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.
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.
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?”
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!
I am so excited to be coming back to Rochester – although the last time I was there, sweet Lew Soloff was with us on the bandstand, so it might be a little poignant too. I missed him when I played the 55 Bar without him the other night and then I went to see David Chesky’s Jazz in the New Harmonic project at the Iridium and realized that the last time I was at the club, Lew was playing with me there too. I was very lucky to have known him and played with him as much as I did. I will definitely do a song for him in June. Meanwhile, looking at the poster, I can’t quite believe I’m going to be there – and at Kilbourn Hall this time (this will be my fifth time at the festival). I wish I was there for the whole thing – there is so much I’d want to see, flashing my little club pass at the door!
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!
Yes I am returned! The Edinburgh Jazz Festival was superb and sold out. But I wish I had taken some pictures. This is the problem with not having family in the audience – though, of course, the benefit is you don’t have embarrassing scenes like my mum reading aloud from my book – er, that would be LOUD – to her entire table, or parents busting in through the doors shouting ostentatiously: “Excuse me! Excuse me! We are here to see our DAUGHTER, the singer!” My dad (bit of an attention seeker) has even perfected a sort of Royal Wave for when I acknowledge him in the crowd, which – God forfend! – I forget to do. Early in my career, he even once pounced upon the stage but was, thankfully, wrestled to the ground by my brother as he reached for the mic. Meanwhile, here is a picture of the venue I performed at, nabbed from the internet.
I spent most of the rest of my trip doing social things – including attending my niece’s wedding at which I was reminded of what it was actually like to spend a prolonged period of time with my ex-mother-in-law (who makes my own mother seem shy and retiring, even – almost – discreet). Somehow we are great friends (his three-year-old calls me Aunty – poor confused darling!), even though he has a swimming pool nestling in the acreage of his back garden (as my mother-in-law was very eager to show me within seconds of greeting me – she had pictures!) and I live in penury in Harlem wishing I had a back garden to look at (and maybe a window to look at it through).
Meanwhile, my journey home was insane! The line to get through security snaked through the entire Heathrow airport and into the parking lot! By the time I got to the end there was no time to even buy duty free (naturally this is the only reason I have not brought all of you gifts of wine and incense). And the list of things you can and cannot take is bonkers. For example, you can’t take moisturizer or cosmetics but you can take massive big knitting needles.
I foolishly admitted to having a lipstick in my purse (I mean you can’t lie can you, even though I think I would have got away with it) which meant the confiscation of my precious TWENTY-FIVE DOLLAR lipstick (I know, I know … bought during some kind of mental blackout). Annoyingly, I didn’t have a knitting needle with me to stab the girl who confiscated it. Or my glasses case (also forbidden) to assault and batter her with. I mean, it’s no wonder that poor deranged woman the other day tried to hijack a plane with a pot of Vaseline. – although thank goodness some brave person managed to overpower and wrest it from her before anything terrible happened!