February: Looking back, looking ahead

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The great Anne Taintor, on point as always.

Annnnnd it’s still winter.  I mean, of course it is: February just ended, after all.  Like me, you’re probably tired of icy winds, clunky winter boots, dry skin, and chapped lips (to name a few grievances). The subways have been a special delight, lately, too, with larger-than-usual numbers of trains being delayed and re-routed due to track work and wintry conditions.  Here in New York City, at least, nerves seem to be collectively a bit on edge.

There’s nothing like music to warm the heart and brighten spirits, though, and happily, February was filled with wonderful music that I enjoyed both on and off the bandstand.  I had the pleasure of catching Russell Malone’s gig at the Jazz Standard, where he celebrated the release of his new album, Love Looks Good on You.  A few days later, I caught Vanessa Perea’s very swinging brunch set over at North Square.  And one epic Thursday evening found me hanging out at no fewer than three different gigs: first, Tony Lustig’s quintet got my toes tapping at Birdland, then I checked out Dave Gibson’s packed CD release gig at Smalls, and my last stop was at Mezzrow, to hear John Dokes croon a couple of tunes.  It’s both humbling and inspiring to know how much incredible music is happening here all the time.

In my singing life, the month began with a quick (insanely quick) jaunt out to Scottsdale, AZ with pianist Joe Alterman, where we performed a duo set for the Centurion Jewelry Show. Despite the fact that Joe and I were in Arizona less than 18 hours total, we managed to enjoy some chips and guacamole and take a leisurely stroll around Scottsdale in the sunshine before our gig.  We had a ball playing music together, as always, and our evening concluded with a fantastic dinner out and a wild ride (on a golf cart!) back to our hotel.

Scenes from sunny AZ: the hotel pool; chips & guac; borrowed bling for our gig at the jewelry show; at dinner after the gig; pianist Joe Alterman & I hitching a ride on a golf cart back to the hotel; NYC as seen from the air.

Scenes from sunny AZ: the hotel pool; chips & guac; borrowed bling for our gig at the jewelry show; at dinner after the gig; pianist Joe Alterman & I hitching a ride on a golf cart back to the hotel; NYC as seen from the air.

Looking ahead, March kicks off with a bang: DUCHESS‘ CD release show at the Jazz Standard is happening tomorrow night (get your tickets here!).  The New York Times gave us a nice mention in their weekly jazz listings, and we’ve got some pretty great press and exciting gigs coming up this spring and summer.  To celebrate, last week we went to Momofuku for their famous fried chicken.

Momofuku, if midday drinking, fried chicken, and shiitake mushroom & brisket buns are wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Friday lunch at Momofuku. If midday drinking, fried chicken, and shiitake mushroom & brisket buns are wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

A little bit later this month, pianist Ehud Asherie and I are reuniting at one of my favorite places in town, Mezzrow, for an evening of piano/vocal duets.  We’ve been working on some new material (a lot of Rodgers and Hart), and I am really looking forward to this show.  Ehud’s a dear friend and a true artist.  It’s a privilege to make music with him.

This Saturday, we’ll all be setting our clocks ahead for “Spring forward.”  Here’s hoping that some warmer temperatures and spring flowers are truly on their way!

In February, I…
Blogged about: Comfort food.  The DUCHESS CD.  January.

Watched: A 1975 episode of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Richard Pryor, with musical guest Gil Scott-Heron.   Pryor’s hilarious stand-up and several of this episode’s sketches were genuinely edgy, not for mere shock value, but to make us question the status quo and our own prejudices.  Gil Scott-Heron’s performance of Johannesburg (below) grooves so hard.

Read: Is That All There Is? The Strange Life of Peggy Lee, by James Gavin.  Peggy Lee has long been one of my favorite singers and biggest influences, and James Gavin tells her story in a way that is both meticulously researched and compulsively readable.  I couldn’t put this book down.  Oh, Peggy, you brilliant, crazy broad.

Listened to: Peggy Lee, obviously.  My current obsession is Blues Cross Country, her 1962 collaboration with Quincy Jones.  Peggy is in top form: sexy, soulful, and understated, and the big band charts swing like crazy.  Also in heavy rotation this month: Bob Dylan’s Shadows In the Night.  Standards records by non-jazzers are always a little controversial amongst jazz musicians, and this outing is no exception.  Despite the negative opinions voiced by a number of my respected colleagues, I think Dylan has made a beautiful album.  He chose great tunes and the small-group instrumentation (with a wonderful pedal-steel player) is intimate and spare, putting the lyrics front and center.  This interview is a fascinating glimpse into Dylan’s approach to singing jazz standards and his reverence for Frank Sinatra.

Check out Gil Scott-Heron. If this doesn’t make you think and groove, check your pulse.

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