Spotlight On…Sachal Vasandani

Sachal Vasandani and I go back a long way: he’s one of the very first singers I met when I came to New York over fifteen years ago. My friend V. took me to the Zinc Bar, way back when it was on Houston Street, where Sachal held a weekly gig. I was immediately impressed by Sachal’s obvious reverence for the vocal jazz tradition as well as his fearlessness and creativity as a contemporary artist: Sachal sang standards with a deep sense of swing and history, but he was equally at ease performing singer-songwriter covers and his own original songs.

I was even more impressed by Sachal’s friendliness that evening—he invited me to sit in and we have been pals ever since. When I was getting ready to make my first album, Sachal and I met for coffee and talked about the challenges of making a living as a singer and the pros and cons of crowdfunding. He made astute observations about the changing nature of the music business and gave wise counsel. These days, Sachal continues to maintain a busy touring and recording schedule, and he’s also the coordinator of jazz vocal studies at Temple University.

Despite living nearby one another in Brooklyn, Sachal and I don’t see each other often enough, so it’s a treat to get to pick his brain a little bit, albeit in the virtual realm. Thank you, Sachal!

Who would you say is your biggest musical influence? Why and how does s/he inspire you?
[It’s] hard to put down to one, but at this moment it’s probably Milton Nascimento. The combination of the voice, the spirit—so much light—the connection to social, grassroots movements throughout his recording history—that connection to something bigger. I crave that. Plus, there is so much groove underlying his music. His collaborators, from Lo Borges to Wayne Shorter, are some of the most creative on the planet.

Can you describe your practice routine? What are your biggest priorities when you practice?
Mostly technique. I want my voice to do whatever is in my head at the moment, and that requires more technical control.

If you had a time machine and could travel back in time to when you were first starting out, what advice would you give yourself about singing, life, and/or the music business in general?
Your musical path is your own, and it may or may not mesh well with the music business; make no false assumptions.

We live in a DIY-era: in addition to performing and recording our music, we ALSO handle social media, book gigs, and perhaps juggle “side gigs” to keep the bills paid. In the face of all these obligations, time management can be hugely challenging. What are some of your favorite techniques for keeping everything in balance?
When we impose commerce on our music—that is, we rely on ourselves for all the promotional elements—the music does get altered. You could argue it gets compromised—maybe it grows in a new way.  But I’m trying to get back to the root feeling I’ve always had with music, now more than ever.

Stronger winds are wailing outside my door—they are imposing their will on so many others and so many people are hurting as a result. I’m so fortunate to have my own, unshakeable relationship with music and I’m so thankful.

Fun fact:
Ha, what weird habit don’t I have…well, I love to listen to people, hear their stories, their passions, what makes them tick. It inspires me to hear what inspires people—maybe it’s music, maybe not. I get that from my mom. She’s one of the best listeners in the whole world.

Sachal is headlining a centennial celebration of Nat King Cole at Jazz at Lincoln Center on December 14 and 15. Backed by a band of some of the finest instrumentalists around, he’ll be singing new arrangements by the great John Clayton. You can find Sachal’s recordings and keep up with all his news at sachalvasandani.com

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Spotlight On…Emily Braden

Emily Braden sounds like herself when she sings, and no one else. Her improvisations are freewheeling and exuberant. Her interpretations of jazz standards and original songs (whether self-penned or entrusted to her by another composer) are laced with R&B inflections and joyfully suffused with her irresistible sense of groove. Emily is apt to juxtapose a Gershwin tune with a hit by Whitney Houston and throw in a whistle solo for good measure, and because all of those things are authentically Emily, they’ll all add up to happy-making, expertly rendered music.

I became aware of Emily Braden’s singing in recent years because, well, her name comes up a lot on the scene. She’s hugely in demand here in New York City, from her performances with Misha Piatigorsky’s Sketchy Orkestra to her late-night collaborations at SMOKE to (my personal favorite) Double Bass Double Voice, an unusual trio project comprising Emily, fellow vocalist Nancy Harms, and bassist Steve Whipple. Emily is a busy woman. She’s also a kindhearted, warm soul, and I am grateful to her for sharing her insights here on my blog. Thank you, Emily!

Who would you say is your biggest musical influence? Why and how does s/he inspire you?
I’ll be disciplined here despite my mind saying “But what about — and  — and —?!”  

Like many singers, I will always return to the sheer joy, vocal mastery, and excellence that is Ella Fitzgerald. Before I ever thought to be a professional singer myself, I emulated her every inflection, attempted each line and memorized entire solos within the walls of my bedroom. It was through Ella’s music that I first found my own voice.

In addition to her artistry, I have profound respect for her as a large black woman artist who lived in a racist, sexist, size-ist society and still managed to create some of the most stunning art known to humankind. She embodied delight and had such a pure connection to the creative source. As a young fat white girl myself who did not “fit” easily in a culture obsessed with thinness and Eurocentric “beauty” standards, I gained a sense of my own worth and empowerment through experiencing Ella’s undeniable talent in videos and recordings early on. Seeing her onstage allowed me to picture myself there, as well. I still use her as an example and a reminder when I feel discouraged. To this day, her laughter is one of my very favorite sounds.

Top contenders: Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Nina Simone, Carmen McRae. How can one choose?!

Can you describe your practice routine? What are your biggest priorities when you practice?
Does attempting to sing while playing beginner-level guitar count?! That’s what I’ve really been up to lately. It’s forcing me to focus on the fundamentals once again—namely rhythm, phrasing and intonation. I’m blown away by how practicing a new instrument is taking my understanding of the music to a whole new level.

Quite honestly, I am just beginning to prioritize practicing again. For the past eight years living here in New York, my focus has primarily been on staying afloat financially and making a name for myself by performing as often as possible. A lot of my training (and practicing) has happened while on stage. I’m now just shy of the two-year mark of quitting my job and am returning to fundamentals. The priority is always shifting––something from a voice lesson here, a folder of new exercises there. [Last] summer, a piano player I was working with in Bangkok gave me a bunch of altered scales to practice to add another layer of color and depth to my solos. That’s been very useful to me.

If you had a time machine and could travel back in time to when you were first starting out, what advice would you give yourself about singing, life, and/or the music business in general?
Mostly I would offer my support and encourage the younger me to simply create, create, create. Live fearlessly. Be kind to people, regardless of who they are and whether or not you perceive that they can do anything for you. If you come up against a barrier or a block, do your best to understand where it’s really coming from and push back up against it.

I would also try to impart that singing is about so much more than just singing.  Making music equal parts self-discovery and service to others. You learn so much about yourself and the world through through music.

We live in a DIY-era: in addition to performing and recording our music, we ALSO handle social media, book gigs, and perhaps juggle “side gigs” to keep the bills paid. In the face of all these obligations, time management can be hugely challenging. What are some of your favorite techniques for keeping everything in balance?
Still working on that one for sure! I can’t say I’m completely successful at this but I try to make time for things that are not music-related in order to avoid burnout. I try to respect my need for downtime. When I do relax, I relax intensely and remind myself that doing so will allow me to work more effectively when I throw myself back into the current.

Having a side gig for [my] first seven years in NYC while performing regularly was a great exercise in time management, structuring a day, and self-discipline. I learned so much about the importance of staying organized, returning emails and phone calls, working efficiently. Having a small window to get it all done during those years made me value the time I have now.

Fun fact:
I have a Masters degree in Latin America Studies and speak fluent Spanish (surprising NYC cabbies since 2007)!  I  can speak (and sing!) with my mouth closed and I whistle like a mutha’. I love to whistle. Solos and fancy tricks and everything!

Emily’s been singing on the other side of the world, performing nightly for audiences in Bangkok, but she’s back in town for a handful of great shows in the next couple of weeks, including an early set at 55 bar on October 5. Head over there to welcome Emily back to New York City, and let yourself be delighted by her singing.

The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen!

We all have superpower dreams once in a while. Some people dream of flying, others of breathing underwater or leaping buildings in a single bound. I once dreamt I could sing soaring, effortless high notes like Aretha Franklin and believe me, that sensation was more thrilling than anything Superman was ever capable of.

When I was twenty-five and newly arrived in New York City—perpetually broke and overwhelmed by the day-to-day rigors of waitressing, apartment-hunting, and trying to forge a singing career—I spent a couple hundred bucks I didn’t have on tickets to an Aretha Franklin concert at Radio City. 

The crowd that night was star-studded; I was seated behind Arif Marden and Cissy Houston, and Bette Midler was just a couple of rows ahead. Aretha was in fantastic voice and seemed to be giving a concert for her friends, singing whatever she damn well pleased. The set list was eclectic, spanning the full breadth of Aretha’s decades-long career: she sang “Won’t Be Long” and a few jazz standards, a nod to her earliest recordings on Columbia Records. She treated us to a medley of her biggest hits and even performed “Precious Memories,” from her 1972 live gospel album “Amazing Grace.”

The apex of the evening came when Aretha, resplendent in a Glinda-the-good-witch-of-the-North ball gown, chandelier earrings, and a silky blonde ponytail, sat down at the piano. She sighed. One of her earrings had fallen out at some point earlier in the evening, so she took the other one out, too, and set it on the piano. She turned to the audience and said, conspiratorially, “Imma let it all hang out tonight,” and she took off her ponytail and set it on the piano, too. Then she accompanied herself (she could have had a great career as a pianist even if she’d never sung a note) on a rendition of “Dr. Feelgood” that shook Radio City Music Hall—and the souls of everyone in it—to their very foundations.

In the 1980s, the state of Michigan officially declared Aretha Franklin’s voice a precious natural resource. As far as I’m concerned, she was one of the wonders of the world. In my life’s most exuberant moments of heart-spilling-over joy, I’ve turned to Aretha for release. In the darkest nights of my soul, hopeless and helpless, Aretha has given me faith in the tomorrows yet to come. She’s still doing that.

Right now I am listening to Aretha’s version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” because Aretha’s singing is the closest thing I have to a religion. “At the end of a storm,” she sings, “there’s a golden sky/and the sweet silver song of a lark.” Unimaginably, Aretha Franklin has departed this plane and gone to that golden sky but—hallelujah!—there is a sweet silver song and the song was Aretha, is Aretha, and will always be Aretha, for hers is the power and the glory.

Amen.

Amen.

Amen.

July: looking back, looking ahead

I’m overheated and currently without a working kitchen faucet, so this pretty much sums things up.

This heat. It’s undignified, really. I am sweaty and harried from the moment I emerge from the shower, and the city is never more pungent than in these dog days of summer. The fetid scents of garbage and urine and automobile exhaust hang in the air, suspended in the thick humidity, and throughout the day I find myself muttering things like, “Civilized people don’t live like this,” as I unwittingly step into yet another goddamn subway car without air conditioning.

Some of my testiness is also due to the fact that nearly everything in my home that could need repairing all of a sudden does need repairing, from the kitchen faucet to the fridge to the microwave to the hall light to the shower door. It’s always something. And don’t even talk to me about the Yankees getting swept by Boston last weekend.

But! Sunflowers (how I love their Italian name, girasole) are brightly standing at attention in a vase on my kitchen table. A beloved friend has emerged hale and optimistic from a recent medical crisis and we will meet for a cocktail next week. In a fit of pique, I recently removed all social media from my phone and computer’s bookmarks, and am reveling in the newfound mental peace and quiet afforded by the cessation of what Paul Simon described as “staccato signals of constant information.”

Yes, life has slowed down quite a bit in these first days of August, in part because of the heat, in larger part because I’m no longer mindlessly scrolling through various social media feeds every five minutes, and yes, in part because I have to fill my teakettle in the bathroom sink until our new faucet arrives later this week. I’m digging it. (August’s slower pace, that is. I hate not having a working faucet in the kitchen.)

Looking back, July went by in a flash, starting with a whirlwind jaunt to Miami for a wonderful evening of vocal/piano duets with my buddy Joe Alterman. The venue and hotel were gorgeous; the audience was warm and appreciative; the music was swinging and the vibes were good. It was a great way to kick off the month.

Miami, Minnesota, and quaint-as-can-be Orange City, Iowa: July gig travel.

A few weeks later, Duchess traveled to the midwest for a performance in Iowa. We stopped to see a 60-foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota (I mean, why would we not do that?), then continued to Orange City, a small town so charming we felt as though we’d wandered onto a movie set. It’s rare that we are able to have any real down time when we’re on the road, so being able to relax a bit in such a picturesque town was a treat. Even more delightful? My aunt brought my grandmother and a couple of friends to come see our show. My grandmother loves music—she and my grandfather were marvelous swing dancers—and getting to dedicate an Andrews Sisters song to her from the stage was a joy and honor. After the show, we all laughed and talked well into the night.

A few happy moments from Iowa.

Closer to home, July also brought a bacchanal of wine and bivalves at the Grand Central Oyster Bar with a new friend, a windy day at Coney Island, my mother-in-law’s birthday celebration, a lakeside weekend in Connecticut, and a few fun gigs.

Looking ahead, a trip to Taos, New Mexico is on the horizon for my birthday, in the company of a dear friend (whose birthday falls the day before mine), my husband, and my parents. On the docket: trips to Abiquiu (where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and worked) and the Taos pueblo, a visit to the Millicent Rogers museum, some hiking, a day trip to Santa Fe, and mostly just spending time with people I love. I can’t wait.

In July, I…
Blogged about: June. The art of Jean Dufy.

Watched: Won’t You Be My Neighbor (tearjerker). Season 2 of G.L.O.W.; I, Tonya (unmitigated fun in the form of a little 1980s/90s nostalgia). Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale (terrifying and addictive dystopian drama).

Read: The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, by Alice B. ToklasPerhaps most famous for its once-shocking recipe for hashish fudge, this cookbook is really a sort of memoir in disguise. I love Toklas’s writing style and her remembrances of life in France in both war- and peacetime. (I wouldn’t recommend actually cooking from this book; the recipes are incredibly involved, for the most part, and they require a staggering quantity of butter.)

Listened to: The Cool School, by Leo Sidran. Leo’s a friend and sometime colleague (in fact, I’m guesting at his show on September 6). I really dig his interpretations of songs by Michael Franks. The Rat Pack: Live at the Sands. Broad-shouldered, swaggering, relentlessly swinging bravado and camaraderie from three of the greatest entertainers ever. Amazing Grace, by Aretha Franklin. I’ve had this recording on CD for years and was delighted when my husband found a vinyl copy recently. This is, hands down, my all time favorite Aretha record.

June: looking back, looking ahead

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Currently.

I am just beginning to emerge from the throes of a summer cold. The crystal clear blue skies and warm (okay, hot) weather in recent days added insult to injury as I huddled on my couch with the air conditioning off and clad in comfy sweats.

In my fantasy, summer is an unbroken stretch of lazy afternoons picnicking in the park, impromptu cocktail hours with friends, weekend barbecues, and trips to the ballpark. In my reality, summer is a smattering of all of those things interspersed with the same mundane errands and obligations that need tending to all year round. And this damned cold.

June marked the official kickoff of summer, and though there were a lot of very fun musical happenings (Amy Cervini’s CD release show and a tour with Duchess, to name a couple), some of the month’s loveliest moments happened off the bandstand.

My friend V., a public school music teacher, invited me to his students’ concert in the first week of June, and I was deeply moved by the students’ sweetness, openness, and sheer musicality. Kids who had been playing the piano for less than a year performed polished renditions of Chopin etudes as well as their own original compositions; their shyness gave way to personal expression as they sang musical theater pieces and spirituals and pop music covers. I held back tears as I remembered my own music teachers who, as Fred Rogers said, “loved [me] into being,” and my heart swelled with gratitude that people like V. are in the world. Hug a teacher, friends.

One Monday afternoon I met friends at Bosie Tea Parlor, a new-to-me place in the West Village. Afterward, abuzz from the lively conversation (okay, and the tea), I meandered through one of my favorite parts of New York City with no agenda, no deadline, and no destination—the nicest kind of walk. Later in the month, in the company of friends—one an extraordinary singer, the other a mensch and music writer—the most stunning rainbow I’ve ever seen appeared over Manhattan after a summer squall. We looked, we marveled, and we kept snacking and talking for hours.

I’ve had a fairly busy stretch of travel and gigs in recent weeks (I suspect this cold took hold on last week’s flight to a wonderful gig in Miami) and am feeling ready to settle into a more relaxed pace for the rest of the summer. There are performances sprinkled here and there, and I’ve got a trip to New Mexico on the horizon in August (a birthday vacation, huzzah), but looking ahead, I want to  s l o w  d o w n. Less social media, more writing. Less screen time, more reading. Less email, more one-on-one interactions with loved ones. Less “have-to” practicing, more “want-to” practicing. Less is more, right?

In June, I…
Blogged about: April and May. The closing of Caffe Vivaldi. Singer-friend Megan Hook.

Watched: Lots of baseball. Upstairs, Downstairs (only to be crushed to learn the show was canceled after only two seasons). Home Fires (again, only two seasons! That’ll teach me to emotionally invest in WWII-era British dramas on Amazon Prime).

Read: This op-ed. And this one. I found both pieces cathartic and upsetting. I’ll be reading less news this month, for sure.

Listened to: Les McCann, Pretty Lady. Les is (rightfully!) lauded for his grooving, soulful, churchy playing, but he also has such a beautiful way with a ballad, as evidenced on this record. Amy Cervini, No One Ever Tells You. Bluesy and eclectic. I’m proud of my singing sister!

Spotlight On…Megan Hook

It’s a bit disconcerting, really, to find myself saying things like, “I’ve known so-and-so for almost twenty years,” and still be talking about my adulthood. But here goes: I’ve known Megan Hook for almost twenty years. We met in the fall of 2000 at Seattle’s Café Campagne, where we were both working as servers. We became friends, sharing chocolate chip cookies from the bakery across the street in the Pike Place Market and talking about our respective paths as classically-trained singers with musically omnivorous appetites.

Megan eventually moved to Los Angeles and I moved to New York City, but we’ve kept in touch over the years. Megan works regularly as a songwriter and performing musician, singing operatic roles, debuting new music, and leading her band, The Bright Forever. She is also a sought-after educator: in addition to her private voice studio, Megan teaches mindfulness to K-12 students as well as to incarcerated populations.

Last summer, Megan and I met for a drink in Fort Greene, Brooklyn when she was visiting New York. We reminisced a little bit about those misty Seattle days and dug right into the deep stuff, marveling at life’s surprises, heartbreaks, and astonishing speed. That’s the thing about a friend like Megan; we always pick up right where we left off. I’m so thankful to her for sharing her wit and wisdom here on Ad Alta Voce. Thank you, Megan!

Who would you say is your biggest musical influence? Why and how does s/he inspire you?
Eek! There are so many influences: songwriters, singers, bands, lyricists. As far as songwriters go, I adore Bruce Springsteen, [Bob] Dylan, Abbey Lincoln, the great American Songbook guys, Joni Mitchell, Radiohead (for their wash of guitars and magic), Gillian Welch (for the stories she tells). For singers, I love the great ladies of jazz: Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Nancy Wilson, Dianne Reeves…I like a singer whose voice you recognize in an instant. I also love a great rock and roll voice, like Van Morrison. And don’t tell anyone, but Liam Gallagher’s voice shoots up my spine every time I hear it; he’s just so brash, unapologetic, and rock-and-roll. Bono, Mark Kozelek, Robert Plant, Feist, Goldfrapp, and, of course, The Beatles are still unparalleled in my mind. Even after all these years, and on every front: songwriters, vision, singing.

Can you describe your practice routine? What are your biggest priorities when you practice?
I always warm-up before diving into songs. [I’ve] been singing the same warm-up forever, and yet new ones do sneak in. It’s good to keep it fresh. It amazes me that I never get bored singing the same warm-ups. I just think singing is so bottomless, in the sense of what there is to explore: timbre, resonance, placement, vibrato, no vibrato, whisper, shout, beauty, and non-beauty, if that’s the way to say it.

After singing opera for so long, I found it very freeing to not always focus on beauty. I’m inspired by singers like Nina Simone or Janis Joplin, who used the voice to express much more than just beauty. I find it very freeing and very real to explore the range of sounds my voice can make beyond a technical idea of what it should be. I do sing with the guitar and piano a lot when working on/writing songs and accompanying myself, but it is also good to work with recorded tracks when making a record, to isolate the singing. I am working on a new EP right now and I am currently doing a lot of practicing/rehearsing with the track I’ve already laid down. I also sing a cappella a lot when prepping material; I don’t really know a song completely until I can sing it a cappella.

If you had a time machine and could travel back in time to when you were first starting out, what advice would you give yourself about singing, life, and/or the music business in general?
I would have told myself to have more fun! Oh dear god, I took everything so seriously. I never realized how much of a marathon it is, not a sprint. And the world you live in—inside your head—creating stress, expectations, deadlines, metrics, can wear you down, or at least it wore me down until I found a better way to do it.

Right now I feel pretty focused on just making the music I want to hear and telling the stories I want to tell, and letting the chips fall where they may. I’ve become less and less “outwardly” success-oriented and more and more “inwardly” success-oriented. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but it feels more meaningful to me. [Ed. note: I’m right there with you, my friend, and it is SO. FREEING.]

We live in a DIY-era: in addition to performing and recording our music, we ALSO handle social media, book gigs, and perhaps juggle “side gigs” to keep the bills paid. In the face of all these obligations, time management can be hugely challenging. What are some of your favorite techniques for keeping everything in balance?
That’s a great question. I feel like I am always tweaking my system regarding all of this. It’s a work in progress. I’ve used the “Getting Things Done” method for years and it is a good one (book and method by David Allen). Right now I am focusing on doing (at least) one thing a day to move the record(s) forward. My mixing engineer, Jeff Jackson, has a tagline on his emails: “Music First.” For some reason, that really spoke to me the first time I saw it. Sadly, I realized how music definitely isn’t first for me many days when I am busy with so many other things. I am working on changing that.

I do find it intense to be promoting the new EP, recording the next one, working on writing new songs, teaching a ton to pay the bills, and also going into the studio to actually record. It’s like all of these things take a different skill set, and I’m constantly working on it all, simultaneously. Lately I’ve been making some music videos, too, because in the singer/songwriter/band world I’m in, that’s one way to get the music out. But talk about taking on a whole other art form: film, in order to promote the music. It’s a lot.

Finding good people to collaborate with helps a lot. At the same time, at the end of the day, I know I need to have the vision and momentum that is driving everything. That can feel exhilarating on good days and completely overwhelming on bad days.

Fun fact:
Hmmm, a guess a funny quirk is that I love children’s books. I have a beautiful collection and I am always on the lookout for a new gem. “The Want Monster” is a beautiful book by Chelo Manchego, whom I recently and unexpectedly met. Los Angeles is cool that way. I also love “We’re All Wonders” by R.J. Palacio. I also have a longtime meditation and mindfulness practice (over 20 years) that keeps me (mostly) sane.

Megan is currently documenting 100 days of her creative life over on her Instagram page. And you can listen to her band, The Bright Forever, here

April and May: looking back, looking ahead

April and May, despite their flying past with blinding speed, were lovely. I sang a number of diverse gigs with dear friends, which is always good medicine for the soul. The performances ranged from being the “canary” in a Benny Goodman tribute to channeling my inner Patsy Cline for some western swing at Mezzrow to harmonizing background vocals with Duchess to singing socialist anthems in three different languages in commemoration of the Spanish Civil War…and that’s not even the complete list!

When not singing for my supper in recent weeks, I was delighted to partake in some quintessentially New York City cultural experiences:

  • at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, the scent of lilacs hung heavy in the air and a rainbow array of tulips stood at attention;
  • Passover Seder included our traditional boisterous rendering of Dayenu;
  • we feasted on a rustic seafood stew in a Brooklyn brownstone for a dear friend’s 75th birthday;
  • at Yankee Stadium we leapt from our seats, elated, when Gary Sanchez hit a walk-off three-run homer;
  • an entire evening’s program was dedicated to the key of C minor at the Chamber Music Society; and
  • beloved friends hosted an evening of intimate theatre in their home, where their friend (an accomplished stage and film actor) presented excerpts of a thought-provoking one-man show about the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Kicking off summer: lakeside in CT; a busy bee at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens; Yankee Stadium; my annual nose-in-the-lilacs photo.

As if all of the above weren’t enough, my husband and I celebrated our seven-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Savannah. We had a few touristy to-do’s on our list (eat at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room; take a tour of the Owens-Thomas mansion), but our days were largely free-form. We mostly ambled down shady tree-lined streets, taking in the architecture and thinking about Johnny Mercer. Lest I give the impression that things were too idyllic, I should disclose that I also caught a bitch of a chest cold. However, I found the bourbon cocktails to be extremely medicinal.

Scenes from Savannah: sniffly and sipping bourbon for its medicinal value; a plate of home cooking at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room; the Mercer-Williams house; a rendezvous with the Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia himself, Mr. Johnny Mercer.

Looking ahead, I’m feeling quite territorial about my time. Things are bound to get busy this summer, what with tour dates and assorted professional obligations, but I’m determined to set plenty of time aside for reading, seeing friends, picnicking, listening to music, watching baseball, daydreaming in the park…all the things that make summer, well, summer. Spending Memorial Day weekend lakeside in Connecticut felt like a good start.

The pas de deux between productivity and recreation can sometimes more closely resemble the French Danse Apache, but I firmly believe we sacrifice leisure for busy-ness at our peril. The very word “recreation” holds the key: when we take time to smell the roses, i.e. recreate, we re-create ourselves and emerge renewed, ready to meet our obligations with joy and optimism.

In April and May, I…
Blogged about: March. Close-harmony girl groups (for Duchess).

Watched: Baseball, natch. Via Dolorosa, live and in-person, acted by the wonderful Jonathan Tindle. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, in preparation for Savannah.

Read: Her First American, by Lore Segal. Vivid, sad, and beautifully written. I loved this novel about a young Jewish woman in love with a Black intellectual in post-WWII New York City. Caroline: Little House, Revisited, by Sarah Miller. I re-read the Little House series a handful of years ago for the first time since my childhood, and the books were…different than I remembered. For one thing, I was stunned by the rampant racism against Native Americans that runs throughout the series. For another, whereas the character of Ma (Caroline) once struck me as a bit of a wet blanket, as an adult woman myself I realized how selfish (and occasionally reckless) Pa was. Reading Miller’s thoughtful re-imagining of the Ingalls’ story as told from Caroline’s perspective was satisfying. Blue Nights, by Joan Didion. Brilliant, stunning prose…and also one of the most depressing books I’ve read in ages. The Scribe of Siena, by Melodie Winawer. Definitely a light read, but we all need a little fantasy and escapism from time to time. How to Eat a Peach, by Diana Henry. Part memoir, part cookbook, completely delicious. Diana Henry has long been one of my favorite food writers, and I think this may be her finest book yet.

Listened to: Connie Converse. The only thing more mysterious, heartbreaking, and unique than Converse’s story is her music. Janelle Monaé. I am always sooooo late to the party when it comes to contemporary music, but consider me obsessed. Kat Edmonson. Duchess sings backup vocals for Kat from time to time, and her new album, “Old Fashioned Gal,” accomplishes the nigh-impossible feat of being both a throwback and utterly of its own time. Les McCann. Les McCann. Les McCann.