Year’s end: Looking back, looking ahead

Radio City Music Hall, in full Christmas regalia.

All’s well that ends well, the saying goes, but October and November were nonetheless pretty difficult months. We entered the holiday season a bit shaken but with unshakeable gratitude, keeping our festivities mostly quiet and homespun. We hosted a few small-scale dinners at home and visited friends for a couple of parties in Brooklyn. We stepped out on the town a bit, too, enjoying some fantastic dinners out (La Scalinatella! Nom Wah Tea Parlor!) and we also took in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which did indeed live up to its name.

On the singing front, October saw the release of my new album, The Late Set, a collection of intimate piano/vocal duos with pianist Ehud Asherie; we enjoyed a sold-out CD release show here in NYC and headed out to the Pacific Northwest in early November for a whirlwind tour. Duchess headlined at Jazz Standard in December, then weathered SantaCon (!) and two snowstorms (!!) to play our last shows of the year in Connecticut and Tarrytown.

Singing in the new year. Welcome, 2018!

For the last hurrah of 2017, I did something I’ve never done in all my years of New Year’s Eve gigging: I sang in a jazz club for people who came for the express purpose of hearing music. Please forgive the profusion of italics; after years of being sonic wallpaper at fancy restaurants, singing for an attentive audience on New Year’s Eve was pretty exciting and, I choose to believe, a good omen for the year ahead.

Looking (way) back, I vividly remember being twenty-two and believing firmly, with the self-assurance indigenous to people in their early twenties who happen to have read a couple of novels and therefore believe themselves to be preternaturally Wise People, that life’s joys and sorrows were meted out by the Universe based on some kind of vague karmic meritocracy. I blame my erstwhile embrace of this horseshit philosophy on the youthful desire to make sense of a perplexing and troubling world. (Okay, and Oprah. I also blame Oprah, who has championed pop psychology nonsense like The Secret and Dr. Phil since, it seems, time immemorial.)

What I have come to understand in the years hence is that life’s joys and sorrows are only sometimes determined by one’s intentions and choices (and let’s just leave the “Universe” out of this, shall we?). At least as often, we are at the mercy of our genetics, the circumstances of our birth, or the pure happenstance of being in the right or wrong place at precisely the right or wrong time. And when the proverbial shit hits the fan (which it most certainly will, for all of us), the most and best we can do is be as strong and kind as possible. As I reflect on 2017, especially its turbulent autumn, I am suffused with gratitude for kindnesses great and small, extended at every turn by a community of family, friends, and strangers. Looking ahead, my New Year’s resolutions are simple: Be present. Choose kindness.

In October, November, and December, I…
Blogged about: Summer. Duchess turning 4. Singer-friend Marianne Solivan.

Read: The Girl from Venice, by Martin Cruz Smith. I picked this up in the airport on a flight delay and had a hell of a time getting through it. But I persevered, and in the process, did a little armchair (and time) travel to WWII-era Venice. Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin. Plainspoken, friendly tomes about cooking and eating; perfect to revisit while in the holiday cooking frenzy.

Watched: The Deuce. Meet Me in St. Louis, without which the holidays cannot officially begin. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Alias Grace. Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. Stranger Things. The Netflix Yule Log, for which I make no apologies. It’s cozy!

Listened to: Politely!, by Keely Smith with Billy May & his orchestra. The Song Is All, by Nancy Harrow. A lot of Christmas music.

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November: Looking back, looking ahead

Ugh. From the toxicity and anger of election season to 2016’s seemingly endless succession of great musicians’ deaths (Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Mose Allison, and Sharon Jones, all in one week?!), November was kind of a rough month.

By the morning of November 9th, the 24-hour news cycle and the echo chamber of social media had become overwhelming and more than a little depressing. And so, desirous of less “noise” and tired of wasting my mental and spiritual energies (to say nothing of my time) on fruitless discourse, I decided to take down my Facebook account.

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5 miles! Bring on the sweet potatoes.

Oh, I’m still on Twitter and Instagram, but I find that neither platform is the rabbit hole for me that Facebook was. And, full disclosure, I do still have my music page up on Facebook, but since I administer that page with a pseudonymous account (i.e., no “friends”), there are no news feeds, flame wars, fake news, or—somewhat tragically—cat memes to contend with. The bottom line is, I’m happier, more focused and productive, and less inundated with news I can’t use. Huzzah!

November brought some good things, of course: DUCHESS turned 3, I enjoyed some lovely gigs, and of course, there was Thanksgiving to celebrate. This year, I ran my first-ever Turkey Trot with my dear friend Rebecca, and later that day, we feasted with a special kind of abandon that comes from kicking off one’s morning with a 5-mile run.

The month closed with two amazing variety hour performances at Jazz Standard with DUCHESS. We were joined by Christian McBride and Kat Edmonson as our special guests. We played ukuleles and kazoos, we told lots of jokes, a specialty cocktail was created in our honor…oh, yes, and we sang quite a bit, too. It was a blast. Our sophomore release, Laughing at Life, is coming out in February, and we’re in heavy-duty business mode right now, planning tours and preparing for the launch of a special new project, the details of which I can’t divulge just yet.

Lucky gals. Christian McBride and Kat Edmonson!

Lucky gals. Christian McBride and Kat Edmonson!

Looking ahead, I’ve got two recording projects in the works: one is a jazz tribute to the bird and the bee (in collaboration with drummer Charles Ruggiero) and the other is a recording of intimate piano/vocal duets (in collaboration with pianist Ehud Asherie). The former is in post-production, while the latter will be recorded this weekend; both will see release sometime in 2017.

I love everything about the holidays: Christmas music, parties, food, and the sentimentality that overtakes even the most stoic among us. As this year draws to a close, my wish is simple: may we be thankful, may we be hopeful, may we be kind.

In November, I…
Blogged about: DUCHESS turning 3. October. Singer-friend Kat Edmonson.

Read: La Venessiana, a blog about Venice that bestows a few minutes of beauty and escapism upon the reader. Never Eat Your Heart Out, by Judith Moore, an unflinching and gorgeously written memoir that juxtaposes discomfort and beauty on every page.

Watched: In the Room, by Lawrence Dial. A funny and poignant play that got some much-deserved good ink in the Gray Lady. The Crown. Chaplin.

Listened to: Music of great comfort and humanity, especially Carmen McRae and Stevie Wonder. Leo Sidran’s insightful podcast, The Third Story.

 

December: Looking back, looking ahead

holiday-sale-image-1024x765And just like that, in the blink of an eye, another holiday season has come and gone. December was a month filled with music, friends, and a whole lot of food and wine. Bouncing from gig to gig and party to party was fun, but it was also exhausting, so I was delighted that the month—and 2014 itself—culminated in a quiet New Year’s Eve dinner at home.

I try not to make New Year’s resolutions, but the first days of a brand-new year seem to invite contemplation and a bit of much-welcomed slowness, which I savor.  In years past, I have gravitated toward single words that encapsulate my intentions, hopes, and aspirations for the year ahead: faith, fruition, and action, to name a few.  This year, though, I am greeting the new year with a phrase that I saw making the rounds on Facebook, courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert: “Done is better than good.”

You see, I can get so hung up on my fear of not being able to make something good enough (a recording, a yoga practice, a piece of writing) that sometimes I don’t start at all.  There’s something incredibly freeing about the idea that “done,” with all its inevitable flaws and quirks, still trumps “good.”  “Done is better than good” means that wrong notes, tight hamstrings, and typos are far too inconsequential to keep me from creating something, however meaningful or mundane.  What a relief!

Multi-culti holidays in Brooklyn: the tree and menorah at Borough Hall, our own tree and menorah, a Chinese food ornament (!) and an eggnog latte by the tree.

Multi-culti holidays in Brooklyn: the tree and menorah at Borough Hall, our own tree and menorah, a Chinese food ornament (!) and an eggnog latte by the tree.

Good food, good drinks, good friends...this was a holiday season to celebrate!

Good food, good drinks, good friends…this was a holiday season to celebrate!

NYE Collage

Our NYE dinner: smoked salmon hors d’oeuvres and cheeses to start, then Beef Wellington, followed by chocolate Pavlova.  The wine flowed like…well, you know.  

In December, I…
Blogged about: Fast & Festive Holiday Eating.  November.

Watched: A bunch of Harry Potter movies.  The magic, the metaphor, and the banquet scenes in these films make for perfect holiday entertainment.

Read: The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman; this lovely story was part romance, part historical look at turn-of-the-century New York, and part fairy tale.  Under Magnolia, by Frances Mayes; I love Mayes’ narratives of building a life in Italy and was riveted by this lyrical memoir of her Southern upbringing.  Be Safe I Love You, by Cara Hoffman; a harrowing and beautifully written novel about a woman newly returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq.  Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin; a wise singer-cook friend lent me this book, and reading Colwin’s no-nonsense, funny prose was like meeting a new friend.

Listened to: Uptown Funk, by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars.  Tongue-in-cheek and irrepressibly fun, this song got me through a few brutally early mornings last month.