Lew Soloff died on Sunday. A terrible loss for the jazz community and for everyone who knew him. I was invited by LondonJazzNews to write a short tribute because we played together so often in the past couple of years – in fact, the very last thing Lew said to me, a few weeks back on the phone, was: “You know I love playing with you, right?” I did. Because he told me all the time. And everybody loved playing with him. Click here to read the tribute at LondonJazzNews. Meanwhile, a few photographs of some of our gigs below. And to view a video of Lew soloing on ‘A Taste of Honey’ at our gig at the Iridium Jazz Club in September 2014, click the B&W image below.
Inspired by Stephen Graham’s excellent Marlbank comparison blog on Angel Eyes. I thought I would share six very different versions of ‘Send in the Clowns’ that you might not know. This song has been recorded by so many people. Kind of like ‘My Way’ – except I don’t think Sid Vicious actually did it. Thank the lawd! And speaking of ‘My Way’ (made most famous by Frank Sinatra), here is a gorgeous version of ‘Send in the Clowns’ by Frank, performed duo with Spanish guitar – not sure what to make (if anything) of the fact that he doesn’t look at the guitarist at the end. There is also a karaoke version that you can do, a figure skated version (I have a weakness for figure skating and this one is amazing), and an instrumental solo piano version by Freddie Mercury (who knew?). But first, the (I think) definitive version by Sarah Vaughan. All on brilliant, wonderful YouTube. Click on the picture. In order of appearance Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Blossom Dearie, Freddie Mercury, Yuna Kim (start at 1:17) and you!
Everjazz 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.
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?
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!
“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 youinyour 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).
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.
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. The 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.
Arrived at Perm feeling very capable, having negotiated my way to the airport on the same civilized train that brought me into Moscow, for only 400 rubles (pretty much free at the current exchange rate). I was picked up by my driver, Tatanya, at the other end and driven to my hotel and whisked out to dinner by Mary (like all Russians, she has about ten names but this is the one she uses with English speakers) and her fiancé, Alex.
Both so sweet. I have to say that I love the fact that, in spite of being super capable of doing anything a man can do, the men still help women on with their coats and pour their drinks. Very Southern gent and all. I’m talking men and women in their 20s.
And speaking of super capable, Mary is who I want to be anywhere near in the event of The End of the World. She is so absolutely in charge (in a good way), and fun. She introduced me to some truly evil (as in irresistible) chocolates, took me shopping in the freezing-arse cold across a giant parking lot to a huge shopping mall and caught me every time I nearly slipped over. Plus she speaks perfect English – which would come in particularly handy if I happened to be in Russia when The End of the World happened.
Next day, after a full night of actual sleep, I went to the club, Fort Grand, where I was greeted by giant picture of Beyond the Blue album at the door.
The rehearsal was easy peasy. Musicians have a superstition that if a rehearsal is too good then the gig will be bad, but it was good but not too good. The best rehearsal is when things “come up” to be dealt with. The worst rehearsal is when everything magically happens exactly as it is supposed to and then on the actual gig, when things come up you can’t stop and say: “Ah yes! Not like that, like this”. The band was great (Russian musicians are always, in my experience, extremely soulful), the audience was lovely and not too talky (they talk more in clubs there than in the US), the venue was beautiful and I had fun! And my shoes didn’t even kill me. I am so grateful to have been invited out of the blue to do this gig. In fact, I am so grateful to do gigs at all – especially in distant climes (even snowy ones). Especially when my shoes didn’t even kill me. More pics below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
: a journey made in search of something
: a long and difficult effort to find or do something
Both of those.
And like all good quests, following this path professionally has taught me more about myself – my faults, my strengths, my weaknesses, my good side, that er … other side – than anything else I have ever done, with the exception of child-rearing. And it utilizes everything you are… every experience you have ever had, every death of a friend or relative, everything you’ve ever believed, everything you think you know and (I’m sure) a ton of things you know that you don’t consciously know you know.
Each experience adds another color, and the more experience you have, the more colors you have to express yourself with. All communicated wordlessly – even if you sing actual words. All perceptible to anyone who wants to perceive it. Or receive it. Or resonate with it – with you. Which is probably why, when someone else gets it, that is the most affirming thing ever. And, even though being a musician is work – hard work, constant and full-time, on call 24 hours, even while you are sleeping – few things can beat the feeling of communicating absolutely essence-to-essence with an audience. It’s about that.
Every now and then I have flirted with the idea of taking off the red shoes but, I realized recently, they are my feet now. So here I – still – am.
“To have faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment. Whoever insists on safety and security as primary conditions of life cannot have faith; whoever shuts himself off in a system of defense, where distance and possession are his means of security, makes himself a prisoner. To be loved, and to love, need courage, the courage to judge certain values as of ultimate concern – and to take the jump and to stake everything on these values.”
― Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
A heads up to come and see us (Marvin Sewell, guitar, Dana Leong, cello, and me, voice) at the 55 Bar, TONIGHT, Friday, August 9.
Meanwhile, I am in sore need of a break from what started out as a mild bit of decluttering/feng shui and has now turned into a full on palarva. And I haven’t even started on the clothes and shoes – for example the high heeled leopard pumps that I allowed some stranger in the shop to persuade me to buy: “You have to buy them! High heeled leopard pumps are our sneakers!” – “our”, I now realize, referring to a particular group of idiots who believes people who say they can go jogging in shoes that are too high to even stand in, let alone walk in.
Which reminds me of the time I was shopping with my friend Robin and excitedly heard myself saying: “Those shoes are just perfect for … sitting down!” However, unlike me, she didn’t buy them – basically because walking in them would have required being on all fours. Meanwhile, those damn high heeled leopard pumps did fit me in the shop! I swear! And speaking of mysteries (and back to feng shui) …. what was I even doing with a giant bag of arborial (wot?) rice in the first place, and how did it quietly live in my fridge untouched for eight years!
Turns out that de-cluttering is a bit like jogging. Sounds like a great idea and it’s easy to start. But then after a few hours (or minutes, if it’s jogging, of course) you think, what am I doing? Only, instead of like jogging, where you can pretend you were just sprinting to the local wine bar for an emergency glass of wine, a few hours into de-cluttering, your place looks like a teenager’s bedroom. It’s like swallowing a raw egg – once you start you have to keep going. (What? You never ate a raw egg?!)
However, my newly painted fridge (yes, there is a thing called fridge paint) is now gleaming white, instead of dirty beige, and my landlord is giving me a new WHITE stove (the correct color for that “gua’ of my apartment). And my super is laying me a new kitchen floor (can this be due to cleaning up my “helpful people” gua?) And since I’ve got the paint tin open and I forgot to buy mineral spirits to wash my brush, I’ve been going mad, fridge-painting everything – including the kitchen cupboards, the wall around the stove and the kitchen window. And a green filing cabinet. Aaaah! It will feel fab when it is done. Unlike raw egg ingesting.
Which brings me to tonight (Friday) …. eggnog anyone? Actually, do they even sell it at the 55? Maybe not. But they do have emergency wine and other choice beverages, and Kirby to dispense them at the bar and me and Dana (Leong on cello) and Marvin(Sewell on guitar) to entertain you, and Pascalito is going to sit in on Avec le Temps (singing in real French!) and his mum, a visiting singer from France will sing a song. It will be fun, especially if you come! And I’ll wear my leopard pumps (just perfect for sitting on the bar stool!)
See you there, I hope! My Top Ten Feng Shui tips below:
Don’t start! Unless you actually like drinking raw eggs.
Gosh! So much news! First of all I had a fab interview with Jill Pasternak for her WRTI radio show, ‘Crossover’, which will air this Saturday morning at 11.30am to 12.30pm. It streams on Saturday morning at 11:30 and will be repeated the following Friday night at 7:00 p.m — on radio and streaming I think.
Thank you so much those of you who made it to the Blue Note last week – pics below for those of you who missed it (for very good reasons I am sure: Stern Mum Voice). I was blessed with an incredible band – Kenny Werner, Joel Frahm, Sean Smith, Billy Drummond, Will Holshouser – who were all … well, … incredible). And we were a sextet. I like saying “sextet” because I am a 12-year-old boy in a woman’s body! You can watch a You Tube video of us performing the title track of my Beyond the Blue (Motema, 2012) album by clicking on this link here.
My friend Simon, visiting from Canada (who I’ve known since he was 16! and was actually ‘best man’ at his wedding) took some nice pix, as did Richard Conde (husband of Usha’s of ‘Usha’s Wedding Song’).
And speaking of Usha’s Wedding Song, I also went to the beautiful wedding of my friends Kimberly and Amy (so proud of you New York State, can we please make it Federal now!), and sang ‘Usha’s Wedding’ just before the vows, which I thought of in my head as ‘Kimberly and Amy’s Wedding’ for that three minutes, and Our Beloved Dana (who is playing with me at the 55 on July 13) accompanied me on cello. I won’t pretend that having Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald (now also a jazz singer) in the crowd wasn’t entirely intimidating. But … well it was! Meanwhile, Simon went out on his own that night and came back at 5am, which I know because I accidentally locked him out and he had to ring the doorbell to get in! Guests! (although he’d probably say: “Hosts!”)
Only bad thing is I ate too much and drank too much. So I am hoping to slim back into this dress again by June 22 when I am returning to the ROCHESTER JAZZ FESTIVAL I can’t wait! Please tell all and sundry. I must have all of SIX Rochesterarians on my Rochester mailing list, so if you have anyone to send … well, send them! Please!
New Yorkers, I will be at the 55 Bar with Our beloved Dana Leong and a brand new guitarist, John Shannon, on Friday, July 13. But first …. Rochester Jazz Festival! Not sure when I am coming to UK but I will be in Los Angeles and the Bay Area in December and in various Mid West places between now and then.
Russia. Oh! My! God! It was FREEZING. I don’t know how they cope! We traveled all over the place (see map up top — although 11 & 12 should be 10 & 11) and everywhere we went … it was relentless! At one point it was 38 degrees below zero. Cold like you couldn’t actually breathe IN cold! They’re so used to it there, they refer to these temperatures without even bothering with the zero bit.
It was super pretty, though. Everything was silver – silver birch trees, snow as far as the eye could see, frosted trees. If we walked outside, even Daniel’s moustache turned silver. And every morning the dawn cast pink shadows on the endless snowscapes as we rolled through the actual tundra. Meanwhile, we were praying that the train didn’t break down, because if it did you were dead. And when Dana and I went shopping for a hat for him in Vologda, I honestly think my eyeballs actually froze.
But, weather aside, I had a wonderful time. I especially enjoyed being with Dana Leong, who I have been playing with for eight years but who I now realize I didn’t really know before. Billy (who, BTW, went to Russia almost as soon as I returned) told me that you really get to know who people are on the road, which (I realize from past experience) is so true. In Dana’s case, I found out that not only is he a fantastic and simpatico musician, but a beautiful, deep, soulful person. And John Stowell joined us all the way from Portland, Oregon. I also really enjoyed being with Даниил Крамер, the wonderful pianist who invited me. I think this is my fourth tour with him and probably the most FUN.
Even the train rides were less awful than I remembered – especially in comparison to the few times we drove for upwards of seven hours on icy bumpy roads in a tour bus (forget sleeping!) with bathroom stops that when you saw the actual bathroom killed any desire and need to use them. After a few of those road trips we were yearning for the relative “luxury” (and stainless steel but at least clean bathrooms) of the sleeper trains.
But the views are better on the roads because you go through towns and villages of teeny houses with pointy roofs and chimneys with smoke coming out of them. We did wonder what people were doing living in villages of teeny houses with pointy roofs and chimneys with smoke coming out of them, in the wilds of Siberia, buried by snow half the year. But we didn’t meet anyone we could ask. It is entirely possible that they were literally snowed into their homes.
The audiences were amazing. The very first concert at the Omsk Philharmonic (all the venues were Philharmonic Halls) ended with a huge standing ovation from the entire place – even the seats behind the stage. We got lots of those as the tour progressed (ovations not seats!) This (below) is the one we got in Kazan).
And all the concerts were either sold out (including the Ekaterinburg Philharmonic which was sold out six weeks in advance) or nearly sold out. As for CDs, I sold 64 on my first gig, and then eked them out over the next two gigs, which was silly of me, because I wouldn’t have had to carry them if I’d just put them all out at once.
It was wonderful to go back to places I’d played before. I saw my young singer friend Katerina in Ekaterinburg – who advised me to change to my silver sequin dress for my second set, which turned out to be excellent advice (and which I followed for the rest of the tour).
And people remembered me and brought presents. I got so many flowers, a beautiful lilac evening scarf, chocolates, a genuine Soviet era women’s army hat, a water-soaked apple (apparently a great delicacy). Dana was given … er … a dried fish. Another delicacy, we were told. And sometimes audience members would lie in wait for your best song and rush up and present you with a flower or a bunch of them mid-set. A lot of women do this. I love this tradition. Feel free to copy. No fish, though, please. Oh, and no chocolates (ate too many on this trip).
Traveling between cities and gigging most nights was very hectic and exhausting. We were taking 15-hour train rides sometimes. And at the same time I was having to proof the liner notes for the US Motema release of my new CD, Beyond the Blue (release date, May 8th). I hope you like it! By the way, Motema label-mate Gregory Porter’s new CD Be Good just dropped and is getting even better reviews than last year’s (Grammy-nominated!) Water. He is absolutely amazing, if you haven’t already discovered him. I am crazy about his voice, his song writing, his authenticity, his singing, his lyrics! Check him out. Meanwhile, I was so wiped out when I got back. I felt like a stone! Perhaps weighed down by eating too much chocolate too.
And, speaking of food, one day, Dana and I woke up super early and starving and walked the length of the train to get to the restaurant car where we were faced with a Cyrillic menu and non-English speaking waitress. Super sweet but how to order? Recalling many hours of Pictionary played with my son as a little boy, I drew what we wanted – bread, butter, eggs. Then the waitress drew a frying pan to find out if we wanted them fried or what.
I admit there are a couple of interpretations possible with this illustration.