“Our pianist Hans de Bruijn”

“Regulars since the first hours: Jan Lasker and Hans Greve”

“Precentor Frank Dam”

“Habitue, Wim Oostveen”

 

Here we are again! Memories of a Sing-Along evening

 

“Can I see your card?” When the conductor scans my OV-chipcard, I see the emerging shapes of Amsterdam. Don't forget to check out, I think. Clutching my card tightly in my hand, I walk through the beautiful entrance of CS (Central Station) to the Station square. Once I cross the dangerous Prins Hendrikkade, I will be at my destination within a couple of minutes. “Gezellig”. *

by Jan de Jong

 

Here we are again, third Tuesday of the month, therefore, Sing Along with Hans de Bruijn and his band. Hans and I were colleagues at KLM in the turbulent 70's and 80's. I have missed the first jazz evening of the Jazz-O-Matic-Four, but I can call myself a regular guest for the last twenty years. That's how it feels, still. On this part of the street, I always feel a bit watched, like a lonely man who walks in the red-light district at a fast pace with a 'no-big-deal' face. I can already hear friends questioning Angelique: 'And how is it going with Jan these days?”. The neighbourhood is, however, immensely renewed. You can walk again along the Warmoesstraat without having to fear getting a slap in your neck. It is a pretty example of a neighbourhood clean-up.

 

The culture of the house

 

When I pass along the beautiful windows, I hear that the singing already began. It looks pleasantly busy again. Only insiders know what a lovely pretty tasting bar is concealed here amongst so many ordinary cafes. The building is a symbol to the one who runs it, a stylish, beautiful character. The charming, sweet Riny, friendly and hospitable Bas and Raymond, the continuation of the precious culture of the house. “Biertje, Jan?” – with a little beer in my hand, I slide across the thick layer of clients at the counter in the direction of the centre of the room. If Riny is still serving, I get a kiss when she passes by. Now I feel very welcome at the “haven”. Lovely start, right? The men of the band are standing right in the middle of the room, at the connection between the anterior and the posterior parts of the space, singing a song from the 40's. Hans at the piano looks over his shoulder and nods a friendly welcome. Tom Stuip with his banjo on a bar stool between the bar and the piano. Ad Houtepen at the other side of the piano on a stoel with his huge bassaxofone. Opposite to him on the elevation, Peter Ivan with his cornet. Together they form an 'institution'. Always professional and enjoying everything that 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 ago, hun?”. We are good old pals.

 

Jan, whistle!

 

The numerous guests are composed, as far as I'm concerned, of eighty percent of Hans' acquaintances. Now and then there is someone who, late in the evening, must return to beautiful Twente, where Hans comes from. The land where life has remained good, at least in my memory. Most guests are regular “Sing-Alongers”. We always have the presence of some strangers or tourists. The nice thing about these sessions is that almost everyone who gets their hands on a copy of the booklet with the lyrics, can immediately and effortlessly sing, and therefore enjoy themselves. Once Hans cries “eighteen!”, the message gets passed on across the bar and to the back of the room. My singing friend Frank enthusiastically plays the conductor role. I've also had the honour and the pleasure of playing a modest musical role over the years. After we sang “I'm looking over a Four Leave Clover”, Hans and I keep on going with the lyrics of “Luchtmacht”, a little turnover thus. Then Hans cries after the singing of a certain song “Jan, whistle!” the sign for me to whistle a couplete solo. It is an experiment every time and it is exciting to see if it works because I find it challenging to perform specific melodies in different whistle variations. Luckily I get a lot of compliments. When I was a youngster, at the Jappenkamp, I learned to clean whistle in competitions with fellow campmates. I learned there something, indeed!

 

Royal Amsterdam's hospitality

 

The band members also find it agreeable I believe. They have a solo the three of them. Ton wonderfully plays the introduction of the song on his banjo, most times. Ad has a special number of his own, singing in Happy Feet, where he doesn't do a bad job at all. And if he has planned the day well he also wears his special Happy Feet shoes, with tones of white. Peter surprises us sometimes with his piccolo-whistles in some beautiful variations. Real professionals. New people come in all the time and order a beer or get offered one from an acquaintance. By the end of the evening, around eleven, the first guests shuffle outside, enjoyably tired from another great Sing-Along. Before this, one has seen Riny regularly hurrying towards her staircase, where she has her delicious/sausage plates ready. This treat used to be just for musicians and close friends, nowadays the platter generously goes around. Royal Amsterdam Hospitality. But what is it about? It will be the truth and nothing more than the truth if after decennia from now one says that there was here a very “gezellig”* tasting bar with sweet, pleasant, hospitable folks behind the counter. They organised a musical evening periodically, where everyone immediately and enthusiastically could sing along, despite of how untrained. The Sing-Alongs shall never be erased from our memory.

 

“Henk Smits, the first director the Barbizon palace with his wife Loes, Riny and their personal bottle”

“Willem Buis, Duco Maréchal, Ruud Engels”

“Bert Raske, Marcel Mulder”

“Bert and Sjanie Koster”

“Daddy Willem, Jaap Hoogterp, Reyer Sjamaar & Bep van Scheppingen, Japie Bijtenhoorn”

 

* “gezellig”: Dutch expression for cosy, sociable, convivial, intimate, homey