January: Looking back, looking ahead


Gorgeous Water Island, USVI.

January was cold and gray, both metaphorically and literally. Between December 26 and January 31, I was in the throes of one minor-but-miserable ailment after another. The final tally? Two stomach bugs. One weeklong bout with influenza. Two colds. Oh, and one inauguration. (Zing! I’ll be here all week. Tip your server.)

Oy vey.

There were some lovely moments in the first month of this new year, however. Despite my hacking cough, I had a wonderful gig at Mezzrow with pianist Ehud Asherie. Then, it was off to the Water Island Music Festival for sun, fun, fish tacos, and lots of music (until the final night, when my G.I. system turned against me…again).

Just a few days after returning home from the Caribbean, I was in transit again; this time, for a brief Duchess tour in Ontario. It felt somewhat poetic to be flying to Canada on Inauguration Day, although we were all bummed to be missing the Women’s March. We spent our entire trip cheering on our marching friends and sharing pictures of hilarious protest signs and poignant moments on social media.

I got yer #NewYorkValues right here.

I got yer #NewYorkValues right here.

It was in Waterloo, Ontario that cold #2 descended upon my sinuses, and I made it through that last gig on Sudafed and an act of will. A few short, sniffly hours of sleep, one flight, and one taxi ride later and I. Was. Home.

Sleeping in my own bed for the past couple of weeks has been deeply restorative. The Spanish-themed potluck dinner we shared with a few dear ones last weekend was a balm for both body and soul. Joining throngs of protesters at the #nobannowall protest in Battery Park was invigorating. And I’ve felt well enough to recommence running for the first time in well over a month.

Looking ahead, the new Duchess CD, Laughing at Life, is coming out on February 10; we’re hitting the road again mid-month for a short midwest tour. Our new podcast, Harmony & Hijinks, is now launched and you can listen for free on iTunes, Stitcher, or the Duchess site (I implore you—please subscribe and leave us a review!).


The new podcast from Duchess. Give it a listen!

The bird and the bee tribute I recorded in collaboration with drummer Charles Ruggiero is in the final stages of post-production, and I’m headed into the studio this week to mix the piano/vocal duo CD that I recorded in December with Ehud.

So, yes. This may be the winter of our discontent, but there is music to be made. Onward.

In January, I…
Blogged about: December. Singer-friend Rebecca Kilgore.

Read: Orphans of the Carnival, by Carol Birch. This vividly imagined novel about 19th-century circus freak Julia Pastrana (a real person) was an engrossing read. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos. A tour de force of comedic writing: subversive and rife with social commentary, but dripping with diamonds and “dumb blonde” parlance. Edith Wharton called this book ‘The Great American Novel,’ and I’m inclined to agree. The Muse, by Jessie Burton. This book was a slow burn, but rewarding.

Watched: I Love Lucy. I watched episode after episode the week I was sick with the flu. I used to watch reruns when I was home sick as a kid, and it’s as brilliant and hilarious and comforting as ever. Top Chef. I’m totally addicted. The Young Pope. YOU GUYS. This show is Fellini-esque and beautiful and dreamlike and really, really funny. As a lapsed Catholic, perhaps I’m predisposed to love its irreverence, and as a person with eyes, perhaps I’m predisposed to love looking at closeups of Jude Law…but, whatever the reason, I am obsessed with this show.

Listened to: The Beast, by Jerome Jennings. I’ve known Jerome for almost 14 years (!!) and am a big fan of his, personally and musically—he played drums on my CD, The Great City. Jerome’s debut solo recording is swinging, soulful and socially conscious. He’s managed to pull off that most difficult of feats: he’s made an album that is far-reaching and eclectic, but deeply personal and cohesive. Congratulations, Jerome!


January: Looking back, looking ahead

We’re in the heart of winter, now, the time of year when one’s morale can drop as low as the temperature.  The remaining snow is barely recognizable as such, having long since turned various shades of drab gray and brown.  The salt strewn on every sidewalk in New York City is beginning to take its toll on the soles of our shoes.  Sunset is still dispiritingly early, with darkness falling around 5:00pm.  And these first few months of the year are notoriously slow for musicians in terms of gigs.

For the past several years, though, I have had the exceedingly good fortune to be a performer at the Water Island Music Festival, which takes place every January on a tiny residential island just off St. Thomas.  This year, the festival’s always-lovely beach days and musical evenings were further sweetened by the knowledge that we were missing a doozy of a blizzard back in New York City (#sorrynotsorry).


A change of scene…sun and sand on Water Island, USVI.

It’s amazing what an infusion of sunshine and music-making can do for one’s sense of optimism.  Yes, fish tacos on the beach were heavenly, but so were the braised beef short ribs with chestnuts and dates I made upon our return from the Caribbean.  The days are getting longer!  And I find myself inspired, rather than disheartened, by the prospect of open space on my calendar.  What better time to practice, write, and lay the groundwork for a new project than when it’s dark and cold outside?

2016 is a Leap Year, so this February has 29 days: one extra day in which to savor winter’s hearty food, opportunities for introspection, and crisp, cold air.  I’m looking forward to it.

In January, I…
Blogged about: Jane Monheit.  DUCHESS in Israel.  Acceptance.

Read: A bunch of books (my New Year’s resolution to abandon iPhone games/distractions on the subway and replace them with reading has been transformative), but the standout, by far, was Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter.  The storyline, which spans decades and continents, is too sprawling and involved to describe here, but the characters’ respective journeys toward redemption and healing are the heart and soul of this beautifully written novel.  I don’t often cry at the end of a book, but Beautiful Ruins shattered me.  Also read this month: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen; The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais; The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice, by Laurel Corona.

Watched: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. “They alive, dammit!”  I CANNOT wait for the next season to air.  This show makes me howl.  The Intern. I watched this on the plane home from Water Island.  I enjoyed this film, although it’s not without its flaws.  How refreshing, that the central relationship—between a 30-something woman (Anne Hathaway) and an older man (Robert DeNiro)—was not romantic.  Both characters learned from one another in some important ways, although for a film that was ostensibly about a powerful woman, Hathaway’s character still spent a lot of time getting lectured by men.

Listened to: Catherine Russell, Bring It Back.  Good GOD, get this record if you don’t have it already!  From Duke Ellington-penned standards to century-old trad jazz tunes to contemporary R&B, Catherine Russell inhabits a musical world uniquely her own.  She’s backed by a tasteful, supremely swinging band led by guitarist Matt Munisteri.  Every song sounds brand new in Russell’s capable hands.


Scenes from the Water Island music festival.  Top: All the festival’s performers (plus a few friends) lunching on the beach.  Bottom left: The view from the performance venue.  Bottom right: Big hat, big glasses, big day at the beach.


Top: The sun setting over Water Island.  Bottom: Boarding the ferry to St. Thomas, en route to the airport, following another wonderful year at the Water Island Music Festival.



January: Looking back, looking ahead

Scenes from Water Island: musicians, sunset, and moments from the beach...

Scenes from Water Island: musicians, sunset, and moments from the beach…

Was it really just a couple of weeks ago that I was hanging out in the Virgin Islands for the Water Island Music Festival?  For the second year in a row, E. and I trekked down to St. Thomas and took a short ferry ride over to a tiny residential island for a few days of music-making with and among extraordinary musicians.  During our (plentiful) down time, we ate fish tacos on the beach, swam in the placid turquoise bay at Honeymoon Beach, and took in stunning vistas as we motored around the island on the locals’ preferred form of transport: the golf cart.

From this...

From this…

Of course, all good things must end.  When our time in the Caribbean was up, we tossed blossoms in the water (to ensure our return to the island), boarded our flight, and returned to snowy streets and icy temperatures.

...to this.

…to this.

Last month also heralded the official Rondette Jazz release of the new CD from the George Gee Swing Orchestra, Swing Makes You Happy.  Trombonist/musical director David Gibson arranged a swinging mix of standards, transcriptions, and original compositions for this album, which has been getting some great press: All About Jazz gave the album four stars, and DownBeat named it a January Editors’ Pick.

Finally, January was a great month for musical match-ups.  In addition to performing piano/vocal duets with Wells Hanley in the Caribbean, I teamed up with pianist Ehud Asherie for an intimate evening of standards at Mezzrow.  Saul Rubin and Noah Garabedian (guitar and bass, respectively) were warm, supportive collaborators when we performed at Saul’s long-running vocal series, and pianist Joe Alterman and I hit the road for gigs in Atlanta and Phoenix.

Official release on Anzic Records on 2/17!

Official release on Anzic Records on 2/17!

Looking ahead, there’s some very big news on the horizon: the eponymous debut CD from DUCHESS is being officially released on Tuesday, February 17!  If you haven’t done so already, you can pre-order the album on iTunes or directly from Anzic Records, and please join our mailing list to stay in the know about some big shows and exciting developments in the world of girl on girl harmony!

In January, I…
Blogged about: The ups and downs of freelancing. Singer-friend Bess McCrary. December.

Watched: Chef.  I love food movies, and this one, written and directed by Jon Favreau, boasts a fantastic cast (John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Oliver Platt) and a really fun soundtrack.

Read: An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler.  A contemporary meditation on eating and cooking well, based on M.F.K. Fisher’s iconic missive, How to Cook a Wolf.  Adler’s prose is thoughtful and elegant, and if you’re even a little bit intimidated by cooking, this book is the answer: there are no complicated recipes (there are no recipes at all, really), just sane, simple ways to make cooking a part of your life.  Above, by Isla Morey.  A harrowing, riveting novel about a 16-year-old girl who is abducted by a survivalist and spends years below ground in an abandoned bomb shelter, eventually raising a son in captivity.  An unexpected plot twist raises fascinating questions about freedom vs. captivity, safety vs. danger, and the nature of forgiveness.

Listened to: Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook.  When Ehud and I performed at Mezzrow last month, we wound up playing a bunch of Rodgers and Hart tunes, which inspired me to spend some time with this album.  For straightforward, swinging interpretations that put the songs first, there’s no better resource than Ella’s songbook series.