October: looking back, looking ahead

Maybe it’s because late autumn’s path has begun curving toward winter, and the end of the year is in view. Maybe it’s because I’ve entered a new decade and I’m still getting my bearings in this next phase of life. Whatever the reason, my instinct in recent weeks has been to turn inward and live quietly.

Not that it’s been terribly difficult to “drop out,” so to speak: this fall has been the slowest gig season I can remember, and when darkness falls before five o’clock, I need very little coaxing to curl up on the sofa with a good book and a pot of tea. Making soup, roasting vegetables, spending quiet (there’s that word again) hours in conversation with a friend, walking alone through the city, running beneath riotously colored leaves in Prospect Park…these small, lovely moments were restorative and nourishing throughout October.

Oddly, I haven’t been singing much, publicly or otherwise. Gigs or no gigs, I usually at least sing through some vocalises every day (or most days, anyway), but the voice felt battened down, inflexible, and susceptible to strain throughout September and October. My voice and I have known each other for many years, and when it tells me it needs a break, I do my best to take heed.

I’ve been writing more, although not here on the blog, obviously, and certainly not on social media. With the exception of a few Yankees- and Aretha Franklin-related retweets in recent days (C.C. Sabathia and Brett Gardner are both returning! Aretha’s Amazing Grace documentary will finally be released!), I’ve largely stayed off social media, which has of late felt performative and silly, rather than connected. I may very well experience a rush of extroversion as the holiday fervor takes hold, posting and sharing and liking with abandon. But for now, it feels good to be homebound and reflective.

Looking ahead, I’m excited for the whirl and sparkle of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas, all of which celebrate hearth, home, and time with loved ones. As far as my part-circumstantial, part-self-imposed chapter of exile from the flurry of gigs, singing, nights on the town, and general busy-ness, I think the proverbial page might be turning: I’ve got a voice lesson on the calendar this week and a handful of gigs booked for December.

In October, I…
Blogged about: September.

Watched: The Man in the High Castle. So much time had elapsed between last season and this one, I struggled to keep up with all the intricate subterfuge in this compelling series, but the performances and art direction were as strong as ever. Lidia’s Kitchen. What can I say? I find cooking shows therapeutic, and Lidia is really good. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I enjoyed the novel by the same name, and the film adaptation (full of familiar faces from Downtown Abbey) was completely charming.

Read: The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton. It’s been close to twenty years since I first read this novel, and let me tell you, Lily Bart’s dependency on men, self-sabotaging choices, and [SPOILER] fall from grace resonated very differently with me as a forty-year-old, married New Yorker than when I was a barely twenty-year-old West Coast girl venturing into adulthood for the first time. I read this for (squee!) book club and am looking forward to our discussion of Wharton’s merciless portrait of Gilded Age New York City’s upper crust and women’s lack of agency and autonomy. Edith Wharton’s prose is incisive, forthright, and elegant—she’s long been one of my favorite authors and it was a pleasure revisiting her work last month.

Listened to: Aida Cuevas! Live! The queen of mariachi performed a sold-out show here in NYC and she was a deeply generous, charismatic performer. Tea & Tattle podcast. It’s sew veddy, veddy British.

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September: looking back, looking ahead

When I began this post, the Yankees were about to play Boston in game 3 of the ALDS and I was cheering my pinstriped paramours in between sips of hard cider. Trays of cauliflower, savoy cabbage, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash were roasting in the oven, which I tossed with farro, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese for a very autumnal dinner. I was still feeling exhilarated from my late-afternoon run in the mist that hung in the air all day.

This morning, I woke up feeling a bit shellshocked by the fact that Austin Romine—a catcher, for the love of Pete—pitched in a playoff game that culminated in the most humiliating defeat in Yankees post-season history. That’s the thing about fall, though: everything seems to change overnight.

A lot of people have remarked on the speed with which September flew by, and I’d have to agree. The month began with a brief but soul-nourishing weekend in San Francisco for a couple of gigs with the great Harry Allen. With Harry at the helm, the music was guaranteed to be swinging—that the band was made up of dear friends, all of whom are smart and hilarious, was a big bonus. We performed in Bing Crosby’s mansion (!) and an elegant club in the city as part of a concert series presented by a dedicated, enthusiastic jazz advocate who understands and loves musicians. And while it feels banal to talk about, of all things, the weather when reminiscing about a weekend in California, the blue skies and cool breezes were exquisite after weeks of New York City summer humidity. My hotel room had a record player and a few LPs, so in the mornings I sipped tea and sat on my little terrace while Boz Scaggs or Little Anthony and the Imperials played in the background.

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Scenes from San Francisco: LPs in the hip little hotel; dim sum with the band; the city at twilight; the concert program.

The icing on the cake, though, was the time I was lucky enough to spend in the company of beloved friends from my time in Seattle (twenty years ago!). M. and E. relocated from Seattle to northern California some years back, and we don’t get to see each other nearly enough. M. and I went for ramen and a walk in sunny Golden Gate Park on Sunday afternoon before the gig, which (somewhat strangely) was at five o’clock, allowing us plenty of time to go to dinner afterward. M., E., and I drove through the pastel San Francisco twilight to a charming Nob Hill Italian restaurant where we laughed and talked as streetcars passed by. There are truly no friends like old friends, and I returned to New York City with a very full, happy heart.

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Duchess + our band after a successful couple of shows in North Carolina. Tired, sparkly, and happy.

September closed with a Duchess tour to North Carolina. We performed for a musical society in Oriental, a coastal town that was hit hard by Hurricane Florence, then traveled inland to sing at a music education gala in Pinehurst. Seeing the damage inflicted by the hurricane—roofs crushed by fallen trees, piles of insulation and furniture on the sidewalks—was sobering. We were honored by the opportunity to provide some musical respite for North Carolinians.

Looking ahead, I’m excited to do more running in the crisp autumn air. I’m eager to do more fall cooking and embrace decorative gourd season. But first things first. Tonight the Yankees are facing Boston again for one more game at home. If the Yankees win, they head up to Boston for the final game of the series. If they lose…well, they’re done until spring training. And they say April is the cruelest month.

In September I…
Blogged about: August. ‘Tis Autumn! (for Duchess). Singer-friend Emily Braden.

Watched: Mr. Selfridge. Jeremy Piven is (occasionally hilariously) miscast in this PBS period drama about an American-owned department store in turn-of-the-century London. Some of the American accents are…questionable. But I am nevertheless completely engrossed.

Read: 1984, by George Orwell. I have always wanted to be in a book club and I finally am. Orwell’s portrayal of life under a totalitarian regime was our first selection, and it felt way too timely.

Listened to: Lowdown, by Boz Scaggs. This song was on heavy rotation during my stay in San Francisco last month; I think I’ll always associate it with waking up at sunrise in San Francisco and having a cup of chai on the terrace.

Summer: Looking back, looking ahead (or: September, we hardly knew ye)

This summer was filled with some great stuff: cheering for the Yankees at baseball games; strolling through riotously blooming botanical gardens; enjoying barbecues in Brooklyn and country weekends of canoeing and lakeside reading in Connecticut; toasting a couple of dear friends as they got married in a ceremony brimming with laughter, tears, and music; watching Casablanca and eating an impromptu living-room picnic after getting rained out at an outdoor movie.

Summer’s happy places: Yankee Stadium, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and a quiet lakeside idyll in Connecticut.

But, as A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote in The Green Fields of the Mind, “There comes a time when every summer will have something of autumn about it,” and indeed, proverbial autumn loomed large this summer. There were upsetting headlines (Nazis are trying to stage a comeback? The president is tweeting threats of nuclear war? Seriously?). Friends and I traded diagnoses, fears, and familial travails like baseball cards. My routine physical turned into a protracted series of exams and consultations in which I learned I’d need a big ol’ surgery to remove a softball-sized fibroid. I was scared a lot this summer. Then, September belonged to the surgery itself: preparing for the procedure, going under the knife, and recovering.

Me with my mom, the best nurse a gal could hope for; socks from my DUCHESS sisters that kind of sum things up; me at my first post-surgery outing at (where else?) Yankee Stadium.

Now, thoroughly ensconced in actual autumn, my big takeaways are forehead-slappingly obvious and not particularly insightful: We all get sick. We all die. The world is—and has always been—on fire. Given all these dismal realities, the only things that really matter are family and friends and a living a life full of love and kindness and gratitude. THANKS, HALLMARK.

While I’ve been sitting here this morning, trying (and failing) to piece together a cogent recap of my summer and the gifts that fear and uncertainty can bring, I’ve also been listening to the radio. Right now, Ella Fitzgerald is singing “On the Sunny Side of the Street” with the Basie band, and her exuberant, freewheeling vocal, imploring us to choose joy, is really the whole truth. Looking ahead, I’m going to do my best to follow the song’s advice:

Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worry on the doorstep
Just direct your feet
To the sunny side of the street

Can’t you hear a pitter-pat?
And that happy tune is your step
Life can be so sweet
On the sunny side of the street

I used to walk in the shade
With those blues on parade
But I’m not afraid
This rover crossed over

If I never have a cent
I’ll be rich as Rockefeller
Gold dust at my feet
On the sunny side of the street

This summer, I…
Blogged about: May. Music from 100 Years Ago. Singer-friend Roseanna Vitro.

Read: Kafka Was the Rage, by Anatole Broyard. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. This gorgeous essay about food and memory. What She Ate, by Laura Shapiro. The Girls in Their Summer Dresses, by Irwin Shaw. One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts, by Shirley Jackson.

Watched: The Handmaid’s Tale. Casablanca. So much Yankees baseball. The Great British Baking Show. Desk Set. Every single episode of Game of Thrones. I Called Him Morgan.

Listened to: Sly & the Family Stone, There’s a Riot Goin’ On. Luiz Bonfa, Solo in Rio. Lots of the Nat Cole Trio. Tanto Tempo, Bebel Gilberto.

October: Looking back, looking ahead

We are exactly three weeks away from Thanksgiving, and this year, my plans look a little different than in Novembers past: on Thanksgiving morning, I will be lacing up my running shoes and joining my friend R. in Prospect Park for a 5-mile Turkey Trot.

In early October, I began using a running app that, despite its horrible name, has been a really effective tool for gradually building speed and endurance. As an added bonus, the app comes with DJ-curated running playlists, including a whole lot of 90s hip-hop, which means I may occasionally be spotted lip-syncing to FELLOW BROOKLYNITE Biggie Smalls as I jog through Brooklyn Bridge Park.

New shoes, autumn leaves...Turkey Trot T-minus 3 weeks & counting!

New shoes, autumn leaves…Turkey Trot T-minus 3 weeks & counting!

Last month, I also had the delight and honor of performing with the great saxophonist, Harry Allen, for two sold-out nights at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Jazz at Lincoln Center).  Talk about a dream gig: singing to a packed house with a swinging, supportive band against the panoramic backdrop of Columbus Circle and Central Park. I’m grateful for every gig I have, but those evenings with Harry at Dizzy’s were truly special.

Singing and swinging with Harry Allen & friends. Photo by Ivana Falconi Allen.

Singing and swinging with Harry Allen & friends. Photo by Ivana Falconi Allen.

Looking ahead, the DUCHESS gals and I have a couple of really exciting shows on the horizon. We’ll be at the Jazz Standard here in NYC on 11/29 and 11/30, joined by special guests Christian McBride and Kat Edmonson. We’re reviving the “variety hour” concept, inspired by Rat Pack-era shows from years ago, and we cannot wait to sing, laugh, and make merry with our friends and fans.

Finally, Tuesday, November 8 is just a handful of days away. Come on, America. Let’s appeal to what Lincoln himself called the “better angels of our nature” and not elect a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, KKK-endorsed (!) narcissistic liar to the highest office in the land.

In October, I…
Blogged about: Traveling through Italy with my mom. Singer-friend Nicky Schrire. DUCHESS turning 3.

Read: Old journals. I’ve been doing a little excavating of my past for a writing project I’ve got in mind. Good heavens, if there is anything more humbling than reading one’s own terrible poetry, penned in one’s lovelorn early 20s, I don’t know what it is. Hilarious and mortifying.

Watched: The Search for General Tso. An informative, fun, and unexpectedly moving film about searching for the origins of a quintessential Chinese-American dish. Trumbo. Bryan Cranston is fantastic as blacklisted Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo, although I wish they’d given the always-excellent Diane Lane, who plays Trumbo’s wife, a little more to do. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Because it’s a Halloween classic (can you believe it’s 50 years old!?).

Listened to: The Land of Desire. This well-researched, conversational podcast exploring the history of France is fun and educational. Worth a listen.

#ImWithHer

Patriotic pumpkins, seen in Brooklyn Heights. Friends, please VOTE!!! #ImWithHer

September: Looking back, looking ahead

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La Serenissima…

We have veered so sharply into misty, cool autumn over the past couple of days, it scarcely seems possible that, a scant two weeks ago, I was picking sun-warmed tomatoes from Domenico’s garden for an al fresco lunch in Italy. And yet…

Last month, my mother and I spent over two weeks traveling in Italy. We began with six days in Venice, then spent a week in Tuscany (Lucca, followed by Siena), before heading back up north to Merate, where I spent my foreign exchange, to visit my host families and friends.

Since I was seventeen, my mother and I have lived thousands of miles apart, so we relished the chance to walk through Italian days together, enjoying unencumbered hours in the most beautiful of places. We ate gelato and pasta, laughed ourselves silly on multiple occasions, and were overwhelmed by the beauty of the piazze, churches, and people we encountered every day.

Italy is infinite and immediate. Sleek modernity exists casually, effortlessly, beside (and often, within) centuries-old art, architecture, and traditions. By the end of our stay, I was speaking and thinking and dreaming in Italian again. When it was time to bid Italy and my beloved host families farewell, I wept, as I always do.

One afternoon, in Venice’s sun-dappled Campo Santa Margherita, I sipped an Aperol spritz and wrote the following passage in my journal:

When one is partnered–and, perhaps, especially when one is happily so—traveling to a beloved, familiar (and yet mysterious) place is the closest we ever come to falling in love again. Heady infatuation, “getting-to-know-you” growing pains, the frustrations of familiarity and rediscovery of forgotten joys…travel is not only about one’s relationship to a place, it’s about one’s relationship to oneself.

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Piazza del Campo under moody Siena skies.

Looking ahead, I’m excited about several new projects: the new Duchess CD is slated for an early 2017 release, and a recording I made with drummer Charles Ruggiero is entering post-production in the coming weeks. My dear friend and musical partner Ehud Asherie and I are also making plans to head into the studio later this fall.

And, in the meantime, autumn in New York is here! Autumnal cooking, the donning of thick sweaters, and crisp October air all make me very happy.

In September, I…
Blogged about: July & August. Loving NYC. How We Spent Our Summer Vacation (DUCHESS blog).

Read: Fodor’s travel guides, mostly. And a lot of maps. And my 21-year-old Italian/English dictionary.

Watched: The first presidential debate. Listen, I know that Hillary Clinton may not be everyone’s ideal candidate (although I am, and have long been, a Hillary supporter). But if you watched that debate and were anything less than horrified by Trump’s staggering lack of knowledge and preparation (to say nothing of his visible contempt for Hillary Clinton, moderator Lester Holt, and the American public), I can only say this to you: Donald Trump is a racist, misogynist, and narcissist. He is wildly unfit for the presidency, and his value system runs counter to every principle upon which the United States of America were founded. You can support Hillary Clinton’s campaign HERE.

Listened to: The musical lilts and cadences of the Italian language. Even in my sleep, words and phrases I thought I’d forgotten filled my dreams and found their way into my speech the next day.

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Lucca’s medieval walls at sunset.

 

I still love New York

Sometimes it seems like New York City is on its way to becoming (or, depending on whom you ask, is already) a tiny island filled with nothing but banks and Duane Reade stores. A number of my friends have recently moved west, having decided that New York is “over,” and L.A. is now the place to be.

I get it. I know that living in New York City is not for everyone. But if a hipster is somebody who loves something before it’s cool enough to capture the fancy of the general public, I suppose I, then, am the opposite. I love New York City as much today as ever, even though lots of people seem to have decided it’s not cool anymore.

By the time this post is published, I’ll be in Tuscany, on a long-anticipated vacation with my mother. When it comes time to depart Italy, I know I’ll be terribly sad to leave la dolce vita, but there will be solace in knowing that autumn in New York awaits.

Brooklyn Bridge will be filled with tourists and locals, strolling in the still-warm September sun. The greatest musicians in the world will be performing at Mezzrow in Greenwich Village every night. The leaves will be starting to turn in Central Park. And, as I walk briskly through Manhattan’s “canyons of steel,” with every footfall, my heart will beat, “I’m home. I’m home. I’m home.” 

I love New York, today and every day.

Autumn: Looking back, looking ahead

The fact that I’m writing one recap for all three months of September, October, and November from a hotel room in Jerusalem while on tour with DUCHESS is probably sufficient information for you to gauge the overall level of busy-ness this fall.  I’ve been doing lots of traveling and lots of singing, which has made me happy, if a bit harried.

September’s highlight was the week DUCHESS spent on the west coast, bringing #girlongirlharmony to California.  We had an amazing time on tour, beginning in Los Angeles and culminating in our debut at the Monterey Jazz Festival.  After the tour ended, I hung out for an extra day to spend some time with my parents.  I’m including a couple of pictures here, but a more comprehensive rundown of our tour is here.

The L.A. leg of our CA trip began with a wild & crazy night at Rockwell, singing with Jeff Goldblum. Reggie Watts made the hang, too.

The L.A. leg of our CA trip began with a wild & crazy night at Rockwell, singing with Jeff Goldblum. Reggie Watts made the hang, too.

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DUCHESS at the Monterey Jazz Festival, onstage, at our CD signing, and with Jazz at Lincoln Center bari saxophonist Paul Nedzela.

October began with a fairytale trip to the south of France with my husband and in-laws.  Our “home base” was the tiny mountain village of La Garde-Freinet, home to a charming, twice-weekly outdoor market, mountain trails leading to sweeping vistas of the French countryside, and a sizable expatriate community, as well as natives Jean-Jacques the butcher, Hervé the wine purveyor, and Valerie, proprietress of La Freixenet bakery.

We took day trips to St. Paul-de-Vence, Cap d’Antibes, St. Remo (we hopped the border for an afternoon in Italy), Eze, St. Tropez, and Ramatuelle, taking in the breathtaking scenery and sweet villages.  And, oh, how we ate!  We greeted every morning with Valerie’s croissants (the Platonic ideal of pastry), and rosé accompanied every meal.

The charming Provencal village of La Garde-Freinet.

The charming Provencal village of La Garde-Freinet.

A gorgeous afternoon in Eze, with lunch at La Chèvre d'Or.

A gorgeous afternoon in Eze, with lunch at La Chèvre d’Or.

November was a whirlwind of more travel and great DUCHESS gigs, which you can read about on our blog. Another huge November highlight?  Oh, no biggie…I JUST GOT TO MEET NIGELLA LAWSON, THAT’S ALL!  She appeared at the 92nd Street Y in conversation with the wonderful chef/writer Gabrielle Hamilton, and afterward there was a book signing.  (For the record, Nigella was luminous and poised. I was supremely awkward and starstruck.)  Then came Thanksgiving, which was just as it should be: filled with family, friends, delicious food, and the acquisition of a Christmas tree.

NIGELLA!!!!

NIGELLA!!!!

I am very thankful for the extraordinary privilege of traveling freely and sharing the joy of music with others.  Looking ahead, as we enter the holiday season, I hope we can all extend one another peace and kindness, which are needed now more than ever.

This fall, I…
Blogged about: The 20-year anniversary of my year in Italy. rené marie. Dorothy Parker’s thoughts on New York City. Kendra Shank.

Read: Simply Nigella (OBVIOUSLY). Her sweet potato mac & cheese recipe was a hit at Thanksgiving. It’s what I do: a photographer’s life of love and war, by Lynsey Addario.  A riveting memoir by a Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer.  The Lola Quartet, by Emily St. John Mandel. Another haunting, lyrical novel by the author of Station ElevenThe Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, by Matthew Dicks. A fun and poignant novel about the ways our high school years can shape the rest of our lives. 

Watched: Bridge of Spies. Trainwreck. This incredible mash-up of old Hollywood musicals, set to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.”

Listened to: Recreational Love, the new album from the bird and the bee. Rufus Wainwright. Roy Ayers.