Wednesday, July 28, 2004

ABC Radio National feature

ABC Radio National will be airing a one-hour interview/profile that Andrew Ford did with me earlier in the year this Saturday July 31 on The Music Show. It will go to air from 10am-11am and will be repeated the same day from 10pm-11pm. If you live outside Australia or otherwise can't catch either of those broadcasts the interview will be available here for several weeks following the broadcast - just select the July 31 program and click on "First Hour". UPDATE: the program is no longer available on their webpage

Monday, July 26, 2004


It was the longest treck ever from pick-up at my hotel in Pori to my front door - 42 hours continuous travel! Due to my round-the-world ticket I returned the long way from Finland flying Helsinki-New York-Los Angeles-Sydney in one hit (I didn't end up stopping in LA and visiting Jeff Beal). Funny word play in Finland: I was sitting with some Finnish friends. I have met some of the nicest people in my 3 visits to Finland. Many Finns will readily admit that, like so many other nations, there is some degree of enthusiasm for drinking there. We were ready to go, having ordered our drinks some time ago but I still had a lot of beer in my glass while theirs was empty. Eyeing my glass and my comparatively less enthusiastic drinking rate, one said "I can see you're not Finnish". Beautiful.

Monday, July 19, 2004

More Pori

Sandy Evans trio had several sets yesterday, they were very well received. Their music was ecstatic yet had considerable humour. Sandy invited me to join them for a song in two of the sets. I played a late night set with Robert Stewart and stayed jamming till 4am.  Tonight 2 sets with Brian and Toivo and in between we stood in a park with 20,000 others and listened to Stevie Wonder. What a great musician, what great songs.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


I arrived at Helsinki airport only a little before Sandy Evans and her trio, so stayed around to surprise them. We did a van swap and Brett (Hirst) rode with me to Pori. We've a had a dinner and breakfast together. I am looking forward to hearing Sandy's trio and she has asked me to join them for a tune. I am actually on the same bill as them tonight at Cafe Jazz. I´m playing for US saxophonist Robert Stewart whom I have a couple of gigs with as well as those with my Baltic buddies Toivo Unt and Brian Melvin. I see that Gary Bartz is here later in the week so Barney McCall will probably be along with him. That's a pretty good Australian contingent for Pori 04.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Last night in Moscow

The last night was great: (for Sydney folk) where Le Club was like playing at the The Basement, Restavratsia was mid-week at the Side-On. Great musicians, very creative and free and a Bohemian venue. Off to Finland now for the Pori Festival and late last night I noted on their website that the Sandy Evans Trio (with Brett Hirst and Toby Hall) are also on the program so I look forward to running into them there. Interesting that I didn't know they were booked and I think they likewise didn't know I would be at Pori (I didn't know myself until 2 weeks ago!). It is safe to say that Australian musicians on the international jazz festival circuit has gone from being an exceptional event (as it was 10 years ago) to something considerably more routine.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Posting from an underground shopping mall right next to the Kremlin (how things have changed here!). After a night's stopover in Helsinki I arrived in Moscow, am playing every night here. First night was in Le Club, the #1 jazz club. It was a Monday night so a small but appreciative crowd. One young Russian pianist had heard me play in a regional Russian town in 1995 and he had a pirate cassette of the concert which he seemed to know backwards. Last night I played at the Residence of the Australian Ambassador, a very well-received performance. Tonight is a dinner-show in my hotel Marriott Tsverkaya. On the way here I had a strange experience. Only a few hundred metres from the Kremlin a man walking in front of me dropped a plastic pouch containing a thick wad of $US100 bills, probably several thousand dollars. I called out to him but a man beside me scooped it up, placed it in his pocket and tried to hush me, offering to split the proceeds. Naturally I didn't want to participate and kept calling the guy who eventually turned and came up to us. He didn't speak English and my "accomplice" spoke to him in Russian, clearly he told the guy I had his money as I was accosted and he demanded I empty my pockets and open my bag. Fortunately I was only carrying roubles. I kept telling the guy to hand over the money, told him to do the right thing, pointing to God in the sky to indicate a higher morality. He kept saying "I need money, please". I kept using body language to tell the victim that this other guy had his money not me and finally he knew the game was up and handed it over with a whimper of weary resignation. The victim looked at him in disgust, took his money and left. Usually people carrying large amounts of US dollars in Moscow are gangsters so I guess I may have returned ill-gotten gains, but it felt right.
UPDATE: Have just found out that the above scenario is a well-known scam in Moscow, which I haven't encountered despite the fact that this is my 6th visit here. The two guys would have been a team. Had I taken the hook and through greed got involved in splitting the proceeds, I would have been challenged by the guy who dropped it and outed. Then they threaten to call the police. Nobody wants to go to jail in a foreign land so they are then in a position to extort all your money from you in return for not reporting you. The so-called wad of money would have had a real bill at the top and bottom only and in between plain paper. Clever. Glad I wasn't in the slightest bit tempted! However, I did think I was really doing a good turn and helping somebody and have now lost the comcomitant warm inner glow associated with such acts. Drat.

Last days in Estonia

I travelled with cellist Aare and his organist to the Estonian island of Saaremaa. On the way we stopped in Parnu as Aare had to perform the Dvorak Requiem so I listened to the final rehearsal and performance of that. We also picked up a (big cabinet style) electric piano for my outdoor gig on the island, amazingly we got it (dismantled) and the cello and the lovely lady organist all into the car. After the concert we headed for Saaremaa including a ferry crossing (with vehicle). Sometimes classical musicians are more crazy then jazz guys. Travelling to his own festival which he is playing a recital in Aare stops on the way to play a Requiem, waves aside my doubts that we can carry such a big keyboard to the island. I jokingly said we should take the keyboard out of the car and set it up on the ferry for me to play during the 40 minute ride. To my horror he took me seriously and thought it was a good idea ("good promotion"), fortunately he didn't follow through! The recital with organ was beautiful, imagine a small stone church in the middle of a forest on an island. I helped the organist make her stop changes, and she orchestrated my accompaniment to my Ave Maria, changing stops as I played and breathing with every phrase as she had when she played. Then I played my jazz gig in the outdoors. It was accommodation one step above camping, we were on the beach living in huts. Estonia is an amazing place, great feeling for music abounds. The orchestra played with far more depth and pathos than ours do. Every 4 years they have massed choirs singing in a big amphitheatre in Tallinn. People learn difficult choral parts and travel from all around the country to participate, more than 30,000 people form the choir and another 100,000 spectators join in for more familiar pieces, people cry with the emotion of it. I hope to witness it one day.

Friday, July 09, 2004


We played in Haapsalu, Estonia last night. What a romantic, tranquil place-by-the-sea. Complete with swan on the water in the 11pm half-light. Before the concert we visited a special bench by the sea dedicated to Tchaikowsky who spent a summer holiday composing there and was entranced by its charm. A sumptuous dinner afterwards, and for appetiser I had a regional favourite: vodka with pickles and honey. Quite a sensation.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Estonian adventures

I will be disappointed to leave Estonia, a very beautiful place. I've just returned from the market in the main square of the Old Town of Tallinn where I am staying. Got some nice presents for my girls (wait and see my lovelies). The Old Town really has been beautifully preserved (UNESCO listed) and traffic is kept out so it feels like a time warp and there are lots of people in traditional costumes, obviously to stimulate commerce from tourists but it's still nice of course. The Old Hansa restaurant is fun, like a mediaeval feast, pitchers of honeyed ale, roast bear, serving wenches etc. I'm based in Tallinn but not playing here, we're travelling to the gigs in towns within 1-2 hours of the capital. Last night it was Pärnu in the lovely Ammende Villa, the music was well received by a small but appreciative crowd. Tonight we travel to Haapsaalu to play, returning to Tallinn after the gig. Tomorrow I will jump the jazz ship and travel to the island of Saaremaa with cellist and festival director Aare so we can get some extra rehearsal in. This is a very secluded island apparently, Aare says it's like the "end of the earth", we'll stay on there but no hotel, only beach-houses, sounds fine to me. Gastronomically I'm skipping lunch and eating two cooked meals a day. I love the "five grain porridge" for breakfast in this hotel, served with a decadent blob of excellent butter in the middle.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


Yesterday evening I had a short rehearsal with distinguished Estonian cellist and festival director Aare Tammesalu. We played my piece Ave Maria and I was astounded at how quickly he divined my intentions and the beefy yet tender sound he made. I look forward to performing with him on Saturday in his festival on the Estonian island of Saaremmaa.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Northern European summer

Doesn't exist this year. All that sniggering to my Australian buddies about leaving the winter behind was to no avail. Normally it´s lovely in this region in summer. But this year it's cold, the nights are freezing and it rains. It's been like that in the Baltics and the weather reports promise worse in Helsinki and Moscow. I don't have enough warm clothes and I'm shitty. Last night all the restaurants were full of tourists so I had to sit outside and shiver, the order took ages to come and when it did it was the wrong dish so I got extra shivering time. Yikes! Everyone is saying the weather is highly unusual. I saw a movie about that only the other day....let's pray.

Monday, July 05, 2004


Well, I did the four hour road trip from Riga to the Estonian capital Tallinn yesterday and am now installed in this lovely hotel in the old town section. Riga was a blast though I drank perhaps a little too much Riga Black Balsam, the jet-black, thick and viscous 80% proof spirit concoction that was developed by a Riga pharmacist in the 19th century and is only available in Riga. It tastes like a cough mixture and has medicinal herbs or something - at less then $2 a shot I didn't ask too many questions. We have some gigs around Estonia but not till Wednesday, so I have some time to meet and hang, especially with cellist Aare Tammesalu who runs this festival that we are playing in on the Estonian island of Saaremaa. As you will see if you click on it, this is a heavy duty classical music festival so our trio is the token jazz content I guess, but Aare has invited me to play my cello piece Ave Maria with him in his recital. We will rehearse it here in Tallinn and I will play it on organ as it is a Church recital with no piano but very appropriate for an Ave Maria. The other big news is that our trio is such a success that we have been invited at the last minute to the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland, I will be there from July 16-21 right after my week in Moscow. This is the 3rd year running I have done this Festival so it will feel very much like home. This tour is rather remarkable for adding dates while on the road (see updated itinerary), I have also added a gig in Moscow at Le Club which is the premiere Moscow jazz club and I will be playing with Igor Butman a Russian sax player who has a major international career. In Pori they tell me I will also play with "a sax player from LA", don´t know anymore than that yet!

Saturday, July 03, 2004

What's in my belly

Being a travelling musician in Latvia has an interesting condition attached that is identical to what I have struck in Russia. The general rule in the USA, Western Europe or Australia is that you get paid a fee and provided with a hotel room. Your meals you find for yourself and if you're lucky the Festival artistic director or a venue will shout you one. If you are in Europe, breakfast is always included in accommodation. No problem with all of that. But in Russia and Latvia (and I suspect it will be in Estonia) they very kindly seem to feel that they are your "host" and therefore all meals are provided which is of course great for the budget. Naturally, though, they can't give you carte blanche to order what you like. All the musicians here at the Rigasritmi Festival are staying at the splendid Hotel Riga and the organisers have negotiated a deal with the hotel to feed us in one of their restaurants. We have meal tickets given to us by the Festival which we dutifully produce to the restaurant but don't have a choice as to what we eat. This is fair enough (and I look forward to the surprise of finding out what it is each time), they are "hosting" us and when you are invited for a meal you eat what the host provides. Thing is, we are being provided with three cooked meals a day each containing meat (or fish) in a creamy sauce, potatoes and delicious vegetables (plus sweeties). It's all delicious but I don't normally eat like this! I'm a bowl of muesli in the morning man, simple sandwich for lunch and a lean dinner. Three rich cooked meals - heavens, my waistline! What can you do, if someone puts food in front of me I eat it! Moreover I clean my plate up generally.

Next, laundry stories (only kidding). But if you want any other particular tidbits from the road, holler in them there comments.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Real drums

Drummer Brian Melvin and I have really hit it off. The gig last night was hot!

Time machine

I can't think of two more contrasting capital cities than Seoul & Riga.
Seoul: teeming with 11 million people, high-tech everything (never seen so many big flat screens), city scraping the sky, airport 90 minutes from town, traffic jams.

Riga: just like you imagine Old Europe, story-book architecture, narrow cobble-stone streets, town squares, airport 10 minutes from town.
The last bit I appreciated particularly as it took 30 hours to get from Seoul airport to Riga airport - 4 flights. In a single day I touched Seoul, Hong Kong and Bangkok (6 hours stop at Bangkok with a good book) then overnight to Helsinki (thank God I slept, which is quite something given that Finnair seems to have the most uncomfortable economy class seating in the world) and then a one-hour hop to Riga. It was like being processed through a massive time tunnel of gates, walkways and flying birds to finally emerge at the other end in a different world. I've checked into the charming Hotel Riga, had a rehearsal and next comes soundcheck and gig. Bit steep that eh? Arrive in the morning after 30 hours travel and rehearsal, soundcheck and gig on same day! Brian Melvin is a hoot to play with and Toivo Unt is doing a sterling job. New news: the Festival we are playing in Saaremaa (Estonia) next week is also a classical festival run by one of Estonia's most distinguished cellists who has asked (via Toivo) that I play in a classical concert with him one of my compositions. So we will play my Ave Maria for cello and piano, except the concert is in a church with no piano so I will play my bit on the organ. Naturally I didn't bring the music not knowing this would come up but later tonight I will hack into my computer back in Australia with this special utility and cause it to fax the music to him. I still can't get over this technology.