Newark Airport, Wed Oct 24th (through Tues Nov 1st)
Headed back to Ireland for the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. I’m looking forward to planting myself in Cork City for best part of a week before moving on to the next location.
The night before the festival kicked off we had a most enjoyable dinner with Jack and Deirdre who are the festival directors for over 30 years now. Someone needs to do some oral history interviews on their own experiences festival by festival.They have booked al the legends and in an age when it was mail, telephone but no email, texts or instant messaging. Personally, I can never forget how they carried me through times when my parents were ill and I would be worried I would lose them. I’m blessed by their friendship over all these years and am reminded time and again that is the music that brought us all together in the first place. Sometimes Dear Friends, music is the vehicle as opposed to the destination!
CIT Masterclass (Dave, James, Paul, Cormac, Bruce, Patrick)
Presenting the first masterclass of the festival allowed me an opportunity to focus on relationships formed in the music as I introduced Dave Fleming on bass who I have played with on and off since the late 70s! James Polsky, founder/partner of Jazz Standard was on drums and only at the end of our workshop did we reveal that connection. James took the opportunity to explain about KeyedUp – the new organization he has formed to help get the grass roots of jazz in the smaller venues again. This important organization is helping to create a breeding ground where the younger musicians get to play with the more seasoned and experienced ones as they grow the art form and create new audiences.
The nightly jam sessions at the Metropole take place behind closed doors but provide a unique opportunity for musicians, both local and visiting to share the stage with one another and this year was no exception. The task of making sure everyone gets a fair shake has fallen in recent years to my good friend and great pianist Fintan O’Neill. Fintan makes sure that everyone gets some stage time. My own surprise is when some bands come to a jam session like this and only play with the band with which they are already performing, making it a showcase rather than a jam session. I feel that defeats the purpose of what I would regard as MY philosophy for jam sessions. Fintan seems to work around these challenges as he makes sure everyone gets a turn.
The Dunlea Hospitality
Paul Dunlea took myself and Fintan out to Kinsale for a drive and a lunch where I made a return to the Blue Haven – the first time back there since 1991 with Larry Willis. Time flies and since you probably already know it is impossible to have a bad meal in Kinsale, this visit did not disappoint. I have, for years enjoyed very cherished friendships made through this festival and I’m thinking particularly of some no longer with us like the late Joe Callinan, and the late Bill Johnson – both of these men are in the ‘no finer’ category as far as I’m concerned and I still think of them often. I was introduced to Ken Foley by Joe and although I had heard of him and his Dad, I had yet to meet him and so began a friendship in the 90s that has lasted all the way through until the present. More recently, four years (already?) I met Paul Dunlea and through him Cormac and all the guys in his band and there it is again, that same friendliness that I encountered from my earliest days of playing in Cork. In Paul’s case we get to do projects together and as well as being a great friend I am also fan of his music and the way he makes things happen.
Cormac directing the Jazz Ensemble.
Cormac McCarthy invited me to come in and listen in on the Big Band at CIT rehearsing for their concert the next day. I was determined to not miss the as nowadays I consider invitations like these a privilege. Years ago I would oversleep and miss the performances that took place outdoors by a CIT Big Band that I would later learn had produced many of the crop of musicians I was now playing with. Cormac’s band had a great ensemble sound, great attention to dynamics and ensemble and I couldn’t help noticing the great bond between it’s director and his band. I was also delighted to hear Aine Delaney’s work – her self effacing demeanor couldn’t conceal that here is a very gifted young lady who with Cormac’s guidance is already making great music. The energy coming from the stage at this final rehearsal was something to behold.
I soon learned the true meaning of an intimate venue and also, why this venue has been voted top place to hear live music in Ireland. Music, here, in this room is very obviously considered to be very important and so are those who are making the music. I must say, that the commitment of venue owners I have fee to know in Ireland is that music is presented with a sense of pride in their contribution to the art form. I think specifically of the Dolan’s in Limerick for doing so with a multi layered venue and to the Smyth family for their long term commitment to presenting all these years. I again thank Brian for the way he and his Dad have allowed the music to flourish and the musicians to have a home where they could build an audience.
Back to Coughlan’s and apologies for the digression 🙂 It’s no secret that I like to play with minimal amplification and I don’t ever like being forced to play loud. This venue allows for a very unique blend of instruments and the ability to explore the true final quality of our instruments if we take the trouble to hold back on the amplification. Paul Dunlea was the first to not use a mic – we just used it for talk and introductions. This allowed us to take it down at times and create mood(s) and starting points from where to grow our solos. Too much balls to the wall playing and I feel like I went to the gym and only hit the heavy bag. Coughlan’s, you feel that what you are playing is exactly what the audience are hearing and that alone is special.
Wednesday, Nov 2nd
Very early, no make that VERY EARLY on Wednesday morning I was picked up at the Isaac’s Hotel in Cork to head to a recording studio in Galway where Paddy Jordan the owner and engineer was headed for Malaga and had to leave at 2pm. This meant we would record early but…my body clock was, as they say, ‘all over the shop’ 🙂 so I knew this would not be a problem. After all, that’s what coffee is for, right? Deirbhile had wisely mentioned that even if we just got my guitar parts down, given the rush, she could always return to re-do her vocal tracks. All that sounded fine until I ran through part of a song briefly with her and got a sense that some magic was about to happen. I asked Deirbhile to record with a ‘take’ in mind. This session came about after I had written Deirbhile a fan mail. I have been enjoying her recording of Domhnall O’Conall on Gael Linn for years now, make that decades! I finally decided I should track herdown ad let her know how her music had impacted me.I think hers, is possibly the most beautiful sean-nós voice in Irish music and has, for some decades now, had a big effect on me where I hear her sing. To get to record with her was a thrill for me and not even I was prepared for the feeling I would get as soon as we played together. What followed was a return to Salthill where I saw the (now closed) hotel where my mother had brought me in to her hotel room to wash my hair (not washed by me for 3 weeks!!!!) in my Spiddal Gaeltacht days. This was the 70s and I had long hair then so it must have looked priceless, to say the least. Soup at a hotel where they have jazz sessions and what a bowl of soup! Potato, Artichoke and Sage soup and it was delicious. Off to my hotel for a nap, I look out my window and see the Burren and soon pass out. Next, Deirbhile takes me to Wards Hotel for the weekly session where I reconnect with Eugene Lambe, for the first time since the 1980s – wow, how time flies. Eugene played the whistle, not the pipes tonight as he controlled a ‘tap dancer’ (puppet) with his feet. Deirbhile and I played “Black Is The Color” which we had recorded earlier and we hot the magic zone again. It was great getting in a few tunes with the local musicians – at one point I called Cassandra on FaceTime and played the session to her, over the phone.
Thursday, Nov 3rd
I enjoyed the trip on a train as the song says on the Galway Dublin train as I took in the beautiful sights of my home country. The leg room on the train versus the lack of same on the aircraft was hard to ignore. They had the same type of seats…just more space.
Not long after my arrival in Houston Station, Dublin I was met by Garvan Browne. I would be staying with Garvan for the next few nights in the area known as The Strawberry Beds, Garvan’s wife Cathy was working for the next few days so it wasn’t until Sunday that I would get to see her. With Garvan, I got to watch movie after movie on his great large screen setup and caught up on some classics including Marathon Man. I am embarrassed to admit that watching the opening credits of a movie sometimes has a deeper effect on my sleep pattern than any quantity of melatonin ever could and this would come back to haunt me. As I lamented the lack of a love scene with the leading lady in one of the movies we watched Garvan had to break the news to me that I had slept through it 🙂
Friday, Nov 4th
Dave Whyte came over to Garvan’s house early on Friday morning complete with Hob Nob biscuits and plenty of Cadbury’s. BUT he also arrived with the beginnings of a chart on a tune that I had in fact suggested for our collaboration “La Comparsa”. Usually this would mean that it would be me who would bring in a chart but Dave a) fell in love with the tune right away and b) knew instinctively that if he got into the driving seat on this project it had a better chance of getting past the starting blocks…and he’s right. It felt hypnotic as we slid into the groove. Dave was doing the heavy lifting on the head of the tune and I was enjoying settling into the beautiful, moving folk sounding song.
Dave very kindly drove me out to Louis’s house as memories flew back as we turned the corner off St Peter’s road headed for the corner I had etched in my memories. I hadn’t been able to make it back to Louis’s funeral and as many of you already know, I wrote about that elsewhere in this blog, but I did draw much comfort at the time from the comforting words from all those who clearly felt badly for me.
I knew there would be some emotion for me when seeing Betty for the first time since. But…as close friends do, we picked right back up as if we had never left and only minutes into the visit Betty heard a knock at the door and it’s Tony, Katrina and their two beautiful boys James and Conor. These two boys recharged my batteries as by now I was missing my own two boys and wishing they were somehow able to join me on part of this trip. Conor cracked me up as he raised the bar higher and higher “Look at me Dave!” and he reminded me of someone in my household. Meanwhile, I saw James in the room I had spent so much time in with Louis as he strummed the open strings of a guitar on a guitar stand. I knew at that moment, he has the curiosity about the instrument and would be curious to see how that plays itself out. Betty and I had so many laughs from the memories we have together over the years and I felt proud to be able to share the loss felt by American musicians over Louis’s passing. I have no better way to state this than to say that I was amongst family! Betty called a cab for me and as I chatted with him he reminisced about his own experiences of Louis. When Betty called he didn’t seem to remember at first but then started saying “Oh STEWART!” Initially I wondered was he just trying to cover for himself but then he said that he used talk about fishing with Louis and how Louis ad loved fly fishing but had never really done any salt water fishing from the beach. They had made plans to go together and these plans fell around the time Louis had gotten sick. He had left a note for Louis and wondered why he hadn’t heard from him and now was deeply saddened to hear he had, in fact passed away. I enjoyed my trip into City Centre with this down to earth Dub. We parted with a handshake.
Saturday, Nov 5th
This section could be called Bernard and the Steak and Kidney pies.
For 10 years now Bernard Brady has indulged me while I talked about the old Denny’s Steak and Kidney pies that came in a can.You took the lid off and cooked them in the can they came in. They are probably lethal for you but they taste oh so good, and then there’s the nostalgia… I arrive at Bernard’s, dropped off by Garvan on his way to work and I have some said S&K pies with me to make dinner while we settle in for a night of Irish TV. We argue over the oven conversion temperature and then watch through the glass as the puff pastry rises before our eyes. I thought we had cooked them to perfection – Bernard later slags me by telling Garvan “He burdened the Jimmy O’Dea out of it” 🙂
Sunday, Nov 6th
Sunday was the day when myself, Fintan, Paul, Dave Fleming, Stephen O’Keeffe, Myles Drennan and John Daly (called up at the last minute) would play a short set on the night of tributes to Louis. I had decided to play two tunes Louis had written, for starters. I took down Eveline, and A Little Cloud (Stephen had transcribed the changes on that one) and Stephen reminded me of the Stanley Turrentine Louis used to play with Dick Keating called “A Subtle One” – so we played that and closed out with a blues head that Paul Dunlea played. It was great to see so many faces of people I hadn’t seen in so long and have missed through the years. Very moving for me was what happened when Honor Heffernan had just stepped off the stage I was about to step on. Honor gave me a big hug and that great greeting she always has and then leaned in as she asked with full concern how my son Finn was. Honor and I are both animal lovers and she had been so supportive and concerned at the illness, and subsequent passing of our beloved pet rabbit. She asked me to pass a message to Finn which I did verbatim, and he was moved by this. My boys know the name Honor Heffernan as their daddy has often told them of her kindness t me when starting in the business. Honor showed all this compassion when she and Hugh Buckley
had just given a performance where they, as we say stateside “killed it”. An expression for a particularly inspired performance. Thank You Honor!
Shannon Airport, Mon Nov 7th
I had the joy of dealing with a United desk clerk in Shannon a month earlier who delighted in charging for being slightly overweight in the baggage dept. This time around I encountered a gentleman with an English accent who went out of his way to make sure my guitar got on board safe and made me feel I as being looked after. This continued through to the flight attendants who made the flight such a joyful trip. I fell asleep for much of the flight but was beginning to feel like I was coming down with something and hoped that if I slept I could keep it bay until after the week at the Irish Arts Center. John Daly had kindly driven me down to the hotel in Shannon Airport where I could avoid him having a sleep deprived day had he gottenup to drive me from his place to the airport. John’s hospitality is such that he would have done that and then faced a day teaching after that so this seemed the best option to me, for both of us.
IRISH ARTS CENTER WITH CASSANDRA AND LIAM
New Jersey Mon Nov 7th
My plan was to see the boys and then head to the city to get to work on the Cassandra/Liam project, Jetlag? What Jetlag! Or so I thought. As I began to relax Cassandra was texting me steering me towards rest which is ultimately what I ended up doing. Tomorrow would be another day.
Tues Nov 8th
The call today was for noon and I pack up the car with a number of instruments hoping to cover whatever bases I can in anticipation of the tunes we’ll be playing. By now I know that Cassandra and Liam have worked on An Raibh Tú Ar An gCarraigh? (Were You At The Rock?). I wasn’t familiar with this one but was looking forward to hearing what they had come up with. I arrive before noon and meet Liam and chat a little and Cassandra arrives just behind me and after we all chat for a bit, we head into the theater to get to work. They share what they did the day before and it sounds amazing. Right off the bat I can see that Liam has a very wide palette to draw from him. I quickly imagine that he’s the type of musician who lands in a country and almost immediately a significant part of their unique culture has found it’s way into his own way of creating music. It sounds like a natural absorption as opposed to a conscious acquisition. He sings An gCarraig with the authentic sean nós that I have heard him do before but it is the 2nd sean nós song that he sings that gets my attention right away. It was in the key of G ad I didn’t catch the name but it started my engines of curiosity working. We break for lunch and head around the corner to an Italian restaurant where we talk about everything under the sun…back to work. Cassandra looks at me and says “OK David, Drive the bus!” I confirm with both of them that, that is what they really want – I suggest a few tunes that are on our Irish recording project and Cassandra says no, she wants to keep those for our project and I start to veer towards a mild panic inwardly when I suddenly remember the ‘air in G’ Liam had sung before lunch. I asked him if he had been influenced by Sean O’Riada (at this stage I had not gotten his CD Rian where that is addressed on the liner notes by Liam). I told him I had heard a strong influence n that air and we both discovered right away that we had both had a VERY parallel experience with Sean O’Riada’s music. For me it was his mass in the Spiddal Gaeltacht and I believe Liam’s was also in the Gaeltacht but in the West Kerry Gaeltacht where Sean himself had gone. Liam also was exposed to this music by both his parents and attended an all Irish speaking school where the students had the opportunity to play a number of different instruments.
I play a version I had recorded with the Celtic Jazz Collective years earlier of Sean’s Beannaigh Sinn A Athair and having asked Liam if he knew An Pheadair, Sean’s setting of the Our Father in one of his three masses and far and away a huge favorite of mine growing up. Liam told me he did and not only that but he had recorded a version of it and sang it, Cassandra now entered the mix with a Yoruba Prayer that I think translated to Dear Mother after I had suggested maybe doing a Spiritual. Fro this moment I now felt I had stepped on a magical train of creativity that would not end until we ended it 6 days later!
I was still concerned that Cassandra might want to do some repertoire from her earlier recordings and finally expressed this. She said to me “Brandon (and Lonnie) will cover that”. When she saw I was surprised the Brandon Ross was coming in she mentioned thatch thought she had told me…She had in fact but I thought she was referring to an Australian tour that she had received an enquiry about and didn’t think the Irish Arts Center because it was a smaller project and therefore we would have to keep numbers down. Inwardly I breathe a huge sigh of relief asBrandon is on a lot of these recordings. I love collaborating, it’s part of being narrater but I wondered would Brandon feel the same as I did, not having met him yet. I asked Cassandra was he ok with me being there and she said emphatically, Yes. I hear Liam talking about Justin on keyboards and ask if it’s Justin Carroll. It is, and Justin and I have been trying to get together on some projects for a few years now and lo and behold, here we are!
Wed Nov 9th
After hitting crazy traffic on the NJ Turnpike I make it just a few minutes late. As I walk into the theater the first face I see is, in fact Brandon and we introduce ourselves and all I can say is, that when he greeted me with his warm smile I knew there and then, that we were going to working as seamlessly as we ended up doing. We were now joined by Lonnie Plaxico on bass, Justin on keys, Liam by now is playing low whistle, has had an Irish Harp delivered to the stage and Casandra mentions that we have ‘a trombone’ coming in the next day. I remember Liam asked me if I knew a trombonist from Brooklyn called Curtis – I ask Curtis Fuller but no, it’s Curtis Fowlkes. I had heard Curtis years ago with the Jazz Passengers and then discover that he is very close friends with so many Irish musicians I know. It turns out Curtis has been playing with Glen Hansard for a number of years. Another connection…Fowlkes is also Cassandra’s maiden name and her people are from Virginia as well as Mississippi. Curtis is from Virginia too. During rehearsal and tech. rehearsal with John handling the microphones Cassandra sings on the mic for the first time and I am floored by the power she can communicate even when singing ‘sotto voce’ – Justin and I smile at one another when she first sings, the kind of acknowledgement that we are in the middle of something very special happening. I am struck several times during this project at how we are all working together so well and everyone seems to know when to move or hang back. By now I am playing either the Veillette High Tuned 12 string guitar or an acoustic 6 string while Brandon is playing either electric or nylon string. He also has a 6 string banjo that is designed for guitar players but Brandon has tuned it differently, he and Cassandra have been using different tunings for years now, and they help give a unique timbre that we hear on their recordings. We finish around 5 and go for something to eat.
I skip the ‘In Conversation’ portion of the talk so I can catch up with my boys at home. I wish I could be present for the talk as I always enjoy that setting but I also feel I should leave them to it. Christine Tobin was in attendance and told me the next day how much she had enjoyed it and she would later hang out with them.
Thurs Nov 10th – Sunday 13th.
Today sees the band rounded out by Alvester Garnett on drums/Djembe and other assorted percussion and also the first day that Curtis arrives. Apart from a few times when we are getting bogged down in details that time won’t allow for such a delay we are now headed for opening night tonight, 8pm. The sound of Cassandra and Liam’s voices are starting to take even further hold of me as I get that same feeling you get when the the announcement says “The Captain has put on the sign to fasten your seatbelts” I know this is going to be special. Liam and Cassandra decide to be onstage when the people are let in to the theater, already playing, as if in their living rooms. We will then join in one by one, in no particular order. It’s funny to see how long it takes some of the audience to realize that the show has already begun and feels like friends are arriving at your house, for a dinner party.
And so it was for the next few nights. I will refrain from reviewing our own gig other than to say that Cassandra and Liam’s deep gifts took me on a musical journey, the likes of which I have never experienced before. I believe the combination of many of my musical loves is what made this a unique experience. I want to express my personal thanks to Cassandra and Liam for the wonderful musical journey they took me on, to ALL at theIrish Arts Center for creating a vibe where this type of creativity can flourish, unimpeded. To the Consul General and Mick Moloney for their kind words on the last night. To Andy Breslin (gave me my first NY City gig as a leader when I moved here) and Colm Clancy, we go back to the Shades days, to Emily and Jeff Elyshevitz, Fintan O’Neill all of whom came to support us. My two boys Finn and Sean and their Mom Jennifer who took them on a school night to hear their Daddy perform on a gig I didn’t want them to miss. Mrs Barbara Jones, the Irish Consul General couldn’t have been nicer to these two boys when they brushed pass her to hug me…minutes later I a witnessing the Consul general hugging both my boys at the front of the stage.
I can’t forget the hospitality of the staff at Crispins who reopened their closed kitchen for us on our last night, we had been there pretty much every night after the gig and it was so great that accommodated us on this last night.
I hope the above gives you some of the enjoyment we experienced making this music over the past few nights and in my case weeks.