Thursday, May 14, 2009


11:30AM May 8

Saturday we had our big performance in Pordenone, recording in front of a live studio audience. I was pretty excited for the opportunity, especially after our great rehearsal the day before. I finally felt like things were jelling with the Afterthought Quartet and was ready to go out there and record a great show.

Our train didn't leave till after 11:30, so I met my parents for coffee in the morning, and then we went to the train station, where I helped them buy there first TrenItalia tickets. They decided to take a day trip to Siena, and I wanted to make sure they understood the train system, which is a confusing one even if you do speak the language.

While we were waiting for their train, we walked over to Santa Maria Novella and ran into a parade for Italian Independence—April 25, 1945 marked the end of fascism in Italy. There was a military band, flag bearers, and two representatives from each of the eight branches of the Italian military. The whole affair, marching the military down the street in a celebration that marks the beginning of free-rule, was a bit odd. After I dropped my parents off at the train station again, I ran into citizens celebrating the holiday, but many around the outside were holding flags to support the communist party. I love Italy, but I can't say it makes much sense a lot of the time.

I was at the train station by 11:15 to meet up with my bandmates. This was the first performance where we would share the bill with the other jazz ensemble, Origin Blue, but I was surprised to see Evan, their bass player running with his instrument towards track three while I approached our train at track ten. It seemed to me they had found a different route, which was confusing, as I'd checked all of the times the day before, and this was clearly the best option. Pordenone was well north in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, one of the Germanic autonomous regions of Italy in the far northeast of the country, past Venice. The only train that could get us up to the local Friulano trains was the Eurostar to Venice.

When Dave showed up, he informed me, that the other group had found an alternate route that wasn't supposed to exist, taking three local trains by way of an outer Florentine station before getting to Venice. Not only that, but apparently, Antonio had sent out an email the night before at 11:00PM explaining that we had to pay for this gig out of our own pockets, but, in his words, that was okay because we were "getting a good deal on the hotel"—which was a three-star place, as usual. This was quite a shocker to us all, especially after I'd already spent 140 Euro to buy train tickets for my trio just for the way there. I felt like I'd been conned by Antonio. He's put us in so many great situations, and we try to put our trust in him, but he consistently drives us nuts as well, not letting us know information till the last possible minute, if that.

I tried to get over it on the train by analyzing some of those fabulous atonal pieces by Schoenberg and Webern for music theory. It wasn't till we arrived that I realized we weren't actually going to Venice, but rather Mestre, essentially the Newark of Venice. On the way there, we'd tried to console ourselves by saying, well, at least we could take an hour stroll around Venice while we wait for the next train. That was no longer possible though. Outside the station there was even a hotel called "Hotel Triste." We decided to use the extra time we picked up by taking the Eurostar to go out and see Mestre briefly, grabbing a quick bite at a restaurant a few blocks from the station. I got tagliatelle in what was supposed to be bolognese sauce, but really just turned out to be a fair marinara. The town itself was pretty lame, making Newark actually look like a good alternative.

Beautiful Mestre

Waiting at Stazione Venezia-Mestre. From left to right: Evan, Jeff, Dave, John, and Isamu.

Dave and John

Jeff, Evan, and Dave.

While we waited back at the train station again, we ran into the other ensemble, who, three trains later, were getting ready for the final leg of this journey to Pordenone. The final train was actually a gorgeous ride right up into the mountains. As we were approaching our stop though, we got a call from Antonio saying that we should get off one stop before Pordenone, in Fontanafredda. It was apparently closer to the final location. We asked the train attendant to let us know when we arrived in Fontanafredda, and she just looked at us as if we didn't know what we were getting into. When we finally exited the train, she asked us, as we looked around at the barren landscape, "is this really where you're supposed to get off because there is nothing here." Like usual, we just had to trust in Antonio.

We did indeed get off in the middle of nowhere, just shy of the Dolomites. The train station sat in the middle of farmland with a few houses down one road. At the station parking lot we found a little faucet, and we pondered, "is this the great 'fontana fredda'?" For about twenty minutes we waited there by our cold fountain, which was indeed cold and played makeshift frisbee with the lid to an old jar of cashews. Eventually we were greeted by a caravan of cars sent over by the studio, and they took us to the hotel to drop our things off.

Approaching Fontanafredda and the Dolomites

The station in the middle of nowhere, otherwise known as Fontanafredda.

Dave stands by the cold fountain

Awaiting a ride to the studio. From left to right: Evan, John, Dave, Isamu, and Jeff.

In the hotel, we turned on the television for a bit, and it was fascinating to find not only Italian, but German programming. We watched a bit of a professional handball match, which is pretty popular in Germany. At one point we even saw an advertisement for "Deutschland Superstar," the German version of "American Idol."

When we got to the studio to do our sound check, it didn't take us long to realize that this was primarily a rock venue. Yes, they did have the requisite black-and-white photos of jazz musicians on the walls, but the piano had to be played on a keyboard, the guitar was going through Marshall stack, and the drums sounded like something Phil Collins might play. We tried our best to make do with the situation, but the sound engineer wasn't completely responsive either. Francesco Bearzatti, the internationally recognized saxophonist who leads the other ensemble, was telling the engineer time and time again to change the same things on his microphone and monitor. It got to a point where we just stopped asking for help, and Antonio went and talked to him and asked if he could just let us play primarily acoustically. The engineer wanted to create sounds with the microphones rather than let us do the work and have the microphones amplify the natural tones we were creating.

All things considered, I had a great time at the performance. We had so many problems that day, but when it came time to make music, that's exactly what we did. We left it all behind and played a great show. In fact, it was definitely our best show up to that point. The audience really enjoyed us, and we felt like the music was finally evolving. Every week we play in rehearsal with Andy, the music feels stale, and that is partly because of the poor room we play in, but as a quartet, we were building real chemistry and finding new ways to express ourselves on the same tunes we'd been playing for months. It was great to play like that at a concert that was being recorded, although the quality was a bit suspect. My two tunes felt particularly good, and on Happy-Go-Funky, we invited Francesco to come play with us. It was a lot of fun to play my own composition, in a recording, with an artist that has his kind of reputation.

I got Jeff to take a few pictures of us: John and Piero here.

Dave, me, Francesco, and John.

Then I took a bunch of pictures of Origin Blue: Francesco and Evan here.



Francesco and Evan

Sunday we got up early for breakfast before catching a 9:00 train back. We had the same options as the day before, taking the Eurostar back from Mestre, but instead we chose to take the three trains and risk a nine minute changeover in Bologna in order to save a bit of money. Fortunately it worked out, and I was back in my apartment by 3:00, tired and stressed out after that most unusual weekend. I didn't have much time to relax though, as I had two more performances that night.

I had to be over at La Citè by about 5:15 for the classical aperitivo. Now that I had an instrument to play on, I volunteered myself to play some of the classical repertoire I'd been working on this semester. I can't say that Antonio's nylon string guitar sounded very good, especially amplified by the poor microphone at the cafe, but it was a great opportunity for me to continue with my classical studies, and the performance possibility was enough of a motivation for me to really work on some new pieces. I met up with my parents at the cafe, which also gave me a chance to show them the venue we'd been playing at on a regular basis in Florence. Unfortunately, we didn't have anymore jazz gigs at La Citè left.

Waiting for the train in Fontanafredda: Isamu, Dave, Piero, and the infamous Antonio Vanni.

Piero, John, and Antonio.

At least there were pretty mountains

Immediately after I played—and I specifically went on first—I had to head over to Porto di Mare, a restaurant about six or seven blocks east where we would be giving the first of two performances of the Gershwin Songbook Revue that night. The performance wasn't until much later in the evening, but Antonio wanted us there really early for a soundcheck. True to form, at this performance where Antonio wanted us there early, we didn't need nearly as much time as he gave us. My parents rushed over from La Citè, afraid they were going to miss the second performance, but they ended up just hanging around for a long time while we were setting up. While we waited for 10:00, when we could start the show, I took a nice walk with my parents around the river, catching the sunset over the Arno.

The show itself went off without a hitch. It was really solid all of the way through. My group opened with an instrumental, playing Rogers and Hart's "My Romance." It seemed to fit with the period of music we were playing, and I really loved what we did with it. The tune was completely unrehearsed, but we were really connecting as an ensemble at the time, and it all fell together really well. I'm only annoyed that I forgot to turn on my recorder, which was sitting right on the piano at the time. I did, however, make sure to record the rest of the show (two of the songs, "Do It Again" and "How Long Has This Been Going On" can be heard on our site, along with new versions of "Tuesday Troubles," "In Cologne," and "Happy-Go-Funky" from Fontanafredda) which went just as smoothly. It was a nice change to be playing with singers. It was reminiscent of the work I did in the pit orchestras back at NYU last fall, filling in and playing off what the vocalists were doing. The whole time, I was thinking back to the John Coltrane-Johnny Hartman album, where Coltrane, for once, had to take a backseat to someone else. When it was his turn to play though, he really shined. I only wish some of the singers had listened more to that kind of music. A few of them got it, but most of them were coming from the musical theater scene, where every word has to be articulated in order to get across a story. Jazz singing doesn't have to be so precise. I can't say that most of them did the research to get in that spirit. Nonetheless, I had a great time playing behind them, and some of the tunes were really spectacular.

Getting ready to play Italy's worst classical guitar

My roommates, Adam, Sean, and John, preparing for the classical aperitivo at La Citè.

Playing 'Swonderful with Mimi Parroco for the Gershwin Revue

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