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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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?

 

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w Apple Tea Jazz Band, Palace of the Trade Union, Belarus Minsk
Belarus Palace of the Trade Unions and Fine Arts
This is the outside!

We did nine concerts in Russia and then I left my band of comrades and went to Belarus on my own to do two more concerts (also at Philharmonic halls) with the great Minsk-based Apple Tea Jazz Band, which was phenomenal. More standing ovations. Maybe they weren’t standing ovations, maybe they were people leaping up and clapping their hands and stamping their feet for warmth! (It was just as cold in Belarus as Siberia).

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Smoke in Belarus

There was even smoke and colored lighting on the stage! This was my 10th gig in two weeks. I was like one of those dolls that when you push the bottom they collapse in a heap and when you let them go they spring to life again. Backstage I was a crumpled, usually shivering (big places are hard to heat), heap. Somehow, when you go out on stage the crowd gives you energy. It’s kind of magic. See how important you are! Without you … crumpled heap-dom!

Inspired by you into uncrumpled-ness
Click this picture to read article in Belarussian or look at pictures
w Konstantin Goryachy, Palace of the Trade Union, Belarus Minsk
w Konstantin Goryachy, Palace of the Trade Union, Belarus Minsk
You can also click this picture for the video.

It was written about. Click on the picture of the article on euroradio.fm to read it in Belarussian and (or) look at the tons of pictures. And if you want to see it you can watch a video of this amazing band’s rendition of my original composition ‘You Don’t Have to Believe’ here – with some crazy good solos!

Meanwhile, the search for a suitable venue for my CD release in New York continues. But if you know anyone in Philadelphia I’ll be playing Chris’ Jazz House on May 5 with Tom Guarna, Sean Smith and Billy Drummond. And Scullers in Boston on May 16 with some of my amazing Beyond the Blue band (Steve Kuhn, Billy Drummond, Joel Frahm and Gary Versace). Send people! Come!

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By the way, the picture of me shaking hands with President Obama came the other day, but it will not be on my blog because a big sticker on the back expressly forbids emailing or disseminating it in any way.

I’ll have to organize a viewing party at my place. Meanwhile, it is a great picture, granted, it’s not me hugging Mrs Obama, but it’s a very close second because he looks so engaged and interested (I hadn’t noticed that at the time), and Billy is smiling beside me like he ate the (White Chocolate) White House.

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!

 

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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.

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

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!