I left Europe a week ago today after bopping back and forth between Paris and Krakow on a Euro-friendly budget airline.
Last time I was in Krakow, two years ago, I sang with my guitarist friend Wiesław Wilczkiewicz in Piwnica pod Baranami (Cellar under the Rams), one of the top jazz clubs there. PpB is a cluster of dark, subterranean rooms that accommodate performing arts groups of different sizes; we were in the one that had an array of 45s wallpapering the foot of the stage. The club sits at a corner of Rynek Główny, the main square, which dates back to the 13th century. Back then, jazz hadn't been thought up yet and PpB was probably just a regular cellar for root vegetables and beer. In the 1950s it would become a hangout for dissident artists.
This time we were at Klub Zaczek, a large performance space around the corner from the library of Jagiellonian University. Klub Zaczek reminds me of the hip rock club Warsaw in Greenpoint, where I used to rehearse with The Polish Theater Group of New York back in the day. It wasn't called Warsaw then, it was just a big, not-so-often-used theater in The Polish National Home. If you were so inclined, you could get a shot of vodka for about three bucks at the bar.
Krakow has a thriving poster industry. Wandering about the old section of town I saw kiosks full of posters announcing that Wynton Marsalis and Kurt Elling would be in Krakow on July 11 this year. For a second I thought that Herbie Hancock and Dianne Reeves would be there, too, but soon realized that those were posters from last summer. Not too far away from these two spreads, I saw some posters with my own name on them. I don't usually--I mean, I don't ever--see my name displayed like that, so I was quite startled the first time I happened upon these pink adverts, three all in a row on a kiosk, still damp from a recent rain shower. Startled, but pleased. I almost just walked by. But vanity overcame me and I stopped and took a snap.
While I was in Krakow my friend Deborah Latz, the curator for the VoxEcstatic series at Cornelia Street Café in New York City, posted on Facebook that Kurt Elling would be singing in a special performance at CSC on July 2, right after I returned from Europe. I should go, I thought, and tell Kurt about the great little shop for Polish pottery that's right across the street from where our respective posters are hanging, just in case he or Wynton wants to buy some cute stuff. That was the jet lag talking. There are lots of things I'd love to talk to Kurt about, but Polish pottery, cute as it is, doesn't make the list when I'm properly rested. (I did pick up a shop brochure for him. Later I thought better of giving it to him at the VoxEcstatic gig because how weird would that be, and I left it in the Airbnb. Touring is harsh, my reasoning went, and he probably wouldn't have time to go shopping anyway. Plus...it's just weird.)
The jet lag got worse. I was forgetting things and making spelling errors and never knew what time it was. While in this fog, I was reading author Elaine Hayes' book, Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan. Vaughan toured and performed constantly for decades, despite the slights, insults, rip-offs, and outright abuses. She was no stranger to jet lag. I like reading sympathetic biographies, especially those of singers. Even if the story has some awful parts (as most stories about singers do), I feel uplifted when singers prevail. Singing ain't easy, even for those who make it look that way.
I headed back to New York via Paris, with a one-day layover. The picture below is from the roof of the Galleries Lafayette the morning before my flight. I've never sung in Paris, but I'd like to. It takes a lot of singers to fill all of the rooms out there, and we all have to do our part.
P.S. A big, warm shout-out to blues singer Kasia Miernik, who shared the bill with me at Klub Zaczek. What a voice!