Finding my way between the two cities notwithstanding (always a challenge for the directional dyslexic), I was so thrilled to be back at Doc’s Lab in San Francisco this week, and blown away to have my debut at the San Jose Jazz Festival Summerfest, playing with wonderful musicians, Hristo Vitchev, Dan Robbins and Jemal Ramirez.
Not to mention staying with my lovely friend Shannon, surrounded by Redwood groves and lovely smelling flowers and eucalyuptus trees. Something about those Redwoods. They feel so present, as if they have souls or something.
And having my coffee on the deck in the morning with birds. And eating pears picked from the trees in the garden. Shannon totally spoiled me! I could get used to that life.
My San Jose Jazz Festival debut was amazing fun and we sold out Cafe Stritch, which surprised me because the venue is huge. Then again, that’s why we love festivals. I kept running into people outside when I was wandering around who said they’d been turned away at the door. But I played two days – the second day with just Hristo and Jemal in the Pagoda Room – so some of the people who hadn’t been able to get in the day before were able to make it, and some who had been there the day before made it again. It is so wonderful traveling for music and meeting new people – including my new-to-me cousin, Gabrielle, who came with her beautiful daughter, Arielle. And making it even more fun, we were interviewed on the spot for KCSM Radio by Dick Conte and Melanie Burzon. I love California.
Cafe Stritch has the best green room I’ve ever seen. You could have another gig up there. In fact, I think they used to have gigs up there years ago. I wielded my all-stages pass and ran into tons of great musicians, including Karrin Allyson (also playing at Cafe Stritch), The Royal Bopsters, JC Stylles, Will Calhoun, Nastuko and Eddie Henderson and Jana Herzen. It’s a beautiful festival in a beautiful city. More please!
I had such an amazing time in England this trip. First of all, I got to hang with my family, which was a gigantic treat. And I got to travel around the country a bit more than usual. I went to Durham for the first time, which is so beautiful. Super English and very civilized (by which I mean they had fish and chip shops, cake shops, tons of well-stocked Oxfams, decent Cadbury’s chocolate, PG Tips and great Indian food).
And I had my debut performance in gorgeous Newcastle which I am horrified to report I had never been to before, and which I was surprised to find at least as beautiful as (famously beautiful) Bath. Prior to this visit, the only associations I had were coal (as per the saying “Like taking coals to Newcastle”), beer (Newcastle Brown Ale) and factories. How wrong. Besides which, it’s worth going there for the accent alone, which is hands down IMO the most beautiful accent in all of Great Britain. I was asking directions just to hear it over and over again. And I got to play with the Peter Gilligan Trio which was really fun at a wonderful venue called The Cherry Tree. I have to keep reminding myself how lucky I am to play with all these great people all over the world.
Speaking of which, London’s Pizza Express was a blast. We had a packed house, which is always fun, and I got to sing with the incredible Cleveland Watkiss who surprised me by being in the audience and who I invited onto the stage for an unrehearsed “I’ll Remember April” (I think) as well as to join me with drummer/singer extraordinaire Winston Clifford (who I always love singing with in London) on Ayub Ogada’s “Kothbiro” – singing harmonies and taking turns at soloing. What an amazing singer and musician and what a treat it was to share the stage with him at first sight! My cousin, bassist Sara Loewenthal, of the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra, who has wanted to get us in the same stage for years, took the pictures.
It was also my first time playing with Neville Malcolm and Sean Hargreaves – both beautiful people and players and this trio is now my UK core band. I love them and we laughed so much at our six-hour (pub break included) rehearsal – which I went to pretty much straight off the plane from New York. Eesh! Yes I was tired but it didn’t matter. And I also had my first ever gig at Pizza Express in Maidstone, which was lovely in a more low key way, and I met some lovely people, who I hope to see next time.
I’m finishing up my next CD and will plan a trip back maybe in the fall. Not sure yet. But definitely before the weather turns mean – although, it has to be said, it rained every single day of this trip. So I suppose, to borrow a poem by (quite obviously British) Anon:
Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.”
Well, actually, it aired already … on Valentine’s Day this year. But it’s coming back to be re-aired on the Rochester PBS Network on Friday, June 17th at 10pm on WXXI-TV, and has just been released to the national networks. Watch this space for more news. Meanwhile, you can read all about the unbelievable series of cock-ups that led to this gig almost not even happening HERE
Finally getting near to the finished mix of Picture in Black and White. Next up – mastering! I can’t wait. The hardest thing of all is the listening back to it and switching on just enough critical listening to discern the best takes without being so self-critical that you just want to discard the whole thing. Here we are back in November, which feels like years ago, at Systems Two, Brooklyn.
It’s a little bit funny … being in such great company. But it’s true! I can’t quite believe it happened – especially given all the cock-ups on the journey to get there. (See two blogs ago). Thank you Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival for having me, and for everything. Thank you Dana Leong, Adam Platt and Keita Ogawa for being such great sports.
So here is a picture of my wonderful recording band. We will be playing this Friday at the 55 Bar in New York (if you or friends happen to be here) – all deets on my gigs page. Billy, is in Argentina so he won’t be at this one, which is a shame. Playing with him is like riding a racehorse – both incredibly sensitive and powerful at the same time. And, even if he is playing gently, you can feel that immense power is available to you – should you decide to go galloping off into the sunset, flying over every fence and hedge on the way. It’s so exciting. If you’ve seen him perform, watching him play gives you some idea, but actually playing with him is … well a whole other …er, animal. A horse animal.
Meanwhile, the rest of the band is amazing and we actually rehearsed (with Billy) and had more ideas. And I’ve had tons more since then. It’s hard to make myself go to bed even! I am so inspired by the subject and by my musicians (we have chemistry) – both their incredibe talent and their confidence in me (and mine in them). I can’t wait to go into the studio on Saturday and Sunday. I am so excited – and grateful – to be making this recording, and the more I think about it, the more important I think it is – speaking of runaway horses. I feel like I’m just riding this idea with no reins – clinging on and seeing where it’s going, hoping I don’t fall off (like I used to when I did real horse riding as a girl) because I really want to see where we end up. I have never been so excited to make a CD – and this will be my fifth.
In other news, my dear mentor, Mark Murphy died while I was in California. I was asked to write a tribute, which ended up being the Number One most read article in LondonJazzNews that week – which he totally deserved – and more. You can read it HERE.
And speaking of California, HERE is one of the songs we are recording this weekend in a video made by someone who heard me the last time I was in Saratoga and asked if he could film me this time. Somehow one of the camera mics got messed up but I think it’s manageable. This is a trio version. When I record it for the album, I think I want to do it just duo with my fabulous cellist, Dana Leong – one of the ideas I had this week. But we’ll see how it goes in the studio. More to come. Meanwhile, here are some photographs of my trip to California.
The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival was incredible, not least because we actually made it! First of all, two weeks ago, I fell and sprained my ankle, which put paid to dieting into the “perfect dress” for the PBS taping. Three days before the gig I was about half an inch away from it, but it was so tight I’d have had to walk like a robot and not be able to sit down without my body automatically springing into prone position! But three days before the gig, I managed to find the perfect dress on line. Sort of one-shoulder loose-flowing Greek goddess style with a split up the side in the lining and in the diaphanous fabric over it. I changed it from a “ho-dress” (a la the recent Met Ball affairs worn by Kim Kardashian and J.Lo and others who misinterpreted the brief) into sexy but classy, by sewing up the split in the diaphanous bit so there was the merest whisper of leg showing through it, and not bare. And actually, although the other dress would have been better for a studio taping, this one was perfect for the stage taping.
So I was all set. Until, the night before the gig, I got a text (thank you, Lord for making me sign up for text alerts) saying that all our flights were cancelled! This meant scrabbling around to buy – at vast expense – train tickets to Rochester for the four of us at $119 (plus $8.50 insurance) per ticket. It also meant getting up at 5AM in order to make the ONLY train that would get us there on time. The panic was insane. But we all made it and caught the 7:15AM which was getting us in a few hours later than the plane would have but … hey, getting us IN! And I could sleep on the 6.5 hour train journey, right?
So … a little tip: If you are hoping to sleep, never sit in the front car. The train whistle, that sounds so romantic and soft from anywhere else on the train, is blaring right in your ear in the front car. Added to which my fellow passengers (not my band, but the people behind us) were somehow able to sleep and were snoring loudly. Also farting. This is bad when your Kenny Werner meditation MP3 is exhorting you to “Breath in. Breath in deeper than you want to!” I moved to a new carriage, but somehow managed to sandwich myself between a baby with Whooping Cough (behind me) and a woman who was singing loudly and snapping her fingers in the seat in front. But it did mean I could sort out my set list, which came out like automatic writing. As it poured out of me, I thought, “But yes. This is perfect! This is the perfect song to follow this one….” – among other thoughts, like “Shut up!” and even meaner ones.
The train (Amtrak) also kept cutting out, like a cheap electric train set, which was adding to the stress. Eventually, we rolled up to about five minutes outside of Rochester Station, already an hour and a half late, and ended up waiting nearly an hour more because there was debris on the line. A motorbike, to be precise. I was ready to jump out of a window by now, which would have been bad (especially with my still-swollen ankle). I had already missed being interviewed by the Rochester 901.0 radio station by my favorite Derrick Lucas. I was not going to miss this gig. But luckily, the debris was cleared and we rolled in, where we were picked up by Larry, who always seems to pick me up at the Rochester Jazz Festival. But no time to check into the hotel properly, and we were late for sound check. Aaaiieeee!
Finally, even later than “already late” we did a lightning-fast sound check so they could let in the giant line that was outside, leaving me 15 minutes to get ready! For a PBS taping! Having got up at 5AM. Having not been able to sleep on the train. But miraculously, I did transform myself from a baggy-eyed granny, into a GILF (F for Fondle of course!) with the help of a benevolent Universe, which had also seen fit to hide my hair brush (thank the Lord for fingernails!). Hair. Check. Makeup. Check. Dress. Check. Shoes… I pulled them out of my bag … two right shoes! Yes I wore them. They were gold! My other shoes were PayLess Shoe Source ballet flats! Luckily, I had already ordered a tall stool ahead of time because my sprained ankle turns into a boneless elephant’s foot if I stand on it for more than 15 minutes right now. But nerves? Shmerves! There literally wasn’t time.
The gig was so much fun! All the guys played brilliantly – even better than last month at the 55 – and you can read two wonderful reviews, one in the Democrat and ChronicleJeff Spevak review PDF and another review in the Rochester City Paperhere. Or in print, right here. Plus, in the City Paper post-Festival round-up I was referred to as one of “two favorite” vocalists (the other was Cecile McLorin Salvant, who I love), which is pretty amazing given how many truly great singers were at the festival.
Giant thanks to the festival’s Artistic Director, John Nugent who keeps having me back and put me in Kilbourn Hall this year because, he said, I’d earned it. And Barbara Cherry who insisted I did “Here’s to Life” (I had sent her a duo version I did with Dana years ago) and her favorite, “Eleanor RIgby” – both of which were popular choices. She also hooked up the cello by putting us in touch with the wonderful Sullivan Violins company, who generously loaned us one actually made by Ken Sullivan. She took pictures, handed out cards and was generally very bossy – in a good way. Thank you also to lovely Jessica, who was so capable she made me wish I had a daughter – my capable granddaughters are just a bit young! Every time I turned round to say: “Oh no! My pen!” or “Help! I forgot my (two right) shoes!” Jessica would be right there, holding her clip board in one hand, and my forgotten items in the other. Thank you! And thank you Rochester! I absolutely love you!
So … in spite of the Universe (or perhaps it was just testing me before the gig) we had a good one. Two standing ovations in Kilbourn Hall. People who were in the first set came back for the second set four hours later (Rochester Jazz festival audiences are the business, as we say in England). And PBS – who interviewed me after the first show (which they taped – said they were very happy. It will air all over the PBS networks in 2016 and of course you will be fully informed. As Dana said: “PBS! Our mums are going to go crazy!”
After all that, too exhausted to really hang out after the gig – although I did run into fabulous Joe Locke, who was playing Kilbourn Hall the next night (and who was so absolutely essential on my Beyond the Blue album) – I went straight to sleep, without checking that there was a link to my Kickstarter campaign from my website – as directed on all the little cards we were giving out to the wonderful audience. And I didn’t discover it until really late the next day because, at the airport with Dana, I suddenly came over all light headed and nearly passed out and then threw up (elegantly, I hope) in a nearby bin. An ambulance came, for heaven’s sake. In case it was a heart attack. And we had to get a plane four hours later. But, see, Rochester people are so sweet that even the man who had to change the bin found me later and asked me: “Are you feeling better now?”
I had a fantastic birthday week this year! Those of you who were there when he popped in to my gig a few months ago will recognize Dougal – AKA my friend Graham – in the picture (left). He took me to the premiere of Outlander Season 2, on April 1, which was one of the most fun parties ever! More fun even than mine and Graham’s “Come as a Cocktail” party we had in the 80s. I was a midnight lace (I know, I’d never heard of it either). Graham was an aviator. This was so much more fun – not just because I got to have my picture taken with the (other) series’ hunk, AKA Jamie. Phoar! But mostly because I got to hang the whole night with one of my oldest and sweetest friends. And of course there was Champagne! And unlike our “Come as a Cocktail” party, I didn’t pass out and wake up the next day having missed the entire thing. (I think the Golden Cadillacs did me in).
Graham, by the way, is given notes and gifts of things like undies (okay, they were socks, but still!) by people in the crowd. Shameless! After Party # 2 (the picture above was taken at Party # 1) Graham’s limo dropped me at Birdland where I had a lovely hang with Sheila Jordan and the Steve Kuhn Trio and was groupie to my own man, Billy. If I’d had socks to give, I would have! And Kurt Elling was there and sat in. It was fun. And then on Friday I celebrated my actual birthday at Birdland and Sheila sang Happy Birthday to me from the stage. And Billy had secretly procured a chocolate cake for me with nine candles (hmm!) which I made a wish on. And I wore the necklace my brother made me which spells out H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y T-E-S-S-A – a fitting gift for a nine-year-old, except I was minus 29 when he gave it to me because I’ve had it 20 years.
And then on Sunday we went to an Easter party with MORE cake – and also Pavlova (an Australian confection which is insanely delicious … recipe HERE). And they had a great pianist Emmet Cohen and I sat in and I wasn’t nervous at all! (which I normally am if it’s just sitting). Billy took this picture.
Being a musician is such a hard road (maybe even if you are wildly successful, I’ll let you know when that happens!) that these little things – a fun party, performing (speaking of which, I am at the 55 Bar on Friday with Saul and Yasushi), a surprise birthday cake (especially chocolate), Pavlova cake, having the great Sheila Jordan sing Happy Birthday to you, hanging with old friends – make it like you have memory foam in your shoes – not those horrid hard gel inserts (will someone please explain those to me!) – a bit easier.
And speaking of old friends, Graham is Grand Marshall this Saturday for National Tartan Week in New York. Leading the parade starting at 2pm on 6th AVenue between 44th and 55th Streets. http://nyctartanweek.org/ if any of you want to go and throw socks at him!
And here is Sheila singing at Birdland – an entire week at age 86 and a quarter – where she sang Happy Birthday to me and made me feel like a movie star!
I am so excited to be coming back to Rochester – although the last time I was there, sweet Lew Soloff was with us on the bandstand, so it might be a little poignant too. I missed him when I played the 55 Bar without him the other night and then I went to see David Chesky’s Jazz in the New Harmonic project at the Iridium and realized that the last time I was at the club, Lew was playing with me there too. I was very lucky to have known him and played with him as much as I did. I will definitely do a song for him in June. Meanwhile, looking at the poster, I can’t quite believe I’m going to be there – and at Kilbourn Hall this time (this will be my fifth time at the festival). I wish I was there for the whole thing – there is so much I’d want to see, flashing my little club pass at the door!
Lew Soloff died on Sunday. A terrible loss for the jazz community and for everyone who knew him. I was invited by LondonJazzNews to write a short tribute because we played together so often in the past couple of years – in fact, the very last thing Lew said to me, a few weeks back on the phone, was: “You know I love playing with you, right?” I did. Because he told me all the time. And everybody loved playing with him. Click here to read the tribute at LondonJazzNews. Meanwhile, a few photographs of some of our gigs below. And to view a video of Lew soloing on ‘A Taste of Honey’ at our gig at the Iridium Jazz Club in September 2014, click the B&W image below.