Matt Bianco

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!

Recording with Tomasso Starace in Turin parts 2 & 3 (January 2018) by Elaine Crouch

The Mad Dog Social Club is a groovy subterranean, cave like cocktail bar, accessed through an unmarked doorway at street level. Apparently it’s the only regular gig in Turin for Jazz unsullied by such frippery as commerciality. The gig was fun after a day in the studio. We played a mixture of tricky originals and easy standards to an appreciative audience. It was all the more therapeutic for the excellent Mescal Negroni cocktails!

It meant a late-ish night, though, so waking up in the dark for a third day in a row hurt....

Considering our lack of sleep and the breakneck tempos we were attempting, the second day in the studio went well and we were done by 6pm.

A chilled evening off and back home via Milan airport the next day. 

Getting roasted on some tricky charts at Carlo Miori's Music Studio With Tommaso Starace's new quartet project in Turin (see video).

8am pickup, in the studio til 6:30pm and then a gig at a club called The Mad Dog Social Club. Mad Dogs and Englishmen, eh?

Ironically it’s an icy 3 degrees here while apparently a balmy 12 in the Brixton Riviera....

Photo by Carlo Mogavero

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Matt Bianco goes Dutch - Part One (January 2018) by Elaine Crouch

Matt Bianco goes Dutch - Part One

Our flights on Thursday from Heathrow to Schipol (Amsterdam) were cancelled, rebooked, delayed, etc due to allegedly the worst winds in Holland for 100 years. We made it just in time to go straight to our gig in Hoofddorp at a stand up rock venue that reminded me a bit of the Jazz Cafe.

Mark Reilly, Clarissa Land (doing her first gig with the band), Martin Shaw, Rob Barron, Geoff Gascoyne and Sebastiaan de Krom gave it their all and after a long day we finally got to the hotel. The bad news was we’d have to leave at 6:30 sharp the next morning for a radio show.

The next morning arrived all too soon. We all made the call on time except Martin, whose fancy new iPhone 8 had failed to take note of the hour time change from UK!

We’d finished the show before dawn! (You can see it’s dark outside on the video)

We went from there straight to the next hotel in Den Bosch. What a beautiful town. So after a disorientating siesta and a walkabout it was time for another soundcheck. This venue was an elegantly converted old church and very reverberant as you would expect. The hospitality was magnificent. We had snacks on arrival, pre gig drinks, dinner, after show drinks and pizzas.....

Here's a video recorded at the radio show:

Matt Bianco goes Dutch part 2 and recording with Tomasso Starace in Turin (January 2018) by Elaine Crouch

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The great thing about touring Holland is that nowhere's more than 2 hours drive away. It’s also a pleasure to MD a band that’s so cooking. It was more like a four day holiday than a tour! The last gig especially was tremendous fun.

The only thing that didn’t go so well was the exit plan to get to my next gig in Turin...

So I left the warm hotel we were staying in with Matt Bianco in Hilversum, Holland, at 6:50am to head for the local train station - a freezing, rainy 10 minute walk away. No human beings to buy tickets from, just machines requiring “coins only”. Who carries €9 in coins? Anyway, I found one that accepted credit cards. In fact it unnervingly swallows your credit card.

I found the appropriate platform in time courtesy of Google maps, not thanks to any helpful sign posting. Sadly my train was delayed over and over, so the next one to the airport left from a different platform (apparently a very clear announcement had been made in Dutch). By the time I made it to Schipol Airport it was 'last call' for my flight and there was a sign saying “18 minutes to the gate”. I was wearing my Paul Smith leather soled stage shoes and I might as well have been trying to run on an ice rink with my sax on my back. I was the last person on the flight, everyone looking visibly miffed at me trundling on at the 18th hour...

Once at Turin I had instructions to catch a bus into town. The ticket machine didn’t work. After some comedic dithering about I just had a feeling the lottery vendor might sell bus tickets, and lo and behold....!

So I then had to find the bus, and when that arrived the driver didn’t get out to open the hold for people's cases, so I found myself in charge! Anyway, it all worked out and I got into town.

Tomasso Starace and drummer, Ruben Bellavia, met me at the stop and showed me to a nice little apartment up 106 steps (like starting at the bottom of the Northern Line) where I’d be staying for 3 nights.

We went from there to the Italian Premises Rehearsal Studio and spent 4 hours slaving over Tommaso's tricky themes, broken up with a little light relief in the form of 'Trinkle Tinkle' and 'Bebop'.

The guys dropped me back at the flat later so I bought some delicious take out ravioli from a pasta shop and a fine Primitivo to wash it down. Could only find a teaspoon to eat it with, but more importantly there was a bottle opener and a wine glass!

Matt Bianco Tour - Sardinia by Elaine Crouch

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We were going out for 4 shows over 2 nights at the BFLAT Jazz Club in Cagliari. The trip out was via Rome and a brutally early 7:25am flight from Heathrow. This meant everyone's alarms were set for around 4am. This is known as “f*** off o'clock” in touring parlance and on one nighters is often two days running.

Mercifully all the flights were on time and I dodged the airport baggage taggers and got the sax on board all flights without a problem.

The Miramare Cagliari - art hotel, maison de charme was a funky boutique hotel with very stylish and all completely different rooms. It was quirky but very nice.

We had a full (by Matt Bianco standards) rehearsal of about an hour (another hobby horse of mine: bandleaders, don’t kill the gig with a long rehearsal on the same day before the show!!), to give Rob Barron and Steve Fishwick a heads up on their first gigs with the band. The guys did a great job. The rest of us were the “Gravity” CD team: Sebastiaan de Krom, Geoff Gascoyne, ELISABETH TROY and Mark Reilly.

The club was fairly small and the staff were very welcoming and hospitable. It was situated away from the harbour where our hotel was and in a modern concreted block. The interior was much more stylish than the exterior!

All the shows were full and well received and I think we played better and certainly with more energy on the second night.

On the second daytime I went for a run, trying to find a coastal route, but due to dock security I couldn’t get near the sea and ended up running along main roads through barren industrialised areas. So I decided to go for a walk in the afternoon and researched the Lonely Planet online. I learned that the most spectacular views in Cagliari were to be had from Il Castello, which I Googled. It was a 4km walk, and it took me to a run down, shut restaurant by the same name in the least picturesque landscape imaginable.... the pitfalls of blindly satnav following!

Before our flight home we just had time to do lunch. Not really Italian style, as we had to explain we only had an hour. It was worth it - the food was a reminder that Italy really rocks when it comes to cuisine. The restaurant was called Ristorante Antica Cagliari and I highly recommend it, especially for seafood fans (Geoff is not one, he was saying “it’s all bloody seafood on this menu!”)

Thanks to Sam Sollai for the photo.

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.