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.

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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.

Easy Come, Easy Go

I'm in the top row, far right. Kidding. Although I DID wear this outfit while happily warbling in the alto section.

I’m in the top row, far right. Kidding. Although I DID wear this outfit while happily warbling in the alto section.

Last spring, when I faced an appallingly large tax bill and very much needed to earn more money immediately (if not sooner), a choral gig at an Upper East Side church materialized out of nowhere.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and my long-latent inner choir nerd was soon happily ensconced in singing choral masses amidst the smells and bells of the Episcopalian church.  Best of all, I was getting paid to do so.

Right after Christmas, just as my bank account had started to right itself and I had finally begun feeling more confident in my sight-reading skills, the choir director pulled me aside and apologetically told me that, due to budget cuts, the music program was being scaled back (a tale as old as the gospels themselves) and he had to downsize.  As the most recent hires, one unlucky soprano and I were let go, and just like that, my heaven-sent gig disappeared.

I felt something akin to what I felt some years ago, when I received word that the Broadway show that had been my ticket out of waitressing was closing.  Yes, there was mild disappointment and a little financial anxiety, but mostly I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for getting to do the gig, even if it was for just a brief time.

I have found that, when it comes to keeping one’s mental health in the always-shifting world of self-employment, it’s good to remember these words: easy come, easy go.  One of the first things you learn as a freelancer, after all, is that gigs are like trains: there’s always another one coming.  (Some of the other things you learn as a freelancer: always get a 50% deposit when booking a gig, don’t expect health insurance or paid sick leave, and there is no feeling more satisfying than the smugness of being able to shop at Trader Joe’s in the mid-morning on a Tuesday when everybody else is working and the lines are short.)

Lest I sound too nonchalant about my ever-fluctuating employment status, I should probably disclose that I pondered much of this blog entry while relaxing on the beach earlier this month, and it’s pretty tough to be angst-ridden when you’re wiggling your toes in the sand.

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It’s easy to be sans souci with this view…

You see, for the second year in a row, I was the featured jazz singer at the Water Island Music Festival in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The festival takes place over the course of three evenings of intimate house concerts on a tiny residential island just off the coast of St. Thomas.  By day, I ate fish tacos and soaked up the sun.  By night, I sang 20-minute sets of jazz standards with a wonderful pianist-friend for a warm, appreciative audience.  After the show, along with my husband and all the other festival performers, I drank beer, hung out in a hot tub, and talked about music and art under a starry Caribbean sky.  Talk about a heaven-sent gig!

I’ve currently got a couple of feelers out for another church job, and there is already talk brewing about next year’s Water Island Music Festival.  Maybe it’ll be easy to find another steady choral gig, and maybe it won’t.  Maybe my annual Caribbean gig will continue for years to come, and maybe it won’t.  Whatever happens, I hope to embrace the ebbs and flows of this freelance life with equanimity and, most of all, gratitude for a life spent in song.

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After the final performance at the 10th annual Water Island Music Festival.