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

27173823_973164362865313_3893516442297489891_o.jpg

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

IMG_0212-1.JPG

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!

Zog Blog - The final two. Brighton & London by Elaine Crouch

Zog Blog - Gigs 33 & 34

Up to date.jpg

606 Club, London

This was the last date of the tour (number 34)! Appropriate it should be at the 606, where I’m in 3 or 4 of the old photos from the early 1990s on the wall…. I told James, the manager, that we’d like to play as acoustic as possible, so we would not need monitors and could he please set the PA to a quarter of it’s normal level. He looked a little sceptical, but nonetheless obliged. At the end everyone was saying how good the sound was. The packed club was silent whilst we played, and it was a really satisfying way to finish what’s been a great tour. Huge thanks to the guys: Geoff Gascoyne, Sebastiaan de Krom and Graham Harvey, also Rob Barron, Rod Youngs, Robin Aspland and Josh Morrison for their fantastic playing and the whole hang. Let’s do it again sometime!

Verdict Jazz, Brighton

It was an insanely cold night and we went to an Italian restaurant that was embracing Xmas very zealously to warm up beforehand. Back at the small club a decent turnout had gathered and we had a top gig. I’m not making setlist anymore as I can feel confident everyone knows the stuff 33-gigs into the tour. It’s nice just to be able to start something. I’m still changing things around and adding the odd new tune.

Zog Blog - St Austell, St Ives & Coventry by Elaine Crouch

Gigs 30, 31 & 32

Coventry Albany Club

It was a wintery night when we arrived to load the gear in past a large, well oiled funeral party in the ground floor room.

Neil McGowan, who runs the Coventry Jazz evenings in the upstairs venue, is tirelessly enthusiastic and a generous host. It’s quite a big room, which ideally wants 150 people to pack it out. We got around 45-50, which looked ok but was a little disappointing after the promotional work Neil and I have done. Anyway, we still had a very good gig, and the audience, who took a little while to warm up, definitely found their voice by the end! We had the usual conversations at the end wondering how to get younger people to come out to the gigs, too, etc..... so anyone reading this in the Coventry area - please turn up and support these gigs! The venue, bands, and sound are all good and the drinks reasonably priced.

St Austell - The Lost Gardens of Heligan

We were scheduled to play at the regular St Austell's jazz venue, the Bosuns, which unfortunately was double booked relatively late in the day so the venue had to be switched in order to preserve the gig. The promoter, Phil Webb, did a great job sorting this out and moving it to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The downside was that the new venue is more remote and therefore much harder to get the audience to go to. That said, we still had a respectable turnout. The setting was a summer holiday tropical garden cafe, that on a windy, rainy December night was more like the scary scene in Jurassic Park when everyone gets chowed by the AWOL dinosaurs.... the get in also had to rank as one of the most awkward imaginable!

Once we were in, it was great. We received handsome hospitality - terrific food and drinks, and an extremely enthusiastic audience. The band, wined and dined, rose to the occasion and played great. Graham Harvey used his Fender Rhodes and we played acoustic. I felt sorry for the poor chap, Eric, who'd lugged a mighty PA in. All we used it for was announcements and interval music (Nigel Price's excellent Heads and Tales Cd)

Cornwall College Workshop

This workshop was set up by Phil Webb with the college for 15 of their music students, aged around 17 years old. They were very receptive and capable. Graham Harvey and I taught them Sonnymoon For Two by ear, improvisation through call and response techniques, basic blues chord progressions, guide tones and rhythmic placement. I was really impressed by how engaged everyone was throughout and how readily everything we taught was assimilated and put into practice. It would be great to have workshops for this age group in all regions on national tours.

St Ives Jazz Club at the Western Hotel has been going for years and recently won “Jazz Venue of the Year” in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards. It’s a split level bar with a grand piano and a small PA. I’ve done many great gigs here over the years, and last night was certainly one of them. One of the committee running the show commented that it was the busiest November gig (though it's December, of course!) they’d had for some time, so we’d been doing something right with the PR. The audience was good and really got into it.

Along with Aberdeen, this gig is the furthest away from London you can get in the UK. The fees paid to the musicians are unfortunately amongst the lowest on the circuit and I was surprised after our respectable turnout that the band cut was as low as it was. The split came to a quarter of what I actually pay the guys (that’s the MU minimum rate, BTW). I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about the gig, which is great and well run. I’m just suggesting that this should be reassessed more favourably from the musicians' perspective in order to respectfully maintain the high standard.

Zog Blog - Ronnie Scott's, Derby & North Devon by Elaine Crouch

Gigs 27, 28 & 29

North Devon Jazz Club

This pub is accessed via some scarily narrow roads barely wide enough for a car. It’s an L-shaped pub - one part dining area, and the other for the drinkers. The landlord, landlady and promoter are all excellent hosts. The gig is free to the public, but they still seem to find a way to make it work. I’ve been here a few times now, and I’m getting to know the regulars. We had a good gig and sold lots of CDs. Look forward to the next one here!

24297429_938398929675190_6757022730143982894_o.jpg

Voice Box, Derby

I grew up in Derby, so it’s a bit of a homecoming doing a gig here. I haven’t played the VoiceBox before. It’s a high ceilinged space with a generously reverberant acoustic and a nice Schimmel grand piano. We played at a sensitive level with no PA and I enjoyed the sound immensely. The room was full and many familiar faces were there, including Pete Wraight (MD for Matthew Herbert), Andrew Stanton (the man responsible for getting me to listen to the right stuff!) and Mike Say (former neighbour and drummer in my first band).

Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club's Late Show

Graham Harvey and I came straight from marking our Leeds College of Music students' end of term jazz gig at Toulouse Lautrec Venue. When we arrived at 10:30 we were told we were not allowed in the club until the main band had finished. Hmmm.... so the band doing the late set cannot hear the last couple of tunes of the main band? It was not sold out, so there would have been space. I can’t quite see the point of enforcing this.

When we were allowed in, of course the audience for the main show fled in droves, leaving a few die hard night owls and a trickle in of the Late Show hangers and musicians.

Alex Garnett's introductions were fun and we had a great set. After a 20 minute break we played “Alone Together” with Garnett and then hung out at the bar while the jam got going. Some familiar and some unfamiliar faces sat in and the standard was pretty high. I played 2 more tunes for the evening, then around 2:45 we finished up. Graham and Seb both stayed over at mine, as we all had early teaching duties the next day (Seb on 1 hour sleep, me and Graham on 4) which kind of makes the point why the established older players don’t hang at the jam - because we're working in the day! Anyway, it was fun, and you don’t have to fly anywhere to get jetlag!

 

Zog Blog - Rhosygilwen by Elaine Crouch

Gig 26

PlasRhosygilwen.jpg

The Rhosygilwen Concert Hall, replete with Steinway D concert grand piano, is a labour of love of eco entrepreneur, Glen Peters. He and his wife, Brenda, are great hosts, and I’ve been lucky to have played here four times now: with Brubecks Play Brubeck, Darius Brubeck Quartet, and twice with my quartet - first time augmented by singer Anita Wardell, and this time with Iain Mackenzie. Glen puts on a program varying from popular classical music, folk to “accessible” jazz, hence the addition of the singers to my usual instrumental lineup to make the program more accessible to the audience. 

Iain Mackenzie brought some very well constructed and clearly written charts, which we rehearsed in the afternoon. Some of them also had unison scat choruses of Chet Baker solos. He was extremely on the case, so this part of the process ran very smoothly.

We played 3 quartet tunes in the first set, and two in the second, before getting Iain on to do the bulk of the work! The crowd was a bit thin compared to by previous visits, and they were also very reserved to show their appreciation, which always makes you a little uneasy as a performer (are they enjoying this?) It seemed from the comments after that they were, although I do find the performance process more enjoyable and vibrant when I’m able to relax safe in the knowledge that what we’re doing is communicating.

Zog Blog - Atrium Café Bar - Clitheroe  by Elaine Crouch

Gig 25

We had a 6 hour drive through snow storms and all sorts down from Aberdeen. Eventually we made it to Clitheroe, only to get terribly lost in the one way system of this attractive town, ending up at some youth centre at the end of a waterlogged impasse (that was where the sat nav guided us). After asking a few kind folk in the pouring rain, it became apparent we wanted the castle, an imposing building we could see, but could we drive there?!

Of course we made it in the end to a modern glass and stone annex to the Castle, which was the Atrium Cafe. The crowd gathering looked like they wanted to hear standards, and yet I was regaled by stories of recent visits from Tim GarlandSoweto Kinch and Marius Neset, so I figured we could play our repertoire with impunity. Sure enough we were very well received by a comfortably full house, and lots of people came up to me after with kind comments.

Here are a few snaps from our travels.