If there was ever a man who was generous gracious and good / That was my dad, the man / A human being so true he could live like a king cos he knew / the real pleasures in life / To be devoted to and always stand by me / So I’d be unafraid and free
Song For My Father, Horace Silver
The day before yesterday a little bird flew right in front of the kitchen window, in the morning when I was doing the dishes. It twisted in midair and then flew straight up! I’ve never seen a bird do that before. I said to it out loud: “Wow! You are so happy!” Then at 6pm, Mansur’s twin sister, Kathy, called and told me that he had died that morning.
As those of you who know me know, Mansur was my spiritual guru and my musical mentor and, more than that even . . . my dad! Hence the lyrics above to ‘Song For My Father’, which Mansur often sang when he sat in on my gigs. He came to nearly all my gigs before his first stroke and still struggled out to see me afterwards, even though it was a trek from Harlem.
Just a few days ago I was lamenting to my friend Deon that I was really missing him lately because, up until he had his latest stroke a couple of years ago, we would speak nearly every day. The last time we spoke, a few weeks ago, he wasn’t able to say anything beyond “What’s happening, Tess!” But I am grateful to be one of the few people he still remembered. And Kathy told me yesterday that whenever she mentioned my name it lifted his spirits.
He certainly lifted mine. He was a giant influence on me in every possible way, advising me on everything! Love. Men. Spiritual matters. Music. He heard all my compositions and lyrics first before anyone else. And he taught me to sing my story and not worry about whether or not it was jazz. He was a deep, deep soul. And wise! He didn’t know everything but he knew 99% (especially about the men!) He sang like that too! As you know, if you ever saw him sing. Man, he is the only person I know who got signed to a record label (Pau! Records) without trying.
I had the strong urge to call him on Sunday but I didn’t remember until 3.30pm, which was too late in the day (his sister was there daily from noon to 3 and she would hold the phone for him). That’s a lesson to follow our urges! And also to stop being so “New York busy” – something he never was. Even if you called him at 4AM he’d be right there for you with “What’s happening, Tess!”
A lot of people have written to tell me that he really loved me, which is lovely of them, even though I already knew that. And, as is clear from the video of him singing (click the picture left to watch him singing on my gig at the 55 Bar), I adored him! When he had his first stroke in 1999 I was at the hospital so much we told the doctors I was his daughter, and he renamed me Jemilah, which means “One who is Beautiful.” My name for him was Mancini, because he was music.
My debut tour of Japan was utterly amazing on so many levels. The food, the people, the music, everything . . . EXCEPT . . . on the very last day I had sashimi. Delicious sashimi. Fresh sashimi. Positively glistening with freshness sashimi!.
This happens often enough in Japan (maybe 3,000 cases a year, although it has increased 25-fold in the past year) that the Japanese doctors probably would have spotted it as soon as I went in to the ER .
However, in the US, there are only maybe 10 – 30 reported cases a year. This is because all fish, which all have parasites and worms (and yes, I have given up fish and am now vegan), are frozen on catch to minus 4 degrees according to FDA regulations to kill all worms. In Japan, where they prefer the fresh flavor/texture, it is not frozen on catch.
Thus, the worm (sorry, if you are eating, perhaps stop reading now), sensing that its host is dead or dying, quickly burrows into the flesh where it is harder to spot, except by the most brilliant of sushi chefs perhaps, and where it waits for the next fish host. In humans it doesn’t live longer than three weeks but can (as in my case because I had the allergic reaction) wreak total havoc.
I had stomach pains too but didn’t focus on them because I was distracted by the insanely itchy rash. However, “Have you had any strange stomach or indigestion-like pains in the past few days?” would have been a great question to ask me in the ER the first time I went in with the rash. Right after, “You were just in Japan, you say?” As it is, when I went in on the Sunday, I was given Prednisone, which then masked the allergy markers they looked for when I had to go back in on the Tuesday, with a raging temperature and the Cray Cray itchy full-body version of the rash.
Four hospital doctors (at a cost of God alone knows what each) were put on my “team” and all failed to catch it, although one got close with a diagnosis of “Definitely Scombroid” which I am so glad it was not!
Meanwhile, I was hooked up to an IV machine and given Prednisone and Benadryl to no avail and would have gone completely mad if it hadn’t’ been for the incredible nurses who were above and beyond! If you are a nurse and you are reading this, I LOVE you, even if I’ve never met you! Thank you for your amazingness!
And I have to say, I liked all the doctors, too. But, over-worked and over-extended, they were like those iRobot vacuum cleaners you see on TV which are activated into auto-piloting away in reaction whenever they hit a wall. They were impossible to find (e.g., it took until the next day to be seen by the infectious disease specialist and no one even CALLED the allergist until Thursday evening and I NEVER saw the promised dermatologist), When they did appear, they would swish in, hit the edge of the bed (which would activate the autopilot retreat response), ask about the symptoms, not appear to be listening, and be already backing out of the door before asking “Any questions?” (if they did) – by which time they were just a forehead in the door. And my case was probably only getting that much attention because it was so weird and bring-in-the-students-worthy.
This is not their fault, I realize. This is how hospitals run BUSINESSES. When I asked the pulmonologist a few weeks ago why he’d made my appointment for 2pm and not seen me until 5pm, he said his hospital insists on a certain number of patients per day in the quota and he took the spend-the-necessary-time-with-each-patient-choice, as opposed to the start-backing-away-as-soon-as-they-walk-in-choice.
Healthcare has no business being a business! I literally was barcoded on arrival and every single procedure I had I was zapped with a barcode reader. Every three hours through the night having my temperature and blood pressure taken. Every pill. Every blood test (30 in all) Every kind of test – one of which was delayed because they needed a bar code to process it and it hadn’t yet been entered into the computer system by the chief doctor. I mean … just the time-wasting alone!
Those little boys and girls that dreamed of being doctors when they grew up probably did not have this in mind – and I am quite sure that with all the paperwork and crap they have to deal with, their jobs are even harder than they look from the outside. The doctors are made to run from patient to patient to make the most money for the hospital and are too tired and overworked with insanely long hours (one of my doctors seemed to be there from dusk til dawn and back again, literally) to NOT miss things. I certainly couldn’t work like that!
The diagnosis came from the one doctor (called in from the outside) who made the time to listen. The allergist, Dr. Bielory. He turned up at 7pm on Thursday night, wondering what had taken so long to call him. He introduced himself. He walked in. He closed the door behind him. (Wait, how will you back out of the room if the door is closed?) He had a cup of coffee in his hand. He SAT DOWN on the comfy chair (the rooms were amazing!). He looked right at me and said: “Tell me what’s happening.”
He listened to my answers while remaining in the chair. He looked at the rash. He touched it. He said, “I’ve seen this before and I’m pretty sure I know what this is and I am going to go away now and come back tomorrow morning when I am sure.” He had on no white coat. He was in casual clothes with a baseball cap covering his yamaka. He looked like one of Billy’s audiophile buddies. Maybe he even WAS an audiophile. He sure knew how to listen! I felt SAFE! I felt ATTENDED TO! I totally trusted him with all my instincts. He then went and worked for another two hours in the nurse’s station doing extra research on his phone (according to one of my spies – a nurse, of course!).
The next day he came in around 9am and broke it down for two of the other doctors. He explained how he arrived at this diagnosis (including my vivid description of how “it couldn’t be Scromboid because the fish was so FRESH” – which is the problem!) and why my IgE markers were skewed and then he prescribed THE SINGLE FRICKING ANTI ITCH ANTIHISTAMINE THAT WORKED and the medication to get rid of the worm.
“I start with the patient,” he said. “That’s how you get to the diagnosis.” When he left, I turned to one of the doctors and said, “Wasn’t that amazing?” And she said, “That’s why I went into medicine!” (Oh, not to fill in forms, be made to fulfill patient quotas and run around from bed to bed activating the hit-and-back-away reponse?) Incidentally, Dr. Bielory emailed me daily over the weekend to check on my progress.
By the time I left the hospital on the Friday it was evening, and my insurance auto-refused the remaining medication and was closed after 5pm and over the weekend and Veterans Day (crying out loud!). But I had taken two days of it, and probably didn’t need any more, since the rash quickly disappeared after treatment started.. This saved us all from enduring the merry little insurance dance of having the already overworked hospital doctor waste precious diagnostic time filling in stupid justification forms to get it. And it saved me from ingesting more poison (I’d already had a day of it in hospital and had been sent home with another day’s worth).
However, had I needed it, the cost of the pill in the USA is $962.28 per pill! Per pill! In Canada (online) $1.17 per pill. In the UK all medication, whatever it is, costs 8.60 pounds per prescription – not per pill – unless you are over 60, under 16, under 19 and in full time education or – God forfend in the US! – have cancer, when it is free! (I believe there is penalty for cancer here!). I am so glad I got a relatively painless education in how the system works (this is WITH insurance! God knows if I didn’t have it). But I worry for the people whose education is painful – or worse. Fatal!
As the giant welts and dark purple stains faded to a sort of mauve beige, that Martha Stewart Paints might have called “lilac mist reflected in fur of country mouse,” and as some of the Kandinsky drawings on my face and neck weirdly totally vanished, I felt more and more grateful for my lucky escape and lessons learned!
Like how we should bow down to all nurses, even while they are zapping the bar code on our wrists. How not scratching an itch is virtually IMPOSSIBLE – never mind if everyone says it will leave permanent scars! Like how kind people are when you are in trouble. There is a lot of “beauty is as beauty does” out there, for which I am truly grateful. Even the Walgreens in Rosedale called me to make sure I was okay and to say they were chasing up the prescription – without me even asking them to! Like there is a thing called Scombroid which I am very glad it wasn’t. Thank you also everyone who sent/brought flower/plants/cards/provisions.
And although it was hard to look at, thank the lawd it wasn’t contagious – unless you killed and ate me without freezing me to minus 4 degrees first. And if you did that, then I guess you’d have deserved it!
Rochester Magazine arrived in the mail yesterday and somehow my picture and story leads the “Most Memorable Moments from the Festival” cover story. Thank you Gary Craig and Rochester Magazine and the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. So great to be included among some of my favorite musicians – including Catherine Russell, Joe Locke, Gwyneth Herbert, Grace Kelly and more. In case the print is too small in this picture, you can read it online HERE.
Okay, it is totally insane but SOMEHOW, along with one of my favorite singers in the whole world, Youn Sun Nah, I have been picked as the one show overall not to miss at the upcoming (and actually star-studded) nine-day Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. Youn will be performing on June 29th (I’ll be in the audience) and I will be performing on June 30 and July 1. So you can see us both! Hooray! Not sure how that happened but I am thrilled! You can read the whole article here. Thank you Jack Garner (who picked me) and Jeff Spevac (who picked Youn Sun Nah) for putting me in the same camp as one of my ultimate musical heroines. And thank you, Rochester, for having me back. This will be my sixth year!
Billy Drummond and I went to see Youn Sun Nah perform a couple of years ago at the Blue Note in New York. When we went back stage, I was amazed that she knew who I was. She gave me three of her CDs, which she’d specially saved for me. It is so great to meet someone you admire and find out that they are every bit as lovely as their music.
Well, actually, it aired already … on Valentine’s Day this year. But it’s coming back to be re-aired on the Rochester PBS Network on Friday, June 17th at 10pm on WXXI-TV, and has just been released to the national networks. Watch this space for more news. Meanwhile, you can read all about the unbelievable series of cock-ups that led to this gig almost not even happening HERE
So here is a picture of my wonderful recording band. We will be playing this Friday at the 55 Bar in New York (if you or friends happen to be here) – all deets on my gigs page. Billy, is in Argentina so he won’t be at this one, which is a shame. Playing with him is like riding a racehorse – both incredibly sensitive and powerful at the same time. And, even if he is playing gently, you can feel that immense power is available to you – should you decide to go galloping off into the sunset, flying over every fence and hedge on the way. It’s so exciting. If you’ve seen him perform, watching him play gives you some idea, but actually playing with him is … well a whole other …er, animal. A horse animal.
Meanwhile, the rest of the band is amazing and we actually rehearsed (with Billy) and had more ideas. And I’ve had tons more since then. It’s hard to make myself go to bed even! I am so inspired by the subject and by my musicians (we have chemistry) – both their incredibe talent and their confidence in me (and mine in them). I can’t wait to go into the studio on Saturday and Sunday. I am so excited – and grateful – to be making this recording, and the more I think about it, the more important I think it is – speaking of runaway horses. I feel like I’m just riding this idea with no reins – clinging on and seeing where it’s going, hoping I don’t fall off (like I used to when I did real horse riding as a girl) because I really want to see where we end up. I have never been so excited to make a CD – and this will be my fifth.
In other news, my dear mentor, Mark Murphy died while I was in California. I was asked to write a tribute, which ended up being the Number One most read article in LondonJazzNews that week – which he totally deserved – and more. You can read it HERE.
And speaking of California, HERE is one of the songs we are recording this weekend in a video made by someone who heard me the last time I was in Saratoga and asked if he could film me this time. Somehow one of the camera mics got messed up but I think it’s manageable. This is a trio version. When I record it for the album, I think I want to do it just duo with my fabulous cellist, Dana Leong – one of the ideas I had this week. But we’ll see how it goes in the studio. More to come. Meanwhile, here are some photographs of my trip to California.
I had a fantastic birthday week this year! Those of you who were there when he popped in to my gig a few months ago will recognize Dougal – AKA my friend Graham – in the picture (left). He took me to the premiere of Outlander Season 2, on April 1, which was one of the most fun parties ever! More fun even than mine and Graham’s “Come as a Cocktail” party we had in the 80s. I was a midnight lace (I know, I’d never heard of it either). Graham was an aviator. This was so much more fun – not just because I got to have my picture taken with the (other) series’ hunk, AKA Jamie. Phoar! But mostly because I got to hang the whole night with one of my oldest and sweetest friends. And of course there was Champagne! And unlike our “Come as a Cocktail” party, I didn’t pass out and wake up the next day having missed the entire thing. (I think the Golden Cadillacs did me in).
Graham, by the way, is given notes and gifts of things like undies (okay, they were socks, but still!) by people in the crowd. Shameless! After Party # 2 (the picture above was taken at Party # 1) Graham’s limo dropped me at Birdland where I had a lovely hang with Sheila Jordan and the Steve Kuhn Trio and was groupie to my own man, Billy. If I’d had socks to give, I would have! And Kurt Elling was there and sat in. It was fun. And then on Friday I celebrated my actual birthday at Birdland and Sheila sang Happy Birthday to me from the stage. And Billy had secretly procured a chocolate cake for me with nine candles (hmm!) which I made a wish on. And I wore the necklace my brother made me which spells out H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y T-E-S-S-A – a fitting gift for a nine-year-old, except I was minus 29 when he gave it to me because I’ve had it 20 years.
And then on Sunday we went to an Easter party with MORE cake – and also Pavlova (an Australian confection which is insanely delicious … recipe HERE). And they had a great pianist Emmet Cohen and I sat in and I wasn’t nervous at all! (which I normally am if it’s just sitting). Billy took this picture.
Being a musician is such a hard road (maybe even if you are wildly successful, I’ll let you know when that happens!) that these little things – a fun party, performing (speaking of which, I am at the 55 Bar on Friday with Saul and Yasushi), a surprise birthday cake (especially chocolate), Pavlova cake, having the great Sheila Jordan sing Happy Birthday to you, hanging with old friends – make it like you have memory foam in your shoes – not those horrid hard gel inserts (will someone please explain those to me!) – a bit easier.
And speaking of old friends, Graham is Grand Marshall this Saturday for National Tartan Week in New York. Leading the parade starting at 2pm on 6th AVenue between 44th and 55th Streets. http://nyctartanweek.org/ if any of you want to go and throw socks at him!
And here is Sheila singing at Birdland – an entire week at age 86 and a quarter – where she sang Happy Birthday to me and made me feel like a movie star!
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.
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.