Our two days with two French maestros - Oliver Kikteff & Marian Badoi, WYPR interview, Champignons, and more!

Its actually been my dream for years, since I was a teenager, to be able to host international players from other countries at my house and perform with them.  Well my dream finally came true.  Sometime in December of 2014, I noticed that one of my favorite guitarists in the world, Olivier Kikteff of Les Doigts de l'Homme, was going to be performing in NYC at Smalls with a phenomenal Romani accordionist named Marian Badoi in January.  Olivier and I had been talking to each other back and forth about a grant proposal I was going to do with him, so the lines of communication were already open.  I had also met him at Django in June that previous year.  Anyway, I felt I knew him well enough to ask him to be my guest here and to take part in a radio interview on WYPR in Baltimore.  I was excited to hear that he was interested!  But honestly I figured he would be pulled in many different directions once here in the States and exerted the fact that it may not happen at all.  To my surprise and elation, he accepted my offer to come!

He texted me on Tuesday to say that Marian also wanted to come visit which would turn out to be just an amazing bonus.  They made there way to Baltimore Penn Station by train on Wednesday and I had just enough time to pick them up and drop them off at my house while my daughter was at Girl Scouts.  I picked up my daughter and brought her to Grandmas so I could get back and help them settle in.  After getting them set up with places to sleep etc... we decided to go out to The Other Corner Charcuterie for some delicious Belgian inspired cooking and drinks.  I was surprised to find out that both of them were vegetarian.  They loved Jeff's special seasoned mushrooms and the risotto.

We immediately shared lots of smiles and laughs talking about everything under the sun while at dinner.  Sami and his girlfriend Kat finally joined us and the conversation got even better as we shared stories and laughs over Belgian beer and good wine.  Marian could not speak English really, but seemed to understand a lot.  He was just such a warm person in general.  Olivier spoke English really well so he was able to translate easily.  Sometimes they launched into these exuberant French jokes together and I loved hearing that language fill the walls of my favorite Baltimore bar.  Part of me just could not believe this was happening.  Here we all were with two of the best musicians on the planet, just hanging out like old friends.  It was extraordinary and totally ordinary at the same time.  I love the way music just transcends everything and people feel an instant camaraderie because of this shared passion we all have for performing.

Things just got better and better.  Many cigarettes were smoked.  Many glasses of wine and beer.  But the overriding constant was music.  Marian would play at any moment, anywhere anytime, and just amaze us all.  We went to a favorite spot where Sami and I played many times, WC Harlan, to see John Dierker play jazz.  Marian started jamming with them at one point on Caravan and it felt like it would go all night!  Of course, they are strict about stopping the music there so eventually we had to leave.  But how cool and totally welcome it would have been just to stay there all night into the morning jamming with these great musicians gathered.  Instead, we went to my house and continued the music into the night.  Olivier showed total mastery of his instrument at every turn, and both of them would jam in my living room at any moment night or day during their stay.  It was quite inspiring.  I joined in on occasion and they welcomed me warmly into their circle.  My favorite memory was playing with Marian late Wednesday in my kitchen.  We played a very typical Jazz Manouche chord progression together as my housemate lingered in the doorway to watch.  The sound was so sweet and clear.  At one point I stopped playing rhythm and sat mesmerized by Marian's music as he closed his eyes in a trance.  He evoked such imagery and emotion.  Every passage melting into the next with virtuosity and feeling.

The next day we had a radio interview at WYPR  where we played Joseph Joseph, Anniversary Song, and then Marian and Olivier played an original.  Click the link to see the video I took of them while in studio.  The show will air Feb.9 at 9:30AM but they will archive it so you can hear it anytime I believe.   Tom Hall was the host and he did a great job asking questions about gypsy jazz and our original music.   It was certainly Olivier's band Les Doigts d l'Homme that inspired me to compose original music and practice gypsy jazz in a more serious way.  Their video for the song Mumbo Jumbo really got my creative juices flowing.

That evening, both Marian and Olivier agreed to sit in on a show we were doing at Germano's.  I could not dream of a better way to end our time together.  I knew that Olivier was planning to sit in because we had spoken about it, but what a thrill to have Marian share the stage as well!  And all this was done for the love of the music.  No thought of compensation, no money, just for the pure love of music.  It was phenomenal to play two full sets of Jazz Manouche with these guys.  It was probably the most fun I have ever had playing rhythm guitar too.  I got to be the audience and the performer all at once.  It was also nerve-racking in a good way.  Intense to say the least.  I love the pressure of performing live though so I was enjoying every minute.  I only wish I was a little less starstruck and a little more relaxed!  I could hardly play my own solos at one point!!  Of course the tempos were so fast that all of our heads were spinning.  Suffice to say, Olivier has no problem playing at breakneck speeds.  I did manage some sweet solos on Nuages which, oddly enough, we played super slow.  I joked that it was probably the slowest Olivier had every played that tune.  He smiled warmly, then promptly launched into the next song with even greater ferocity.

Sami, Eddie, and I all hung in there and held our own alongside Marian and Olivier.  My favorite moment was probably playing Birelli's Made In France waltz because Olivier and I had played through it together earlier that day.  He just ripped it and gave us all ample time to solo as well.  He was very gracious and went out of his way to include everyone on solos.   Olivier was really impressed by Eddie on bass.  Of course who isn't?  The dude can play!

credited photos above by Jeffrey McMillan

After the show, we were all so high from the experience that we had to go sit down somewhere and just chill out.  I asked the guys where they wanted to go.  I said, "I will take you anywhere you want to go in Baltimore.  Where would you like to go?"  After Marian gave his usual answer, "somewhere I can get an omelette," they both agreed to go back to The Other Corner Charcuterie.  The mushrooms had made a deep impression!  We went there and sat for hours talking and laughing over delicious food and French red wine.  What an amazing night.  Fortunately Sami was thinking straight and he went online to get the bus tickets for Marian and Olivier.  We realized that they would have to leave fairly early if they were going to make their 7PM international flight our of JFK back to France.  We all went home for a few hours sleep and had to get up early to make it to the bus station by 8:30.  They had to meet Tanguy the bass player in Manhattan so it was best they left with hours to spare.  

I came home to my house and it was so quiet.  Those guys brought such life into my home, and into Baltimore in general.  What a cool thing to happen.  Very grateful things worked out the way they did.  

Michael Joseph Harris 

Michael Joseph Harris