

Tues
Mike LeDonne Groover Quartet w Vincent Herring at SMOKE Jazz Club
This gig's a weekly institution usually with Eric Alexander. Vincent was depping (subbing as they say here!) for Eric, with an enormous book presumably of LeDonne originals on a stand in front of him. They didn’t use this much. Peter Bernstein and Jason Tiemann (him again!) swung hard, and they played a rip force “Rhythm” changes (over 400bpm I reckon) with many alto and organ stop choruses, and no flagging!

There was a jam session in the last set with a great young alto player, Danny Raycraft One to watch out for...

New project with Max Ionata by Elaine Crouch

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I'm pleased to announce a new project and collaboration with fellow tenor player Max Ionata. Named after the 1994 album from Roy Hargrove of the same name that featured 5 US tenor saxophonists, 'Tenors of our Time' will be a swinging straight ahead mix of originals and standards and includes Ross Stanley on organ and Luca Santaniello on drums. There’s an album in the pipeline and some UK dates in May. More news and details coming soon...

Darius Brubeck in Szczecin, Poland by Elaine Crouch

Due to bad UK weather conditions we had two flights cancelled and our plans of making it out a day early to be less fraught were scuppered.

Left Brixton at 6:45am for a 9am flight from Heathrow on Eurowings. We were met at Berlin Tegel Airport and had a 2 hour car journey over extraordinarily bumpy roads to Szczecin. The city had that grey, solemn kind of Cold War look to it and it was about -5 degrees. Our hotel (Dana) was no exception from the outside, but inside was absolutely beautiful in an old fashioned no expenses spared kind of way - lots of chandeliers and heavy furniture.

It was 3pm and all we knew about our itinerary was that we were playing that night. So we did what touring musicians do and seized the opportunity to eat. The menu was fantastic and we had rare steaks and Polish red wine. By the time we’d finished we had been contacted and told we’d be taken in 20 minutes time to the venue. Nicely exhausted now, we changed into our suits and went to the spectacular Philharmonic Hall.

Soundcheck was challenging because we like to set up close and play very acoustic. However the support band was already set up and soundchecked and we were asked not to move anything before our set. The support group was about a 12-piece band including vocals, electronics, strings..... monitors everywhere and the drums miles away with swathes of damping taped to the snare.

Soundcheck finished at 7 and showtime was 8. We assumed we’d be on around 9. Backstage was a futuristic labyrinth like the Battlestar Galactica..... and yet there was pretty much zero hospitality other than bottles of water.

It was 10:30 before we went on in the end. The audience clapped in the right places but it was rare anyone cracked a smile until we suddenly got a standing ovation at the end! Afterwards we were locked out of our dressing room and the whole process of waiting to go back to the hotel was very Spinal Tap and seemed interminable.

I got to bed at 12:30 knowing I had to leave at 3:30am. Oh the glamour.

The Darius Brubeck Quartet in Sicily by Elaine Crouch

We did this the civilised way and caught an afternoon flight on Friday, arriving at Palermo airport on a beautiful sunset and in perfect time for dinner. Our host, Francesco, took us to a local restaurant where we did the set menu; ante pasta, pasta, main (all seafood) washed down with a carafe or two of the house wine. Afterwards we checked out a couple of the local bars that were busy and friendly, notable for the complete absence of lairy drunkenness.

The next day we had a good walk about. I went for a run around the harbour and to the Foro Italico. We had a 4pm set up and soundcheck at Sicily's oldest theatre - Real Teatro Santa Cecilia, built in 1693.

We had a beautiful dinner beforehand, Sicilian red wine, espresso and grappa. Perfect to energise us for our two well attended shows. The early set was the older folks and the later one well attended by the younger generation. The sound was good and we played two totally different sets with the exception of the compulsory Take Five that has everyone lurching for phones and iPads to video it. They always stop just after the head (the moment I start soloing!) - I’ve got used to it now but I used to find it most disconcerting....

The hotel was well appointed in the old town. The area was busy and noisy, and the air feels quite thick with pollution. By Sunday morning I had a better idea of the local geography and managed to find a running route to the Foro Italico via cobbled back alleys, whilst listening to radio commentary of England v New Zealand T20 cricket (a curious juxtaposition of cultures!)