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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October: Looking back, looking ahead

We are exactly three weeks away from Thanksgiving, and this year, my plans look a little different than in Novembers past: on Thanksgiving morning, I will be lacing up my running shoes and joining my friend R. in Prospect Park for a 5-mile Turkey Trot.

In early October, I began using a running app that, despite its horrible name, has been a really effective tool for gradually building speed and endurance. As an added bonus, the app comes with DJ-curated running playlists, including a whole lot of 90s hip-hop, which means I may occasionally be spotted lip-syncing to FELLOW BROOKLYNITE Biggie Smalls as I jog through Brooklyn Bridge Park.

New shoes, autumn leaves...Turkey Trot T-minus 3 weeks & counting!

New shoes, autumn leaves…Turkey Trot T-minus 3 weeks & counting!

Last month, I also had the delight and honor of performing with the great saxophonist, Harry Allen, for two sold-out nights at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Jazz at Lincoln Center).  Talk about a dream gig: singing to a packed house with a swinging, supportive band against the panoramic backdrop of Columbus Circle and Central Park. I’m grateful for every gig I have, but those evenings with Harry at Dizzy’s were truly special.

Singing and swinging with Harry Allen & friends. Photo by Ivana Falconi Allen.

Singing and swinging with Harry Allen & friends. Photo by Ivana Falconi Allen.

Looking ahead, the DUCHESS gals and I have a couple of really exciting shows on the horizon. We’ll be at the Jazz Standard here in NYC on 11/29 and 11/30, joined by special guests Christian McBride and Kat Edmonson. We’re reviving the “variety hour” concept, inspired by Rat Pack-era shows from years ago, and we cannot wait to sing, laugh, and make merry with our friends and fans.

Finally, Tuesday, November 8 is just a handful of days away. Come on, America. Let’s appeal to what Lincoln himself called the “better angels of our nature” and not elect a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, KKK-endorsed (!) narcissistic liar to the highest office in the land.

In October, I…
Blogged about: Traveling through Italy with my mom. Singer-friend Nicky Schrire. DUCHESS turning 3.

Read: Old journals. I’ve been doing a little excavating of my past for a writing project I’ve got in mind. Good heavens, if there is anything more humbling than reading one’s own terrible poetry, penned in one’s lovelorn early 20s, I don’t know what it is. Hilarious and mortifying.

Watched: The Search for General Tso. An informative, fun, and unexpectedly moving film about searching for the origins of a quintessential Chinese-American dish. Trumbo. Bryan Cranston is fantastic as blacklisted Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo, although I wish they’d given the always-excellent Diane Lane, who plays Trumbo’s wife, a little more to do. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Because it’s a Halloween classic (can you believe it’s 50 years old!?).

Listened to: The Land of Desire. This well-researched, conversational podcast exploring the history of France is fun and educational. Worth a listen.

#ImWithHer

Patriotic pumpkins, seen in Brooklyn Heights. Friends, please VOTE!!! #ImWithHer

Autumn: Looking back, looking ahead

The fact that I’m writing one recap for all three months of September, October, and November from a hotel room in Jerusalem while on tour with DUCHESS is probably sufficient information for you to gauge the overall level of busy-ness this fall.  I’ve been doing lots of traveling and lots of singing, which has made me happy, if a bit harried.

September’s highlight was the week DUCHESS spent on the west coast, bringing #girlongirlharmony to California.  We had an amazing time on tour, beginning in Los Angeles and culminating in our debut at the Monterey Jazz Festival.  After the tour ended, I hung out for an extra day to spend some time with my parents.  I’m including a couple of pictures here, but a more comprehensive rundown of our tour is here.

The L.A. leg of our CA trip began with a wild & crazy night at Rockwell, singing with Jeff Goldblum. Reggie Watts made the hang, too.

The L.A. leg of our CA trip began with a wild & crazy night at Rockwell, singing with Jeff Goldblum. Reggie Watts made the hang, too.

2MontereyCollage copy

DUCHESS at the Monterey Jazz Festival, onstage, at our CD signing, and with Jazz at Lincoln Center bari saxophonist Paul Nedzela.

October began with a fairytale trip to the south of France with my husband and in-laws.  Our “home base” was the tiny mountain village of La Garde-Freinet, home to a charming, twice-weekly outdoor market, mountain trails leading to sweeping vistas of the French countryside, and a sizable expatriate community, as well as natives Jean-Jacques the butcher, Hervé the wine purveyor, and Valerie, proprietress of La Freixenet bakery.

We took day trips to St. Paul-de-Vence, Cap d’Antibes, St. Remo (we hopped the border for an afternoon in Italy), Eze, St. Tropez, and Ramatuelle, taking in the breathtaking scenery and sweet villages.  And, oh, how we ate!  We greeted every morning with Valerie’s croissants (the Platonic ideal of pastry), and rosé accompanied every meal.

The charming Provencal village of La Garde-Freinet.

The charming Provencal village of La Garde-Freinet.

A gorgeous afternoon in Eze, with lunch at La Chèvre d'Or.

A gorgeous afternoon in Eze, with lunch at La Chèvre d’Or.

November was a whirlwind of more travel and great DUCHESS gigs, which you can read about on our blog. Another huge November highlight?  Oh, no biggie…I JUST GOT TO MEET NIGELLA LAWSON, THAT’S ALL!  She appeared at the 92nd Street Y in conversation with the wonderful chef/writer Gabrielle Hamilton, and afterward there was a book signing.  (For the record, Nigella was luminous and poised. I was supremely awkward and starstruck.)  Then came Thanksgiving, which was just as it should be: filled with family, friends, delicious food, and the acquisition of a Christmas tree.

NIGELLA!!!!

NIGELLA!!!!

I am very thankful for the extraordinary privilege of traveling freely and sharing the joy of music with others.  Looking ahead, as we enter the holiday season, I hope we can all extend one another peace and kindness, which are needed now more than ever.

This fall, I…
Blogged about: The 20-year anniversary of my year in Italy. rené marie. Dorothy Parker’s thoughts on New York City. Kendra Shank.

Read: Simply Nigella (OBVIOUSLY). Her sweet potato mac & cheese recipe was a hit at Thanksgiving. It’s what I do: a photographer’s life of love and war, by Lynsey Addario.  A riveting memoir by a Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer.  The Lola Quartet, by Emily St. John Mandel. Another haunting, lyrical novel by the author of Station ElevenThe Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, by Matthew Dicks. A fun and poignant novel about the ways our high school years can shape the rest of our lives. 

Watched: Bridge of Spies. Trainwreck. This incredible mash-up of old Hollywood musicals, set to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.”

Listened to: Recreational Love, the new album from the bird and the bee. Rufus Wainwright. Roy Ayers.