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!

  

xmas tree 2Everjazz was fantastic. Perhaps particularly because I actually made it, after a hair-raising drive from Perm, which was … fascinating – if by ‘fascinating’ you mean scary as hell and twice as fast. We started out at 9am, still dark, under a mauve sky which turned to blue to white to gray as our journey progressed into a snowstorm. “Finally!” I thought, all excited. “Real Russian snow!” But I kind of got less excited about the weather as we drove.

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L-R: Mauve, to blue to white skies

Hurtling along a slippery road, with snow blowing about on it like stage smoke, lined with relentless pine forests on either side – or silver birch copses hiding the odd triffid-like pine tree – every now and then we’d come upon twisted trucks stuck in a ditch, sort of like Star Wars metal beast versions of skeletons in an elephants’ graveyard. It reminded me of Los Angeles driving, except the cars whizzing by are only on one side of you because the road to Ekaterinburg is only two lane traffic. That sounds like it would be kind of country-lane-ish, doesn’t it. It wasn’t.

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Holiday Triffids lurking amid the silver birches

Who knew there were so many trucks? And daredevils wanting to play “Chicken” with trucks. At one point I dozed off and woke up to see – skittering towards us  out of the blizzard (at speed) – a car in OUR LANE (at speed) with a huge truck in its lane. Yes, at speed. We were all at speed!

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The car in front of us had just overtaken us and was at this point merrily tailgating the truck in front of us

“Is okay! Is okay!” said my driver, Tatyana, patting my arm, as I hurriedly texted Billy the details of my travel insurance policy, which includes a clause to have my body shipped home so my son never has to pick up that cost. “Russian drrrivers!” she said, rolling her eyes. “Crrrazy!” (and her Rs) “Da!” I thought, with one eye on the speedometer (120 km per hour!) as we shot past a fresh wreath on the snowbank to our left followed by about 100 feet of charred car remains.

No danger of me falling asleep again. I don’t know why you feel safer if you keep your eyes peeled (well, obviously if you are driving, but I mean even as a passenger). But every time I looked up, it was to see cars or trucks looming out of the white coming towards us in our lane (at speed). And Tatyana patting my arm and smiling comfortingly. So when I say like driving in Los Angeles, I mean with cars hurtling towards you in your lane, as opposed to on either side of you heading in the same direction (which is quite bad enough, thanks). I guess the car in front was having trouble picking a lane because of the ice. Eek. Eyes closed! No, eyes open! No closed! Okay, open!

Rather like Los Angeles, I was very relieved when we came upon a huge accident-induced traffic jam, until Tatyana (who could have given Lewis Hamilton a run for his money),  whizzed off the road to make a massive detour through several snow-submerged villages, linked by extremely narrow one-lane roads. The only signs of life were gigantic Newfoundland type dogs on long chains in people’s front drives. Oh, and one guy ahead of us who seemed to be digging himself out of a snow drift. Amazingly, about half an hour later, we came out on the main road, ahead of the traffic. If that had been me driving, we’d have come out two or three hours later in exactly the same spot we went in (that actually happened to me in Central Park once).

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Success! Back on the main road (and off the snow-trail detour!)
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This poster is not from THIS trip but from my 2008 debut at Ekaterinburg Philharmonic. I have it somewhere. Unfortunately it is too big to fit anywhere in my apartment. It is HUGE!

But it could have been worse. I could have been waiting for a bus in one of the many bus shelters we passed. What? Are people air-lifted to them? Because I didn’t see any towns or villages nearby. Or buses, come to that. Just miles (and miles) of snow and pine forests. There were also random pedestrian crossings. I’m not kidding. In the middle of nowhere! Perhaps they are thinking if you build the pedestrian crossing, the pedestrians will come or something.

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A bus shelter. No houses (or buses) for miles.

Anyway, arriving at my lovely hotel (the same one I stayed in when I performed at the Ekaterinburg Philharmonic Hall) was … well, lovely. More than lovely – a blessed relief!

The club, Everjazz, was great! I loved the decor – even though the tables had all been moved around for the party. Huge photographs lined the walls, the menus were sort of vinyl records, and in the room where the band ate dinner, the lighting was beautiful – cymbals (pictures below). Very clever. cymbals lightingThe band was wonderful again (same pianist, Anton Zoobarev, along with Portuguese drummmer, Luis Candeias, and bassist, Nelson Cascais), and the entertainment was … fantabulous.

They even had a bar tender show, with people flinging bottles around and making cocktails at the same time. And then I came home and packed – no time to sleep – so I could be ready for the 4am lobby call to come home …. for Christmas … with Billy.

how to do a fruit plate
Fruit plate, or wot?
red carpet treatment
Literal red carpet treatment at Everjazz
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Snowspike shoes, which double as Russian man-catchers
everjazz giant posters
Full size poster of Esperanza Spalding
guitarist
with guitarist, Igor Trekusov
everjazz menu
Menu

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stage 1 xmas tree 1
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Yes I am returned! The Edinburgh Jazz Festival was superb and sold out (as I think I already said somewhere). But I wish I had taken some pictures. This is the problem with not having family in the audience – though, of course, the benefit is you don’t have embarrassing scenes like my mum reading aloud from my book – er, that would be LOUD – to her entire table, or parents busting in through the doors shouting ostentatiously: “Excuse me! Excuse me! We are here to see our DAUGHTER, the singer!” My dad (bit of an attention seeker) has even perfected a sort of Royal Wave for when I acknowledge him in the crowd, which – God forfend! – I forget to do. Early in my career, he even once pounced upon the stage but was, thankfully, wrestled to the ground by my brother as he reached for the mic.

I spent most of the rest of my trip doing social things – including attending my niece’s wedding at which I was reminded of what it was actually like to spend a prolonged period of time with my ex-mother-in-law (who makes my own mother seem shy and retiring, even – almost – discreet).
For the curious among you (cough!), below is a photo taken at said wedding by my son of me and my ex. Somehow we are great friends (his three-year-old calls me Aunty – poor confused darling!), even though he has a swimming pool nestling in the acreage of his back garden (as my mother-in-law was very eager to show me within seconds of greeting me – she had pictures!) and I live in penury in Harlem wishing I had a back garden to look at (and maybe a window to look at it through). But then, I’m the musician around here, even if he does resemble one — Eric Clapton, right?
Meanwhile, my journey home was insane! The line to get through security snaked through the entire Heathrow airport and into the parking lot! By the time I got to the end there was no time to even buy duty free (naturally this is the only reason I have not brought all of you gifts of wine and incense). And the list of things you can and cannot take is bonkers. For example, you can’t take moisturizer or cosmetics but you can take massive big knitting needles. I foolishly admitted to having a lipstick in my purse (I mean you can’t lie can you, even though I think I would have got away with it) which meant the confiscation of my precious TWENTY-FIVE DOLLAR lipstick (I know, I know … bought during some kind of mental blackout). Annoyingly, I didn’t have a knitting needle with me to stab the girl who confiscated it. Or my glasses case (also forbidden) to assault and batter her with. I mean, it’s no wonder that poor deranged woman the other day tried to hijack a plane with a pot of Vaseline. – although thank goodness some brave person managed to overpower and wrest it from her before anything terrible happened!

Ekaterinburg Philharmonic audience

December 11, 2008 I finally arrived in Moscow. The Siberian tour was wonderful and I sold out of CDs and met lots of wonderful, soulful Russians. Okay, so the food wasn’t ideal. But everything else was amazing. We even went to a Scottish jazz pub (see picture of me standing between two hunky Russians in kilts). They even had a flag! Though there seemed to be a bit of confusion because it was actually the Welsh flag. I felt kind of sad as I said goodbye to everyone last night. We were traveling with another two bands who were opening for us. A certain bond happens when you travel en masse on the overnight trains in Siberia.

But although the cab ride from the airport to the hotel today took longer than it did to fly in from Siberia I am THRILLED to report that this hotel is POSH! Already had room service (expense be damned!) and am planning to avail self of the gym and maybe even the sauna later. Yes a gym and sauna and beauty spa are on the premises. I even have internet (free). There is wood. Real wood furniture. Two bedside tables — though a single bed. And a bath WITH A PLUG so I can actually have a bath. Luxury beyond imagining. As for my fellow musicians … Richie, Oleg and Daniel were heading off for another overnight train trip and the St Petersburg musicians were taking a 36-hour (this is not a typo) train trip back home. I thought of them all as I walked up the massive corridor here towards my room. I’m afraid I started laughing. Aloud. All alone. Not at my fellow musicians, enduring more travel horror (as if!), but with JOY! Pure joy! It’s the contrast, you see!

A nice glass of red wine later, I am feeling more like “La Souter” — as they called me in the Italian newspapers in Palermo. Although I must confess that playing at Philharmonic Halls throughout Russia does make you feel pretty grand. When I walked through the foyer to get dinner, the crowd that was still there after the concert burst into spontaneous applause as I passed by, waving and smiling in a queen-like fashion (having been instructed at the start of the tour by Daniel to act more “like a star!” As you can imagine the Queen of Ham doesn’t need to be told things like this twice!). Little did they (or I) know that dinner was going to be shredded boiled egg on mayonnaise and grated carrot on top of bread followed by spaghetti with no sauce, cos I don’t eat pork, which meant I missed out on the giant slab of pork that was served up with it. Or was that why they were applauding. 

But I had lovely emails today from people who said they witnessed people in tears at my performance (nothing like hunger to make you sing with feeling!). And I scored the massive poster outside with my picture on it. It is now all folded up in my suitcase, weighing more than everything else combined. Next up is the gig in Moscow club on Friday followed by a surprise Russian TV appearance on Saturday. Eek! I think I’m scared, but am hoping “La Souter” shows up for that one. And then it’s back to London and then HOME HOME HOME! I can’t WAIT! I hope you will be able to see us in January. Then I go to Korea for three weeks, and then back for February (save the date for Valentine’s Day at Cornelia Street — FANTASTIC food! — and also on Feb 25 at the Kitano, as well as 55 on Friday, Feb 13!) Meanwhile, more pictures from the tour.siberia 2 023 siberia 2 027 siberia 004 siberia 014 siberia 039