Bonjour de Paris ...
This past month has been very, very busy. Our Hommage à Ella Fitzgerald in a concert at Sunside Jazz Club in Paris was great fun and the fact that it happened on her 100th birthday was a nice coincidence. That night we had a great audience and a packed house and so we have happily continued our streak of successful concerts at that club.
Leslie and Peter Giron at Sunside Jazz Club "Hommage à Ella Fitzgerald" concert.
I knew there would be some stories from our trip to Africa, but I had no idea how many stories that trip would bear. Previously we had worked in Morocco, but that is no where near what West Africa is like. I should start by saying that everything we were told would happen didn't happen in any way close to what was described, except one thing! Normally when we work in countries other than the U.S. or France we need to get a work permit from the Embassy or Consulate of that country well before the concert date. In this case the producer provided us with a document that we were to give to Border Control at the airport along with our passports. Yes you read that correctly, we were instructed to leave our passports with Border Control at the airport in Conakry! We were told our passports would be returned to our hotel the next day after the work permits had been added to them. Leaving our passports with Border Control was the only thing that happened as we were told to expect. We were told someone would meet us at the airport and escort us through Border Control. No one was there! We were told that there would a hotel shuttle at the airport to pick us up, no shuttle! So here we are with no passports standing on a street corner in stifling heat looking at traffic that was 10 times worse than anything I ever experienced in California. A guy who wore a vest that said taxi whose "taxi" was a forty year old Mercedes, no taxi markings, no meter, that had several windows broken out offered to drive us to the hotel for 3,000,000 Guinéan francs, which was about 30 euros. We then happened to meet five other musicians from Nice, France who were there to perform at the Jazz à Conakry Festival as well. They actually did have someone there to meet them who, after determining that the hotel shuttle would take too long to arrive due to the traffic, ultimately put all seven of us, including luggage, two guitars, a bass guitar, a keyboard and cymbals into two cars, one of which was the Mercedes with no windows! The ride to the hotel was much like Mister Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland. It was obvious that the engine was burning oil and I was just hoping that we'd make it to the hotel before it failed. There are no lanes and only a few traffic lights and it was necessary brake for herds of goats fighting for space among the traffic. The chickens apparently didn't feel the need to "cross the road" if you'll pardon the pun.
Once we arrived at the hotel everything changed. It was a wonderful, modern property on the beach with a very nice restaurant and, despite the overwhelming Muslim influence in Guinea, it was possible to get a drink. The only thing that made me happier was that the hotel had A.C! After a nice dinner with the other musicians and the concert producer, Leslie and I were both able to get a good night's sleep.
Hotel Noom Conakry, Guinea.
The next day we woke up in time for lunch and learned that our passports had not been delivered to the hotel and no one knew why. The other musicians had not received theirs as well. Once again we were told not to worry, we still had another day before we would need them to travel back to France.
We were booked as a duo when we were first contacted for this concert. A few months later we were contacted by the producer and asked if we would agree to have a flutist join us. We agreed to that figuring we could make it work. The afternoon of the concert our trip to the auditorium for the sound check was much more normal due the fact that we had two drivers with new cars who were hired to take us where we needed to be. When we got to the auditorium there was no flutist there but several of the guys from the other band we had shared a ride to the hotel with asked if they could join us. This is more problematic but we decided to take a chance and accept their offer to perform with us. So we all began to set up and were getting used to the sound in the hall. There was a Yamaha Clavinova (digital piano) for me to play so that was good. I noticed the stool for the drummer didn't work so he was given a chair to use which was not so good! As we began to rehearse the first tune someone turned the AC on and all the power went out! We were in total darkness! That was not so good. After a while the power was restored and we were able to put together a set for our concert. It was looking like we would be okay, the guys were pros and were able to handle the things that we needed them to. We went back to the hotel for a shower and a nap before the evening's concert.
Sound check Centre Culturel Franco Guinéen.
Yamaha Clavinova Centre Culturel Franco Guinéen.
When we returned to the hotel we asked about our passports, still nothing. The guys from the other band didn't have their passports either but their concert wasn't until the third night of the festival. We were the opening night and needed to leave the next day in order to be back in France for work.
A few hours later we are all meeting in the hotel lobby and leaving for the auditorium. We were given different call times but only by about 15 minutes so it was not too bad. We have drivers, cars with windows, AC, all is good.
We get to the auditorium, we meet the French Ambassador to Guinea, we meet the director of the auditorium, he tells us that we are having dinner in the onsite restaurant after the concert and he wants to know what we would like for dinner. We are being treated very, very well. The hall is nice and cool since they have had the AC on all day, but the other areas in the building don't have AC including the musicians room. I was told to make sure to bring CD's to sell which I did. There was a table which was well placed in a strategic area for sales, but there was no one to sell the CD's.
This jazz festival was produced "on spec" and therefore there was some question as to what kind of attendance there would be. As people began to filter in it was looking good and the end result was that about three quarters of the house was filled. The band from Conakry was fun and they did an energetic opening set but it was definitely not jazz. During our set the guys from the other band took things up a notch from that afternoon which allowed Leslie and I to relax and do our thing. We had a very good audience response which was not at all a sure thing since jazz is not commonly heard in Guinea.
Afterward we all enjoyed dinner during which the skies opened up and it rained very hard. I always like that clean smell that happens after a hard rain. It was still raining a little when we piled into our cars for the trip back to the hotel. On the way we were stopped at a police check point, (think DWI check points in CA). They asked the driver to get out and told him he was being "fined" because he had too many people in the car! Basically it was a shake down. Back at the hotel still no passports but news that they would be at the hotel by 5:00 pm the next day. Great news except we need to leave for the airport at 4:00 pm. The producer tells us that he will handle it and if need be he will get the French Ambassador involved and on and on! We go to sleep, it is not very restful, and the next morning we ask to have the room for the day since things are still up in the air. No problem we can have a day rate of 100,000 Guinéan francs or 10 euros, which they later waved. After a furious set of phone calls, an unsettled lunch, we receive a phone call in our room from the producer ... "Good news, everything is going to be fine". Click! What the hell does that mean? We are stunned! A call to the front desk reveals that the passports are in the hotel but they are not ready yet! Again... What the hell does that mean?
Hotel Room Hotel Noom.
A woman mysteriously appears from behind the front desk with a pile of paperwork and our passports. We receive them shortly before we need to leave and the hotel provides us a shuttle to the airport. On the way to the airport Air France texts me that our flight will be delayed by two hours. Great! Leslie has to be at Gare Montparnasse in Paris to catch a 10:23 am train to Dax, (southwest France near Spain) for a concert that night with Philippe Duchemin's trio. We were already cutting things a little close by arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport at 6:00 am. Now we have to make it with an 8:00 am arrival. The plane does arrive at 8:00 am and by the time we get through customs and on the street it is almost 9:00 am! We get a taxi and he somehow gets us to Montparnasse three minutes before Leslie's train is called. Leslie and I say a quick good bye and I take a short bus ride home.
By the time I get unpacked and take a shower it is around noon. I decide to put my head on the pillow and when I woke up it was 6:00 pm! Luckily for me I didn't have to work. Leslie has to stay in road warrior mode in order to be able to perform that night. She later tells me that she had a fitful sleep on the train and actually kicked the woman sitting across from her. Perhaps because they were in the first class car, this woman was not in the mood to accept Leslie's profuse apology.
Leslie does the concert, it goes well. I, of course, take the CD's we brought to Conakry and didn't sell home with me so she has nothing to sell at her concert that night! (Ever wonder why I don't have a real job? That is one reason why!) Thankfully she has a great place to stay that night.
Leslie makes some friends on the way to her gig Saturday night!
Sunday afternoon I meet her at the train, we get home and she is now able to relax for the first time in a few days. We have something to eat and both fall asleep. I woke up a while ago to finish this post, Leslie is still asleep. The food I bought yesterday so that we could enjoy a nice dinner at home tonight will sit in the fridge until tomorrow because it is now 11:00 pm. That is my story and I'm sticking to it.
This weekend we are at Chez Papa Jazz Club in Paris www.papajazzclub-paris.fr. Thankfully it is not too busy this week.
Sunday we are going to London to see Karla Ross, an L.A. friend who is traveling in Europe. We always look forward to being in London, it is one of our favorite cities. For me it is right up there with New York.
Tickets for the "Laguna Beach Live" concert on August 2nd are available at this link http://www.lagunabeachlive.org/concerts/jazz-wednesdays. On August 3rd we are leaving for Cleveland to play a concert at The Bop Stop followed by a short tour in that area. If you know of any jazz fans in Cleveland please let them know about our concert there. Tickets for the "Jazz At The Merc" concert in Temecula on August 17th should be available at https://tickets.temeculatheater.org/eventperformances.asp?evt=244.
Please check our website for our remaining May dates and our June dates. We have the usual jazz club gigs in and around Paris including Chez Papa Jazz Club as well as Le Speakeasy and Monteverdi. While you are on our website please sign up for our weekly email blast to learn where you can hear us.
Until next time,
Leslie and Gerard
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