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With essential to my Beyond the Blue album, Joe Locke

11402731_10204678981197902_5566236918833208067_n The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival was incredible, not least because we actually made it! First of all, two weeks ago, I fell and sprained my ankle, which put paid to dieting into the “perfect dress” for the PBS taping. Three days before the gig I was about half an inch away from it, but it was so tight I’d have had to walk like a robot and not be able to sit down without my body automatically springing into prone position! But three days before the gig, I managed to find the perfect dress on line. Sort of one-shoulder loose-flowing Greek goddess style with a split up the side in the lining and in the diaphanous fabric over it. I changed it from a “ho-dress” (a la the recent Met Ball affairs worn by Kim Kardashian and J.Lo and others who misinterpreted the brief) into sexy but classy, by sewing up the split in the diaphanous bit so there was the merest whisper of leg showing through it, and not bare. And actually, although the other dress would have been better for a studio taping, this one was perfect for the stage taping.

So I was all set. Until, the night before the gig, I got a text (thank you, Lord for making me sign up for text alerts) saying that all our flights were cancelled! This meant scrabbling around to buy – at vast expense – train tickets to Rochester for the four of us at $119 (plus $8.50 insurance) per ticket. It also meant getting up at 5AM in order to make the ONLY train that would get us there on time. The panic was insane. But we all made it and caught the 7:15AM which was getting us in a few hours later than the plane would have but … hey, getting us IN! And I could sleep on the 6.5 hour train journey, right?

So … a little tip: If you are hoping to sleep, never sit in the front car. The train whistle, that sounds so romantic and soft from anywhere else on the train, is blaring right in your ear in the front car. Added to which my fellow passengers (not my band, but the people behind us) were somehow able to sleep and were snoring loudly. Also farting. This is bad when your Kenny Werner meditation MP3 is exhorting you to “Breath in. Breath in deeper than you want to!”  I moved to a new carriage, but somehow managed to sandwich myself between a baby with Whooping Cough (behind me) and a woman who was singing loudly and snapping her fingers in the seat in front. But it did mean I could sort out my set list, which came out like automatic writing. As it poured out of me, I thought, “But yes. This is perfect! This is the perfect song to follow this one….” –  among other thoughts, like “Shut up!” and even meaner ones.

The train (Amtrak) also kept cutting out, like a cheap electric train set, which was adding to the stress. Eventually, we rolled up to about five minutes outside of Rochester Station, already an hour and a half late, and ended up waiting nearly an hour more because there was debris on the line. A motorbike, to be precise. I was ready to jump out of a window by now, which would have been bad (especially with my still-swollen ankle). I had already missed being interviewed by the Rochester 901.0 radio station by my favorite Derrick Lucas. I was not going to miss this gig. But luckily, the debris was cleared and we rolled in, where we were picked up by Larry, who always seems to pick me up at the Rochester Jazz Festival. But no time to check into the hotel properly, and we were late for sound check. Aaaiieeee!
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The audience filing in before we came on

Finally, even later than “already late” we did a lightning-fast sound check so they could let in the giant line that was outside, leaving me 15 minutes to get ready! For a PBS taping! Having got up at 5AM. Having not been able to sleep on the train. But miraculously, I did transform myself from a baggy-eyed granny, into a GILF (F for Fondle of course!) with the help of a benevolent Universe, which had also seen fit to hide my hair brush (thank the Lord for fingernails!). Hair. Check. Makeup. Check. Dress. Check. Shoes… I pulled them out of my bag … two right shoes! Yes I wore them. They were gold! My other shoes were PayLess Shoe Source ballet flats! Luckily, I had already ordered a tall stool ahead of time because my sprained ankle turns into a boneless elephant’s foot if I stand on it for more than 15 minutes right now. But nerves? Shmerves! There literally wasn’t time.

The gig was so much fun! All the guys played brilliantly – even better than last month at the 55 – and you can read two wonderful reviews, one in the Democrat and Chronicle Jeff Spevak review PDF and another review in the Rochester City Paper here. Or in print, right here. Plus, in the City Paper post-Festival round-up I was referred to as one of “two favorite” vocalists (the other was Cecile McLorin Salvant, who I love), which is pretty amazing given how many truly great singers were at the festival.

1962735_10204696111066138_2971451764887988174_nGiant thanks to the festival’s Artistic Director, John Nugent who keeps having me back and put me in Kilbourn Hall this year because, he said, I’d earned it. And Barbara Cherry who insisted I did “Here’s to Life” (I had sent her a duo version I did with Dana years ago) and her favorite, “Eleanor RIgby” – both of which were popular choices. She also hooked up the cello by putting us in touch with the wonderful Sullivan Violins company, who generously loaned us one actually made by Ken Sullivan. She took pictures, handed out cards and was generally very bossy – in a good way. Thank you also to lovely Jessica, who was so capable she made me wish I had a daughter – my capable granddaughters are just a bit young! Every time I turned round to say: “Oh no! My pen!” or “Help! I forgot my (two right) shoes!” Jessica would be right there, holding her clip board in one hand, and my forgotten items in the other. Thank you! And thank you Rochester! I absolutely love you!

So … in spite of the Universe (or perhaps it was just testing me before the gig) we had a good one. Two standing ovations in Kilbourn Hall. People who were in the first set came back for the second set four hours later (Rochester Jazz festival audiences are the business, as we say in England). And PBS – who interviewed me after the first show (which they taped – said they were very happy. It will air all over the PBS networks in 2016 and of course you will be fully informed. As Dana said: “PBS! Our mums are going to go crazy!”

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Dana Leong and I open Kenny Barron’s Sunshower with a harmonized beginning in our arrangement that we did a few years ago

After all that, too exhausted to really hang out after the gig – although I did run into fabulous Joe Locke, who was playing Kilbourn Hall the next night (and who was so absolutely essential on my Beyond the Blue album) – I went straight to sleep, without checking that there was a link to my Kickstarter campaign from my website – as directed on all the little cards we were giving out to the wonderful audience. And I didn’t discover it until really late the next day because, at the airport with Dana, I suddenly came over all light headed and nearly passed out and then threw up (elegantly, I hope) in a nearby bin. An ambulance came, for heaven’s sake. In case it was a heart attack. And we had to get a plane four hours later. But, see, Rochester people are so sweet that even the man who had to change the bin found me later and asked me: “Are you feeling better now?”

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Two right shoes. Everyone knows that girls buy two pairs of shoes if they find the perfect pair that fits and is comfy AND glamorous
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We (with Adam Platt and Keita Ogawa) were so happy to finally get in the van to go to the gig!

 

 

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Me and Larry, who always picks me up! In both ways.
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Sweet Derrick Lucas of Jazz 901 radio station!

 

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Wow! What a beautiful stage
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Kilbourn Hall! Amazing. Lew Soloff (who I took to the festival last year) had walked me around here the previous year to show me where he went to school. I had no idea that I would be performing there the following year!

 

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My girl Tracy Hughes Kroft
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The line, photographed by my girl Barbara Cherry, who also fixed us up with the cello, via Sullivan Violins

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Me with “Jamie” (Sam Heughan) and “Dougal” (Graham McTavish) at the Outlander premiere mini party

I had a fantastic birthday week this year! Those of you who were there when he popped in to my gig a few months ago will recognize Dougal – AKA my friend Graham – in the picture (left). He took me to the premiere of Outlander Season 2, on April 1, which was one of the most fun parties ever! More fun even than mine and Graham’s “Come as a Cocktail” party we had in the 80s. I was a midnight lace (I know, I’d never heard of it either). Graham was an aviator. This was so much more fun – not just because I got to have my picture taken with the (other) series’ hunk, AKA Jamie. Phoar! But mostly because I got to hang the whole night with one of my oldest and sweetest friends. And of course there was Champagne! And unlike our “Come as a Cocktail” party, I didn’t pass out and wake up the next day having missed the entire thing. (I think the Golden Cadillacs did me in).

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My birthday at Birdland Jazz Club with cake provider, Billy Drummond

Graham, by the way, is given notes and gifts of things like undies (okay, they were socks, but still!) by people in the crowd. Shameless! After Party # 2 (the picture above was taken at Party # 1) Graham’s limo dropped me at Birdland where I had a lovely hang with Sheila Jordan and the Steve Kuhn Trio and was groupie to my own man, Billy. If I’d had socks to give, I would have! And Kurt Elling was there and sat in. It was fun. And then on Friday I celebrated my actual birthday at Birdland and Sheila sang Happy Birthday to me from the stage. And Billy had secretly procured a chocolate cake for me with nine candles (hmm!) which I made a wish on. And I wore the necklace my brother made me which spells out H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y T-E-S-S-A – a fitting gift for a nine-year-old, except I was minus 29 when he gave it to me because I’ve had it 20 years.

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Emmet Cohen on piano with me sitting in at Richard and Tara Dolan Wright’s fab party

And then on Sunday we went to an Easter party with MORE cake – and also Pavlova (an Australian confection which is insanely delicious … recipe HERE). And they had a great pianist Emmet Cohen and I sat in and I wasn’t nervous at all! (which I normally am if it’s just sitting). Billy took this picture.

Being a musician is such a hard road (maybe even if you are wildly successful, I’ll let you know when that happens!) that these little things –  a fun party, performing (speaking of which, I am at the 55 Bar on Friday with Saul and Yasushi), a surprise birthday cake (especially chocolate), Pavlova cake,  having the great Sheila Jordan sing Happy Birthday to you, hanging with old friends – make it like you have memory foam in your shoes – not those horrid hard gel inserts (will someone please explain those to me!) – a bit easier.

And speaking of old friends, Graham is Grand Marshall this Saturday for National Tartan Week in New York. Leading the parade starting at 2pm on 6th AVenue between 44th and 55th Streets. http://nyctartanweek.org/ if any of you want to go and throw socks at him!

And here is Sheila singing at Birdland – an entire week at age 86 and a quarter – where she sang Happy Birthday to me and made me feel like a movie star!

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Sheila Jordam at Birdland, with Steve LaSpina in background.

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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

Okay, so … I won a competition to perform in a Gap store — one of 800 stores throughout Canada and the US having a mass gig in celebration of the new Born to Fit range of jeans and 40 years of the Gap. This seemed terribly exciting. But about two days before the actual performance I suddenly got a strong instinct that perhaps it wasn’t going to be very productive. I mean, … a Gap store. In a deserted suburb of Philadelphia. A week before college starts back. On a Thursday evening. After hours. In August. During a 90 degree heatwave. But you can’t just not turn up!

cn5926091So I guess I wasn’t terribly surprised when we finally located the store, in an outdoor mall, and noted a distinct lack of “throngs”. In fact, there was no one in the shop when we burst through the doors, thinking thoughts along the lines of “shorely shome mishstake!” and “Wot? No poster?” At one point, one of the staff actually went outside to drum up business, calling out: “Two-for-one specials!” to no one in particular — or do I mean no one at all, since I didn’t actually see anyone in the desert-like parking lot.

It wasn’t a total bust. There was a TV … well “crew” wouldn’t be an accurate description of the lone camera man that was there. But he did film us, and, apparently, we did make the local news at 6PM, 11PM and 6AM the next day. And I sold four CDs, which is fab in terms of percentage (maybe ten people came through) but not so fab in terms of recouping expenses. Then again, Jason and I got vouchers for two pairs of jeans EACH! And the staff were all fabulous. Lovely. Helpful. Fun. And there were snacks! And Gap has some great two-for-one specials going on! And, may I say my bottom looks very fetching in my new “sexy boot cut” jeans.

Otherwise …. well, as a competition. I mean… let’s just say, well, I’m not entirely sure what I won, exactly — aside from my “sexy boot cut” jeans, which I do like very much. Somehow, it reminded me of the time Mum saw a marvelous offer for cheap monogrammed toothbrushes in a posh London department store. She ordered four and then watched, incredulously, as the young woman behind the counter took a black marker pen and scrawled our names in bad handwriting on four cheap looking toothbrushes and then handed them back to Mum, who obediently paid in a sort of dazed disbelief.

… which isn’t to say that fleas aren’t very intelligent indeed! These ones in a flea circus perform all sorts of tricks

Thank goodness I was with Jason, who is an angel (or perhaps a saint), and joined in my laughing about it on the way home (though weakly, I admit) and who only said ONCE of my navigating skills (which had kind of caused us to take the alternative route — Oh, okay, take several wrong turns, leading to the snarl up which caused us not to get home until 3am) that I had “the concentration span of a flea!”

Some downtrodden grass

Then again, he did ignore my express warning that I’m a directional dyslexic and that, unlike those blind people you hear about all the time that make crash landings in the Brazilian rain forest and miraculously burst out of the jungle six weeks later — a little slimmer perhaps, but alive! — I couldn’t machette my way out of the proverbial paper bag, and if I were dropped in the middle of a Devon field of long grass would be found six weeks later lying on a small, circular patch of trodden-down leaves having starved to death (without losing a single POUND, by the way!), wondering how those blind people DID it. Although, thinking about it, I could’ve eaten the grass (yet another example of wise after the fact).

All of which proves that it is easy to be fooled by the word “winner” into doing some very silly things, like drive for seven hours (round trip, via the snarled-up route) to an unpaid gig in a small deserted suburb. But I do love my “sexy boot cut” jeans. And Billy (the official saint that my parents have been praying for all these years) will love his sweater (Jason and all the staff agreed he looked great in it when I held it up against the photograph of him in my wallet). And I am sure Natalya will love the top Jason got her. And Jason looked great in his new duds.

So all’s well that ends well. Just like when Bill Evans played at a Chinese restaurant in Edmonton (say, … what?) and, that very night, met the last love of his life. Read a fascinating five-part interview with her (Laurie, of the Bill Evans song) currently up at www.jazzwax.com. As an amazing, unrelated, coincidence, Jason and I played with Bill Evan’s last drummer, Joe La Barbera, in the summer at the Catalina.

P.S. Does anyone want to enter a competition to win my latest CD for $5 MORE than it would cost them normally!

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

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