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


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!

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!)