1. SOME VERY COOL PRESS

It’s kind of cheating to put this in, but I think it was almost January when I found out via an email from Sebastian Scotney of the fabulous LondonJazzNews blog that Beyond the Blue had made Number 6 on Clive Davis’ Ten Best Jazz CDs of 2013 in the Times. I was also surprised to see I’d made it, for the second year running, into the Downbeat Critics Poll as a Rising Star vocalist
rochester crazy headline from rochester jazz fest
But probably the most  shocking was “Souter Steals the Show” in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle by Jeff Spevac, the day after our gig at the Xerox International Jazz Festival. We also had some wonderful reviews and previews from Jack Garner, Ron Netsky (who was the very first person to write about me in Rochester), and an interview in the green room between sets with Derrick Lucas, host of The Spectrum on Jazz90.1 every Sunday from 10 p.m. – 1am. Basically, I am in love with all of Rochester. Thank you for making me feel like a movie star!

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2. SOME VERY COOL GIGS

This year I discovered Yotam Silberstein and Francois Moutin at my gig at Rockwells, part of a great series curated by Doug Panera. I also discovered the great young bassist Yasushi Nakamura in May, and guitarist Pete McCann

 

fun gig at pizza express
In London, at Pizza Express Jazz Club – another place that feels like a “home” gig to me – I got to play with Jim Hart again, along with Oli Hayhurst and ever-brilliant, Winston Clifford.  Clive Davis from the Times came on our second night. He didn’t look anything like his picture – which is probably because, he said (when I remarked), that picture was taken when he was five years old. He was very polite and didn’t say “You don’t look like your pictures either!” I live in fear of being dragged off the stage by irate people shouting: “We came to see this woman! Where is she?” waving flattering pics at me menacingly
Sitting in with Jason Rigby, Cameron Brown and Billy Hart at Trumpets Jazz Club
Okay, so not strictly a gig (at least not mine), but I was invited to sit in by Billy Hart with him, Jason Rigby and Cameron Brown at Trumpets Jazz Club. Bit nerves-inducing, but if I hadn’t said yes I’d have kicked myself for months afterwards. I sang The Creator Has a Master Plan to calm me down – Billy is on that recording with Pharoah Sanders

 

Blues Alley sign, 2014
I also returned to Blues Alley in DC. It feels so strange to be singing on the same stage as one of your heroines (Blues Alley was the “home gig” of the late and amazing Eva Cassidy). I love all the staff there too. They make me feel very welcome every time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3. SOME VERY COOL DEBUTS

Had a wonderful gig at Sheila Anderson’s Jazz in the Garden series at Newark Museum, NJ, except not in the garden because we were rained indoors, which everyone agreed was a good thing because the sound guy said the sound was better for our vibe. Plus the auditorium  was sold out (some people had to watch TV monitors out in the hall) and we got a standing O. With Yasushi Nakamura, Yotam Silberstein, Lew Soloff, Billy Drummond

 

iridium
And I had a great debut at the Iridium with Lew Soloff, Pete McCann, Yasushi Nakamura and Billy Drummond and fell in love with house manager Grace and sound man Rich who took care of us that night
w Pete McCann, Lew Soloff, Yasushi Nakamura and Billy Drummond at Iridium, Pic by Janis Wilkins

 

november Singing for Sheila's birthday at Metropolitan Room
Me singing with Cameron Brown at a tribute to Sheila Jordan. Another Janis Wilkins pic
Fort Grand, Perm. I blogged about these two gigs last month
Everjazz, Ekaterinburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4. COOL NEW YORK HANG WITH DEAR FRIEND AND ROOMIE FROM #$&*! YEARS AGO

Dinner in NYC with dear friend Graham McTavish
Graham McTavish and me at dinner in Macy’s, New York

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5. SEEING LIVE AND MEETING ONE OF MY VERY FAVORITE JAZZ SINGERS

Youn Sun Nah
Catching my first live concert of one of my very favorite singers, Youn Sun Nah, at the Blue Note, and meeting her afterwards, when she gave me 3 CDs, which I now listen to on my new-to-me B&W speakers
This picture with Billy Drummond and Youn Sun Nah. Picture above of Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius. Extraordinary music

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6. HANGING WITH MUMS IN LONDON FOR THREE DAYS

spending time with my mum

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7. FINDING THIS MAGNIFICENT CHAIR ON A FOR SALE SIGN IN MY BUILDING

IMG_1149
Finding the chair of my dreams after checking out the real thing at Room and Board THAT VERY DAY. Came home and saw a sign in my elevator saying, “moving sale” and there it was. It’s a fake Charles Eames and it’s a bit worn but it is so comfortable and I have put it in my “sweet spot” and now spend many happy hours listening to music in it. #lifechanging – as are my new-to-me B&W speakers (oh, did I already mention those?) One day I will have it re-upholstered. But until then ….

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8. CATCHING BILLY DRUMMOND’S FREEDOM OF IDEAS DEBUT AT SMOKE

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Billy with Seamus Blake, Eric Reed, Dezron Douglas at Smoke Jazz club in August

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9. HAVING A HOLIDAY IN SPAIN/MOROCCO/GIBRALTAR WITH (AND COURTESY OF) MY BABY BROTHER

Holiday with bruv
Me and baby bruv in Spain
Accidentally trekking the Rock of Gibraltar in the  insane sun
Accidentally trekking the Rock of Gibraltar in the insane sun

skirt

 

My singer friend Kate Geller suggested I write a blog for other singers on how to take care of your voice on the road. So … here are my travel tips for singers, for voice/health AND general tips – which actually apply to all frequent fliers. Feel free to add tips and comments.

PACKING
1. I never go anywhere without my ‘travel scarf’. This is a huge wool scarf which doubles as an extra blanket on the plane, since the doll-sized plane-issue ones generally don’t cut it. Or sometimes I roll it up and use it as a back support or a second-rate but better-than-nothing neck pillow (see item 11).

SCARF/BLANKET/NECK PILLOW/GLAMOROUS SHAWL, BACKSTAGE WITH TESSA AND DANIEL KRAMER

2. Unless you are appearing in the same place more than twice, don’t take more than two — okay, three — outfits. And no more than two pairs of shoes and earrings/accessories. You think you will but you won’t use more than this, and the more you take, the more time you have to faff about in the hotel room in front of the mirror. Not to mention carrying it all… which brings me to ….
3. I take in my HAND BAGGAGE (more on hand baggage in a min) one of those felt covered freezable cold packs because carrying heavy bags has been known to throw out my back — though not since my new suitcase (see item 7). I find the cold pack works for me. Some of you may prefer hot ones. Find out which is best for you and pack one — or both. Also pack in your hand baggage good painkillers — just in case.
4. Okay, so hand baggage. Always pack at least one copy of all the music you will need and take at least one box of CDs in your carry-on. That way, when you’re waiting around for your bags at the airport and they DON’T COME (see Letter From Tokyo 1 in February folder of this blog), you will be covered. Naturally, since you have taken this precaution, your bags will arrive. But don’t chance it! The two (packing what you need in your carry-on bag and the checked luggage arriving on time) are definitely related, This is known in England as “sod’s law” — though I am not sure what a sod is in this context.
5. Pack a pen with your passport to answer all the landing forms questions, like “Are you bringing any guns/bombs/plutonium?” “Did you pack any livestock?” “Have you petted any rabied animals while you were away?” “Are you carrying more than $10,000 in cash?” (Hah!) “
6. Take small toiletries items in a separate quart sized ziploc bag and put it in your carry-on case near the top so you can whip it out when you need to.
7. My four-wheeled suitcase has changed my life. CHANGED MY LIFE! It practically pushes itself, spins in every direction and I would marry it, if I weren’t already taken — by the very man who (perhaps realizing I would develop “feelings” for my wonder-case) advised me not to buy it. Now I want a four-wheeled carry-on because my tiny carry-on bag (with only TWO wheels) feels like it weighs twice as much as the giant one. I bought it at Marshalls, or Filene’s Basement or Daffy’s, for $79 – reduced from $300-something. I have had many cheap suitcases over the years and they are not worth the savings. Trust me.
8. I have a packing checklist on my computer which I update before and after every journey. When I am going out of town to perform, I print it and check off everything as I get to it. It has on it things to pack, things to do (like charge cell phone or empty trash, or freeze/throw out perishables). I have two checklists — one for domestic and one for international travel.
9. Take a hairbrush, minimal makeup (i.e., lipstick) and sunglasses in your hand baggage. I was once met at the airport at 4am (after 20 hours traveling) WITH TV CAMERAS! Thankfully I had my hooded coat to cover up as much as possible of my face and hair but …. Let’s just say that now I know why movie stars don’t go anywhere without their movie star glasses. And, since that experience, neither do I!
10. I take an atomizer filled with water to spritz my face throughout the flight. It helps to counteract the dehydration far more (and less messily) than moisturizer.
11. My other best friend when I travel is my bead-filled neck pillow. I sewed a sort of tie on it so I can actually WEAR it. This also means that I don’t absent-mindedly drop it on the bathroom floor because I forgot to remove it. It allows me to sleep sitting up on a plane. Without it, I can NOT sleep. During a six-hour layover at Moscow airport recently, I tied it into a ball so it remained firm, put it on my 4-wheeled suitcase, leaned forward and … I slept! Just little 20-minute cat naps at a time, but it helped. I won’t pretend I arrived “rested”, but without that little pillow there is NO WAY I would have been able to sleep at all and I would have been completely fried on arrival.

NECK PILLOW/WARMER WITH NATTY TRIM

12. FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD! What’s this doing under “packing”, right? Or have you been to Siberia? (see Siberia blog). Or, indeed, Japan (see Letter from Tokyo 1), when I woke up with jet lag at 2am and, after counting the hours until breakfast discovered that it was soup and rice. Or maybe your alarm didn’t wake you after your 25-hour journey to get somewhere and you missed breakfast. Or you have a ten hour layover at an aiport like Palermo, Scicily (I know, Italy, right? What happened?) or Moscow SVO. Last time I went to Russia, I took four protein bars (giant kind) and five balance bars. Even though I stayed at two nice hotels, I needed them. In fact, I ran out. So pack food – breakfast bars, protein bars, whatever you need for sustenance. And if you find yourself in Siberia, fake a dizzy spell near a supermarket! The one I went to was better stocked than any supermarket I have ever seen in the world – though of course telling the difference between sour cream and yogurt in Cyrillic is a bit of a challenge.

EXTRA PLANE STUFF
1. Last time I went to London, it was snowing there and here, so my boyfriend told me to call ahead and check for cancellations. The flight was canceled and rescheduled. So I got to spend an extra day with him, instead of sleeping on my suitcase at the airport or — worse! — doing what singer Sheila Jordan did recently, shelling out another $60 to get a cab back home to wait for the next flight. Yikes! If the weather looks the slightest bit dodgy, call ahead.
2. Plane background noise is deceptively loud. This is one of all sorts of things I never noticed before I was a singer, but after an 8-hour flight during which you didn’t let your seat-mate get a word in edgeways, a girl/boy can actually lose her/his voice!

TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
It is fabulous to be your own instrument — which is what singers are. BUT … the downside is, if you fall ill … you can sound like … well, imagine a saxophone that’s been left out in the rain for a week. Sadly, people won’t realize that NORMALLY (of course!) you sing like Sarah Vaughan at her peak!

SARAH VAUGHAN AT HER ‘CRAZY AND MIXED UP’ PEAK

Your frog in the throat off notes — assuming you can even get a note OUT — will be their first impression and, you know what they say about first impressions. I read recently about a Broadway actress-singer who was disparaged by a reviewer for not being able to hit the high notes. People! She had a cold!!! Warning: I once sang with a horrible cold. Not only did I sound like shite on the nite, I then couldn’t SPEAK for six weeks afterwards. You really don’t realize how amazingly useful speaking is until you lose your voice. Writing notes to the people in the supermarket when you can’t find something in the aisles is surprisingly laborious – especially when they can’t read your hurried handwriting. And the phone … fuggedaboutit! One of the most frustrating and emotionally trying six weeks of my life. So you should do everything you can to head off ANYTHING respiratory at the pass. Here are some of my health tips:

1. STAY WARM
Okay… remember that scarf? This wonderful invention was actually created to keep your neck warm. Opera singers wear their scarves everywhere and that is because they are effective! Staying warm is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Or is it that getting cold can make you ill? Whichever, a scarf is your best friend! If I have been in the cold and am not wrapped up enough or (horrors!) went out without my scarf, I ALWAYS have a boiling hot bath when I get in. This also works. Raising your temperature is the secret, apparently. If a boiling hot bath or shower is not an option (See Letter from Siberia post in 2008 folder to read about traveling 16 hours between gigs in Siberia on a train. No bath. No windows.) Get out your travel scarf and roll yourself up in it.
2. VICK’S FIRST DEFENCE
My friend Adrian Hedley told me about this. It works! That Siberian train journey I mentioned … the musical director got a horrible cold and actually lost his voice. He also had this habit of getting right up on you to talk. But First Defense, a nasal spray, kept me healthy. No, I didn’t squirt it on him when he got too close! (Only do this in a medical emergency!) I squirted it on me! Maybe it was the placebo effect, but I don’t think so. I think First Defense is a UK product. If so, the American equivalent is probably ZICAM. I personally like the candy version. I also really like the swabs — but it is absurdly expensive because you are supposed to throw away the swab after each swabbing.
3. SPEAK UP
If anyone gets too close to you, don’t be afraid to put a hanky over your mouth and say, “I’m sorry. I am a singer and I can’t afford to get ill.” People understand. But, even if they don’t, you have to do it. I haven’t had to do this yet, but if I sat next to someone on the plane who was ill I would ask to switch seats. It might feel a bit rude, but you can do it nicely. At least you’re not squirting them with First Defense.
4. VITAMIN C
Someone once told me that taking 1,000 mg doses of Vitamin C every hour or so, gets rid of a cold quickly. I have found this very effective. I don’t think you need to spend a bomb on Airbourne. My very favorites are Rite Aid chewable Vitamin C tablets with acerola. They are kind of tart, which seems to work on breaking down the — ahem — phlegm right away. I use Vitamin C like this as a preventive and as a cure.
5. REST
If you arrive somewhere and you get ill, go to bed. Even a few hours of BED-rest — i.e., actually lying down — really helps. When I was in Beirut I got flu on the first day and, canceling the gig not being an option, spent every day in bed and dragged myself out of bed every night to sing. Okay, I wasn’t my best for the first few days, but I got through it. This was before I knew about the wonder-drugs, First Defense and Zicam.
6. KEEP YOUR HANDS CLEAN
Most germs are communicated via the hands. That means whenever you touch a doorknob, or hold a railing, whoever held it before you, if they had a cold, will have left those germs. It is a singer’s lot to be a germ-phobe. My friend Sue, who is not a singer, but knows far too many than is probably good for her mental health, carries sachets of hand-sanitizing wipes with her everywhere she goes. The seriousness with which she once handed me one when we were out somewhere reminded me of the time my mum told me she was VERY worried about me being in America: “I hope you are wearing at least SPF 30!” (It is my duty to look young for my age, so that no one wonders how old she is). I keep one of those mini hand sanitizing sprays in the same zipper pencil case where I keep my passport – and SPF 30 dabber.
7. GET THE FLU JAB
Since I lost my health insurance (don’t get me started!) I haven’t yet discovered where to get these done, but in my opinion, better to be safe than sorry. I used to get one every year. However, there are health warnings so you should weigh the risks. And, it goes without saying, if you are ill just don’t have injections of any kind.
8. STAY HYRDATED
Drink plenty of water during a flight to stay hydrated. In fact, it kind of ‘oils’ the vocal chords to be hydrated at all times, flying or not. So you should be drinking at least eight glasses a day. Call me a baby, but I find it easier to drink more water if I use a straw.

These tips are not in my book Anything I Can Do You Can Do Better (Random House-Vemilion). But it has many others on navigating your way around the freelance artist’s life, and you might know some of the people in it (including me). www.amazon.co.uk

SINGING AT THE UNION OF COMPOSER’S CLUB IN MOSCOW. PICTURE BY VLADMIR KOROBITSYN

Here I am in the most comfortable bed on EARTH, leaning against SIX of the most comfortable pillows I have ever leaned against, at the Marriott Grand in Moscow. This is a far, far cry from the Siberian train tour of last November. In fact, this entire trip, I have had not one bad meal! Samara was pretty amazing. A beautiful city with enormously palatial wooden mansions everywhere. I arrived at 2am, after a 25-hour journey (including two layovers and a one hour drive from Samara airport, which is in the middle of nowhere and a little scary in the middle of the dark black night with two men in Russian hats who you don’t know), and walking up the endless corridor to my room — all super-high ceilings and closed doors — was spookily reminiscent of ‘The Shining’ but without the ghostly children on tricycles.

The gigs were fab. The Samara Philharmonic was beautiful and I met some lovely people. And I got to sing my song Usha’s Wedding with a phenomenal Russian singer called Lera, who was just amazing. I have sung that song with tons of people and it always amazes me what different people do with it, especially given that they have never heard it before. This girl was kind of like a Russian Lila Downs (who once actually sang it with me on it at the 55 Bar, when I discovered her in the audience), only wilder. I didn’t take pix of the audience, which is a drag. But I think I took some of the hotel which I will post later. Meanwhile, I was sent these pictures by the wonderful photographer Vladmir Korobitzyn.

ANOTHER PICTURE BY VLADMIR AT THE CLUB THAT NIGHT WITH OLEG KIREYEV QUARTET

Then I flew to Moscow just in time to hit rush hour traffic. The journey that will take me 25 minutes tomorrow morning at 3am (cough!), took actually THREE HOURS that day. But I didn’t mind because I was super tired and, until we hit almost standstill traffic, I had been stressfully having to “air drive” in the back seat, due to scary autobahn-esque driving all around me. It’s very tiring pressing your foot on imaginary brakes and leaning very very hard in one direction (which is how you steer when you are air driving), so it was such a relief when that ceased to be necessary. I spent the rest of the “drive” passed out on the back seat — probably drooling, I was so fried. Flying about to gigs is … hard work! And I’d had a SIX HOUR layover in Moscow on the way to Samara which is, surprisingly, kind of primitive. There isn’t even an escalator to the next level. Hello? — bags!

Homeless dogs look pleadingly at you in the airport cafes (actually they roam in packs all over Moscow, and huddle together in the subways when it’s cold, like little families — which is kind of sad and sweet at the same time). Even at the information desk, no one speaks English, which was a bit unhelpful. And there was no seat on the loo! Or perhaps it was misplaced because I did notice a loo brush holder and loo brush OUTSIDE the actual loo. Otherwise, Russia rules. Right now the streets are full of men carrying flowers to give to the women in their lives, because this weekend is a national holiday called Woman’s Day. So much more civilized than Mother’s Day. I mean, what if you aren’t a mother, or don’t have one? Woman’s Day is so inclusive! And the women here! So beautiful! Russian women are from the 1960s — beautifully turned out and terribly feminine. I mean, only a Russian woman would wear spike heels to breakfast, right?

Meanwhile, I had a magnificent first night at the club in Moscow last night, where the crowd was cheering and whooping and bought 33 CDs off me. Hooray! If tonight is even half as much fun I’ll be happy!

HAPPY WOMAN’S DAY!

 

Here I am in Omsk, Siberia, the most civilised of the cities so far — at least hotel-wise. The wallpaper is completely stuck to the wall, the fabric seats of the chairs are unstained, the formica furniture has only one bobbly bit on the bedside table, there IS a bedside table, I can switch the light off and on from the bed (as opposed to switch it off at the entrance and light my way back to bed with the screen light of my cell phone). The bed has a quilt (as opposed to a strange sleeping bag style sheet you have to climb into with a crackly bri-nylon coverlet on top of it), the main light bulb didn’t explode when i flicked the switch, and I have INTERNET!

However, all the hotels (even this one) have this kind of low on provisions vibe. Like, the loo paper is always just about to run out and when it does it is replaced with more loo paper that is just about to run out. And when I asked for coffee at breakfast, the waittress brought five small packets of instant coffee to replenish the entire buffet. And speaking of food. Let’s just say it is everything everyone promised it would be. My first breakfast was a kind of ommelette, except someone had forgotten to whisk the eggs, so it was actually four fried eggs stuck together with bits of Spam chopped up in it. And no, I didn’t eat it. And the bread all tastes like someone forgot to wrap it up after it was baked — which would have been some time the previous week, judging by its hardness!

But Omsk is good. And last night I had the best sushi ever on earth in a very posh restaurant — although at about midnight, billowing smoke was piped on to a disco floor and two young women wearing big floaty tops, black platform boots and … er .. thongs (yes, they had forgotten to put on their skirts) came out and started doing a sort of porn dance — presumably hired to entice people on to the dance floor.

But the hotels are at least hotels. After some of the gigs we don’t stay in hotels. Instead we ride the train through snowy Siberia, which was a terribly thrilling concept. But then they turned out to be overnight sleepers with SHARED compartments. The first train we took from Surgut to Tyunem took 16 hours. And getting on and off train platforms involves dragging big heavy bags up and down stairs. Many stairs. Many, icy, snow-laden stairs. The trains are kind of beautiful. Or, at least, they were once. Actual carpet runners in the halls, a little rug between the shared (four bunks per cabin) compartments. Curtains. Sort of like in the movie Some Like It Hot. Then again, … maybe not like that. Maybe more like Escape from Colditz on wheels.

After fighting vainly to open a window (the words “…need …. air … now ….” racing around my oxygen-starved mind), until we were sternly informed “it is not possible open window!”, I slumped back on my bunk opposite my fellow American Richie [Goods] and said: “I’m trying very hard to think of any situation at all when a train like this would be fun. But I can’t.” However, the overnight train on Thursday was significantly better — aside from the huge naked man in one of the windows, who was staring at us as we arrived, swaithed only in cigarette smoke, and actually scratching his belly. Somehow the word “ominously” feels like it should go into that sentence somewhere, perhaps before the word scratching. Richie said the train only seemed better because we had lowered our expectations.

BUT … the gigs have been fantastic, the crowds are warm (last night we got a standing O) and I’ve already totally sold out of CDs after three of the gigs ( (four more to go). I only brought 100, though, which is a bit annoying, but what can you do! I’ve been kicking myself but, I think, really, I couldn’t have coped with carrying them anyway (those stairs!). The band is great and we’ve been doing some interesting stuff. So I am having fun. Palermo was fantastic too. Both nights absolutely packed. Great band. And it is absolutely the most beautiful venue I have ever seen. Though the Siberian Philharmonic Halls we are performing in are pretty amazing too (will put up some of those pictures this week). London was also fun. And sold out. But, so far, Siberia is the most … er … interesting place I have ever performed. I am actually coming back to Russia (Samara) in March! Watch this space.

But next up: Omsk (second night tonight, followed by train ride to), Ekaterinburg (8th and 9th) and Moscow (12th), and then I will be back home in New York by Christmas. I will be at the 55 bar with my FULL ENTIRE BAND (except for Victor) on January 9. Plus, I think you can come and hear us at the APAP conference, too, on January 11. If you want to cheer us on there, we’d love to have you. All the info is below. By the way, my Venus CD [Night of Key Largo] comes out in Japan on my mother’s birthday, December 17!