Party in Zurich
Back in the spring of 2001, the Jaztronauts invited me to play a three-week gig with them in Zurich, Switzerland. The quartet consisted of sax, piano, bass and drums, but because of this specific contract, they needed a fifth member, so I got the call. The club was a little room in the historic “old town” part of the city called the Casa Bar. They usually hosted bands for at least a week at a time, with local groups covering the off nights. We stayed in a suite of apartments on the second floor of the building, directly above the club. The daily schedule consisted of waking up sometime between 11:00am and 1:00pm, walking down the street for some espresso, heading out to stroll along the boardwalk, smoke, take a nap in the sun, practice, eat dinner, shower and change for the gig. Did you know when you buy a bratwurst by the sea in Zurich you get meat in one hand and your bread (roll) in another? We played for 5 ? hours, 6 nights a week. There were 5 sets a night, 6 on the weekends. Man, that third set was weird, a real twilight zone. After the gig, we’d walk down to this German restaurant in the red light district and eat and drink until about 4:00am. I remember thinking about halfway through the third week, when the cigar smoke curled up past my head, “This is what I want to do with my life.” Jazz.
After the contract was over, the band traveled to Italy while I stayed in Zurich. I felt like exploring. So I sent my suitcase on with the guys (they had the car) and I kept my horn and headphones, that’s about it. I figured I could survive for a couple of days.
I hopped a train out of town to a friend’s house, who I had met a week or so earlier, and hung out with him and his girlfriend from South Africa that afternoon. His place was high up on the hill overlooking the sea, a gorgeous view. He mentioned a party back in town that night and asked if I wanted to tag along. Seemed like a great idea.
So we headed off to the party that night in the “bad” part of town, not that I knew any difference. It did look much newer than the neighborhood that I was used to, perhaps it was only 100 years old?!! We headed into a row house that was six or seven stories high, up the steps, all the way to the top floor. It was a comfortable place, not extravagant, but nice and artsy. There were about 12 people there from all over the world. I was the only American. It was a fun hang, lots of eating, drinking and talking. The usual.
Around 1:30am, we opened the trap door in the ceiling and went up into the attic. It was a big, open room, with hardwood floors, carpets and rugs, and a round window on the front wall overlooking the city. There were all kinds of pillows thrown about, and the incense seemed to already be burning somehow. Only 8 people had lasted this long.
“Late in a good party, there is a subtle change in the air. Some people feel it as a time to say goodbye. Some people have used up their energy and bow out, unable to continue. A select few remain. The mood is tangible; you can almost taste it. The senses heighten, intimate connections are made, life glows… This moment, when the party seems over, is when it has just begun.”
The party had moved to another level as well. There was a tray of cocaine (I abstained), various other stimulants, and smoke so dense you could barely see. Then came the music. There was this amazing musician playing something that looked like a mandolin as well as other people playing guitars, plus a variety of world percussion, and of course we all were singing. I grabbed a hand drum and joined right in. We were all singing and laughing. A man and woman disappeared around the curtain and two beautiful Brazilian women began to make out with each other. I sat in the center of this wonderful world and sang until morning.
The next day I found my way to a park bench on the boardwalk, put on my headphones, threw in a Maria Schneider’s Allegresse, and slept. The police didn’t bother me. That night I went to a small jazz club called the Garage. Another friend of mine had opened it a year or so earlier. A few blurry hours later, I ended up passing out on the floor sometime during the second set. I keep telling myself it was from exhaustion. I remember looking up to a circle of surprised and concern faces staring down at me, a strange experience to say the least. A few guys from the band and a few audience members helped me up into a chair. The woman behind the bar was kind enough to get me some orange juice. The cats guided me outside to the train and I somehow found my way to the airport and crashed on another bench. The following morning, the guys in the band showed up right on time and probably thought I was a wreck. Nothing could be further than the truth.
When I arrived back in Minneapolis, I rented a new apartment downtown, cut back heavily on my “freelance” playing, got together my own band, began laying the groundwork for my first CD,