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.
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.
The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival was incredible, not least because we actually made it! First of all, two weeks ago, I fell and sprained my ankle, which put paid to dieting into the “perfect dress” for the PBS taping. Three days before the gig I was about half an inch away from it, but it was so tight I’d have had to walk like a robot and not be able to sit down without my body automatically springing into prone position! But three days before the gig, I managed to find the perfect dress on line. Sort of one-shoulder loose-flowing Greek goddess style with a split up the side in the lining and in the diaphanous fabric over it. I changed it from a “ho-dress” (a la the recent Met Ball affairs worn by Kim Kardashian and J.Lo and others who misinterpreted the brief) into sexy but classy, by sewing up the split in the diaphanous bit so there was the merest whisper of leg showing through it, and not bare. And actually, although the other dress would have been better for a studio taping, this one was perfect for the stage taping.
So I was all set. Until, the night before the gig, I got a text (thank you, Lord for making me sign up for text alerts) saying that all our flights were cancelled! This meant scrabbling around to buy – at vast expense – train tickets to Rochester for the four of us at $119 (plus $8.50 insurance) per ticket. It also meant getting up at 5AM in order to make the ONLY train that would get us there on time. The panic was insane. But we all made it and caught the 7:15AM which was getting us in a few hours later than the plane would have but … hey, getting us IN! And I could sleep on the 6.5 hour train journey, right?
So … a little tip: If you are hoping to sleep, never sit in the front car. The train whistle, that sounds so romantic and soft from anywhere else on the train, is blaring right in your ear in the front car. Added to which my fellow passengers (not my band, but the people behind us) were somehow able to sleep and were snoring loudly. Also farting. This is bad when your Kenny Werner meditation MP3 is exhorting you to “Breath in. Breath in deeper than you want to!” I moved to a new carriage, but somehow managed to sandwich myself between a baby with Whooping Cough (behind me) and a woman who was singing loudly and snapping her fingers in the seat in front. But it did mean I could sort out my set list, which came out like automatic writing. As it poured out of me, I thought, “But yes. This is perfect! This is the perfect song to follow this one….” – among other thoughts, like “Shut up!” and even meaner ones.
The train (Amtrak) also kept cutting out, like a cheap electric train set, which was adding to the stress. Eventually, we rolled up to about five minutes outside of Rochester Station, already an hour and a half late, and ended up waiting nearly an hour more because there was debris on the line. A motorbike, to be precise. I was ready to jump out of a window by now, which would have been bad (especially with my still-swollen ankle). I had already missed being interviewed by the Rochester 901.0 radio station by my favorite Derrick Lucas. I was not going to miss this gig. But luckily, the debris was cleared and we rolled in, where we were picked up by Larry, who always seems to pick me up at the Rochester Jazz Festival. But no time to check into the hotel properly, and we were late for sound check. Aaaiieeee!
Finally, even later than “already late” we did a lightning-fast sound check so they could let in the giant line that was outside, leaving me 15 minutes to get ready! For a PBS taping! Having got up at 5AM. Having not been able to sleep on the train. But miraculously, I did transform myself from a baggy-eyed granny, into a GILF (F for Fondle of course!) with the help of a benevolent Universe, which had also seen fit to hide my hair brush (thank the Lord for fingernails!). Hair. Check. Makeup. Check. Dress. Check. Shoes… I pulled them out of my bag … two right shoes! Yes I wore them. They were gold! My other shoes were PayLess Shoe Source ballet flats! Luckily, I had already ordered a tall stool ahead of time because my sprained ankle turns into a boneless elephant’s foot if I stand on it for more than 15 minutes right now. But nerves? Shmerves! There literally wasn’t time.
The gig was so much fun! All the guys played brilliantly – even better than last month at the 55 – and you can read two wonderful reviews, one in the Democrat and ChronicleJeff Spevak review PDF and another review in the Rochester City Paperhere. Or in print, right here. Plus, in the City Paper post-Festival round-up I was referred to as one of “two favorite” vocalists (the other was Cecile McLorin Salvant, who I love), which is pretty amazing given how many truly great singers were at the festival.
Giant thanks to the festival’s Artistic Director, John Nugent who keeps having me back and put me in Kilbourn Hall this year because, he said, I’d earned it. And Barbara Cherry who insisted I did “Here’s to Life” (I had sent her a duo version I did with Dana years ago) and her favorite, “Eleanor RIgby” – both of which were popular choices. She also hooked up the cello by putting us in touch with the wonderful Sullivan Violins company, who generously loaned us one actually made by Ken Sullivan. She took pictures, handed out cards and was generally very bossy – in a good way. Thank you also to lovely Jessica, who was so capable she made me wish I had a daughter – my capable granddaughters are just a bit young! Every time I turned round to say: “Oh no! My pen!” or “Help! I forgot my (two right) shoes!” Jessica would be right there, holding her clip board in one hand, and my forgotten items in the other. Thank you! And thank you Rochester! I absolutely love you!
So … in spite of the Universe (or perhaps it was just testing me before the gig) we had a good one. Two standing ovations in Kilbourn Hall. People who were in the first set came back for the second set four hours later (Rochester Jazz festival audiences are the business, as we say in England). And PBS – who interviewed me after the first show (which they taped – said they were very happy. It will air all over the PBS networks in 2016 and of course you will be fully informed. As Dana said: “PBS! Our mums are going to go crazy!”
After all that, too exhausted to really hang out after the gig – although I did run into fabulous Joe Locke, who was playing Kilbourn Hall the next night (and who was so absolutely essential on my Beyond the Blue album) – I went straight to sleep, without checking that there was a link to my Kickstarter campaign from my website – as directed on all the little cards we were giving out to the wonderful audience. And I didn’t discover it until really late the next day because, at the airport with Dana, I suddenly came over all light headed and nearly passed out and then threw up (elegantly, I hope) in a nearby bin. An ambulance came, for heaven’s sake. In case it was a heart attack. And we had to get a plane four hours later. But, see, Rochester people are so sweet that even the man who had to change the bin found me later and asked me: “Are you feeling better now?”
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.
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.