Green Tea and Jazz.

Nov. 17, 2002

All Asia Cafe. Central Square, Cambridge.

The cafe is at the end of Central Square, near MIT. This seems to be an up-and-coming area for clubs. A few in the area have live music.

I arrived at the club early, since I had to drop my wife off at 10am. It was closed, so I went down the street and got coffee. About 11:20 I went to the car, grabbed my guitar, and walked to the club. A few people were outside, and, to my distress, the club was still closed. As I got closer, I saw that I knew these people: it was Johanna, who I had worked with at 3PLex, her husband, and a friend, a guy from Spain who is studying at Berklee. There was a note on the door with a phone number. As I was calling, the door opened and Patty, the owner, let us in. She apologized, saying she had to take her son somewhere.

I went back to the car to get amp, etc. When I got back to the club, Johanna and all had gone elsewhere in search of coffee. I set up and started playing, while Patty puttered around. I had not expected much of an audience. The club has an entertainer for Dim Sum at 1pm, but usually doesn't have music so early on Sunday. I had only booked the gig on Thursday, and had sent out a hasty email to my mailing list; that's how Johanna learned about the gig.

The weather was rainy, so in addition to my usual opener, "Here's That Rainy Day," I played "Gentle Rain." Someday I'm going to brush up on Bill Leavitt's arrangement of "Soon It's Gonna Rain" and add that to rain set.

The room had a nice sound. It's rectangular, more or less, with the bar in the middle, tables on both sides, and the stage in the front corner. The stage is about a foot high, just enough to let the sound project. Standing on stage, I had floor-to-ceiling windows behind me an to my right. If there were more foot traffic in this part of the square, that visibility would maybe bring people in. Glass reflects sound pretty well, so that made it possible to play very softly and yet fill the room with sound. The two side walls are painted brick, and with the heavy wooden bar to break up the sound, there was a pleasant liveness to the sound. A lot of these old Cambridge bars have high ceilings, covered in decorative tin, a hold-over from earlier times. This room had a low plaster ceiling, which was better for the sound; tin sounds, well, tinny.

When my wife and I had gone into the club yesterday to drop off fliers, there was trio on stage: guitar, bass, and keyboards; two sang. They were a little too loud for the room, and I noticed that the sound was bright and clear, but lacked bottom. After today's gig, I think that is a characteristic of the room. I was using my Peavy Studio 112, which doesn't have much bottom, anyway. When I set up, I noticed that the house wiring was causing a hum in the amp. I usually get hum from my single coil pickups, but this hum was there even when nothing was plugged into the amp. Probably from the neon bar signs in the windows. I had left my amp on the hand cart and moved it around the stage a little, trying different spots to see if I might diminish the hum, but to no avail. Once I settled down on the stool, near the front of the stage, I could tell that the hum was not really audible, unless I left my hands off the strings.

After the first tune, I moved the amp. The lows were so weak that I decided to push the amp back against the window as much as possible to increase the lows. Come to think of it, I probably should have taken it off the cart. The more surfaces it is close to, the stronger the lows. Also, that would have allowed the wooden stage to reinforce the lows also. That kind of stage can act as a "bass trap," so that the lows sound strong there, but don't project into the room. Even so, it would have sounded better to me. Maybe next time I'll take the Ampeg B-15. The bass amp would give just the boost needed.

The lows may have been weak, but the highs were wonderfully sweet. Tunes where the melody moves up and down the top two strings, like "Polkadots and Moonbeams," were rich and satisfying."Don't Get Around Much Anymore," starting on that high E, was perfect. Sounded like a mellow trumpet.

After about 20 minutes, Johanna and the guys returned and sat at the bar. On a break, we chatted, and I learned that their friend, Luis, was studying jazz at Berklee after having received a degree in classical music in Spain, and doing symphony concerts on percussion. He's studying piano at Berklee, and I asked about all his teachers. His piano teacher is Ray Santisi. Ray is one of the Berklee originals, so Luis will get a great education in jazz history, straight from one of the sources. One of Ray's great strengths is voice-leading. Whenever I've heard him play, I've always listened closely to his left hand.

Johanna had heard me play at a couple of the 3PLex parties (3PLex was a dot-com), and I remembered that she liked bossas, so I played "Black Orpheus," "Once I Loved," "Dindi," and 'Girl From Ipanema." I rushed the tempo on Ipanema and played a pretty crappy solo, but the others came out pretty well. I chipped some notes on "Dindi," which often happens, because I use a lot of four-note and five-note voicings and barre chords, and if I'm not in good shape, the left hand just isn't where it needs to be.

Overall, I enjoyed the gig, and agreed to go back next Sunday.