A Tradition Transported

Fête de la Musique became my favorite day when I lived in Paris. It takes place on the Summer Solstice every year. Along with other cities around the world, New York has adopted it and made it its own. Nothing has changed since I celebrated Make Music New York here last year; there are still a lot of free concerts around the city, and it still isn’t mainstream.

When I arrived at the midday concert featuring a quartet performing Brazilian and jazz, there were only a couple of people there. I sat on the grass right in front of the musicians: an Italian singer and a guitarist, drummer, and bassist. Gradually, more people came and scattered about the lawn and ledge nearby. The music was soothing and breezy, upbeat and chill, perfect for a summer day outside.


The concert I attended in the evening was well-attended (by locals?) in a community garden. Though the seating area was small, it was the right size for the number of people, and there was ample room on the grass. I snagged a seat on a bench next to a lady who had arrived early. The sun was bright and low in the sky as it slowly set in the west. Kids ran around and played and danced and ate ice cream during the performance, which were again a female singer and three male musicians. They were great. I love old love songs, which they honored while adding their own twist.


After the hour-long performance, I scuttled across the street (is that verb ever used for beings other than crabs?) to meet a friend for tapas and drinks outside. It was that rare café terrasse in New York that is on the quietest of avenues. I am realizing that there are always new places to be discovered.


Make Music New York

Fête de la Musique was my favorite day of the year in Paris. Last month I made it a point to seek out events in the States. It was nothing like dancing like crazy in the Marais with a good friend, but I made do.

Here it was called Make Music New York. None of my friends knew it existed, but it is a legit event all over the city. There was a web site listing lots of outdoor concerts in numerous neighborhoods, and you could filter by area, time, and genre of music.

I invited a friend to check out an experimental piano concert in Greenwich Village during lunchtime. Unlike in Paris, we didn’t run into musical performances along the way, but we did find the pianos set up in the middle of the street. It definitely was experimental, not at all classical pieces or contemporary songs. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but it was nice to sit on a ledge on the sidewalk in the summer weather. That is kind of how Fête de la Musique can be anyway, hit or miss, though ideally you see enough performances that some of them are awesomely soul-filling.

That evening, I handpicked an a cappella group to continue the Fête and cobbled together a group of three friends, old and new, who had never met each other. We joined the small audience sitting in front the group. I have a feeling that I enjoyed the performance the most, although they did make positive remarks afterward. I just really think there are few things better than live music outdoors. We were surrounded by tall buildings and a sky that began to pinken.


A Day at the Races

During my trip to Yorkshire a while back, I went along for a day at the York Races with my host, one of her daughters, and her daughter’s fiancé and friend. I had brought my bright coral dress to England expressly for this event. That morning, my friend tried on several of her long summery dresses, asking for all of our opinions before settling on her red flowery maxi dress.

Everything about that day was a welcome bombardment to my senses. It was hot, the British girls were out in their colored printed dresses and showing skin, and excitement surrounded each horse race. I saw a grown man dressed as a baby surrounded by his pals who were in button-down shirts, ties, and trousers. It was prime time for people watching.

Everything about that day was a welcome bombardment to my senses. It was hot, the British girls were out in their colored printed dresses and showing skin, and excitement surrounded each horse race. I saw a grown man dressed as a baby surrounded by his pals who were in button-down shirts, ties, and trousers. It was prime time for people watching.

Can you find the former jockey below?

And the baby-man?

At the end of the day, the Scottish band Wet Wet Wet gave a concert. It was fun to see my friend singing along and swaying to the music. She was in heaven. If you don’t know this group that was especially popular in the 1980s and 90s, like me you may at least have heard the song “Love is all around.” “I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes…”


Afterward, we stopped in the pub where my friend’s other daughter worked.

Pubs. British fashion. The York Races. Wet Wet Wet. Everything about the day was out of the ordinary for me. Americans share many similarities with the British, but we still have our distinct cultural characteristics.

Home Away From Home

The night after the recent attacks in Paris, I attended a concert with two friends in New York. The performer, Jon McLaughlin, is one of my favorite artists, so when he is on tour, I am there (except when I am not. I still haven’t done the whole groupie thing for anyone). This was my fourth time around.


During the concert, I felt a sadness and happiness. If you have been moved by music, you will understand what I mean by happiness; it rises up within me sometimes when a voice, an instrument, words fill the room. It happens most often with live music. Murmured recognition and delight as a song begins, the feeling of being encapsulated in the sound, remembering each time why live music is delicious.

The sadness I felt during the concert was ever-present, not one that I could shake off or forget for more than a moment.

The conflicting feelings didn’t compete with each other but rather, filled me right up. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. I had done that the previous night and during the day. There is a lot to think about if one starts: the attacks in Paris, the bloodshed, the individual stories, the aftermath, attacks in other countries, other types of killings all over the world, what individuals can do, what governments can do. One can’t think about all the problems at once. It becomes too much for one person that way, but no one said that one person has to carry the burden.

I remember what it was like to walk outside in Paris after the shootings at Charlie Hebdo and before the hostage taking in Vincennes. Exposed. And the following week, when for those who did not know someone killed, the physical motions of life had returned to normal, and yet my perspective on daily life had changed.

Surely when the shooting on the train from Amsterdam to Paris happened, I thought about how a friend and I had not long before taken that train, peacefully sleeping side by side in the early hours.

This time, I was not in Paris, but rather following the news from afar and checking in with friends. The next evening, I was going to a restaurant with friends, attending a concert with no more security than having my last name checked against a list, and walking to the subway nearing midnight while people spilled out of bars. Activities that many of us expect to do without wondering whether we’d be better off staying at home.

Unfortunately, I’m sure we’ve all had moments when a horrible event shifted how we saw the world. We witness violence in its different forms in every country. The world is still beautiful, but frightening as well and terribly sad.

One question now is what we can do going forward. I’m going to think about that.

(The Friday Before) Last Friday Night

Recently un copain and I went to an exhibit at the Hôtel de Ville called Design & Artisanat d’Art : Berlin et Paris exposent leurs créaturs. He always finds interesting free things to do in the city, although apparently he doesn’t have a secret; he searches online. This expo featured work by contemporary designers and artisans from the two European cities.

While works on display should stand on their own, one’s experience of them is inevitably affected by their setting. The contrast between the abstract, fantastic designs and the centuries-old rooms with lofty ceilings was noticeable but not incongruent. The modern-day objects, fashion, and furniture had room to breathe in the grand space.

We looked and remarked on everything on display, from the straitjacket dress suspended from the ceiling to the instrument made for relaxation therapy to the surprisingly sturdy cardboard furniture that we tested out.

We were both enchanted by this piece by designer Marbella Paris.    100_7635We found this stack of blocks by Astropol delightful as well. It reminded me of something, a childhood memory or a warm place. Perhaps a lamp in the house my mother grew up in or a diner my family had been to. I’m not sure, but the round colorful lights made me think of the 70s. Funnily enough, my companion said it was very Star Trek. I suppose there is something throwback and futuristic about it at the same time.100_7632I thought this guy was funny.100_7629I think these chandeliers are always here. Why hang one when you can have a whole family?100_7634Afterward, we had a drink and then saw a contemporary jazz concert in a church. It was really cold in the church, but afterward we were surprised to be welcomed into a large adjacent room with complimentary hors d’oeurves and tarts. Apparently the church shelters homeless people who in return prepare those snacks for a monthly concert.

A middle-aged man with a scraggly beard approached us and joined our conversation. We learned that he worked for the parish and that he sometimes invites people who live in the street to have a meal with him in a restaurant.

He then yelled at an old lady who accidentally knocked a pile of plastic cups on the floor and had kicked them under the table instead of picking them up. She snapped back at him. He told us that he knew her because she was a parishioner. I couldn’t decide whether their acidic back-and-forth was okay because they have an existing relationship. Or how I felt about the fact that he wanted to put those cups that had fallen on the ground back on the table.

There are all kinds of people, and all kinds of art.

Welcome, Summer

Fête de la Musique is my favorite day of the year.

Fête de la Musique takes place every year on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It started in France and now is celebrated in other countries around the world. In Paris, musicians perform free outdoor concerts all over the city from late afternoon to the wee hours of the morning. There are so many performers that you could walk down a small street and see several groups playing.

This year, I felt like we lived dozens of nights in one night. My friend and I started out at the Centre Culturel Irlandais and watched Moxie, an Irish band, perform. I love Irish music, so I was in heaven.  72.fetedelamusique.2014a 72.fetedelamusique.2014b

They were followed by Gavin James, an acoustic guitarist and singer-songwriter. He had a sweet voice. In addition to his original songs, he sang classics like “What a Wonderful World” and “La Vie en Rose.”

Later that night, we saw:

– a male brass band in funny uniforms performing covers of popular songs in the Luxembourg Gardens

– a cool Christian band in a dark church courtyard strung with colorful lights

– a huge outdoor gay nightclub with smoke coming out of surrounding buildings’ windows

– a band outside a restaurant where we watched old and young people dancing for a while before joining in (I asked my friend if he wanted to go dance, and he said no. A few songs later, I asked if he was sure. He said yes. He looked at my face and astutely realized that my actual question was, Can we dance? He asked if I wanted to. I nodded my head enthusiastically. He said, Okay, let’s go. I figured he was humoring me, so I was surprised when he began to dance like crazy. If he really doesn’t like dancing, he did a good job of pretending he does.)

– a group of musicians sitting in a circle and playing traditional Irish music in only the glow of lamplight—magical72.fetedelamusique.2014cI went home humming.

Does your city participate in World Music Day?

At This Casino, Everyone Wins

On Saturday night a friend and I attended Joyce Jonathan’s concert at Casino de Paris, a venue that has been around since 1880. Can you imagine that this theatre has lasted through two world wars and the Great Depression?

Joyce Jonathan is a French singer whose two albums, “Caractère” and “Sur Mes Gardes,” I have been listening to on repeat for weeks to prepare.

In the past few years, I’ve found that my favorite musicians are female singer-songwriters whose songs have a lot of spirit, strength, and vulnerability.

61.joycejonathan.2014a 61.joycejonathan.2014bThe opening act was Fréro Delavega, two guys with a beachy style and the “voices of angels,” as my friend said humorously, even as they performed a cover of “P.I.M.P.”

Live music is one of the most pleasurable things in life.

Have you been to any concerts lately?

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Americans will have heard of the holiday special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  The half-hour episode has been televised yearly in the United States since 1965.

A few days before Christmas, a friend invited me to attend a concert featuring music from the special, whose score was composed by the late jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. I jumped at the opportunity; what could be Christmassier than listening to “Christmas Time is Here” and “Linus and Lucy” from the program that I used to watch every year on my VHS tape?

The concert was held at a small music hall in the Lower East Side in New York. It was a simple set-up, with about a dozen rows of folding metal chairs. We showed up shortly before the start time and were the first ones there, so we sat in the second row. 28.CharlieBrownChristmas.2013aThe John Lander Trio consisted of a pianist, a bass player, and a drummer. They were lovely to listen to and watch. During every song, I could picture the accompanying animated scene.

After intermission, the trio played other Christmas songs in a jazzy style, including “Jingle Bells” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”28.CharlieBrownChristmas.2013b 28.CharlieBrownChristmas.2013cOn a side note, the Empire State Building had a candy cane spire this year. Fancy.28.CharlieBrownChristmas.2013d


Last month my friend invited me to attend a taping of “Taratata” with her.  My immediate response was, “Yes!”

My second thought was, “What is Taratata”?

I don’t have a TV, and the name of the show didn’t give much away.  I texted another friend to tell her I was going, and she responded, “Love it” and “One of the best French shows.”

I would describe Taratata as a free concert with multiple performances over several hours.  Aka: My ideal night out.

It was quite an adventure finding the studio.  The email invitation my friend had received listed the location as Studio 204 at an address in St-Denis, right outside Paris. Upon arriving there I quickly realized that it was the address for a whole huge complex of studios and warehouses.  Signage was limited, and a quick spark of hope upon seeing Studio 201 was extinguished when I saw that the studios were not numbered in order, despite what logic suggested.

I finally found the studio, and my friend joined me shortly after, around 7:30.  The line to enter the building was slow to move, and once we were inside we realized why.  Everyone had to submit photo release forms and leave all belongings at the coat check.

We found seats and settled in for the concert that was to last until 12:30.  The host, Nagui, is well-known in France (again, I recognized him but didn’t know his name since I rarely get to watch TV here).  My friend noticed his shiny red and black sneakers, which popped in contrast to his standard gray suit.  From then on, we remarked on his shoes, which he changed at least three times during the evening.  I especially appreciated his glittery black dress shoes.  I surmised that his shoe changes must be for the live audience, because how often would they appear on screen?  We also tried to imagine the shoe room in the back.

The concert included at least seven artists, including Ayo, Patrice, Cats On Trees, Babyshambles, Lenox, and Keziah Jones.  I admittedly hadn’t heard of most of them prior to Taratata, but I did my homework the night before and listened to their music.  They were great live.  The energy of the audience was amazing, too.  One thing I found a bit odd was that the show staff encouraged us to clap to the beat of the songs to encourage the performers—all well and good, but can you imagine clapping incessantly for several hours?  The audience did so willingly and enthusiastically, though.  One of the pre-show staff said half-jokingly that we should be like American audiences.  My friend explained to me that Americans are known for being a good audience because they’re very enthusiastic.  Considering the number of “standing ovations” (this expression has been adopted in the French language) throughout the concert, I think the French audience would give the American one a run for its money.

The musicians were from France, England, Belgium, and Germany, among other countries, so a number of the interviews between songs were conducted in English.  Ayo, who is Nigerian-German, and Patrice, who is Sierra Leonean-German, are actually married and sang a song together for the show.

One amusing interaction involved Pete Doherty of Babyshambles trying to explain in French the meaning of their new album’s title, “Sequel to the Prequel.”  Nagui then explained to the audience what the words ‘sequel’ and ‘prequel’ mean in French and used the Stars Wars films as an example.

My favorite performance was Lenox’s “Colorblind.”  For days following the concert, I bopped to the version featuring Ben Mazué on repeat.

If you want to discover some new music, Taratata is releasing the video clips over a series of weeks, and they are available online.

And in case you were wondering, ‘taratata’ is meant to imitate the sound of a trumpet.