May: Looking back, looking ahead

Ebbs and flows—of money, of employment, of time—are hallmarks of the freelance life, and I’ve loved the busy-ness of the past six months. Singing has taken me from a film set to Italy to the Caribbean to Canada, as well on short jaunts to the Midwest, South Carolina, the Pacific Northwest, and the Hamptons (and a vacation took me to Mexico for some much-needed R&R). When not on the road, I’ve been onstage or in the recording studio. Yes, 2017 has been fast-paced and action-packed thus far, and I’ve been having a great time going with the flow of busy-ness.

But…(you knew there was a “but” coming, right?) when one’s energies are directed outwardly for too long, it’s absolutely essential to replenish the well, which is exactly what I was able to do in May. Last month, I hung out with friends, ran a 5K, visited the Met and Cooper Hewitt museums, saw a performance of Shakespeare in the Park, went out to hear some great live jazz, and I even saw an opera. It feels so good to be a tourist at home, gleaning inspiration from New York’s endlessly vibrant art and culture.

Shakespeare in the Park; stopping to smell the roses at Brooklyn Botanic Garden; the Jazz Age exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt museum.

Of course, May hasn’t been all leisure. With the help of the nice folks over at Squarespace, I built a shiny new website, which has been on my to-do list for quite a while. And I’m currently doing a lot of preparation and outreach in anticipation of—drum roll, please—the Anzic Records release of THE LATE SET, my new album with pianist Ehud Asherie, due out in October!

The new homepage over at hilarygardner.com!

Looking ahead, I’ve got a few great gigs on the horizon (including an exciting show with Duchess for Lincoln Center Out of Doors on July 28), and I’m really looking forward to summer. I’ve got a whole list of fun summer plans for the months ahead, including a Circle Line cruise, picnics in the park, beach days, beer gardens, and baseball. Summer’s here. Let’s party.

In May, I…
Blogged about: April. The Song Is You (a remembrance of Josh Wolff). Singer-friend Andrea Wolper.

Read: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler. A well-written, enjoyable read about a woman who, had she been born in a different time, might have been remembered as so much more than a famous writer’s tragic wife. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. I’ve felt a strong inclination toward doing more writing, and this book was just the push I needed to get started.

Watched: Der Rosenkavalier, Lincoln Center HD. A big-screen version of Strauss’ gorgeous opera, with Renée Fleming in her last performance as the Marschallin. Exquisite. Julius Caesar, Shakespeare in the Park. This production was way too heavy-handed with the Trump metaphors (we get it, a megalomaniacal narcissist is running our country and imperiling our democracy), but Corey Stoll is always fantastic.

[UPDATE: In the wake of Delta Airlines, Bank of America, and American Express pulling their support from the Public Theater, I would like to add that I support the Public Theater without hesitation or reservation. Part of what art is meant to do—indeed, perhaps its most important function of all—is to, however provocatively, interpret and portray complex issues that pertain to the here and now. For crying out loud, the whole point of Julius Caesar is that democracy is fragile and can be undone, even destroyed, by violence.]

Listened to: Double Bass Double Voice (Emily Braden, Nancy Harms, Steve Whipple). I saw this trio’s CD release show at the Zinc Bar and was completely blown away by their song selections (everything from Duke Ellington to Stevie Wonder to traditional spirituals to Billy Joel), inventive arrangements, playfulness, freedom, and communication.

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Spring: Looking back, looking ahead

All too quickly, spring has come and gone and we are careening full tilt toward summer. What can I say about the past few months? March took me to Mexico, where I spent a lovely week with my parents, who live on the Baja.

We sipped mango smoothies in the mornings and strolled long stretches of the all-but-deserted beach in the afternoon. We cooked lots of delicious food and drank lots of ice-cold Mexican beer. We road-tripped to El Triunfo, Todos Santos (my favorite) and La Paz. I delighted in painterly Baja sunsets and the velvety-dark night sky, perfect for stargazing. I can’t wait to go back.

Mexico1

April’s highlight was a quick tour to Montana with Duchess. That same month, I joined millions of fans in mourning Prince’s untimely death. Then, May ushered in a stubborn summer cold (yuck) and the recording of Duchess’ second CD (yay!).

Looking ahead, I am eagerly anticipating a return to Northern California for a tour with Duchess next week. June has been fast-paced and full of activity, but the rest of the summer looks quite relaxed, with time for afternoons spent reading in the park, weekend getaways, and (I hope!) spontaneous beach days.

Also on my summer agenda? Digging deep into this book and honing my sight-reading skills. Summer school, if you will.

This spring, I…
Blogged about: Singer-friend Thana Alexa. Duchess’ upcoming new CD & recent Montana tour. The Everlasting Now.

Read: I did a lot of reading the past few months. I’ll spare you the complete list, but here are some of the books that stand out. And Again, by Jessica Chiarella. A vaguely dystopian novel whose premise centers on the complex ethical issues surrounding human cloning. At its core, though, this is really a novel about identity; what actually is the “self” when a person’s body (and a lifetime of scars, piercings, tattoos, and illnesses) can be erased and recreated as new? Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin. In all honesty, Rubin’s approach to life often comes across as austere, or even joyless, but her research on how and why we form (and keep!) habits was interesting and useful. A House in the Heights, by Truman Capote. Some of the loveliest prose I have ever read, with the added delight of being set in my neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights. I wanted to memorize each sentence. Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. A challenging and extremely well-written portrait of a marriage. The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin. A feather-light but enjoyable imagining of the real-life friendship between Truman Capote and New York socialites in the 1950s. The Voiceover Artist, by Dave Reidy. Wry and sweet, and imbued throughout with a sense of place (the novel is set in Chicago), I enjoyed this debut novel. In Some Other World, Maybe, by Shari Goldhagen. I expected this novel to be a fluffy read, but it was poignant and smart and human. I really liked it.

Watched: Birdman (on the plane from Montana). Sophie’s Choice. I’d read William Styron’s novel and seen the film adaptation years ago, but was blown away all over again by the actors’ nuanced, earnest performances. Silicon Valley and Veep, both of which make me cackle.

Listened to: Chris Isaak, The Baja Sessions. I’ve loved this record for years, but after my idyllic week on the Baja in March, I’ll forever associate it with long drives through Mexico. Prince. Lots and lots of Prince. Peggy Lee.

 

May: Looking back, looking ahead

My heart is full and my head is still spinning from a magical few days spent in the Crescent City. I visited New Orleans for the first time back in October, when DUCHESS performed at Snug Harbor and the Boswell Sisters Revue.  To put it mildly, the city got under my skin in a big way, so when E. and I were deciding where we’d like to go for our first real vacation in several years, we immediately chose New Orleans.  The trip was pure pleasure, with every day spent eating and drinking (oh, how we ate and drank), walking through various neighborhoods, and delighting in incredible music literally around every corner.

Jackson Square under moody skies.

Jackson Square under moody skies.

I fell completely under the spell of JoAnn Clevenger, the septuagenarian proprietress of Upperline, a restaurant that will forever be New Orleans to me, both in spirit and cuisine.  E. kibitzed with Debbie Lindsay, who co-owns Kitchen Witch, a vintage cookbook store (!) in the French Quarter.  Debbie told E. stories about Cosimo Matassa and Allen Toussaint while ringing E. up for a mint-condition Ray Charles box set—because of course Kitchen Witch also sells CDs and vinyl. And late one night at the Spotted Cat, I caught up with an old friend and native New Orleanian, Kevin Louis, swinging out on trumpet and vocals with the New Orleans Jazz Vipers.

One day, we joined a throng of over a thousand people in a second line for a young NOLA musician who had passed away recently; we walked through Tremé surrounded by music that grooved so profoundly that I can only describe it as the sound of life itself.  We visited a little antique shop in the Faubourg-Marigny where E. bought me some costume jewelry from the 1950s and the shop owner told us that next time we visited, he’d have us over to his home, where he keeps the really good stuff.  We drank Sazeracs in a leafy garden at twilight, gaped at the splendor of the Garden District, and got goosebumps at a drum circle in Congo Square, the birthplace of virtually all American music.  There’s so much I want to tell you, and I suspect a more in-depth, focused blog post will be forthcoming.  For now, though, this little photo travelogue will have to suffice.

Looking ahead, I’m getting ready to hit the road with DUCHESS.  We’ve got quite a busy touring schedule this summer, and we’re heading out of town in just a couple of weeks.  DUCHESS’ June calendar contains performances at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Regattabar in Boston, the Toronto Jazz Festival, the Rochester Jazz Festival, and the Saratoga Jazz Festival; you can check out our complete gig schedule on our website.

In May I…
Blogged about: April.  Singer-Friend Wendy Gilles.  Foodie Tuesday: Spring Green.

Watched: The Mad Men series finale.  I’ll miss the fashion, the martinis, and (most of all) Roger Sterling’s classic quips.

Read: Mostly NOLA guidebooks, to prep for our trip.

Listened to: The Peaceful Side, Billy Strayhorn.  A rare recording of Strayhorn at the piano, playing his own compositions.  Some tracks feature the addition of a string quartet and vocals by the Paris Blue Notes.  Strayhorn’s arrangements—especially the vocals—are beautiful and strikingly modern.  WWOZ, 90.7 FM.  The marvel of modern technology allows me to wake up to the sound of New Orleans right here in Brooklyn.

NOLA B&B

Clockwise from bottom left: our NOLA B&B served sweet potato-bacon-bourbon bread pudding for breakfast; the garden at our B&B; deciding the day’s itinerary.

NOLA CongoSquare

Scenes from Congo Square, right across the street from our B&B.

NOLA Food

Creole tacos, beignets, muffalettas, and lots of cocktails…NOLA is, without question, my kind of town!