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.

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

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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!