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

 

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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

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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

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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

 

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, and makeshift floral memorials to recent accidents. 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! Crrrazy!” she said, rolling her eyes (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!

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.

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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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Giant Christmas bauble overlooked by Pushkin in one of Moscow’s gratuitously pretty squares

December 18 Arrived in Moscow yesterday and announced to Neil how I never get jet lag anymore. Yes, I had fallen asleep in the car on our way to the (pretty much closed and also pitch dark) outdoor Christmas market that evening. And again on the way home – probably with my mouth open. Oh dear. But I managed to stay awake and alert until 11pm, when I went to bed feeling extremely smug.

The next day, when I surfaced 14 hours later (!!) at 2:30pm, Neil burst into the kitchen saying: “You must tell me your marvelous secret about how not to get jet lag!” Neil is very droll. By 9:42am the next day, without one single wink of sleep all night, I was thinking I would like to know that secret myself. My new plan to stay awake all day, no naps, borrow a sleeping pill and wake up the next day with no jet lag would have gone awry if Neil hadn’t bashed on my door at 10am shouting: “Get up!” Thank the lawd my gigs don’t start until Thursday.

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Me with Christmas bauble and Pushkin in background

Meanwhile, had such a great time hanging out with Neil. Really great friends you’ve known for years are like siblings. You can do errands and all sorts of otherwise boring things that are not dull at all just because you are with them. Or that’s how I feel about my siblings, anyway. I have excellent brother karma! So, hanging out reading while Neil was working on a story for the New York Times (he’s the Moscow Bureau Chief) was fab – although I wasn’t thrilled with the book I bought at the airport. It got all kinds of accolades but … eesh! What is it with books you aren’t enjoying but continue to slog through anyway? I can’t put them down! (in a bad way). However, I loved William Faulkner’s Light in August, which I finished on the plane.

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Me reflected in the shiny brass plaque outside Neil’s office

It was nice to investigate Moscow a bit more this time, but without getting horrendously lost like my first time. We came from the airport on a very civilized train, which even had a tea lady walking up and down the aisles.10857723_10153361957731521_385117632753288002_n

That night we went to the Christmas market. Okay it was closing, but I’d been before so I didn’t mind. On the way home we stopped off at a version of BestBuy to look at blenders. I love regular shops and supermarkets when I am in foreign places. Even – or perhaps especially – when all the labels are in Cyrillic. We also had sushi. Not the best ever but it was worth it to see Neil ordering sushi in Russian. I was impressed.

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Neil ordering sushi in Russian

I had a secret hankering to visit IKEA (which is open until 2am in Moscow), but Neil had all sorts of deadlines so it was out of the question. I don’t think it was because it was IKEA, because I have been to the one in Brooklyn with Neil once or twice in the past. But it is true that men (at least men I know) are often a little allergic to IKEA. Billy gets nauseous in all stores except (strangely … or perhaps not so strangely) audiophile stores. He says it is the lighting. Hmmm.

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Me pressing penny into ice queen’s lap and making a wish

Moscow is full of surprises and so pretty. On the way home we bought beautiful white tulips for Eva in the otherwise deserted underpass where a drunk tried to buy flowers from me at the stall (I look Russian, I’m told. At least I hope that was why  … not because I look like the sort of person who would be selling stolen tulips in deserted Moscow underpasses). The next day I found Neil arranging them lovingly in a vase to put on Eva’s desk to welcome her home. Sweet. I love hanging out with couples. They make me – child of divorce – feel settled! Or maybe that’s because I am nine years old.

Wandering around outside after eating, I was so happy when it finally snowed. December in Moscow with no snow felt just… wrong. We walked around this gratuitously pretty square overlooked by a benevolent Pushkin, and found a sort of ice playground with a carved ice queen with coins embedded onto her dress. I pressed a penny into her lap and made a wish. Then Neil took me to a pile of broomsticks – saying I could give us a ride home (like I said, very droll).

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Feeling kind of witchy. By the way, I did mention I am nine, right?

 

Red-Shoes-posters

Being a professional musician sometimes feels to me like being the girl in the Hans Christian Anderson story, The Red Shoes. Now that I’ve put the shoes on, I can’t get the damn things off, and I have to keep dancing no matter how tired I get. Except, I’m not dancing I’m singing.

In the Powell and Pressburger movie, inspired by the fairy tale, when the heroine is asked why she wants to dance by the ballet director, Lermontov, she says:

Vicky: Why do you want to live?
Lermontov: Well, I don’t know exactly why, but… I must.
Vicky: That’s my answer too.

At the same time, “music” is a sort of separate entity which I love like a child.  Or, at least, how I feel about it reminds me, at times, of how I felt about my son when he was a child. I feel protective of it. I look after it. Do things for it that I wouldn’t do for myself – odd though that sounds.  I would fly in a small plane to get to a gig for it. Train it across the Siberian tundra in sub-zero temperatures for it. Sacrifice things for it. Go without fancy clothes for it. Forgo holidays. Give up journalism for it. Not only would, … I have done all the above –  except fly in a small plane – yet. And I would be scared but I’d even do that (with my fingers crossed, of course).

It is my quest.

quest

noun ˈkwest

: a journey made in search of something

: a long and difficult effort to find or do something

Both of those.

And like all good quests, following this path professionally has taught me more about myself – my faults, my strengths, my weaknesses, my good side, that er …  other side –  than anything else I have ever done, with the exception of child-rearing. And it utilizes everything you are… every experience you have ever had,  every death of a friend or relative, everything you’ve ever believed, everything you think you know and (I’m sure) a ton of things you know that you don’t consciously know you know.

Each experience adds another color, and the more experience you have, the more colors you have to express yourself with. All communicated wordlessly – even if you sing actual words. All perceptible to anyone who wants to perceive it. Or receive it. Or resonate with it – with you. Which is probably why, when someone else gets it, that is the most affirming thing ever. And, even though being a musician is work – hard work, constant and full-time, on call 24 hours, even while you are sleeping –  few things can beat the feeling of communicating absolutely essence-to-essence with an audience. It’s about that.

Every now and then I have flirted with the idea of taking off the red shoes but, I realized recently, they are my feet now. So here I – still – am.

“To have faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment. Whoever insists on safety and security as primary conditions of life cannot have faith; whoever shuts himself off in a system of defense, where distance and possession are his means of security, makes himself a prisoner. To be loved, and to love, need courage, the courage to judge certain values as of ultimate concern – and to take the jump and to stake everything on these values.”
― Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

A heads up to come and see us (Marvin Sewell, guitar, Dana Leong, cello, and me, voice) at the 55 Bar, TONIGHT, Friday, August 9.

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Meanwhile, I am in sore need of a break from what started out as a mild bit of decluttering/feng shui and has now turned into a full on palarva. And I haven’t even started on the clothes and shoes – for example the high heeled leopard pumps that I allowed some stranger in the shop to persuade me to buy: “You have to buy them! High heeled leopard pumps are our sneakers!” – “our”, I now realize, referring to a particular group of idiots who believes people who say they can go jogging in shoes that are too high to even stand in, let alone walk in.

 

Which reminds me of the time I was shopping with my friend Robin and excitedly heard myself saying: “Those shoes are just perfect for … sitting down!” However, unlike me, she didn’t buy them – basically because walking in them would have required being on all fours. Meanwhile, those damn high heeled leopard pumps did fit me in the shop! I swear! And speaking of mysteries (and back to feng shui) …. what was I even doing with a giant bag of arborial (wot?) rice in the first place, and how did it quietly live in my fridge untouched for eight years!

Turns out that de-cluttering is a bit like jogging. Sounds like a great idea and it’s easy to start. But then after a few hours (or minutes, if it’s jogging, of course) you think, what am I doing? Only, instead of like jogging, where you can pretend you were just sprinting to the local wine bar for an emergency glass of wine, a few hours into de-cluttering, your place looks like a teenager’s bedroom. It’s like swallowing a raw egg – once you start you have to keep going. (What? You never ate a raw egg?!)

However, my newly painted fridge (yes, there is a thing called fridge paint) is now gleaming white, instead of dirty beige, and my landlord is giving me a new WHITE stove (the correct color for that “gua’ of my apartment). And my super is laying me a new kitchen floor (can this be due to cleaning up my “helpful people” gua?) And since I’ve got the paint tin open and I forgot to buy mineral spirits to wash my brush, I’ve been going mad, fridge-painting everything – including the kitchen cupboards, the wall around the stove and the kitchen window. And a green filing cabinet. Aaaah! It will feel fab when it is done. Unlike raw egg ingesting.

Which brings me to tonight (Friday) …. eggnog anyone? Actually, do they even sell it at the 55? Maybe not. But they do have emergency wine and other choice beverages, and Kirby to dispense them at the bar and me and Dana (Leong on cello) and Marvin(Sewell on guitar) to entertain you, and Pascalito is going to sit in on Avec le Temps (singing in real French!) and his mum, a visiting singer from France will sing a song. It will be fun, especially if you come! And I’ll wear my leopard pumps (just perfect for sitting on the bar stool!)

See you there, I hope! My Top Ten Feng Shui tips below:

  1. Don’t start! Unless you actually like drinking raw eggs.

Oh look, I ran out of space.

So I am back from LA which was on fire (literally!) and hot! Not in a good way. I have never been so hot in LA. But I did get to play with the amazing Hamilton Price (bass) and Joe La Barbera (drums) and Jason, of course. And I got to add names to my mailing list and was informed by some Japanese people there that I am “big in Japan” (like Tom Waits said!) because of my album Nights of Key Largo, and Hajime Sato from Eastwind Import even turned up with a VINYL copy of that album for me to sign! If you are an audiophile and like the idea of having your own vinyl copy of my CD — among many others to choose from, check out www.eastwindimport.com. And I got a lovely review from Don Heckman which appeared in his wonderful International Review of Music. And I stayed with my California mum. But please, California, try not to burst into flames next time I come!

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My name in neon lights, and it’s not even Broadway.
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Me and Hajimi.
Hamilton Price, Joe LaBarbera and Jason Ennis
Hamilton Price, Joe LaBarbera and Jason Ennis

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!

 

mipac poster

Me in Red Square for the first time.
Me and Santi Debriano

Moscow was truly amazing! Despite my fear that the 1753 seats of the absurdly gigantic venue [the Moscow International Performing Arts Center] would actually only have TWO bums on them, the gig was one of the most fun of my life! “Do you think there will be anyone there?” I said, mournfully, to the presenter’s assistant in the dressing room, where I was putting on makeup JUST IN CASE anyone had come. And she laughed and said: “Oh yes!”

When I got out there, people filled all of downstairs and some of the side seats and Francis (my percussionist, who I had shipped in from Tokyo, who has better eyesight than I do — okay, what I mean is, isn’t too vain to wearhis glasses) said that the upper deck was pack-ed (it is two syllables when he says it, cos he is Brazilian) and that there were maybe 1500 people there. The booker and all his staff were hugging me in the break, having been perhaps almost as concerned as I had been BEFORE the gig that the scruff bag (me) who’d got off Aeroflot after the 9 hour flight from hell the previous day was going to be able to pull it off.

I had been terrified that the entire thing was going to be awful. The guys (and me) were exhausted and two of them had arrived on the day. And Aeroflot is indeed the worst airline I have ever flown (the man next to me groaned for the entire flight — I mean ACTUAL groaning cos he had forgotten his jacket and it was minus 10 in the cabin… which was also ominously creaking the whole way). But although between sets and before the gig the band members were semi comatose, on stage they were like those toys you press the bottom of and they collapse and then you release it and they spring upright. They were amazing. You would never in a million years think they had just landed. On Aeroflot!

And the audience was WILD! Cheering. shouting ‘Bravo’ mid songs, clapping at the opening bars of songs they knew (including White Room). I felt like they knew me already and I knew them. Whatever people say about Russians being cold … well they must have been lying. Someone else said the audience wouldn’t speak English. Another flagrant untruth. They were even laughing at my jokes (though someone told us afterwards that the people next to her kept nudging her to translate certain songs). And at the end we got a STANDING OVATION. From 1500 people. I felt like Elton John or someone (only with my own hair). And I was surprised how comfortable I felt. Then again, the hugest ham I know (me) comfortable in front of a 1500-strong cheering crowd, who got my jokes too? Duh!

Oh, and the POSTER outside!!! Santi saw it as we were driven to the venue and said “Jesus! Isn’t that you?” I took a pic (okay, several pics — for Mum, of course!).

But I wish I had brought more CDs. By the time Irina had got out into the foyer, they had already sold out of the only 60 I had brought (imagining I would be carrying home 58, since I’d been expecting only two bums on seats). And the next day in the hotel a couple, who had been at the gig the night before, saw me in the foyer and bought two that I’d forgotten to give the presenter and the woman was kissing my photo and was nearly in tears telling me (in Russian) how much she had enjoyed the gig (an expressive people!).

Me and Francis on the subway escalator


Otherwise, I am having a bit of a difficult time not speaking Russian. The subways (Greco-Roman temples outside and unbelievably beautiful — like the Met or the National Gallery or something — on the inside) are swarming with non-English speaking (how dare they?) Russians who, not realizing I am, in Russia, a massive big star of Elton John proportions (only with my own hair), are impatient with my plaintive: “Er… can you point on this map here to where we actually are now?” — perhaps because they don’t quite believe I can’t see that for myself. (I am a directional dyslexic). In fact, the reason I am an expert on the subway stations here is because I have seen them all by now, having been to the end of most of the lines before realizing, oh, I must have missed my stop. And since I can’t speak Russian and say: “Don’t you realize I am Elton John?” I am being shouted at a lot by subway staff because it turns out there are distinct exits and entrances and I can’t read which is which (yikes!). And I went to bed hungry last night cos no one in the hotel speaks English and the room service menu is in Russian. Sigh.

This is on stage at MIPAC
It’s all the more difficult because the written language bears a striking resemblance to Double Dutch (which I also don’t read), with letters back to front and upside down and words with NUMBERS in them (I am not kidding!). Plus, unhelpfully, the subway stations only have the name written on the wall ONCE, so if you miss that once, you have no idea which station you are at. Okay, I admit, not that I would have known even if I could have seen it, but you might. Luckily, there have been a few kind, hand-holding types who have been able to direct me in the right place, since I clicked that the thing to do was show them a picture of where I wanted to go in my guidebook! (a picture is worth a thousand words — especially words that have upside down letters and numbers in them).

My room at the Four Seasons hotel!

I did manage to score a night at the Ritz Carlton, on the back of writing an article for British ELLE on Moscow. I will tell you that I woke up the next day and I literally looked ten years younger. The bed was amazing. HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Or, as we say in Russia…. RRY [upside down R] 3XX FLJXCVB-ING!

 


LETTER FROM TOKYO 1

July 2007 So … Does anyone out there know whether Mercury or some other planet of vital importance is in retrograde? First I spent the flight over sitting next to two unaccompanied children with very small bladders. I had the aisle seat. (Need I say more?) They could also sleep in any position (which meant me spending much of the flight with a small foot in my face).

But they were sweet when they were awake (and not needing to pee). They engaged me in conversation about elephants and robots (who doesn’t love robots?) and other things that I think more adults should talk about. And they were very sympathetic when I described my deprived childhood (Mum would not let me have an elephant for my birthday when I was four. Some cock and bull excuse about the garden not being big enough!). By the way, for those of you who know my mum, she was on top form when I saw her in London this time. She didn’t mention the dress not being red — though, as we hugged hello, she did whisper in my ear, “Stand up straight, darling!” Mums! Got to love them! (Or else!)

Back at Tokyo airport the woman at immigration wouldn’t let me through cos, knowing I was being picked up, I hadn’t written down the address I was going to. I made up a hotel — as advised by a very nice woman who was on her way to … the Ritz Carlton! Of course I didn’t look like I could possibly be the type to be staying there, being somewhat crumpled and baggy eyed with a foot shaped dent on the side of my head. But I wrote it down and she let me through anyway, thank goodness.

Then, after waiting patiently by the only moving baggage carousel for miles until there were no bags on it (this took some time), I was a bit concerned when my luggage was not forthcoming. “Oh this is the Texas plane baggage!” they explained. “Your bag is over by the counter.” Phew! However, it turned out, no one had seen my OTHER bag. Yes, THAT bag. The one with the microphone and music and shoes in it. The one with my ice pack — which would have been very useful right now cos — guess what? — I just put my back out! (stress-induced). The one with all my makeup in it! Yes. THAT bag that STILL hasn’t arrived and which Newark (who I blame entirely, since everyone at Narita was adorable) seems to know nothing about. As I walked out I noticed I was the last person to leave the airport.

At the hotel (no, I am not staying at the RC) I fell asleep with no dinner and woke up at 2 am and began literally counting the minutes (3000 or maybe 300, I’m not very good at sums!) until 7 when breakfast was served. At dead on 7 I ran to the dining room where I found a buffet breakfast of … er … soup, shredded lettuce, some sort of roll with currants in it and (thank God!) toast! And (more groveling thanks) coffee! Okay, weak coffee. “People! This coffee is weak!” (Of course I didn’t say that, but don’t they realize a New Yorker is staying at their establishment!). I know, I know. You’d think a girl would be grateful for anything after waiting FIVE HOURS to eat.

You would be wrong.

But it could have been worse. It could have been my friend’s journey from hell which was a catalogue of disasters culminating in being trapped at the airport (due to thunderstorms) for three hours with no AC or food or drink and mournfully looking out of the window to see another waiting plane on the runway struck by lightning and burst into flames! On second thoughts …no … actually culminating in getting home to discover she had forgotten her door key! So you see why I’m wondering about Mercury retrograde.

But the good news is that, while shopping for ice packs, I noticed that shampoo is indeed available for under five dollars!Contrary to all reports that it would set me back $100 a bottle.