April: Looking back, looking ahead

April was filled with travel and music, including a sunny week on the Baja in Mexico, filled with painterly sunsets and pizzas on the grill, weathered wooden doors in sleepy little towns, and morning tea in oversized Talavera mugs. It’s always restorative to soak up the sun for a few days, especially in early April, when one is thoroughly tired of winter (even a relatively mild one) but spring has not yet officially made her presence known.

Mexico…I think that’s a perfectly reasonable size for a margarita, don’t you?

Later in the month, I found myself in the verdant, misty Pacific Northwest with Duchess for some teaching and a few shows in Portland and Seattle. I spent my early twenties in Seattle, discovering the city and adulthood itself through waitressing, singing, and some ill-considered love affairs. Singing has brought me back to Seattle several times in recent years, and I’m always grateful to be able to (at last!) enjoy the memories and familiarity without carrying the weight of old, bad decisions and cringe-worthy moments.

I’ve been traveling pretty frequently, mostly for work, since December and it feels great to be at home for a while. Looking ahead, there’s much to do and the calendar has a way of filling up, for which I am thankful; my official performance schedule is fairly bare until mid-summer, but a number of private party gigs have materialized in recent weeks. I’m also putting the finishing touches on my new website (huzzah!) and firming up release plans for my new recording project, a piano/vocal collaboration with Ehud Asherie.

I am buying armloads of lilacs at every street corner flower stand that still carries them and waiting, with bated breath, for warmer temperatures and clearer skies.

In April, I…
Blogged about: February and March.

Read: In Altre Parole, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I’ve longed to recommence thinking and speaking in Italian, and since a return to la bella Italia isn’t on the horizon at present, I figured that reading in Italian would be a good place to start. I found Lahiri’s bilingual memoir of studying and writing in Italian to be circular and overly precious, but I loved the ritual of reading aloud in Italian every evening with an Italian/English dictionary at my side. I’ve got a couple of Italian-language books here at home, and the Brooklyn Public Library has a great foreign language section, so I’m looking forward to making this a new habit.

Watched: Z: The Beginning of Everything. Christina Ricci stars in this Amazon series about the early years of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The clothes, music, and art direction are lots of fun, once you get past Ricci’s Southern accent. The New York Yankees! This team is on fire and I had a blast at my first game of the season. I can’t wait to go back.

Listened to: Louis Prima, The Wildest. God, what a fun record.

Spring: Looking back, looking ahead

All too quickly, spring has come and gone and we are careening full tilt toward summer. What can I say about the past few months? March took me to Mexico, where I spent a lovely week with my parents, who live on the Baja.

We sipped mango smoothies in the mornings and strolled long stretches of the all-but-deserted beach in the afternoon. We cooked lots of delicious food and drank lots of ice-cold Mexican beer. We road-tripped to El Triunfo, Todos Santos (my favorite) and La Paz. I delighted in painterly Baja sunsets and the velvety-dark night sky, perfect for stargazing. I can’t wait to go back.

Mexico1

April’s highlight was a quick tour to Montana with Duchess. That same month, I joined millions of fans in mourning Prince’s untimely death. Then, May ushered in a stubborn summer cold (yuck) and the recording of Duchess’ second CD (yay!).

Looking ahead, I am eagerly anticipating a return to Northern California for a tour with Duchess next week. June has been fast-paced and full of activity, but the rest of the summer looks quite relaxed, with time for afternoons spent reading in the park, weekend getaways, and (I hope!) spontaneous beach days.

Also on my summer agenda? Digging deep into this book and honing my sight-reading skills. Summer school, if you will.

This spring, I…
Blogged about: Singer-friend Thana Alexa. Duchess’ upcoming new CD & recent Montana tour. The Everlasting Now.

Read: I did a lot of reading the past few months. I’ll spare you the complete list, but here are some of the books that stand out. And Again, by Jessica Chiarella. A vaguely dystopian novel whose premise centers on the complex ethical issues surrounding human cloning. At its core, though, this is really a novel about identity; what actually is the “self” when a person’s body (and a lifetime of scars, piercings, tattoos, and illnesses) can be erased and recreated as new? Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin. In all honesty, Rubin’s approach to life often comes across as austere, or even joyless, but her research on how and why we form (and keep!) habits was interesting and useful. A House in the Heights, by Truman Capote. Some of the loveliest prose I have ever read, with the added delight of being set in my neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights. I wanted to memorize each sentence. Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. A challenging and extremely well-written portrait of a marriage. The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin. A feather-light but enjoyable imagining of the real-life friendship between Truman Capote and New York socialites in the 1950s. The Voiceover Artist, by Dave Reidy. Wry and sweet, and imbued throughout with a sense of place (the novel is set in Chicago), I enjoyed this debut novel. In Some Other World, Maybe, by Shari Goldhagen. I expected this novel to be a fluffy read, but it was poignant and smart and human. I really liked it.

Watched: Birdman (on the plane from Montana). Sophie’s Choice. I’d read William Styron’s novel and seen the film adaptation years ago, but was blown away all over again by the actors’ nuanced, earnest performances. Silicon Valley and Veep, both of which make me cackle.

Listened to: Chris Isaak, The Baja Sessions. I’ve loved this record for years, but after my idyllic week on the Baja in March, I’ll forever associate it with long drives through Mexico. Prince. Lots and lots of Prince. Peggy Lee.

 

April: Looking back, looking ahead

“Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.” -Ellis Peters

11204887_10205714760681892_444853869013410021_nTo begin a post with a quote feels very “college-admissions-essay” to me, but Ellis Peters’ words seem especially fitting in these first days of May. Seemingly overnight, New York City has burst into exuberant, riotous bud and flower.  E. and I took a trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on Sunday and the beauty was overwhelming.  The scent of lilacs wafted on the breeze, the rainbow-hued tulips were dazzling, and we were so happy to stroll in the springtime sunshine that our first sunburns of the season went unnoticed until the following morning.

But, as the song goes, “spring can really hang you up the most,” and that feels pretty goddamn true, lately, too.  Last week, I was devastated to learn that my first singing teacher and musical mentor died of breast cancer. During my wretchedly awkward early teenage years, Janet Stotts gave me a sense of self and of belonging in the world.  She was an extraordinary woman who touched thousands of lives, and I am deeply grateful to have been her student.

11205157_10205714768602090_7286000846154644776_nAnd, this being May, we are nearing the two-year anniversary of Joshua Wolff‘s passing.  Josh was a wonderful pianist and a dear friend, and he’s never far from my thoughts. I remember wandering in a daze through my lushly blooming neighborhood two springs ago, when Josh was ill, bewildered that the world could contain such heartbreaking suffering and loveliness at the same time.

I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to be a downer.  But there is something about the tender newness of spring that invites reflection on life’s opposites: yes, we are fragile and vulnerable, and our time here is short.  But there will always be a spring, audacious and resilient.  Isn’t that amazing?  No matter how bruised and battered we are by the harshness of winters both literal and metaphorical, the life force “that through the green fuse drives the flower” (Dylan Thomas) always reasserts itself.  And I am, indeed, perpetually astonished.

In April I…
Blogged about: March.  Lady Day at 100.* The “Charlie” to our “Angels,” Oded Lev-Ari (for DUCHESS).
*My Billie Holiday post was chosen by WordPress for the “Freshly Pressed” homepage, and was shared hundreds of times on social media.  I’m honored that the post resonated with so many people.

Watched: A Star Has Burnt My Eye, a mixed-media theatrical production that told the strange, sad story of the mysterious songwriter Connie Converse.  This show haunted me for days afterward.

Read: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel.  A poetic novel about a troupe of wandering Shakespearean actors and classical musicians, post-apocalypse (a flu has killed 99% of the world’s population).  This book explores questions about why we make art, and whether creative expression matters in the face of unspeakable horrors.  The way that the author interweaves her characters’ lives in this sprawling, yet cohesive story is masterful.

Listened to: Stevie Wonder, Songs In The Key Of Life.  LIVE!!!  Songs In The Key Of Life has been a part of my musical consciousness as long as I can remember.  Getting to see and hear Stevie Wonder perform this album live and in person was the thrill of a lifetime.  I pretty much wept for three hours.