July 22, 2013
Heaven and hell. That’s the difference between Athens and Barcelona. While Barcelona prohibits street music except at certain times by certain players who have a license under threat of conviscation of instruments and equiptment, Athens is really free and open about it. After spending a day or so getting situated I and with a little help from Tatiana, I got settled in the coolest place, around Monastraki Square, which is right next to the Acropolis and all the famous historical sites. This place is a paradise for street musicians as all around the Acropolis (which I found out on the walking tour today, just means high city because its built on a large limestone outcrop of rock) there is a wide beautifully cobblestoned pedestrian walkway. Its about ½ mile in circumference. From here you litteraly walk around the ancient Parathanon and other temples and theaters that are on the hill. Situated all around the walkway are street musicians that are playing at all times, especially in the cool evening.
Ermou Street where I am staying is divided into to parts, the fancy schmancy shopping area and the rather poor and run down area filled with immigrants from all over the world. Guess which one I am staying in? Right, not the rich one. But walking along the rich area a few hours ago I counted 5 street bands.
I started off in Monastraki Square yesterday. While waiting for Tatiana, I sat down with a Gypsy boy whose job was to play the accordian in the street. He couldnt play well but was very cute and so he made some money for his Gyspsy mom who was always hovering nearby. He saw my instrument and was actually a very nice boy and quite curious. He asked me with body language what it was. I thought, why not? Play with the Gyspsy boy. Before I knew it, I was playing with him and it became a bit of a toursit attraction. Take a picture of the foreigner playing saxophone with the Gypsy boy. I followed his playing and it sounded not bad. After about 5 minutes of that however, the teenagers behind me got restless and wanted to play their music on their speakers. They quite rudely turned up their volume and drowned me out. They were playing a lot of Bob Marley, which of course I knew. I didnt hesitate and just started playing along with their music. The boys were kind of shocked that I did that and I wasnt sure how they would react, but looking up I saw they were amazed and really liked it. So here I was again, making history. I tried to get the Gypsy boy to play along, but found out, this kid had almost no talent. All he could do was play his one song. I tried to teach him. I showed him the key of the song on his accordian (I Shot the Sheriff was the song we were playing at the time) but he just couldnt get it. Even he didnt know how to play a short note on his accordian. So there I was giving the boy a music lesson on his accordian, while playing with the teenagers under the watchful eyes of the Acropolis. This went on for about 10 minutes until we all go bored.
I moved down the square a bit and took out my amp. I wanted to see how people would react to jazz. Of course I always ask permission when I invade a space. In this case it was an attractive young (tourist) woman and another Greek guy on the other side. I asked if they minded if I played and they both were surprised that they were suddenly powerful people. They both agreed. The womans handsome boyfriend showed up a few minutes later (of course). The other guy, Manie, seemed to really like my music and hung out with me for about 30 minutes. I gave him jobs to do a bit later. I played for a while and as I expected, not many people were interested in my music. A few stopped, a few listened as the walked by, most just walked by. So it was pretty much Manie and I until Tatiana showed up.
In the meantime something quite bizarre happened. A large group of South Korean Jesus freaks showed up not 15 meters from me and started a performance. it was a kind of line dance with really simple moves and some music. It was quite low level. The main thing was that they kept saying how much they love Jesus, etc etc, etc, etc etc …..These little bastards (there were about 25 of them, were in my space. But that is the way Koreans do it. They dont recognize boundaries as much as others. Some people would have gotten angry at them, but I saw it as an opportunity. I wanted to play with these kids. I sent Manie over (I like to get people involved ) to find the director and invite them to perform with me. Reluctantly Manie went and came back grinning. he had actually done it! he said the director said maybe they would do it after their performance. I knew what that meant from my years in Korea. maybe means “No” because they are too polite to say “No”. I tried playing along with them from a distance but it was too soft. There was only one way to make it happen. I walked over, took out my horn and waited until their song ended. As they started the next song I just stepped into the semi-cirle and made the sign that I wanted to play together. The kids and director were to shocked to do anything about it. I quickly found the key and started playing along nicely with them. It added to their sound and amazingly they just accepted my presence. I wanted to be next to the guitarist and so I started reaaranging the group. You go over there please, you over there. Again , they just complied. I found myself between the guitarist and the leader of the teenagers. it was perfect. The guitarist was actually pretty good at playing with others and was giving me good cues and helping me follow along. She tried to blend with me. People in the audience thought I was part of the act. i was hoping for a solo, but I knew they would just play it as they had practiced it. One dancer came upand gave me a cross necklace made out of plastic. For them this was all about Jesus, but for me it was all about music and street theater.
After that song, Tatiana and I set off around the Acropolis, with her leading the way. It seemed like every 5 mintues we came across another performer. I always asked and about half of them agreed. I played with A Serbian guy who played pop songs on guitar and sang nicely, an English guy who was doing old Rock songs like , “Knock, Knock, Knocking on heavens Door” and was rejected by some Greek guys playing at an outdoor restaurant (they they were interested in playing later). the last guy I played with was the best. A classical guitarist, He was situated right in front of the South entrance to the Acropolis. It was by this time about 930 pm. I played one song with him and it was great. Tatiana had to go back to the Square, and I decided to stay with Menti Sula. He was an Albanian and told me how Albanians are looked down upon by Greeks. We played for about an hour together. Then I asked him if he wanted to hear some of my jazz. He really liked my music so he went to sit on the steps of the entrance and he let me use his powerful amp (finally I had an amp) . I played for about 45 minutes while he sat and happily listened. At 1230 there were still lots of people walking around, enjoying the night view of the acropolis (it was prominently lit up). We played a few more together then divided up the loot. It was about 15 Euros each. I was dead tired. I headed back for the square and once there bought a few greek style sandwhiches, lots of tomato and feta cheese, and talked to some young teenagers from Afghanistan. They were very interesting, very agressive, but friendly. Apparently they are even lower than Albanians on the respect scale. All in all it was a great day. The next day I would go back into my normal tourist/ street musician/ writer mode. A nice change after the horror of barcelona.
It was a kind of street musicians paradise. Playing in the warm balmy night, under a full moon that helped to light up the Parthanon. I imagined myself playing for the gods, and they were enjoying my music. Throwing not coins but good fortune my way, Thank you Athena for your contribution. Thanks Zeus, Cool Aphrodite, keep it real.