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.

July and August: Looking back, looking ahead

I can’t believe we’re on the cusp of Labor Day weekend. I know that, technically, fall doesn’t begin for a few more weeks, but there’s a perceptible shift that happens once August comes to a close, when the pace of life increases and boots and sweaters start appearing in shop windows. I’m always a little sad to see summer go, but am also amazed at how much fun got packed into July and August, from swinging gigs to weekend getaways.

A few months ago, I was anticipating a fairly quiet summer, gig-wise, but the calendar filled up with some familiar and new collaborations, all of which were hugely rewarding. Duchess had one gig this summer, in which we performed three mini-sets at the Triad (we were shooting video, so we did a “girl group” tribute, a holiday show, and a salute to the Rat Pack) before bidding each other adieu for the summer. The wonderful drummer Jerome Jennings invited me to sing with his band at a swing dance in Brownsville, presented by the NYPD and Jazz at Lincoln Center in an effort to strengthen and improve relationships between the community and police force. It was a very special evening, and I felt honored to be a part of it.

I joined singer-songwriter Marcus Goldhaber for a few duets one evening at the Friars Club, and returned to my beloved Mezzrow with my equally dear Ehud Asherie, where we played some new tunes for a packed house. It’s always exciting to forge new musical friendships, and over the past couple of months, I’ve had the immense good fortune to do a number of gigs with guitarist Greg Ruggiero and pianist Michael Kanan.

Summer Gigs Collage

Summer gigs! Top photo (Mezzrow) by Jeff Evans, Duchess photo by Fran Kaufman.

Interspersed amidst all this music have been a few heavenly weekend getaways. Both the Fourth of July holiday and my birthday were spent lakeside in Connecticut, where fireworks and barbecues were enjoyed to the fullest. A quick but lovely jaunt to Philadelphia for my mother-in-law’s birthday made for an evening of delicious food and belly laughs. And my husband and I spent last weekend in Montauk, where we indulged daily in sunshine, beach time, and lobster dinners.

A few scenes from July 4th in Connecticut.

A few scenes from July 4th in Connecticut.

Montauk moments.

Montauk moments.

Yes, this summer has been a dream. And the fun isn’t over! As I type, my mother is sitting in my living room, and in just a few days, we’ll be winging our way to Italy for a couple of weeks. I’m feeling the crunch of deadlines and last-minute trip preparations now, but soon we’ll be strolling the narrow alleys of Venice and eating gelato in Lucca. I cannot wait. But first…tomorrow (yes, tomorrow) will find me in the recording studio, making a new CD in collaboration with drummer Charles Ruggiero, featuring pianist Jeremy Manasia and bassist Neal Miner. Stay tuned!

In July and August, I…
Blogged about: June. Singer-friend Vanessa Perea. Authenticity.

Read: Every Anxious Wave, by Mo Daviau. Time travel, musicians, and true love. A fun read. Delicious!, by Ruth Reichl. I love Reichl’s memoirs and food writing, so was excited to read this novel, which turned out to be a good beach read. The Hills of Tuscany: A New Life in an Old Land, by Ferenc Maté. Well-written, funny, and the perfect book to read, pre-Italian holiday.

Watched: The Night Of. A gripping and incredibly well-acted HBO mini-series. I am not alone in my frustration with a central female character’s arc, but this show had me on the edge of my seat. Café Society. You know I generally love Woody Allen movies, and I was delighted to see some NYC musician friends onscreen, but I found this film uninspired. Weiner. A fascinating and infuriating documentary. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Good heavens, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell! Summertime. Katherine Hepburn and romance in 1950s-era Venice! The Olympics! Mostly women’s gymnastics.

Listened to: Ary Barroso and Dorival Caymmi, Um Interpreta e Outro. Ehud hipped me to this beautiful, pre-bossa nova recording with a pair of Brazil’s most iconic composers. Ruben Blades and Willie Colon, Siembra. Blades is seriously one of the greatest singers I’ve ever heard; I cannot get enough of this record. rené marie, The Sound of Red. rené is a generous, open-hearted artist, and it’s wonderful to see her star on the rise. Check out her NPR Tiny Desk concert!

July: Looking back, looking ahead

It’s August!  The temperatures are hovering in the 90s every day, and the slight sunburn on my shoulders is a (slightly uncomfortable) reminder of yesterday’s picnic on Governor’s Island. Relaxing into August’s hot weather and slower pace feels right, especially after a very fun and very hectic July.

SeattleCollage

Scenes from Seattle. What an amazing trip: clear skies, dear friends, and lots of great music.

DUCHESS hit the road again last month.  We trekked out to the beautiful Emerald City of Seattle, my former stomping grounds, for a few days chock full of gigs, sunshine, and time with dear old friends.  We meandered through the Pike Place Market and drank local microbrews at a bar overlooking at Puget Sound.  We paid two visits to my favorite restaurant, Le Pichet, and sipped some rosé at David Butler’s chic downtown wine bar, Le Caviste.  We even kicked up our heels, with a post-gig after-party that included copious amounts of guacamole and a spontaneous dance-off.  Thanks in part to a fantastic write-up in the Seattle Times, our shows at Tula’s and PLU’s Jazz Under the Stars were sold out, so the trip was a resounding success.

A bit later in the month, DUCHESS debuted at Jazz at Lincoln Center, taking the stage at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola for two nearly sold-out sets.  We also performed in Tarrytown, singing an outdoor show for the Sunset Jazz at Lyndhurst concert series.  It was the perfect way to close out our very busy summer; our next shows are in September, when we travel to California for the Monterey Jazz Festival and gigs in LA and the Bay Area.

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It’s always a kick in the pants to wind up in the New York Times.

In my solo singing life, I returned to Pompie’s Place for a couple of performances.  Ehud Asherie, the show’s pianist and musical director, has assembled a very swinging band, and it’s been fun singing solos and duets with vocalist Lezlie Harrison in this cabaret/theater hybrid.  The New York Times came out and wrote a great review, and we’ve got two more shows this month: August 7 and August 21.

A couple of interviews hit the airwaves last month: my appearance on Song Travels with Michael Feinstein aired on NPR, as well as my conversation with Judy Carmichael for Sirius XM’s Jazz Inspired. It’s always fun to talk about songs, singing, and life in the arts with kindred spirits, and both Michael and Judy are such thoughtful, generous hosts.

Looking ahead, August happens to be my birthday month, so I have a favor to ask: will you please take a moment, right now, to vote in the DownBeat Readers’ Poll and the HotHouse Jazz Awards?  You’ll find some familiar names in there, including (ahem) yours truly in DownBeat’s female vocalist category, as well as DUCHESS in several categories (both polls).

Things are a bit quieter on the gig front in the coming few weeks, so I intend to go to the beach, hear some live music, and surrender to the slower rhythms of the dog days of summer.

In July, I…
Blogged about: June.  Nature in the city.  Singer-friend Katy Bourne.

Watched:  Downtown theater.  My friend Jennifer Peterman and her writing partner, Tom Gualtieri, teamed up for a reading of some of their respective work to benefit Stage Left Studio, a performance space that had served as an incubator for developing works in New York City for ten years but which was closing due to the ever-escalating Manhattan rents.  In that spare, tiny theater, Jen and Tom brought characters to life—characters that they had created—and made us all laugh and cry with their honesty and humanity.

I also saw Melissa Ritz perform her one-woman show, Bombshell of Rhythm, about the 1930s female bandleader, Ina Ray Hutton.  She not only conceived and wrote the entire show, she sang, danced, and played multiple characters, commanding the stage for 75 minutes.  Melissa has performed Bombshell of Rhythm throughout the USA and, by sheer dint of her moxie and imagination, she has brought new life to a largely forgotten figure of American popular music.

This kind of open-hearted, grassroots storytelling is deeply moving to witness and, I believe, crucial to the creative soul of a city.  Sadly, in Manhattan, the skyrocketing rents are making it harder and harder for fledgling artists to do their work.  I implore all of us to go out and support new works in off-the-beaten-path venues.

Read:  The Music at Long Verney, by Sylvia Townsend Warner.  My friend Michael Steinman edited this collection of short stories, and I trust both his aesthetics and heart. Warner’s cool, reserved prose took a bit of time to get used to, but yielded rich rewards, like this gem:

“For though it was news to her that she had the soul of an artist, she accepted the revelation.  It isn’t what you do that matters; everyone has a right to earn a living, and fooling a wiling public is as good a way as any other.  They enjoy it, you enjoy it, everyone’s happy.  Where the soul of an artist comes in is when you won’t let the public fool you.”

Listened to:  Jackie Wilson.  I’ve been a fan of Mr. Excitement for many years; his rendition of “Danny Boy” is, for my money, one of the greatest vocal performances ever recorded in any genre, in any era. Pure greatness.