Saturday, July 4, 2015

Grodno on My Mind

Danny; Grodno, Belarus

Louis Armstrong and his band were one of the first cultural ambassadors to bring American music abroad. This March marked the 50th anniversary of Satchmo's historic tour that took him and the band behind the Iron Curtain. It's no surprise that we saw this book featured at the Grodno library when we were invited to play and tour the former home of a famous Belarusian writer Eliza Orzeszkowa. She wrot a series of 30 novels and was nominated for the Nobel Prize along with Tolstoy in 1905.

We played an unplugged set in the backyard of the library and spoke to local patrons about Jazz and American music. I played on a chair and table, Brian sang his bass lines, Joe rigged a makeshift amp for his guitar and Johnny sang sans mic to the crowd.

Grodno has more preserved historical architecture than Minsk because it was a further north and out of the direct line of fire form the war fallout.

That clock is from the 15th century and is still working,  while the church itself is Baroque;)


Above is one of the main walking streets in Grodno and it like many places in town look very European. Behind the old castle and estate that serves as the site for the Grodno a Jazz festival is the lovers stairway. It leads down to the Neman river where we had a traditional Belarusian lunch at the site of an old brewery with our friends from the U.S. Embassy.

Of course I had to try the Dranaki which are pancakes made from finely grated potatoes and onions, topped off with butter and salmon roe. 

Here's my attempt at making them back here in the states;

Not bad for a first attempt at Dranaki. The Belarusian vodka made up for any inadequacies;)
 Here are some shots from our concert, masterclass and jam session at Grodno Jazz Fest 2015

These upcoming stars sang a jazz choir version of Cheek to Cheek for us after our workshop, they were great!

Well we made it safely to our next destination. We are so honored to have been invited by Scott Rauland, the U.S. Embassy Minsk, Belarus and the Grodno Jazz Festival to come over and share some American music. Wishing you all peace, acceptance and the ability to keep open hearts and minds towards each other. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Here's to You

Danny; Grodno, Belarus 
 We have based a lot of traditions and customs around the table.  Raising a glass to another's health can even be traced back to before the ancient Greeks. It wasn't until the Renaissance period that the word "Toast" started being used as we do now. A piece of toast often was added to a glass to take out some of the acidity of the often lower quality wine.
 Toasting to everyone in the room became a way of drinking in excess without seeming like a lush. Eventually toastmasters were hired for events so that it all could be kept under control. 
 Well after having toured Russia and since playing in a Russian band in NY, I thought I'd heard some good toasts, but in Belarus there are traditions that refer to which number toast you are raising.
 After our performance that closed the first night of the Grodno Jazz festival, 
our hosts invited us to a post show reception that included some of the other performers from Poland and Germany. Also in attendance were The U.S. Charge d'affaires  Scott Rauland, his wife Fran, our interpreter Olga, the Indian Ambassador to the UN and Grodno/Belarusian officials. 

So I made the opening toast about how lucky we are to have music and how it brought us all together etc. Then it was said that the second toast (we were drinking Belarusian vodka and cognac) had to come quickly after the first so a bullet wouldn't  be able to fit between the two. The third toast was for the man, made by a woman and the men had to stand to drink that one. The fourth toast was to the woman and had to be made by a man and the men had to stand to drink that also and the drink had to be finished all at once.  I'm a little foggy on some of the details,  because there were a few toasts;) The fifth toast was to being less formal because usually by that time, most of the important officials would have left. I don't remember the sixth toast except that someone lost count and called it the seventh? It was a real sharing of life between so many cultures and nationalities. We had an early masterclass/workshop to give the next morning so luckily by the last toast the food, drink and company had come to an end.

Cry for Freedom

 Danny; Minsk Belarus 
 I would like to dedicate this  post to all the millions of people who now have the freedom to marry all across the U.S., to all the millions of people who will now be able to keep their affordable health care, to all those who lost their lives in WW2 here in Belarus and to the mayrtrs in Charleston who lost their lives this week while embracing their faith. 

 Yesterday our wonderful translator and new friend Olga, took us on a three hour walking tour of Minsk. When we visit a country to bring American music abroad, the cultural sharing is not just a one way street, it's an exchange also. It's just as important that we learn about their culture are share that with our friends in the States. When I tell people that I'm going to Belarus, many aren't sure where it is geographically. 

Because of where Minsk is located, It was almost totally destroyed during WW2. It was caught geographically in between the warring factions of Eastern Europe. What wasn't destroyed by war, was leveled by Stalin and rebuilt in the Soviet era style to show how resilient the Soviets were after the war. The architecture reminds me of Moscow with it's federal style state buildings. There are almost no examples of pre war architecture in Minsk. 

The area near the hotel is a mile or so from downtown and the Philharmonic hall where we played. There is a lot of construction and as the old Soviet style wooden workers houses are being torn down, the people are being relocated to the outskirts of the city. 

Brian and I ventured out each night in search of some traditional Belarusian food and drink. We managed to find some great borscht, potato pancakes and of course beer;)

We took taxis to the restaurants but walked back. It is very safe here at night. We snapped off a couple of pictures of the metro here, although I found out afterwards that it's against the law. 

The borders have shifted here a few times and there remains a big Polish and Russian influence. Most everyone speaks Russian although there is a movement to
preserve the Belarusian language.  
 The first ever communist party meetings took place here in Minsk. Here is the house where it supposedly all started. 

We did get to see some of the old city center where there are some nice parks and some old churches.

The people here are warm and welcoming. We are lucky to have had a chance to see a place that not many Americans get to experience. 

After so much walking we decided to take the horse and carriage back to the hotel.