My debut tour of Japan was utterly amazing on so many levels. The food, the people, the music, everything . . .  EXCEPT . . . on the very last day I had sashimi. Delicious sashimi. Fresh sashimi. Positively glistening with freshness sashimi!.

People! I ingested an Anisakis worm!

This happens often enough in Japan (maybe 3,000 cases a year, although it has increased 25-fold in the past year) that the Japanese doctors probably would have spotted it as soon as I went in to the ER .

However, in the US, there are only maybe 10 – 30 reported cases a year. This is because all fish, which all have parasites and worms (and yes, I have given up fish and am now vegan), are frozen on catch to minus 4 degrees according to FDA regulations to kill all worms. In Japan, where they prefer the fresh flavor/texture, it is not frozen on catch.

Thus, the worm (sorry, if you are eating, perhaps stop reading now), sensing that its host is dead or dying, quickly burrows into the flesh where it is harder to spot, except by the most brilliant of sushi chefs perhaps, and where it waits for the next fish host. In humans it doesn’t live longer than three weeks but can (as in my case because I had the allergic reaction) wreak total havoc.

Kandinsky meets Martha Stewart

I had stomach pains too but didn’t focus on them because I was distracted by the insanely itchy rash. However, “Have you had any strange stomach or indigestion-like pains in the past few days?” would have been a great question to ask me in the ER the first time I went in with the rash. Right after, “You were just in Japan, you say?” As it is, when I went in on the Sunday, I was given Prednisone, which then masked the allergy markers they looked for when I had to go back in on the Tuesday, with a raging temperature and the Cray Cray itchy full-body version of the rash.

Four hospital doctors (at a cost of God alone knows what each) were put on my “team” and all failed to catch it, although one got close with a diagnosis of “Definitely Scombroid” which I am so glad it was not!

Meanwhile, I was hooked up to an IV machine and given Prednisone and Benadryl to no avail and would have gone completely mad if it hadn’t’ been for the incredible nurses who were above and beyond! If you are a nurse and you are reading this, I LOVE you, even if I’ve never met you! Thank you for your amazingness!

YIIIIIIIIKES!

And I have to say, I liked all the doctors, too. But, over-worked and over-extended, they were like those iRobot vacuum cleaners you see on TV which are activated into auto-piloting away in reaction whenever they hit a wall. They were impossible to find (e.g., it took until the next day to be seen by the infectious disease specialist and no one even CALLED the allergist until Thursday evening and I NEVER saw the promised dermatologist), When they did appear, they would swish in, hit the edge of the bed (which would activate the autopilot retreat response), ask about the symptoms, not appear to be listening, and be already backing out of the door before asking “Any questions?” (if they did) – by which time they were just a forehead in the door. And my case was probably only getting that much attention because it was so weird and bring-in-the-students-worthy.

This is not their fault, I realize. This is how hospitals run BUSINESSES. When I asked the pulmonologist a few weeks ago why he’d made my appointment for 2pm and not seen me until 5pm, he said his hospital insists on a certain number of patients per day in the quota and he took the spend-the-necessary-time-with-each-patient-choice, as opposed to the start-backing-away-as-soon-as-they-walk-in-choice.

Healthcare has no business being a business!  I literally was barcoded on arrival and every single procedure I had I was zapped with a barcode reader. Every three hours through the night having my temperature and blood pressure taken. Every pill. Every blood test (30 in all) Every kind of test – one of which was delayed because they needed a bar code to process it and it hadn’t yet been entered into the computer system by the chief doctor. I mean … just the time-wasting alone!

Those little boys and girls that dreamed of being doctors when they grew up probably did not have this in mind – and I am quite sure that with all the paperwork and crap they have to deal with, their jobs are even harder than they look from the outside. The doctors are made to run from patient to patient to make the most money for the hospital and are too tired and overworked with insanely long hours (one of my doctors seemed to be there from dusk til dawn and back again, literally) to NOT miss things. I certainly couldn’t work like that!

The diagnosis came from the one doctor (called in from the outside) who made the time to listen. The allergist, Dr. Bielory. He turned up at 7pm on Thursday night, wondering what had taken so long to call him. He introduced himself. He walked in. He closed the door behind him. (Wait, how will you back out of the room if the door is closed?) He had a cup of coffee in his hand. He SAT DOWN on the comfy chair (the rooms were amazing!). He looked right at me and said: “Tell me what’s happening.”

He listened to my answers while remaining in the chair. He looked at the rash. He touched it. He said, “I’ve seen this before and I’m pretty sure I know what this is and I am going to go away now and come back tomorrow morning when I am sure.” He had on no white coat. He was in casual clothes with a baseball cap covering his yamaka. He looked like one of Billy’s audiophile buddies. Maybe he even WAS an audiophile. He sure knew how to listen! I felt SAFE! I felt ATTENDED TO! I totally trusted him with all my instincts. He then went and worked for another two hours in the nurse’s station doing extra research on his phone (according to one of my spies – a nurse, of course!).

The next day he came in around 9am and broke it down for two of the other doctors. He explained how he arrived at this diagnosis (including my vivid description of how “it couldn’t be Scromboid because the fish was so FRESH” – which is the problem!) and why my IgE markers were skewed and then he prescribed THE SINGLE FRICKING ANTI ITCH ANTIHISTAMINE THAT WORKED and the medication to get rid of the worm.

“I start with the patient,” he said. “That’s how you get to the diagnosis.” When he left, I turned to one of the doctors and said, “Wasn’t that amazing?” And she said, “That’s why I went into medicine!” (Oh, not to fill in forms, be made to fulfill patient quotas and run around from bed to bed activating the hit-and-back-away reponse?) Incidentally, Dr. Bielory emailed me daily over the weekend to check on my progress.

By the time I left the hospital on the Friday it was evening, and my insurance auto-refused the remaining medication and was closed after 5pm and over the weekend and Veterans Day (crying out loud!). But I had taken two days of it, and probably didn’t need any more, since the rash quickly disappeared after treatment started.. This saved us all from enduring the merry little insurance dance of having the already overworked hospital doctor waste precious diagnostic time filling in stupid justification forms to get it. And it saved me from ingesting more poison (I’d already had a day of it in hospital and had been sent home with another day’s worth).

However, had I needed it, the cost of the pill in the USA is $962.28 per pill! Per pill! In Canada (online) $1.17 per pill. In the UK all medication, whatever it is, costs 8.60 pounds per prescription – not per pill – unless you are over 60, under 16, under 19 and in full time education or – God forfend in the US! – have cancer, when it is free! (I believe there is penalty for cancer here!). I am so glad I got a relatively painless education in how the system works (this is WITH insurance! God knows if I didn’t have it). But I worry for the people whose education is painful – or worse. Fatal!

WORM-STUNG LIPS! WELL … NOT LITERALLY OF COURSE.

As the giant welts and dark purple stains faded to a sort of mauve beige, that Martha Stewart Paints might have called “lilac mist reflected in fur of country mouse,” and as some of the Kandinsky drawings on my face and neck weirdly totally vanished, I felt more and more grateful for my lucky escape and lessons learned!

Like how we should bow down to all nurses, even while they are zapping the bar code on our wrists. How not scratching an itch is virtually IMPOSSIBLE – never mind if everyone says it will leave permanent scars! Like how kind people are when you are in trouble. There is a lot of “beauty is as beauty does” out there, for which I am truly grateful. Even the Walgreens in Rosedale called me to make sure I was okay and to say they were chasing up the prescription – without me even asking them to! Like there is a thing called Scombroid which I am very glad it wasn’t. Thank you also everyone who sent/brought flower/plants/cards/provisions.

And although it was hard to look at, thank the lawd it wasn’t  contagious – unless you killed and ate me without freezing me to minus 4 degrees first. And if you did that, then I guess you’d have deserved it!

BACK TO NORMAL!!!!

 

Perfect egg salad sandwiches (with the crusts cut off) that appear to have been lovingly handmade by actual angels. You can buy these at railway stations even, where no one is counting on your being an hour away on the train by the time you discover your sandwich is inedibly stale as in America. No! These angel-made sandwiches will still be fresh many hours – possibly even days – from now. Everything is so thoughtful. It’s not about getting the most money from you and too bad if you have to buy an entire loaf of bread, never mind that you’ll have to feed most of it to the birds in a few days. In Japan you can buy two slices of bread at a time. One egg. A tiny can of beer. It’s all about what is best for YOU!

And you know how in Macy’s, when you buy something the sales associate screws it into a sort of ball, like a teenager might, before shoving it into the plastic bag and pushing it across the counter kind of at you (as in “Take that!”)? Not in Japan. Everything, even in the 7/11,  is beautifully packaged, carefully folded, sealed and handed to you as if it were a pearl on a pillow (except without the pillow – or the pearl).

It’s all about presentation. It’s how you are handed a business card (with both hands) and how you receive one – in the same way, before inspecting and fondling said business card with the utmost interest and concern. There are so many ideas to copy in Japan but the Japanese attention to detail and concern for the “other”  is my favorite.. This society is not about the money, it’s about pride. Integrity. respect. These things rule.

First night at Mumbo Jumbo in Kobe

We had such an amazing time. From beginning (three sold out nights in Kobe) to the end (thank you, Romero Lubambo  for getting us into the Cotton Club on our last night –  wow! What a concert with you and Peter Martin). It was so exciting to have people show up all across Japan with our CDs and even vinyl to sign! Actually, it was crazy! Perhaps people get used to these things. I don’t know if I would. One person even came with pictures they had taken of me at the 55 Bar five years earlier!

From the 55 Bar five years earlier!
Thank you Masa for epic hangs and help. Thank you Dai for everything you did to make Kobe amazing – and sold out. . Thank you Hristo Vitchev for everything, particularly your riveting musicianship, and your sweet company in our teeny weeny airbnbs.. Thank you, incredible Star Eyes in Nagoya for sheer audiophilia amazingness and great sound. Thank you, Body and Soul and Kyoko in Tokyo for packing the house for us.  Thank you Akihiro for guidance. Thank you Masaki for hangs and lunch and my souvenir phone ring. Thank you to all the clubs – Mumbo Jumbo, Seishin NT, Bar Request, Star Eyes and Body and Soul.. Thank you, Tower Records for carrying on the good work SOMEWHERE! Thank you, Mount Fuji for just being there when we wihizzed by on the train. This was truly a dream come true!

 

Bar Request
Body and Soul with owner Kyoko
Owner of Star Eyes
You can leave your bicylcle unlocked because NO ON E WILL STEAL IT!
These places are so tiny! How do they make money? Anywhere else they’d be closed down for not doing more custom!
Soundcheck on our first night.
The grooves are for blind people’s canes. They carry on along the manhole covers! So thoughtful!

  

Rochester Magazine arrived in the mail yesterday and somehow my picture and story leads the “Most Memorable Moments from the Festival” cover story. Thank you Gary Craig and Rochester Magazine and the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. So great to be included among some of my favorite musicians – including Catherine Russell, Joe Locke, Gwyneth Herbert, Grace Kelly and more. In case the print is too small in this picture, you can read it online HERE.

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.

Picture of me by Walter Wagner. Yotam Silberstein (guitars and oud), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), Adam Platt (piano), Billy Drummond (drums), Dana Leong (cello)
Picture of me by Walter Wagner. Yotam Silberstein (guitars and oud), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), Adam Platt (piano), Billy Drummond (drums), Dana Leong (cello)

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.

w/ John Schiflett (bass) and David Udolf (piano) at Cafe Pink House, Saratoga, CA. Photo credit: Walter Wagner
w/ John Schiflett (bass) and David Udolf (piano) at Cafe Pink House, Saratoga, CA. Photo credit: Walter Wagner

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.

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Picture credit" Walter Wagner
Picture credit Walter Wagner

 

My little trailer for two nights staying with dear friends Xandra and David and Jasmin
My little trailer for two nights staying with dear friends Xandra and David and Jasmin
Hanging out with one of my sweetest, oldest friends, Fordy, in Los Angeles
Hanging out with one of my sweetest, oldest friends, Fordy, in Los Angeles
It ended up being standing room only at Doc's Lab in San Francisco, where we had SUCH fun
It ended up being standing room only at Doc’s Lab in San Francisco, where we had SUCH fun
Jasmin's little tea set
Jasmin’s little tea set
Alisa Clancy and me before my KCSM radio Desert Island Jazz interview
Alisa Clancy and me before my KCSM radio Desert Island Jazz interview
My favorite airport. So retro
My favorite airport. So retro
The new tram in LA - not even operational yet
The new tram in LA – not even operational yet
Outside a jazz establishment where the Rat Pack used to hang
Outside a jazz establishment where the Rat Pack used to hang
Pool at house concert number 2
Pool at house concert number 2

IMG_2878 IMG_2877

Egg provider at Xandra and David's
Egg provider at Xandra and David’s
My little trailer INSIDE for two nights staying with dear friends Xandra and David and Jasmin
My little trailer INSIDE for two nights staying with dear friends Xandra and David and Jasmin
Please note retro cowgirl curtain fabric
Please note retro cowgirl curtain fabric

Click this book to buy it on Amazon UK
Or this one, to buy it on Amazon US

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frog
Praying it doesn’t start raining

So …. I guess I am stuck on the ‘Long and Winding Road’ theme because of where I’m at in my own career. It’s all very Saturnian – hard work, endurance, building, learning, tearing down the old, working on the new and MOST OF ALL, staying enthused. But I’m keeping hanging on – hoping I’m not clinging to a cloud!

[book excerpt]
HANG ON TO YOUR LOVE

“People talk about following your bliss,” says Simon Robinson. “But sometimes when you do that and you have to ‘play the game’ – pandering to shop buyers who don’t want to buy anything that hasn’t already been in a magazine – you end up hating the thing you once loved. It becomes such brutal, grinding work that you don’t want to think about it anymore.” I know what he means. I got to a stage in my music where I was so focused on turning it into something that would make me a decent living that I forgot why I was doing it in the first place — for love; for its own sake; because I just loved doing it in the moment.

“There should always be a sense of moving ahead and growing all the time,” says Michael Becker, former musician and producer turned photographer. “But you absolutely positively can’t be focused on the end result.” Interestingly, since Michael started focusing on photography and, consequently relaxed about his music, his music career has been quietly taking off again – most notably with the song ‘In the Deep’, which he co-wrote and produced (and played all the instruments on) with actress-singer Bird York, which plays out the Oscar-winning movie Crash.

But photography is now his first love and he has faith in it turning out well – to the extent that he was willing to mortgage his house at the beginning. “I’m not sure I knew where I was going but I knew I was going somewhere,” he says. And having researched his chosen career thoroughly , he was prepared for it to take a long time. “It was something I read over and over again on the websites I looked at. It takes time.”
[end of book excerpt]

So here are my tips to keeping it fresh along the way:

1. Be flexible. You really don’t know what you might be doing in ten years. Be willing to go in a totally new direction. Michael Becker, for example, is flourishing as BOTH a musician AND a photographer nowadays.

2. Keep going. Duh! Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You will get somewhere. Even if it’s somewhere you didn’t expect to get.

3. Having said that, it is probably good to have in mind a destination. Personally I love walking, but I have to be going somewhere, preferably to do something like shop or visit a friend or whatever. The thought of aimless walking with no destination doesn’t inspire me to even put my shoes on!

4. Which isn’t to say that you can’t make detours. Detours are good. Follow your bliss, as they say.

5. Keep learning. I am now studying theory and piano and I can’t wait for my next lesson!

6. Do the “artist date” that Julia Cameron talks about in her fab book, The Artist’s Way. I went to a Giacometti retrospective at MOMA a few years ago and I couldn’t wait to get back home and start composing. Perhaps if I’d been a sculptor I might have come home and thrown away my tools! Then again, Mikhail Barysnikov said, “No dancer can watch Fred Astaire and not know that we all should have been in another business.” But it didn’t stop him, did it! Be inspired by it all!

7. Banish all thoughts of “overnight success”. In fact, if you look deeper into all the overnight successes you will find that they were preceded by years of hard work. In fact, banish all thoughts of “success” and focus on doing whatever you’re doing because you love it. As Gene Hackman, one of my heroes, once said: “I was trained to be an actor, not a star!”

8. Don’t fret about your self doubts. If you didn’t have self doubt, where would be the inspiration to keep improving? Or so my very wise friend, singer Mansur Scott always says to me.

9. Treat failures and setbacks as lessons and soldier on. As novelist Veronica Henry says: “Some days I am all over the place, convinced that I have the hardest job in the world …. and how on earth can I be expected to dredge up inspiration from nowhere. After a few days of wallowing I have to give myself a stern talking to and tell myself to get on with it in a professional and objective manner!”

10. Be willing to throw out everything you have done up to now and start afresh. As Veronica says: “Sometimes you have to do the worst thing and throw everything out. That is seriously hard but entirely necessary. And after the initial pain, a huge relief, as you no longer have to do battle with something that’s not working. That’s when you can move on. In the meantime … the blackness. And the euphoria. Thank God for the euphoria.”

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Buy in UK

 

Today I have a question to answer, which  MP left today on Day 1 of the blog.

Question: “I have started on my 5 year plan, resolved to leave “realistic” out of it, and come up with something inspiring and fantastic. A few days into this assignment, however, and I am finding that I am having trouble dreaming and visualizing. Have I become resolved to settling? I don’t think so, because I am not comfortable here, either. Tips, pointers, encouragement??? Any insight would be most appreciated.”

Answer: [book excerpt]

By now we’ve all heard that hackneyed Goethe quote: “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.” If only it were that simple. But it’s not. Because, although starting is important (duh!), at no point are you more vulnerable to stopping dead in your tracks than at the beginning. As Martha Graham once said: “The ordeal of isolation, the ordeal of loneliness, the ordeal of doubt, the ordeal of vulnerability which it takes to compose in any medium is hard to face.” 

It’s no wonder so many of us give up before we even begin.

Have you heard of Charlotte Bronte’s novel Emma? No? Ah.That will be because when she showed the first few pages to her new husband (she married late, thank goodness) he said: “Hmm. Not up to your usual standard, dearest….” And she never wrote another word, of that, or any other novel, ever again.

So, MP, are you being your own “Mr Bronte”? Is the problem with your dreaming and visualizing coming from your inability to really believe in the outcome. Are you being too hard on yourself, thinking who the hell do you think you are? Are you stumbling over visualizing all the steps it will take to get there?

For any or all of the above, my advice is to go one small step at a time. “You don’t have to take the whole staircase,” to quote Dr. Martin Luther King. “Just take the first step.”

For example, keep visualizing yourself collecting your Oscar or Grammy or Whitbread or Nobel or other relevant prize. But then visualize only the NEXT step towards it. Not all the steps.

When I started singing, all I had to do was trundle along to the next open mic. The idea of having a CD, let alone three CDs as I do now, was miles away in my mind. It was a dream, perhaps, but absolutely not something I considered a real possibility. The same with being a journalist. When I got my first job as an editorial assistant, actually writing for magazines was a dream but, again, not something I really thought would happen. But I faithfully took the first step by applying for (and beating out a hundred others to get) a job as a lowly editorial assistant at Parents magazine.

Did I think I would one day be writing for The Times or Elle or Vogue — which is what I ended up doing? Absolutely. er… Not. And when I got my first commission, when the Parents editor just announced at a meeting one day that I was going to be doing a piece for the next issue on introducing children to the opera and ballet and other adult leisure pursuits, I was shocked. And terrified.

So I called my writer friend, Sarah Litvinoff, author of The Confidence Plan: Essential Steps to a New You, who at the time I barely knew, and asked if I could read her my first paragraph over the phone.  “Of course!” she said. When I’d finished she said: “Oh, it’s wonderful. I can’t WAIT to hear the next paragraph!” Eventually, paragraph by paragraph (all read to Sarah over the phone), I finished it.

Actually, even while I was writing this book, I struggled with the idea of writing an entire book, until my editor at Random House told me to think of each chapter as its own long article. That made it much more manageable.

So my advice to MP at this stage is:

  1. Keep visualizing the “end”, in a very light way, without thinking at all about allthe steps it will take to get there.
  2. Think about ONLY the very nextstep — going to the next open mic, applying for magazine jobs, writing the next paragraph….
  3. Enlist the cheer-leading skills of a friend who believes in you and (very importantly) the possibilities for you.
  4. For crying out loud, don’t ask “Mr Bronte” what he thinks — even if he’s you.

Let me know if that helps.