Alexa and melodica

Vince Mansel and I had an amazing time in Seattle. After I’d spent a day working on writing business and sight-seeing in balmy weather, Vince texted me the morning of the gig to tell me he’d missed his flight, but was sure he’d catch the next one and be at my hotel in time for us to pick up his rented bass amp and then drive across a few bridges to Bellevue for our gig at Bake’s Place. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, I remained calm as I texted back “OK.”

I practiced for a while in my tiny room, then dressed for a jog with my camera. Two hours later, he texted that he was on his next flight. I was concerned that he’d never make it through the traffic from the airport to my hotel for us to then drive to the gig in time for our 4:30 pm rehearsal. I called the music rental company, paid for the amp in advance and asked them to have it waiting near the door when we arrived. Vince got to my hotel not long after he said he would, we began driving through the beautiful city and despite a few wrong turns, found our way to Sir Seattle. Some happy-go-lucky, tattooed roadie-types loaded up a giant amp into the rental SUV Vince had sprung for. We had to take the long way to Bellevue because the car rental company charges $25 extra if you cross a toll bridge. Incredibly, by 4 pm we were at Bake’s Place, so we stopped and got a coffee. Then we parked and loaded in.

I’ve played many clubs. To my surprise and delight, this is the nicest room I’ve ever had the pleasure of gigging in. We began to set up. The grand piano was in perfect tune, the sound man, Brennan Baglio, turned out to be an award-winning a cappella singer himself (with Groove for Thought), and the drummer, Mark Ivester, was already there. Alex Chadsey showed up soon thereafter and we started rehearsing the gig. From the first song, I could see these guys were great and the gig would rock. They were great readers, versatile, super solid and consistent on tempo — no speeding up every tune, my pet peeve, and able to hold a slow groove when needed — and they had clearly reviewed my charts and recordings beforehand.

Fast-forward to the gig… after a delicious meal, we started playing to a generous crowd. The sound was magnificent. I felt magnificent. The crowd was eating it up. Several friends I knew in the area and my cousin and her friends showed up. I got the whole house dancing at the end of both sets.

When all was said and done, several hours later we sat at the bar chatting and Craig Baker, the owner, started telling me about how the room was designed: “There’s not a bad seat in the house,” he said, pointing up to the ceiling, where speakers aimed at the bar, the mezzanine and the floor. “The entire stage is a bass sink. All those lows and mids are just junk. I just use three monitors. And that back wall isn’t just a sculpture, it’s a sound reflector.” He also told me something no club owner ever has: “I clocked you guys at no higher than 95 dB. Most bands I try to keep at 98 dB.”

The night wore on and one of my friends had tied one on. He’s a talented musician and his friends had just shown up to the bar, missing the concert. They begged us to get back on stage and sing one for them, so we did. I played my song Quisiera Retroceder el Tiempo on piano and Vince sang the bass line. Soon they were up onstage singing and hollering with us, jamming on other songs. Then they dragged Craig up to sing. When he opened his mouth, I understood why this club sounds so damn good. The man has a golden voice.

Vince and I found a hotel (there’d been a mixup, so fixing that took a bit of time), then a convenience store for nosh. We stayed up for hours talking about how great the gig had gone. Vince was definitely my rock — and this was the first time we’d ever traveled together for a gig! Vince is a seasoned globe-hopper, though. He goes to Europe for weeks on end with his wife, and he and I were part of a big group that studied in Cuba in 2003. Anyway, not only is he probably my kindest and most generous friend, he made the whole process of working with two unknown (to us) musicians go smoother than ever. When the pianist, Alex, complimented me on my charts, I told him that it was thanks to years and years of gigs that I had refined them and knew which ones could be played with little to no rehearsal with versatile jazz musicians. We hope to be back!


Alexa at Bake's Place in Bellevue, WA