Gonzo in Vienne

By Michael Stevenson

“Let me hear your balls, Vienne!”

On June 29, I was among the lucky 7000 concert-goers gathered in Theater Antiques to behold piano man Chilly Gonzales perform at the 2019 Vienne Jazz Festival. Jazz à Vienne has been celebrating the world of jazz since 1981. The festival has a variety of concerts and different stages – the grandest being the Roman theater, built in 1 AD.

As the show started, most of us sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the arena were fanning ourselves with our programs, as the temps rose over 110 degrees before the sun went down. Chilly, it was not. But the performer nicknamed “Gonzo” cooled the audience with his humor, original songs and an impressive array of piano styles – not strictly jazz, but also blues, classical and his own uniquely “Gonzo” flavorings.

Between songs, Gonzo joked with the audience in both french and english. His french dialect has a Montreal flavor (he was born there). And I detected a slight Brooklynese present in his English – especially when he commanded the audience of clap-a-longs to follow the beat by watching “my fucking foot!” The sweaty crowd in the ancient arena laughed and sang, and most of of us stayed on the beat of his bouncing bedroom slipper.

Gonzales, whose (birth name is Jason Charles Beck, has collaborated with artists Jarvis Cocker, Feist, Peaches, Drake and Daft Punk.

In 2018, Gonzales launched his own music school. According to his Wikipedia entry, “musicians from around the world joined him to study at The Gonzervatory, an 8-day all-expenses-paid residential music performance workshop in Paris. The workshop included coaching sessions with Gonzo, followed by masterclasses from Gonzales’ friends and collaborators.” Cool!

Vienne’s Roman Theatre was built in 40-50AD and seen as the largest in Roman Antiquity

I actually came to see Gozo in Vienne quite by accident. I had purchased tickets to see Camille perform in the “Up Above My Head” collaboration, which was actually the previous night in Vienne, but I had confused dates (as I often do when on a lengthy European vacation.) So while I was quite depressed about screwing-up and missing my favorite French chanteuse Camille, Gonzo pulled me out of my funk with his wonderful show. It’s always great to see someone completely new in concert and to become an immediate fan. C’est moi!

I’d also like to note how helpful the Vienne Tourist office was, as well as the Jazz à Vienne ticket manager, who granted my wife and I free replacement tickets to see the Chilly Gonzales show after I explained how we confused our dates. As has consistently been our experience, the French people were gracious and accommodating to we stumbling and fumbling travelers.

Merci beaucoup, Vienne and Gonzo.

Send in the clowns – and send me, too!

By: Michael Stevenson

My wife Linda and I enjoyed such a wonderful vacation in France this past month.

We began our trip in Paris’ Butte-aux-Cailles neighborhood in the underappreciated 13th arrondissement. Butte-aux-Cailles was a pleasant surprise, with its amazing street art, local bistros, and funky bars. We had a groovy night of Afro-Pop and dancing the evening of the Fete de Musique!

Next we took a train to Avignon where we rented a car to drive to the seaside village of Cassis. This was perfect timing, as the temperatures climbed over 110 degrees. We cooled ourselves with an ocean swim and boat ride through Cassis’ beautiful calanques.

We then drove three hours north from Cassis to Vienne to attend their annual Jazz Festival. There, in the magnificent outdoor Theatre Antique, we watched a fantastic show performed by Canadian piano man Chilly Gonzales. We drove south again to our favorite village in Provence, Venasque, meeting-up with our friends Jim and Shirley, who are our neighbors back come in Rhode Island, USA.

It was in Venasque that I was fortunate to be introduced to “Compagnie Née au Vent,” in a street performance by the company’s two “clowns”/actors, Claire Néel and Alexandre Florent.

A bus crashes Cyrano and the clowns show their mercy

The two clowns, in character as “Bombyx” and “Luna”, performed scenes from the classic novel “Cyrano de Bergerac,” as well as skits from the Hollywood movies Dirty Dancing, Titanic, and (my favorite) the spaghetti scene from Disney’s Lady & the Tramp.

Walking through the winding streets of the tiny village, I loved every minute of their twilight performance.

It was hilarious, magical and unforgettable theater!

My only regret was that during the several requests for audience participation, I was too embarrassed by clumsy francaise to volunteer.

On the Compagnie Née au Vent website are these words from the beloved author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

“Make the dream devour your life and that life does not devour your dream”

Next summer, I promise to improve my French and to raise my hand to volunteer once invited to “send in the American clown!” C’est moi!