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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Singing in Perm "Fort Grand" jazz club with Anton Zoobarev and Alexandr Bulatov
Singing in Perm “Fort Grand” jazz club with Anton Zoobarev and Alexandr Bulatov

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.

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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.

Poster at the door
Poster at the door

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.

Rehearsal
Rehearsal
Intriguing ceiling at the club
Intriguing ceiling at the club
Kirill Kirpitchov, Alexandr Bulatov,  Anton, Mary, me Vlad Leibov, and Max, the promoter
Kirill Kirpitchov, Alexandr Bulatov, Anton, Mary, me Vlad Leibov, and Max, the promoter
At "Fort Grand" jazz club with Anton Zoobarev
At “Fort Grand” jazz club with Anton Zoobarev
At "Fort Grand" jazz club with Kirill Kirpitchov, Alexander Bulatov, Anton Zoobarev, Mary, me and Vlad Leibov
At “Fort Grand” jazz club with Kirill Kirpitchov, Alexander Bulatov, Anton Zoobarev, Mary, me and Vlad Leibov
At the Italian restaurant in Perm
At the Italian restaurant in Perm
On my way to shopping mall in slippery ice and snow
On my way to shopping mall in slippery ice and snow

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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.

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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:

  1. Don’t start! Unless you actually like drinking raw eggs.

Oh look, I ran out of space.


Okay so Belarus was hands down the most fun I have ever had traveling for a gig. I got to hang out with one of my very dearest friends (Essential Sue) and made some new ones (including Inga, who brought me out there and made it such a success), played with an unbelievably excellent band, taught a master class at the Belarus Academy of Music — my first! — drank lots of Soviet champagne, and had a string of amazing, mostly sold out gigs, playing for wonderful, appreciative audiences. What’s not to love? The picture is of my first concert at the Belarus State Theater — photographed by Yuri Dudinski from the US Embassy.
 
I almost didn’t make it. There was a blizzard in New York and the freeway to the airport was a long line of stationary red brake lights. Thank goodness for my amazing cab driver who, due to some nifty back street driving, put up with my pogo-ing up and down in the back seat, got us there only 15 minutes after the gate was due to close, and only TWICE said, “You should have left earlier!”
 
My friend Selene had managed to find a number at Aeroflot with a human being on the end. A stern human being. At Aeroflot. Who said there was NO WAY ON EARTH they would hold the gate and of course would not give me the number. But pleading tearfully for her to call the gate herself and tell them I was nearly there worked. When I arrived, I ran up to the gate with my arms and legs sticking up all over the place and they closed the gate behind me. Yikes. Thirty people were not so lucky and missed the plane. Then, of course, we ended up sitting on the tarmac for two hours waiting for permission to take off.

This made me late at the other end, where Bellavia (the national airline for Belarus) — after a phone call from Inga — actually held the plane on the tarmac for 20 minutes and sent a bus just for me to take me out to it. She’d told them we had all these sold out concerts that I couldn’t miss, which absolutely explained the mysterious extra special treatment I was getting — people scrabbling to help me carry my bags and being super nice … you know, like I was Elton John or something.  Here is a picture of Inga standing next to the poster she made for our first concert at the Belarus State Theater.

By the way, did I mention how ridiculously beautiful all the women in Belarus are?
 
 
The audiences everywhere were amazing. Many came over and told me that they had been moved to tears. One boy said: “Your music makes my heart sing with emotion!” And an older man turned to Inga in tears and told her: “She sings of the love I never met.” Profound. We got a standing ovation that night. The band, Appletea, was extraordinary — even though we were a septet and could have been an unholy mess. And there were so many young people there. I think maybe because the education system is so excellent so they are very sophisticated listeners. Here is a picture of the wonderful 17-year-old, Elisabeth, who speaks perfect English, which she learned from the Internet, sold my CDs and was generally indispensable! Note fab t-shirt which Inga had made.

That t-shirt has my face on it!

 

Speaking of young people, the students in the master class at the Belarus Academy of Music were fantastic. Not only did I hear some wonderful singers, but they were so deep. 

Workshop class at Belarus Academy
One young woman gave me a beautiful interpretation of the meaning of Summertime, when I asked her to tell me what the song was about to her. She not only talked about the horrors of being a slave but imagined how a slave mother would feel singing to her baby who was going to grow up to be a slave. But, of course, Russia has a tough history so it’s no wonder its people are so soulful. And there was so much raw talent in the room. It was very exciting to witness.
The next two nights — Sunday and Monday — we played at a little club called Graffiti, where the crowd was even younger and just as attentive — in spite of much Soviet champagne and vodka (“It is Russian tradition!”) and where it was so sold out the owner had to give us the second night for the overflow and still people couldn’t get in. I absolutely have to go back! Even the smoking was bearable!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Audience listening.
island video, minsk
Click the picture to watch the video on YouTube

The teeny club, Graffiti, was kind of like the 55 Bar, only a much younger clientele. And instead of wine and beer everyone was quaffing Soviet champagne (delicious!) and vodka. The tables in rows in front of you were where all the young people were sitting, looking super attentive and dreamy (okay, some of them were kissing!). And then at the back near the actual bar, where the videographer managed to squish herself in, was where the talking element sat. But it wasn’t too bad actually – from the stage, that is. Listening to the video, it isn’t ideal where the camera was. 

And here is some video of the second night — us doing The Island by Ivan Lins and the Bergmans. I think there are more videos to come. Also, I must chop the first concert video into separate tracks because I have that too and there is no talking. 

 
More please! Next stop … Moscow!

 

 

I have been feeling so guilty about not blogging here for nearly two weeks. I was in London, which was fantastic in some ways. One of my very best friends turned 50 and I had to give a speech at  her dinner party for 50 (in their back garden. In a tent. In a Force 10 rainstorm). And sing a song written by her ten year old. A marvelous song. But my rendition … well, … (as the Birthday Girl herself pointed out) … think, Phoebe on Friends singing ‘Smelly Cat’. I also saw Sheila Jordan perform three times — each time more fantastic than the last (to see my review of her Royal Opera House gig, click here)– and got to chat with one of my all-time heroines, who I ran into in the audience — Norma Winstone. And I saw Billy perform at Queen Elizabeth Hall with Carla Bley (he is a Lost Chord) and they got a standing ovation. Here is a review in the Daily Telegraph of the performance. And here is a picture of them all. They do look rather lost. lost chords

My own gig at Pizza on the Park was … well, the first set was pretty good, I think. It’s always hard to know. Certainly it had its moments. But we were under-rehearsed, so the second set was a bit shambolic. In my opinion. But … see … you can’t always be on. However, it was sold out (always gratifying) and the audience was wonderfully appreciative. And overall, I had a wonderful time in London. It was incredible to see my own boyfriend perform in my own home town and get to stay in swanky hotel with him for two nights. And, as an added bonus, I was recognized quite randomly in three different places by three strangers as “Tessa Souter” (when this happens, as it has — gasp! — four times in the past few months, it always feels like this Tessa Souter is someone else who I am impersonating).

usha's wedding song
Me with the wond’rous Winston Clifford

Here is a gratuitous video of my UK drummer, the amazing Winston Clifford, singing my song Usha’s Wedding with me. This is a couple of years old (our version on November 12 was miles better) and the sound isn’t ideal. But it gives an impression. Winston, by the way, can sing better than anyone! Note perfect John Coltrane solos! Need I say more? I love his vocal tone. I can’t remember how I discovered he could sing but I am so glad I did. He sings this with me every time I play in London.

Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and … Me! You ask…?

thSo the title of this blog … Well, this weekend I had severe chest pains for the third time this week, so I called my best friend Neil and he insisted I call his best friend, doctor turned novelist Ethan Canin (who introduced us in San Francisco 15 years ago when I was a writer and  I was the first woman member of the  Writer’s Grotto), and he insisted I go to ER at Bellevue Hospital where I was put to the front of the line at once by a nurse. I didn’t see that it even was a line until she left and guiltily repositioned myself at the back and got shouted at when she returned to find me there. “Did anyone tell you to move?” Er, no. “So why are you standing there instead of here?” Well, I saw there was a line and … “You’ve got chest pains, right?” Yes. “So get back to the front!” And she shouted at the line like it was their fault for looking at me wrong. Sort of Nurse Ratchet, but in a good way.

Next I was whisked off on a stretcher-cum-bed thingie and X-rayed and EKG’d and hooked up to heart monitor (two baths later I am still scraping off the gunk they use to stick them on with) and blood pressure machine for what turned out to be the entire weekend in ER because they had no beds in the heart section (where I would have been put had they had any beds there).

Now, People, the Emergency Room of a public hospital is no place to get actual SLEEP. The rotating cast of characters was loud. The man in the bed to my left, thankfully hidden behind a curtain, was shouting incoherently for about half an hour, until the doctor arrived and then he very lucidly asked for: “Ah yes, two Percoset, please. 300 milligrams!” The doctor wanted to know why he wanted it. “It takes away everything, Nurse. EVERYTHING! All of Vietnam, all of the pain, the pus, … all gone!” Actually I’m a doctor, she said and we don’t just give people Percoset when they ask for it. “I need it, doc. For the pus!” Pus? “Yes, pus! That’s another word for pain. I read it in the medical dictionary. You’re a doctor and you don’t even know that!” He was sent off with Ibuprofin. But see, he probably shouldn’t have started out calling her “Nurse.”

As a germ phobe, I can think of better places to spend the night. The bed next to mine had must have been the designated bed for cough-ers — one of whom thought she might have H1N1 (she was sent home, so I think she was fine). Another woman, in with exactly the same symptoms as mine got dispatched home — after she’d eaten dinner. Ethan thought perhaps because she was in every week. I couldn’t eat the food (ham and cheese sandwiches and green jello) so Neil turned up with an enormous bag of food, but every time I reached for it someone behind another curtain would make awful, long, heart-wrenching, choking noises. He was also loudly questioned about how often he pooed and whether he wanted to use a bed pan or have a diaper put on. He chose the latter. As I quietly returned my plastic bag of food to the shelf under my stretcher-cum-bed thingie.

Dozing was the only thing possible. I got woken up at various intervals by people shouting (“Im going to get my attorney on to those cops for bringing me here. He’s a scary man. He’s going to sue your asses!”). Or putting in their drug orders (one man recited a huge list — none of which were available, but he must have had something serious because they gave him Morphine). Or to the sight of a man with his hands cuffed behind his back being marched past the end of my bed by a cop (there are almost as many cops as nurses in Bellevue ER), and even a group of itinerent types, awkwardly handcuffed together, shuffling through the ward. And lots of bright young people in red polo shirts, who turned out to be volunteers. I mean ALL NIGHT! Never again let me hear anyone complain about “young people today.”

I can’t even tell you how many times I was woken up to have my temperature taken or to be jacked up to a drip because my blood pressure was … well, I say “dangerously low” (like 54 over 40) but is there any such thing as that when it comes to blood pressure. Even the daytime doctor agreed with me when I pointed that out. It’s usually 90/60 — the blood pressure of a five year old child. When I told him that I had once been told by a doctor that I had a “beautiful small heart”, he said that would explain my low blood pressure and then ran off excitedly to see the X-ray for himself.

No, we don’t know why I am getting chest pains. I suspect stress, which makes it a relevant blog on this mad life I (and maybe you)  have chosen to live. Here is MY diagnosis: I collect feelings in my chest. If I see an injury it always gives me a sharp pain there. If I relax, that is where I get a tickly feeling. When I am moved by music, my chest is where I feel it. Beautiful music vibrates like a pain in my breastbone. So my theory (the doctors are still working on theirs) is that I am getting all stressed up in the night while I sleep and waking up with chest pains. Bud Powell and Charlie Parker (finally, the blog title explained!) also made visits to Bellevue, so I am in good jazz company.

Meanwhile, I can’t wait for Billy to get back on Saturday from the European tour. Poor thing was super worried when he got the message that I was in ER — not helped by the fact that my phone died while I was there and he couldn’t get in touch with me. Well, I say “poor thing” but he is ending his tour in Monaco, and will have the day off in Nice (poor darling!) over Thanksgiving. His soothing presence will have to suffice in lieu of my coming up with a fabulous money-making idea which will keep me in the manner to which I wish to become accustomed while I focus on my MUSIC alone, instead of all the trillions of things that go along with living day to day at the same time as feeding the constantly Hungry Baby of this “career” of mine.

Meanwhile, lucky me that I got so well taken care of this weekend, even though I didn’t really have the time to spare, and (in my rush to leave) had left my pot of paint open with the brush on top of it so it was all dried out when I got home. And I got to witness some very gentle, sweet people who are in the world looking out for all of us. Nurses and doctors are really not just in it for the money.  They are — inspiringly — patient and kind, even (perhaps even particularly) when refusing to hand out Percoset like Hallowe’en candy.

 

 

 

 

 

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Today I have a question to answer, which  MP left today on Day 1 of the blog.

Question: “I have started on my 5 year plan, resolved to leave “realistic” out of it, and come up with something inspiring and fantastic. A few days into this assignment, however, and I am finding that I am having trouble dreaming and visualizing. Have I become resolved to settling? I don’t think so, because I am not comfortable here, either. Tips, pointers, encouragement??? Any insight would be most appreciated.”

Answer: [book excerpt]

By now we’ve all heard that hackneyed Goethe quote: “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.” If only it were that simple. But it’s not. Because, although starting is important (duh!), at no point are you more vulnerable to stopping dead in your tracks than at the beginning. As Martha Graham once said: “The ordeal of isolation, the ordeal of loneliness, the ordeal of doubt, the ordeal of vulnerability which it takes to compose in any medium is hard to face.” 

It’s no wonder so many of us give up before we even begin.

Have you heard of Charlotte Bronte’s novel Emma? No? Ah.That will be because when she showed the first few pages to her new husband (she married late, thank goodness) he said: “Hmm. Not up to your usual standard, dearest….” And she never wrote another word, of that, or any other novel, ever again.

So, MP, are you being your own “Mr Bronte”? Is the problem with your dreaming and visualizing coming from your inability to really believe in the outcome. Are you being too hard on yourself, thinking who the hell do you think you are? Are you stumbling over visualizing all the steps it will take to get there?

For any or all of the above, my advice is to go one small step at a time. “You don’t have to take the whole staircase,” to quote Dr. Martin Luther King. “Just take the first step.”

For example, keep visualizing yourself collecting your Oscar or Grammy or Whitbread or Nobel or other relevant prize. But then visualize only the NEXT step towards it. Not all the steps.

When I started singing, all I had to do was trundle along to the next open mic. The idea of having a CD, let alone three CDs as I do now, was miles away in my mind. It was a dream, perhaps, but absolutely not something I considered a real possibility. The same with being a journalist. When I got my first job as an editorial assistant, actually writing for magazines was a dream but, again, not something I really thought would happen. But I faithfully took the first step by applying for (and beating out a hundred others to get) a job as a lowly editorial assistant at Parents magazine.

Did I think I would one day be writing for The Times or Elle or Vogue — which is what I ended up doing? Absolutely. er… Not. And when I got my first commission, when the Parents editor just announced at a meeting one day that I was going to be doing a piece for the next issue on introducing children to the opera and ballet and other adult leisure pursuits, I was shocked. And terrified.

So I called my writer friend, Sarah Litvinoff, author of The Confidence Plan: Essential Steps to a New You, who at the time I barely knew, and asked if I could read her my first paragraph over the phone.  “Of course!” she said. When I’d finished she said: “Oh, it’s wonderful. I can’t WAIT to hear the next paragraph!” Eventually, paragraph by paragraph (all read to Sarah over the phone), I finished it.

Actually, even while I was writing this book, I struggled with the idea of writing an entire book, until my editor at Random House told me to think of each chapter as its own long article. That made it much more manageable.

So my advice to MP at this stage is:

  1. Keep visualizing the “end”, in a very light way, without thinking at all about allthe steps it will take to get there.
  2. Think about ONLY the very nextstep — going to the next open mic, applying for magazine jobs, writing the next paragraph….
  3. Enlist the cheer-leading skills of a friend who believes in you and (very importantly) the possibilities for you.
  4. For crying out loud, don’t ask “Mr Bronte” what he thinks — even if he’s you.

Let me know if that helps.

Home! New York! Despite driving rain, the 55 Bar was absolutely packed for both sets last night. And, as well as our beloved regulars, there were tons of new people there…. I felt utterly redeemed after California. Fire. Rain. Lonely days that you think will never end. Nothing stops New York-uhs, especially 55-uhs.!

THIS IS A PICTURE I TOOK OF NEW YORK IN THE RAIN A FEW WEEKS BACK. NOTE PEOPLE WALKING ABOUT IN IT.

So are just some of the reasons we love the 55:

1. It is an amazing place to work out new stuff and experiment in a no-pressure environment in front of a loving, receptive audience! Last night I threw all this stuff at Jason and Victor that we had never done before, Round Midnight, Just One of Those Things and other [gasp!] STANDARDS — which I almost never do but have, lately, rediscovered after a long long rest — and they did an great job, unfettered by the spectre of people sitting with arms and legs crossed miming “show me!”

2. You never know who will be in the audience. The President of East Timor came one night — admittedly he was brought by a friend, but it was very exciting and everyone wanted to know who was there who could possibly need the (extremely OBVIOUS) bodyguard who was at the bar looking like one of the baddies in the Matrix (too muscular for his suit with a curly wire protruding from behind his ear, like Agent Smith). THIS IS A PICTURE OF AGENT SMITH. Not at the 55 Bar.

3. We always sell CDs — although last night, RIGHT IN FRONT OF someone who had emailed me in advance to ask me to save my one remaining copy of Nights of Key Largo (Venus), I sold it to a young woman who wanted to buy the CD with “the sex song” on it (AKA’The Island’) because I thought he wasn’t coming. Yikes! Luckily, my latest shipment has arrived from Japan and is ready to pick up. To hear/buy any of my CDs check this link Tessa’s Music

4. The bar staff — led by their fearless leader, Tara — serve up magical potions with diverse names like “beer” and “wine” and “cocktail” but which all have the same marvelous effect of making you feel kind of warm and squiffy inside!

5. I’ve been playing there for more than six years every month, since the late and great Queva (that’s a picture of us hugging) gave me my first gig there in May 2003

and turned it into a “home” gig for me. Other “regulars”  include jazz giants Chris Potter and Mike Stern, and Motema (who put out my latest CD Obsession) label-mate, the amazing singer-songwriter KJ Denhert.  Queva once surprised me with a huge birthday cake and free champagne for everyone on a gig I did near my birthday, and then she did it again to celebrate my third anniversary of playing there.

6. Everybody knows your name! It’s like Cheers with good music. They even know my mum! (Pictured with me below — at the bar … hic!)

So I am back from LA which was on fire (literally!) and hot! Not in a good way. I have never been so hot in LA. But I did get to play with the amazing Hamilton Price (bass) and Joe La Barbera (drums) and Jason, of course. And I got to add names to my mailing list and was informed by some Japanese people there that I am “big in Japan” (like Tom Waits said!) because of my album Nights of Key Largo, and Hajime Sato from Eastwind Import even turned up with a VINYL copy of that album for me to sign! If you are an audiophile and like the idea of having your own vinyl copy of my CD — among many others to choose from, check out www.eastwindimport.com. And I got a lovely review from Don Heckman which appeared in his wonderful International Review of Music. And I stayed with my California mum. But please, California, try not to burst into flames next time I come!

13eee-catalina
My name in neon lights, and it’s not even Broadway.
669c9-wnightsofkeylargo
Me and Hajimi.
Hamilton Price, Joe LaBarbera and Jason Ennis
Hamilton Price, Joe LaBarbera and Jason Ennis

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!

So 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.

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!”

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).

HERE IS SOME GRASS TO LOOK AT, BTW. CLEARLY TRODDEN DOWN BY SOMEONE WHO KNEW WHERE THEY WERE HEADED

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 with her (Laurie of the Bill Evans song) currently up at www.jazzwax.com.

As an amazing, unrelated, coincidence, Jason and I will be playing with Bill Evan’s last drummer, Joe La Barbera, tomorrow night at the Catalina. Send people!

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

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