Here we are again!
By Jan de Jong
‘Can you show your card?’ When the tram conductor scans my OV-chip card, the city of Amsterdam is looming. Now don't forget to check out, I’m thinking. While clutching the OV card in my hand, I’m walking through the beautiful entrance of Central Station to the square. Once having crossed the dangerous Prins Hendrikkade, within a couple of minutes I will be at my destination: ‘Gezellig’.
Here we are again, on the third Tuesday of the month, at the Sing Along with Hans de Bruijn and his band. (Hans and I were colleagues at the KLM in the turbulent ‘70's and ‘80's).
Though I have missed the first jazz evenings of the Jazz-O-Matic-Four, for the last twenty years I became a regular guest. That’s how it feels. In this particular area, I’m always feeling watched a bit, like a lonely man who is walking fast through the red-light district with a 'nothing wrong' expression on his face. As if I can hear friends asking to Angelique: 'How is it Jan these days? The area has been renewed beautifully. Now you are able to walk on the Warmoesstraat without being afraid to getting slapped in the face. A pretty example of a neighborhood clean-up.
The culture of the house
When I’m passing the nice windows of In de Olofspoort, the singing has already begun. It looks pleasantly busy again. Just insiders do know what kind of lovely pretty tasting bar is hidden among other ordinary cafes. The building is like a symbol of the owner, it has a stylish, beautiful character. The charming, sweet Riny, friendly and hospitable Bas and Raymond, the continuation of the precious house culture: ‘A beer, Jan?’
With a small beer in my hand, I am shuffling past a row of clients at the counter in the direction of the room’s center. When Riny is still serving, she gives me a kiss when passing by and then I am feeling even more welcome in this ‘haven’. Lovely start, isn’t it?
The band players are in the middle of the room, the connection between the front and back room, singing a song from the ‘40's. Hans at the piano looks over his shoulder, nodding a friendly welcome. Tom Stuip with his banjo on a bar stool between bar and piano. Ad Houtepen at the other side on a chair with his huge bass saxophone. Opposite on the platform, Peter Ivan with his cornet. Together they form an 'institution'. Always professional, enjoying everything they play together. Now and then alternated with a nice solo. Every one of them gets his turn.
During the break, I shake hands with Ton, Ad and Peter. ‘Already three months again, huh?’ We are good old pals.
Some eighty percent of the guests are Hans' acquaintances, I bet. Now and then, late in the evening, someone has to return to beautiful Twente in the east of Holland, where Hans comes from. The land where the good life has been kept well, in my memory that is.
Most guests are regular Sing-Alongs. And here and there some strangers or tourists. The nice thing about these sessions is that almost everyone who gets a copy of the booklet with the lyrics, immediately and effortlessly can sing along, and enjoy themselves. Once Hans shouts ‘Eighteen!’ it is passed on at the bar and in the back room. My singing friend Frank enthusiastically plays the conductor.
Over the years, I've also had the honor and pleasure of playing a modest musical role: After we sang I'm looking over a Four Leave Clover, Hans and I continued with the lyrics of Luchtmacht, a bit slanted. Then, after singing a certain song, Hans shouts: ‘Jan, whistle!’ as a sign for me to whistle a couplet solo. Every time it is an exciting moment if I will succeed, since I find it challenging to perform specific melodies in whistle variations. Luckily, I receive quite some compliments after. When I was a teenager during in the war in Indonesia in the Japanese camp, I learned to whistle in competitions with fellow campmates. I learned something there after all!
Generous Amsterdam hospitality
The band members also find it agreeable, I guess. Each of them has a solo. Most of the time, Tom fantastically plays the introduction of the song on his banjo. Ad has a special number of his own, singing in Happy Feet quite well. And - if planned the day well - he also wears his special white Happy Feet shoes. Peter surprises sometimes with nice variations of piccolo whistles. They are real professionals.
Guests come in all the time, ordering a beer or having offered one by an acquaintance. At the end of the evening around eleven, the first guests start to shuffle outside, pleasantly tired from another great Sing-Along. Yet before they leave, Riny regularly hurries to the staircase for plates with delicious cheese and sausage. This treat used to be served just for musicians and close friends, nowadays the plates generously go around. Generous Amsterdam hospitality.
What’s it all about? The truth and nothing but the truth is that from now on for decennia, it is said that there used to be a very gezellig* tasting bar with nice, pleasant, hospitable folks behind the counter. Periodically, they used to organize a musical evening, where everyone immediately and enthusiastically sang along. The Sing-Alongs will never be erased from our memory.
* gezellig, Dutch often used word for cozy, sociable, intimate, snug, homey.