Italy Tour with Matt Bianco by Elaine Crouch

Off with Matt Bianco to Italy for a week. Had to set my alarm for 4:15am to pack and leave my house at 5. 


8am flight from Heathrow to Bologna on a fully automated BA. That experience was good, because it meant there were no tetchy human beings to give me a hard time about having a saxophone!

Everything went smoothly and we arrived in Bologna at the hotel around noon, where they had the rooms ready. We were in a noisy, bustling district literally 1 min walk from the club, Bravo Caffé, where we'd be playing later.

We went out for lunch - a simple bustling Trattoria with a very miserable waiter and fabulous, cheap food. Time to risk life and limb walking through the cyclists and attempt a siesta in the world's noisiest hotel. There was drilling, hammering, shouting, lorries, etc... !! 

Went to venue at 4pm for set up and soundcheck. There was a weird large sampled piano gadget and a Fender Rhodes, both tuned to different pitches. The Rhodes was closest but out of tune with itself. The "jazz" drum kit was the antithesis thereof, and the rider notice saying "under no circumstances use SM58s on horns" had been ignored. Geoff was complaining that the bass was impossible to play as some notes were louder than others. After some fiddling about, we managed to get something sorted out that was workable if not ideal. All the staff were nice and hospitable and , of course, we ate like kings (again!). The gig wasn't until 10:30pm or so and the small club was packed. It was the polar opposite of our Japanese experience with the tiny, poorly appointed stage and dodgy gear and sound, but the gig was really fun and vibey. We hung out for a while after and walked back in the rain, which is apparently due to stay for the next couple of days.

Japan Tour with Matt Bianco August 2017 by Elaine Crouch

Day 4

We met up for a trip to the fish market for sushi. We were chaperoned by Jiro, an old friend of Mark's who used to run a bar in Roppongi. He took us to the fantastic sushi restaurant pictured, where I was chastised for asking for extra wasabi (I became "wasabi man" for the rest of the day). It was like I'd ordered a cappuccino after dinner in Italy! Afterwards we walked around the market and I had the biggest oyster I'd ever seen.

The last 2 shows went really well and there were a few friendly faces enthusiastically helping us finish the rider off in the dressing room after. The Blue Note Club looked after us magnificently and the new jazzy Matt Bianco has gone down a storm so far.

Day 3

After the first night's shows I was exhausted and looked forward to a good night's sleep. Dammit, wide awake at 3am! Thanks what 24 hr hotel gyms are for, I guess! At least I was starving hungry for my Japanese curry breakfast....

I went on an expedition to the main saxophone store, Ishimori Wind Instruments in Okubo. This necessitated a subway train and an overground train, and was an intuition test of note since almost everything is written in Japanese and obviously no one speaks English. Anyway, I made it, and when I arrived I met a most hospitable chap called Nori (Norikiyo Yaguchi) who opened a large rehearsal space with a Steinway for me to try all the Ishimori gear out. Eric Alexander endorses their saxophones so we had fun trading stories. Nori later came to our Blue Note show.

The first show was one of those low ebbs, where everything that could go wrong did. Martin forgot to bring his flugelhorn on the stage to begin the show so there was an interminable minute of us standing on stage before the first note while he ran back to the dressing room to get it. There were some enthusiastic fans at the front who clapped on 2&4 on every song - slightly behind the beat.

The second show by total contrast was really good and we all felt like we'd nailed it. The mid show feast must have done the trick.

Tokyo with Matt Bianco - Day 2

The hotel took a bit of working out. There are two sets of lifts that access different floors, sometimes requiring combination journeys to get where you want!

The gym was as big as the rooms were small. The swimming pool area enforced a visible tattoo ban, due to "cultural sensitivity"

When we arrived at the Blue Note Club everything was beautifully set up exactly as per the tech spec. We soundchecked and ran about half the set, the acoustic aesthetic was well observed so it sounded great. Showtimes 6pm and 9pm. We were all a bit anxious about 1) playing the new material from memory for the first time 2) what the die hard Matt Bianco fans would make of the new "jazz band"! All went very well indeed and minor wobbles negotiated without sustaining any major damage! The club fed us a magnificent buffet between shows - lots of exotic veg, salmon and very tender rare beef. Martin Shaw met a gripper who introduced himself as the head of McLaren Cars.... Martin said he loves their cars, to which the boss asked "do you have one?" Yeah, right.....!

The hotel took a bit of working out. There are two sets of lifts that access different floors, sometimes requiring combination journeys to get where you want!

The gym was as big as the rooms were small. The swimming pool area enforced a visible tattoo ban, due to "cultural sensitivity"

When we arrived at the Blue Note Club everything was beautifully set up exactly as per the tech spec. We soundchecked and ran about half the set, the acoustic aesthetic was well observed so it sounded great. Showtimes 6pm and 9pm. We were all a bit anxious about 1) playing the new material from memory for the first time 2) what the die hard Matt Bianco fans would make of the new "jazz band"! All went very well indeed and minor wobbles negotiated without sustaining any major damage! The club fed us a magnificent buffet between shows - lots of exotic veg, salmon and very tender rare beef. Martin Shaw met a gripper who introduced himself as the head of McLaren Cars.... Martin said he loves their cars, to which the boss asked "do you have one?" Yeah, right.....!

 

Tokyo with Matt Bianco - Day 1

Left home at 3pm on Weds for Heathrow T4. Arrived recommended 3 hours before scheduled departure and got through security in 15 minutes. Korean Air checkin very agreeable and no hassle with saxophone. Then the delays were announced.... the plane needed a new tyre. Evidently they don't keep one in the boot along with a jack, so it was delayed, and delayed again. We were bored, so I had (hopefully) my last unhealthy food for a few days (pictured scorpion and chips) at the Prince of Wales pub. 

We left about 3.5 hours behind schedule. The Korean Air group staff were very helpful and attentive when I explained 6 of us had a connecting flight from Incheon to Narita and needed to make it in time for our 2 Friday shows at Tokyo Blue Note. 10 hours later we arrived at 6pm Korean time in Incheon. They had scheduled us on a later flight to Narita which in turn was also delayed. Oh the fun we were having. 

We did get to the very swanky Ana Intercontinental Hotel in Tokyo by midnight Thurs / Fri. Had we been via Zog? Where did the day go?!

We had a pint that cost £15 in the bar. 

The view from the window of my micro-room is of many even huger buildings (this one is 40 storeys). Breakfast was very exotic. I got a tray full of stuff I couldn't name, but tasted good! Off to rehearsal/ soundcheck for first 2 shows in an hour.

New York Tour - Rochester Jazz Festival by Elaine Crouch

New York Day 5

Friday 30th June

Met Phil Robson for coffee at the Washington Square Diner, a proper old school USA version of our greasy spoon.

From there went on to the Museum of modern art where I saw:
Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, Robert Rauschenberg
and the main collection, 1880-1950s which was very impressive.

The only problem was there were a LOT of people.

I had my final NY sushi fix after that at a curious place in the Village, called Sushi Sushi and pounding out super obscene language gangster rap that clashed with the delicious, buttery salmon sashimi!

Went via a dark sleazy bar where I sat with the locals for a cold Goose beer - much needed in the clammy 31 degree heat, before collecting all my luggage and trundling back to JFK on the subway.

Then the misery recommenced.....

Check in and security queues were each about 30 minutes. Once at the gate, there was nowhere to sit, huge waits at the one bar and two terrible food vendors selling oversized sandwiches and undersized drinks for a small fortune. The crowds were more or less shoulder to shoulder and all the flights were being delayed and gates switched. There were only 2 monitor screens carrying flight information and these were at the opposite end to the departure gates (about 200 metres and 1000 people away). My flight was delayed by 3 hours. I ended up befriending another few hapless London bound characters, which at least made the 6 information-less hours spent at the airport slightly more bearable. And I didn't have a connecting flight to miss this time..... NOTE Norwegian Air / JFK combo cheap and not cheerful. Actually torturous rubbish. Avoid if possible. It's a false economy. Only redeeming features were: 
The totally aloof / disdainful girl at the check in desk didn't object to my saxophone going on board
The other passengers were nice and we found camaraderie in adversity


New York Day 4

Thurs 29th June

Met Grant Stewart outside Smalls Jazz Club for lunch. We went for sushi at very un-fancy Japanese restaurant and it was good value, hearty and excellent. Wish I could remember the name of the place - somewhere in the West Village. Then I tagged along with Grant to JL Woodwind Repair, Inc., a midtown workshop run by John Leadbetter(who sounded like a burning tenor player when he demonstrated his strange looking "Frankenmute" (my name for it, not his!). He also had a low A Selmer Mk 6 alto (why?) and a rare " double S" Mk6 alto (SS??). Once Grant had left his horn with John, we paid a visit to the Vandoren Musician's Advisory Studio NYC (great name!) since we both endorse Vandoren reeds. David Gould, the Artist Relations Manager, made us very welcome and another endorser, Nick Hempton, popped in. I checked Nick out later on Spotify and he is a great alto player. Later on I went to Smalls and guess who was on the door? Nick. He let me in gratis to see Mark Turner Jazz more on this in a sec. It's not what you know!

Meanwhile I had a message from Luca Santaniello (drummer from my Rochester gig) who said we were on the guest list for Dizzy's early show and Birdland late.

Heard Willie Jones III at Dizzy's playing some tightly honed straight ahead tunes by Cedar Walton, George Coleman, etc. Eric Reed on piano was fantastic. Luca introduced me to most of the musicians who were all very friendly. 

From there we went to Smalls and I saw the end of Jochen Rueckert's set with Mark Turner doing his thing on fairly fierce 4-chord vamp.

Outside in the warm evening air there was quite a street hang of musicians. I've been pleasantly surprised by how many said "I've seen your stuff on YouTube..."

We went on to Birdland where I bumped into Phil Robson Official and an old friend from NY, the great tenor player, Jed Levy

The band were Saxophone Summit with Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano and Greg Osby. Billy Hart was on drums, doing some crazy stuff. They started with a contrefact on 'Softly as in a Morning Sunrise', which was pretty out, but by the time they did the late Coltrane it was orbiting around another planet somewhere....!!

New York Day 3

Weds 28th June

Flew from Rochester to New York JFK. There were no queues at Rochester Airport and the whole thing was a breeze. When I arrived at JFK I had to take the Airbus (which was a train) to Jamaica Avenue subway, where I needed to buy a ticket to get out, then another one to get back in. For a rookie it was pretty confusing, so I asked a member of staff for help, which entailed a dodgy vending stand and everyone involved requiring tips...

Anyway, 2 air conditioned subway trains later I was in Greenwich Village in searing 30 degree heat and scalding sunshine. Checked into the very seedy looking St Marks Hotel, where my room was basically a prison cell with a double bed and a noisy air con unit. Soon found a good coffee place, staffed by an exotically pierced and tattooed young lady, and started to plan my day. 

Eric Alexander got in touch with me and so I changed plans and went out to the furthest northern reaches of suburban Bronx (Spuyten Duyvil) to hang out with him and his wife, Esther. Eric had mouthpieces and saxophones strewn all over his lounge and we had a geek fest taking turns on saxophone and piano, until his wife and kids could take no more and we went to a local Irish pub with a photo of the staff hanging out with Gerry Adams behind our heads.

Getting back to Manhattan via buses and subways in the Bronx at 1am was interesting.... took me an hour and a half. Relieved to make it back to the prison cell intact!


Tues 27 June

Day 2 (part 1)

So 4 hours sleep later I was back on my way to JFK, thinking 1.5 hours for a domestic flight would be plenty. It was only just enough. Those queues! Sorry, "lines" as they call them here....

Bought a yoghurt and a carrot juice at the airport for a cool $13. Anyway, the next flight was a tiny plane. None of those overnight carry on cases fit the lockers, so all of those were taken off the passengers plane side to go in the hold. But, guess what? My tenor case fit, no problem in the overhead locker. It takes less space! Airlines please take note.

Once at Rochester I was met by a lovely lady, Julie. She took me to check in at the lovely Radisson I'd missed out on the night before and patiently listened to me moaning. When I arrived they kindly sent out for a sandwich. I got a grilled chicken and spinach panini, which was so big it could have fed a family for a week.

Day 2 (part 2)

Getting ready for the inaugural gig with the Dave O'Higgins Atlantic Bridge Quartet. The band name was to 1) distinguish it from my regular UK Quartet 2) mark the London - New York connection 2) pay homage to Bill Kyle's Atlantic Bridge group from the late 80s - early 90s which featured Joe Locke, Tommy Smith, Dave Stryker, Steve Hamilton, Andy Mitchell, Bill Kyle and myself at various stages.

The DOH ABQ comprises:
DOH - tenor sax
Jeb Patton - piano
Clovis Nicolas - bass
Luca Santaniello - drums

Luca and I have played together before, and it was on his recommendation the others got involved.

We were playing Christ Church, Rochester - a large reverberant space as you can imagine. I gave Andy, the sound engineer, the usual pep talk about keeping it as acoustic as possible and from the off he was totally on board. We topped and tailed everything at rehearsal, and the trio were absolute consummate professionals, concentrating hard and nailing everything. I was dying to let rip, but wanted to save the pent up energy for the show.

When we were hanging out back stage in anticipation with Sue Edwards, the UK promoter, I was anxious that the eerie silence pervading meant the venue was empty. It was a satisfying surprise to see 300 people waiting for our first note. Both shows were equally well attended and the gigs were a sheer joy, start to finish. The guys were swinging, listening, interacting and I felt that whatever I played they'd make it sound right. We played about 50% my originals and 50% standards. What a pleasure, and thanks so much to Jeb, Clovis and Luca especially for putting the band together. It's so special when this happens with such ease. The sound also was terrific, well done Andy. I had many very nice comments from people in the audience of all ages, and hopefully we can do this again sometime.

The essence of our sets was swinging jazz. What do you call it? Classic contemporary jazz? Sue commented "I don't get to hear much of this kind of music" which is interesting to hear....

After we went to unwind in a local bar. It was a "smoking bar" where indoor smoking was permitted. I couldn't go inside - I have no idea how we used to survive these smoky atmospheres every working night in the old days! So we sat outside exchanging stories and talking about music. It's amazing what a common force it is for bringing people together.

I put a brief appearance in at the hotel jam session afterwards, where loads of young kids were ripping up "Green Dolphin Street" and "It Could Happen To You". My jet lag kicked in and I couldn't make it past 12:30, but by this time all the travel horrors of yesterday had been expunged.


Mon 26 June

Day 1

I'm on my way to play in the Rochester Jazz Festival in New York (actually about 350 miles from New York City).

Norwegian Air from Gatwick to JFK, who unblinkingly tagged my tenor sax as cabin baggage (big relief). All was going ok to begin as they had to switch planes for some reason which meant my seat row, 49, had super long extra legroom. 

Then the complications began - some issues with loading the luggage, needling extra fuel for unforeseen greater weight, etc all meant we took off 2.5 hours behind schedule.

My 3 hour changeover time for domestic flight to Rochester was a lost cause. It took an hour to clear the customs line at JFK, by which time it was 11:30pm local time. I went to the almost closed Norwegian Air desk and they basically disowned all responsibility for my problem, since the connection was with another airline. So my paid for Radisson Hotel in Rochester would go unused, my second flight wasted and I had no idea where I would sleep or how I would get to my gig the next day....

After asking around, I found there was a mysterious hub referred to as the Federal Circle, and persuaded a Hilton courtesy bus driver to take me there. Once there, I found many other such courtesy buses for various hotels. With one exception, the drivers were quite unhelpful and made me phone the number on the side of there bus (from my international cell running out of battery to get "please press "1" for........"). The exception was a nice Jamaican guy who wanted to talk cricket with me, and used his cell to make some enquiries. Eventually (after an hour) I found a place, The Howard Johnson Hotel, that had one room left. By this stage the $220 to stay in a hotel that needed a class screen to protect the receptionist from attack seemed like a good deal. At least they had wifi, which enabled me to spend another $310 on another flight to Rochester.

DBQ Tour Day 8 by Elaine Crouch

Borrowed some bikes and cycled north along the beach in scorching sunshine. 

When we got back to town Gay Pride march was in full swing (see photo!)

The snacks at happy hour were particularly good - warm cheese in filo pastry, roasted vegetables, feta, olives, short grain rice.... The best food we've had here has been the breakfast and happy hour at the hotel. Barely needed much else!

At the gig Matt sported the most ridiculous rolled up trousers and multicoloured socks rig. He actually went on stage like that (!?)

The promoters, Ziv and Mor, brought a fantastic cake on stage before Take 5 with a sculpted model of Darius on top. Darius will be 70 next week, so this was the first celebration.