Traveling can really make you appreciate where you live. First of all, I usually do a fair amount of whining about the heat in Portland every summer. You wouldn't expect the Northwest to be that warm, but surprisingly in the summer months it is. Mediterranean summers on the other hand are something completely different. I was only there in the first part of the summer and it was very warm. In fact, the day after I left Athens it made it to a scorching 115 degrees. Italy was also having a heat wave, making both Naples and Rome uncomfortable.
I tend to catch myself whining about the Jazz scene here in Portland. Since moving here I've watched club after club close down. When I got here in 2000 it felt like a little Greenwich Village, no kidding. You could walk to almost eight downtown clubs with live Jazz in less than a mile radius. Today you might find three rooms with Jazz on a Friday night. My trip reminded me that things could be worse.
My first stop was the breathtaking city of Istanbul. We stayed practically between two of the world's most incredible mosques, the Blue mosque and Haga Sophia. The call to prayer sounded like it was coming from right out our window. Turks are intelligent and friendly people who really know how to hang. Sitting at rooftop cafes overlooking the Bospherous while smoking nargiles (hookas), drinking small glasses of sweet apple tea, playing backgammon and eating kabobs and Turkish delights; these guys know how to party.
There only seemed to be two Jazz clubs in Istanbul, pretty sad for a city with over ten million inhabitants. The owner of Nardis, the club I played at, said that people hadn't yet gotten used to going out to clubs to hear Jazz. They were used to hearing it at the cities two annual Jazz festivals, there were just not many Jazz connoisseurs who will go out of their way to hear Jazz. Nardis was a great venue by any standard; nice grand piano intimate two level room, sound-man, good snacks, closed circuit video of the show with projection screen. They treated me very well and I tried to smile even though the rhythm section couldn't swing if they were hanging from a rope. The show started at 10pm and the 1st set was over at 11:10pm. I set my horn down and sat down to wait for the second set, a few minutes later the bass player started to pack up and everyone started to mill around like the gig was over. Being confused, I asked the pianist what was happening. He told me that the gig was over, one long set. Later I would experience the same thing at a Barcelona Jazz club, apparently that was the norm.
The audience in Turkey was polite, but pretty unresponsive. They didn't seem to know when to clap and they never got very excited, unlike audiences in Spain, where I felt like a full blown Rock star. There was a terrible singer there that the crowd didn't seem to mind, even though she sounded like a dying goat yodelling. I was told that you could count all the Jazz players in Istanbul on two hands. I also met a young saxophonist that used to study with Rich Cole, who taught at Istanbul University for six months until the Jazz program was cut. Apparently Richie never got around to teaching this guy how to play changes.
When I got to Barcelona it felt like I was back home again. I easily fell back into the Spanish schedule of siestas from 2-5pm, dinner at 10 or 11pm and bedtime at 3 0r 4am. The second night in town I went down to the Jamboree to play at the WTF (What the Fuck?!) jazz session. I usually host this session when I was in town but it was the last Monday of the month, and that week was regularly hosted by saxophonist Libert Fortuny. I had heard about Libert from my friend Pere Soto. He said that Libert had been one of the top players at Berklee and that he was the most advanced saxophonist in Spain, he was like a Rock star there. I walked in to the band making some major noise while Libert played riffs on the EWI. He had a huge array of pedals the boxes on the floor that he spent a lot of time hunched over. He was running drum machines as well as adjusting his EWI sound. I must admit that I didn't like the sounds that he and the band were getting, it just sounded like shitty Techno to me. Finally Libert picked up his alto and blew over some grooves. It was obvious that he was pretty much of a virtuoso on the saxophone. There are very few alto players in the world with with that kind of aggressive control of the horn, Danny Walsh would be another one. His sense of harmony was influenced by Garzone and his technique allowed him to pretty much play whatever he wanted. He was very much aware of his stage performance and had the swagger and moves of a Rock star. I came up on stage and we did sort of an alto battle that had the crowd screaming. Ah, the roar of the crowd can be seductive indeed.
The second set Libert came back in full costume as his alter ego- Golden Showers. He was wearing skin-tight pink spandex shorts that were stuffed in the crotch, a tank-top with the words Golden Showers written in pen, big reflecto sunglasses and a long blond wig. While on stage he talked in a high screechy women's voice and did silly shit like simulate giving fellatio to the guitarist as he was playing. I guess the crowd liked it, they were already worked up so I think they would have gone for anything. I was not impressed. Here was a guy who was obviously one of the best players of his generation doing silly shit instead of just playing good music. I figured that he must just have gotten bored playing with players who weren't as good as he was there in Spain so he made things interesting for himself with theatrics. I really wanted to hear him stretch but he would only drop fragments of cool lines in with his repetitive rhythmic riffs. I could tell that Libert could really do some damage if he was in the right situation. He must have been smoking even as a young kid.
The next club I played at in BCL was Bel Luna, with my drummer friend Salvador Toscano. Bel Luna was the perfect Jazz room. It was L shaped with the band in the middle. There was a big stage with a nice grand piano. They served good food and the atmosphere was upscale compared to the catacombed dungeony feel of the Jamboree. The gig was with a good bass player and another saxophonist. I had a great time playing but was again surprised when the gig was over after one long set.
A few days later Salvador set up a session during the afternoon at a very cool underground club. The club was a long and skinny converted garage with cement floors and murals on the walls. We played with some guys from South America (of which there are many in BCL). It wasn't the greatest session but at least I was playing with Salvador again.
It seemed like the Jazz scene was going downhill in BCL, like everywhere. There were only a few Jazz clubs in the entire city. Salvador seemed to be working a lot, but he was also playing Latin music and Rock/Pop. Pere Soto was working with his Django project at Bel Luna regularly, but he said that not much else was happening for him there.
Barcelona is one of the most interesting and beautiful cities I've even seen and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes art, architecture, music, food, the night life and gorgeous women. When we left for the airport if was almost 4am. As we came down the stairs from our apartment to the street we were shocked to see even more more people walking around than there usually were during the day. At night Barcelona makes New York City seem like Boca Raton. NYC isn't the 'city that never sleeps' anymore, that city would be Barcelona.
I'm glad to be back to my house with my dogs and comfortable bed. Portland seems so green and lush compared to the Mediterranean. It also seems like a ghost town. Where did everyone go? Any schemes I may have had about moving to Spain are on hold for now. In comparison Portland holds up pretty well, even with only a few Jazz clubs. Maybe things do run in cycles and more clubs will open again. Until then I'll be here in Stumptown.