Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Music on the Move- Madrid?

In my musician's life as the (always trying to be) consummate professional, the gigs I have allow me to travel all over the world.

All of you regular readers surely know this (and are no doubt sick of hearing about it, too.)

Sometimes, the trips (within the States, usually) are boring and less-than-glorious, usually because our accommodations are in the middle of Nowhere, ID, with nary a sign of, well, anything (except for maybe the Sam's Club parking lot right outside my window at the Super 8.) Promoters will generally put the band up in the cheapest (and least expensive) place that's possible. It's almost always many miles outside of the town we're actually working in. And since we are relying on the gig for all of our ground transportation (forget your public options- there are none), we essentially end up stuck at the hotel doing nada.

Not exactly the best way to get geared up for a show (if you've ever wondered just how so many musicians can end up as alcoholics and drug addicts, well...)

Sometimes, though, it's completely amazing and mind blowing. Usually it's an overseas trip. That's where I have the most fun, European countries in particular. We almost always stay in the center of whatever town we're in, there's plenty to do, and there's plenty of public transportation (very inexpensive, too.)

So whenever I cross the sea, I'm usually thinking about what it would be like to live there. It's very different over there than it is here, and there are so many things that are appealing to my sensibilities.

Mainly, it's the fact that Europeans are so much more relaxed than Americans, working to live, rather than living to work (note to the powers-that-be: universal health care, and not insurance, is a key reason for that enviable attitude towards life.)

Here, in Chicago, I've got it pretty good, I must admit. I get to play with Lonnie Brooks, one of the last of the great Chicago blues men. He's the one that always takes me on the road. It's going on 8 years now, and I've played around 500 shows with him. I also get to play with BMR4, one of the best, most working jazz groups that you'll find almost anywhere. Not only are the guys in this group top-notch, but they're also my friends, which is who we all really want to play with anyways.

Chicago has a lot to offer a musician. There's a lot of work here for us.

This city also does everything that it can to make life very inconvenient for it's citizens, whether it's taxes (highest in the nation), scandalous corruption, parking meter fees that have quadrupled, or simply winter.

Just as an aside, the guy on the radio right now is ripping the city apart, talking about selling naming rights for everything under the sun, as Chicago desperately needs cash as a result of dismal city management:

"Rename the expressways. The Planetarium. The Aquarium."

"The Oxy-Clean Aquarium in honor of the late Billy Mays. It's easy to get to, plenty of parking (since nobody wants to pay the damn meters), and just off of that famous road, IKEA's Lake Shore Drive.)

So what would it be like, then, living overseas? For a guy like me, I mean. Could I actually do it over there? A certain girl in my life sure seems to think it's easy.

I tend to think it's easier said than done.

But then again...

I've been to Spain twice, now, within the last 3 months. It's an impressive country, to say the least. Inland or on the Mediterranean coast, the country is beautiful. You can go everywhere by train or bus without it costing a fortune. They're quick, they're very clean, and they're always on time. There's no screwing around, there.

Madrid is undoubtedly my favorite city. It's not as international, as European, as Barcelona is. It's not as expensive either (Barcelona is on par with London in terms of cost of Living, meaning sky high.) No, Madrid is very much a Spanish city. I was really impressed with the people, the food (oh, the food, yum,) the architecture, everything.

Businesses (almost all of them) close between 2pm and 5pm for siesta. People are very relaxed and seemingly happy with life.

Personal freedoms seem to not be constantly and incessantly legislated (the United States of No).

Cops seem to not come off as jack-booted thugs.

You can still smoke in bars.

Loved it.

Maybe this is the place.

I had been told ( I was asking around before I had left Chicago) that Madrid is not really a music town. It was a late-night town, to be sure, but not so much for live music. DJ's and dance clubs were the thing, with live shows going (gone) by the wayside.

That turned out to be not the case. In fact, I went out every single night I was there and saw a show. It seems that you'll find the live shows between 11pm and 1am, and then the clubs become DJ spinning night clubs.

Seemingly the best of both worlds.

One night it was a big band at a place called Bar Co., where hash smoking is overlooked, but being barefoot is not. Another night it was blues at a club called Junco. The group (Juan Bourbon, Juan Scotch, and Juan Beer- seriously) was a very traditional 4-piece, fronted by a harp (harmonica) player, nailing all the tunes from the likes of Junior Wells and Sunnyland Slim note for note (Europeans actually tend to learn songs from the records, I've come to learn, very much like the Japanese blues players.)

I saw flamenco music at a small taverna in the wee hours of the morning, the audience consisting of me and my ex-pat (white) friends and a group of around 25 hairy Spanish Gypsies (I looked the part, though, ahem.) There were 2 men singing and one other playing guitar. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that this music was nothing more than Spanish blues. There was a repeating form in the music and the words were obviously improvised. The players were fierce and passionate. Truly, this was one of the most unique concerts I'd ever seen. And it wasn't even a concert. It was very informal (of course it was, it was 3am!)

All of the performances I saw were very well attended, and I was out and about during the week, not the weekend. People were obviously very much into seeing live music.

I also found a "roots and grooves" jam session at a cool place called La Boca del Lobo (the mouth of the wolf- sweet.) I gotta say, it was on par with the jam sessions that I go to at Buddy Guy's Legends, albeit with the European perspective of the blues. There were a lot of players that had shown up, and for the most part, they were all pretty good. Certainly better than serviceable. Plus, there was not a whole lot of attitude oozing from musicians that you are apt to find at Buddy's.

I got to play a lot that night. After all, I was the only American there, and from Chicago, no less. The Spaniards were as excited to have me there as I was just being. Needless to say, I am fortunate to be able to carry a certain mystique with me, being in that "drummer from Chicago" category.

Big fish in a small pond, you know?

It was actually a very diverse group of folks and not just Spaniards. I met a bass player from Argentina and a singer/guitar player that came from Paris (she was real good.) We all had James Brown and Albert Collins in common, so we were able to have a real good time together.

We talked about the scene in Madrid over cocktails bought for me by the host of the jam ("That was in-cred-eeeeeee-bul.")

They, of course, were wondering about what work was like in the U.S.

So it goes...

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