Leslie Lewis et Gérard Hagen "Bonjour de Paris". 13 Février 2019
Bonjour de Paris ...
The other day I saw a coffee mug that had the following message printed on it, “Music is the reason I get up in the afternoon”. I had to laugh because the sentiment suits Leslie and I. Sleeping patterns not withstanding, our concerts have really gone up a notch or two of late. I cannot identify why things on stage have felt so good lately and this would surprise you if you’d been around Leslie during her off hours. For the past few weeks she has been fighting to get past a cold that has turned into a deep cough which sounds as if it could become bronchitis. She always amazes me how she can perform under these conditions.
The weekend before we left for Minsk, she sent a sub to sing for her on both nights while she spent that time in bed. Two days later we did a date at Café Laurent in Paris despite Leslie’s condition we had a really great evening. The next morning we left for Minsk, Belarus where as things turned out we would be working with very little sleep. Leslie was trying to conserve as much energy as possible during the flight. Some problems, that were never disclosed (thank you Belavia Airlines), caused us to leave more than ninety minutes late so we had to go directly from the Minsk airport to the auditorium. Once there we would meet the musicians we would work with and have a sound-check/rehearsal for that night’s concert. As often happens due to limitations in translating between different languages, we never really know exactly the details of our concerts when we go on the road. But this was beyond anything that we’ve encountered before. We were expecting to play two nights at the Jazz Club Minsk. Once we arrived we found out there is no Jazz Club Minsk! That first night our concert was at a beautiful auditorium with a wonderful “Estonia” 9’ grand piano, decent sound guys and a wonderful audience. When I first walked on stage to meet the other musicians I noticed a film crew setting up and later learned that our concert would be broadcast live on 7 channels in the country. Normally this would be something that needed to be negotiated in advance of agreeing to do the date but this group of people were clearly not living in that world so we decided to let it slide and learn from our experience to ask more questions in the future. (Before now it never occurred to me that I needed to ask if our concert was going to be broadcast live on TV.) We will get some video out of the deal so there is that! The musicians were pros. Aleksander, the drummer lives in Minsk, Norberts bass, and Raivo saxophone came that day by bus from Riga, Latvia. We had a decent rehearsal, their English language skills were good and most importantly, they did a very good job on both concerts. The first night we started the concert as a trio and added the saxophonist for the second tune and then Leslie joined us. It was a smooth transition which created a nice energy in the room. Right about the time we came back to the stage for the second half, Evgeny, the producer who was also a trombonist, decided that he would join the group and our second half got extended by three songs. That was a huge challenge for Leslie since she had thought she had completed the bulk of her evening in the first half. So now it’s late, we are tired and we haven’t eaten since we “enjoyed” a really bad meal on the plane that afternoon. But okay, we handle it and made it through the set. The audience had been wonderful all night and they give us an enthusiastic ovation. We decided that an encore was in order, so once more on the stage, Leslie is completely spent and I’m running on fumes. At last we are done but instead of leaving, many people in the audience walk on the stage and ask to take photos with Leslie and I. We are very grateful for their interest in us but we are also not used to this kind of thing, after all we are jazz musicians, our normal after concert routine is to see who can be the fastest one out of the door. Finally it is time to check into our hotel which is a Soviet era building but still very comfortable. The hotels bar restaurant have long since closed so our hosts bring us to a hotel meeting room and brought in something to eat. To be honest, I’m not sure what we ate that night, but we ate it. I drank some Belarusian cognac with my meal, Leslie not being a drinker, had only the choice of water to drink with her dinner. The other option was vodka! As he refilled my glass, Raivo kept telling me that the cognac wasn’t for me, it was for my health!
View of the stage of the first concert in Minsk, Belarus.
Side view of the stage with Evgeny introducing the second half of the concert.
Aleksandre drums, Norberts bass, and Raivo saxophone.
The camera man for the TV broadcast is clearly visible in this shot.
The audience at our first concert in Minsk, Belarus.
Evgeny, trombonist, producer, director "Jazz Club Minsk".
After dinner Leslie fell asleep pretty easily, as usual I had more difficulty. Having made it through our first day in Minsk, we both slept pretty hard. The next day at 3:00 pm we received a phone call that was literally our wake up call. There is no telling how late we would have slept without that call. Anyway, we were told that there was a driver waiting in the hotel lobby to take us to the gig that night. After a few tense moments on the phone we got a 45 minute reprieve in order to shower and get ready for the rest of the day.
So the second concert was at very nice restaurant that functions as the location for the “Jazz Club Minsk”. We were called to the club in the afternoon so that they could feed us lunch, which was very thoughtful, but we would have been happy to have skipped lunch, slept later and had a more leisurely shower. After we has eaten there was time to go back to the hotel but no one to drive us so the manager of the restaurant offered us the use of her office which had a couch and some overstuffed chairs which provided us a nice place to relax before the sound check. This night was like the first in that the room was beautiful, the people were great, but it was a more intimate setting since there was no stage and the audience was literally right next to us. As we were walking to the room to begin the concert, once again Evgeny found us to ask about a change in the program. Keep in mind that the band speaks English well enough but Evgeny, not so much. This conversation is taking place in what can only be described as “broken” English. His request to me…”Please play solo piano, give our audience a jazz piano clinic!” Yes, this happened about 2 minutes before the concert. Now on the up side, the guy really liked my playing, on the down side was pretty much everything else. We agreed that I would play one solo piece and then Leslie and the rest of the band would join me. After my solo was done, which wasn’t exactly a jazz piano clinic, but not horrible considering the circumstances, the only person who came into the room was Raivo the sax player. We did a duo and next, you guessed it Norberts the bass player came in for a trio tune. Finally Aleksandre the drummer joined us for song number four, all before Leslie has made her entrance. For months they had been promoting this concert as an opportunity to see and hear Leslie Lewis and we do four tunes before she comes out. There was no discussion about repertoire (beyond what we had already prepared) prior to the concert and we had only played together once before so there was the awkward “do you know this tune” conversation going on every time a new guy showed up to play. Despite the rough start we had a good night. Leslie and I had slept enough to be able to perform well for the duration plus we had to end by 10:30 pm because Raivo and Norberts had to catch an 11:30 pm bus back to Riga so it was not possible to extend the concert like we had the night before. We did an encore and stood around for a while while people asked to take photos with us. We said our goodbyes to Raivo, Norberts and Aleksandre and went back to the hotel meeting room for a late dinner with Evgeny and some new friends. There was more cognac and this time dinner was potatoes, white fish smothered in cheese with shrimp topping the cheese. There was also pizza, which Leslie was thrilled to learn. Afterward we said our goodnight to Evgeny and his friends and we got some sleep before leaving for home the next morning.
View of Minsk from our hotel room.
The second evenings concert at "Jazz Club Minsk".
Evgeny, Gerard and an audience member. There are probably another 250 of these types of photos floating around Minsk.
Happily other than overcast skies with some light snow and rain the weather was not too bad. Leslie had her new coat and hat which was good, but the temperature never got below freezing. The worst weather we encountered was Friday morning as we were getting ready to leave for Paris. The snow was getting pretty heavy causing the airport to have an army of snowplows working on the runways as well as numerous vehicles that drove from plane to plane de-icing the wings. Even though it was 9:00 am we decided to eat at Burger King in the airport. Truth be told, it was the only real option, but we were both ready for something simple and we knew the food on the plane would be bad based on the flight over. So we sat and ate a hamburger while watching the activity taking place outside in the heavy snow. Fortunately the good people at the Minsk Airport easily handled the snow and we left for Paris only 15 minutes after our stated departure time.
Back home in Paris the skies were overcast as normal, but the temperatures were higher and there was no snow on the ground and no rain as well. We took a taxi from the airport to the college so I could teach my Friday afternoon classes while Leslie went home to nurse her cold. Fortunately we didn’t take any work for that night so we could enjoy a sushi dinner and for once an early night even though it was a Friday. Saturday night we were back to work in Paris as if nothing had happened.
For those of you in Paris or if you’re planning to visit this month here is our remaining February schedule.