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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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).

Smoke in Belarus
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.

I just picked up my alien card. For ages, I had been calling it something I can’t spell or pronounce now, which it was pointed out to me the other day was kind of like saying “I’ve come for my Honky Card.” Bit embarrassing. Then again, languages are not my strong point. Those of you who know that I kept saying “voila” instead of “au revoir” when I first went to Paris, will not be surprised to hear that when I was in Akihabara recently I kept saying Akihabara instead of Arigato (thank you) and that when I am VERY flustered I say Arigato instead of Konichiwa (hallo). No one seems to mind. Maybe because I bow a lot. Bowing is cool!
However, no amount of bowing could fix ‘The Elevator Incident’ which happened to me the other night when I was all froo frooed up in my black net over violet dress and got into the elevator at B3 just as a young man in a chef’s hat burst out of it. As the doors closed on me I realized he had left behind THE most appalling well … shall we say, emission … and the elevator goes express after the first floor so I had ahead of me 45 floors of coughing and choking to endure,
But then, just when I was thinking it couldn’t get any worse, a man got in at the first floor and… Well, there was I, (all gussied up, which somehow makes it worse) COMPLETELY ALONE in the elevator and there was this terrible smell and … well, what would you think? Of course I mimed “Goodness, what is that terrible smell?” with lots of flapping of my hand in front of my face, and screwing up of my nose. And he, of course, joined in (Tokyoites are very polite). But he was obviously thinking to himself “arigato/konichiwa/akihabara” (which would be my Japanese for, “First one smelt it dealt it!”).
Naturally I now see him ALL THE TIME, and my musicians, Philip and Francis, are both agreed (judging by the expression on his face whenever we see him) that he clearly thinks it was me. Now I merely have to say the words “elevator incident” to Philip and Francis to totally crack them up, which makes me feel very witty. By the way, the picture on Letter from Tokyo 1 of this blog is of Philip’s cat.
The music is getting easier. It really helps when one of YOU comes — as has happened 5 times (if you count Reiko coming twice and Anna and Alan coming at least twice, and Raj coming with a huge posse — THANK YOU). And I realize that people ARE listening, just very discreetly (i.e., while talking among themselves and swigging champagne and martinis). Here, by the way, is a picture Raj took of the most important drink in the house — sans diamond, of course. That’s me on the stool in the background.

And I am learning so many new songs. Wichita Lineman, for one, which Philip and I agree we both deemed horrendously cheesy when we were kids but which now seems cool. This is the first sign of aging, I think. Nostalgia for the stuff we sneered at in our youth. And I wrote a whole new arrangement of Eleanor Rigby, which Francis, the percussionist (who also is an amazing singer), does fantastic backing vocals on. As for the standards… some of them are fantastic! Who knew? We have FUN.
Akihabara! (Trans.: I can’t wait to see you next month!)

This is Francis, who also sang so beautifully!

I got back from Seoul, via Tokyo, yesterday. 20 hours of traveling! Blimey! But it was surprisingly easy. I got the best plane seats without an upgrade (though Continental needs to work on the food situation!). And there were no children with their feet in my face — though I did miss the interesting conversations about elephants and robots — so I arrived sans foot-shaped dent on side of head!

I didn’t mind leaving Tokyo in the end. It was hard hard work and only one day off a week with tons of stuff that I had to do during the day isn’t enough! But I did make some lovely new friends and eat some good food and I got to write a SIX THINGS TO DO IN TOKYO guide for British ELLE for the December issue (so if you go, and want a quick guide, let me know). And I did some Karaoke where, according to the TV screen, I used up 3.1 calories singing “The Crying Game.” Here is a picture of the screen in our individual booth.

Karaoke Bar
Speaking of songs, I got to sing “Diamonds are Forever” for TWO couples in the same week! That’s the $15,000 drink I told you about! Actually, I think I said it was $18,000 and I’m still not sure, sums not being my best subject. The first man bought one for his mistress. They didn’t dress up. They slunk in (as befits one buying an overpriced martini for an “other woman”) and hid in a corner of the bar. “No fuss,” said the man, who apparently only wanted to be “the first” to buy it (kind of says it all, doesn’t it!). They just clinked glasses very casually and it looked like she said something along the lines of: “Thanks for the snack!” (a la B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” where it rhymes with “I gave you seven children, and now you want to give them back!”) and then, after glugging it down, they left, not even holding hands. Perhaps he had done something very, very wrong, and this was the rich beyond wildest dreams equivalent to a normal person’s bunch of flowers apology.
Meanwhile, the other couple …. Well, the husband bought it for their 25th wedding anniversary (that also kind of says it all, in a good way). They came with friends. Friends who may even have been at their wedding. They both looked amazing. The hotel hired a handsome young flamenco guitarist from Barcelona to play with me and I was wearing a got-the-thumbs-up-from-S. jade green silk dress (gets tiring dressing up ALL the time but that night was worth it!) and we were sneaked in to the restaurant next door via the kitchen to do the acoustic rendition of “Diamonds Are Forever” that we had worked out that afternoon.
The husband was beside himself with excitement at having arranged the surprise — MONTHS in advance. And the wife did an AMAZING acting job of pretending she had no idea. In fact, maybe she really didn’t know. Anyway, she did a lot of excellent gasping and furrowing of brow in confusion faces and was crying within seconds of the song starting, before she even knew about the diamond. Then they whisked the drink over (served by TWO young waiters) and plopped the diamond into it (more gasping and eye dabbing) and all their friends applauded, and so did we. Later I overheard the staff describing what had happened to the few staff that had not managed to find a hiding place from which to witness the proceedings themselves. It was quite possibly the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen up close. Surprisingly not corny at all!
Otherwise, no mafia came in during my time there. So no massive tips of diamond-like proportions. But I do have ALL MY FINGERS. And I had an amazing time in Seoul, including a trip to an island where (i) I climbed up a massive mountain with my son (pulling me up the hill by hand — okay, yes, “dragged up” might be a better description) to see a Buddha carved into the rock, (ii) got propositioned by one of the workers (who, very disappointingly, turned out not be a monk, as I should have realized when his question was translated to me as, “Is she a virgin?” — which is how they ask if you are single over there, apparently), and (iii) drank a cup of tea made of pine leaves that was even better than PG Tips.

Korean rock
I also went to my son’s university and took pictures of his office, where one of his students said how young I look — thus securing for herself an A+ on her next essay. I went to the Samsung Museum of Art, where my daughter-in-law is a conservator, and looked at ancient pots that looked like modern art. I was profusely thanked by my daughter-in-law’s parents and sister for giving birth to my son — which I assume means, after six years of marriage, that they don’t have any plans to give him back.Actually, I have to admit, he is pretty cool. I was laden with gifts from the entire family, including his wife’s sister’s mother-in-law, who is a famous Korean artist. And I was invited to live with my children. All fantastic! However, I also discovered the TV show Lost on DVD. An evil addiction along the lines of those IKEA double chocolate biscuits I once warned you about. I know some of you ignored that warning! Oh, and I had a Korean body scrub which would DEFINITELY become an addiction if I lived there. Talk about deep clean! Eek!