July Recap: Litchfield, France, Rutgers, and More!

For the past few years I have wondered how the summers manage to disappear. It’s definitely my most busy time of year, and it’s rare that I can get a few days off to visit the beach or do anything summer-fun related, but this year seems to have really taken the cake. I haven’t been able to post a blog or do much of anything (laundry? grocery shopping? nah!) since July started. As I get back into blogging, let me share with you a few highlights from my travels.

This was my 5th year to teach at the Litchfield Jazz Camp. If you’re friends with me on facebook then you see me post pictures and links, but if you haven’t checked Litchfield out, you should. Litchfield is a 5 week Jazz camp for young people (ages vary from 10 – 18, and even adult students on occasion) which culminates in the 3 day Litchfield Jazz Festival in August. The students are great, the teachers are great, and the location is really great (this year the camp moved to Canterbury School in New Milford CT. It’s an amazing locale. Trust me.) I usually teach one week (piano mostly, not so many vocal students) and teach my ensemble the music of Clark Terry. It’s a special time for me to get to share some of Clark’s wisdom and his music with young people who, unfortunately, won’t get to meet him in person. The camp is still ongoing, and the festival is only a few weeks away. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth visiting.

The Official Group Portrait from LJC Week 1 (Thanks Dale!)

After finishing my week at Litchfield (which, by the way, totally exhausts me because I have to be teaching every morning at 9 AM, YIKES) it was time to travel to France for a short 3 concert trip. We played in Paris on Bastille Day at Sunside Jazz Club and then traveled north to the Valjoly Jazz Festival. I love being able to see different parts of France and this trip was no exception. We stayed on a working dairy farm and enjoyed fresh milk, cream, and yogurt among other fancy homemade jams and breads. The concert was a success and I was able to meet a young Jazz fan, Violette.

The concert at Jazz en Val de Cher was really picturesque as the stage was on a small island in the river. The backdrop of the town was just gorgeous, and since I have played in this region before it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces.

What an incredible view from the stage….

So then, back to NYC and to teach for the first time at Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute in New Brunswick NJ. It was their first time ever to teach Jazz vocals and it was really fun for me to help integrate the vocal students into the current schedule and curriculum. We had a great time singing together and they learned Eddie Jefferson’s “Now’s the Time” among several other songs that they performed on the Friday concert. Rutgers is hoping to start a full time Jazz vocal program in the next few years; I’ll keep you updated.

Me with 3 Vocalists from the Rutgers Camp, Having FUN!

During the same week of the Rutgers camp I also visited with the students at the William Paterson Summer Camp (hi guys!) and performed at Novita in Metuchen NJ as part of my usual Thursday appearances (come by sometime!).

Now, I am back in NYC and back to my regular schedule of gigs (please visit my website for current dates); and even looking forward to some days of relaxation and music on Shelter Island, where I’ll be playing music at the Pridwin Hotel August 3 &4, August 10 & 11, and August 24 & 25.

Come see me and as always, thanks for reading!

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Subtle Sexism: Don’t all Female Musicians know eachother?

Whenever I meet someone from Chicago, I immediately say, “Oh, do you know my friend so-and-so from Chicago?” Similarly when I meet a musician I ask him about other musicians; if I meet a tenor player, then I ask him about tenor players, or if I meet a really swinging bassist, I ask him about other really swinging bassists. Then, if we don’t know any of the same people, I ask about records, books, movies, locales, even food. It’s a natural human response to meeting a stranger. I want find out about them so they are no longer a stranger. I want to find if we have anything in common.

Usually when people meet me, whether they are music fans or musicians, I am always asked the same question. “Do you know so-and-so?” And so-and-so is always a girl. Not a girl who plays my same instrument, or a girl who is from my same town. Quite often we don’t even play the same style of music or even run in the same circles. We’re just both female musicians. And if I don’t know the first female so-and-so, they ask about a second and sometimes third. But ONLY about other female musicians, not any male musicians.

Strangely enough, it is the older musicians (age 65+) who can sometimes be the exception to this rule by asking me about other pianists or musicians to whom I am stylistically related, regardless of their sex.

I know I am a woman in a field that is dominated by men. When I hang out at a club, most people assume I am dating someone in the band, and when I tell them I am a musician they are shocked that I play an instrument and don’t just sing. After all that, I still get funny looks when people realize I am the bandleader, and not just a sideman. Even though there are more women in Jazz everyday, I know being a female Jazz musician still makes me an oddity, and that’s the problem. Often, when a female musician is seen, she is seen not as a musician who is a woman, but as a woman who is a musician.

Just sharing my thoughts, what are yours? 

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5 Tips for a Happier Work Day

A few weeks ago I was in a soundcheck with a few other bands. I wasn’t really in charge (being a featured guest), so I was just sitting and waiting my turn to check my microphone. Everyone was agitated. It was raining and getting to the gig hadn’t been easy for any of us. I could feel the bad energy spreading through the room. The other musicians were irritated with the soundmen, the soundmen were irritated with the musicians. People began sniping under their breath, little snide comments to vent their feelings, but of course we are on a stage with a thousand mics and their little comments were being broadcast for everyone to hear. This further upset the soundmen, which further upset the musicians. Even though we successfully finished the soundcheck, albeit somewhat behind schedule, we still had multiple sound issues during the show (mics going in and out, feedback, etc). Maybe the sound issues were real, or maybe it was just the soundmen getting even. Who knows? Either way, the lesson should be: don’t piss off the people in control of your sound.

That day wasn’t anybody’s fault, per se. Most of us were having a bad day, and bad attitudes spread like wildfire. I have seen it a million times, one mean word to one person, that person says a mean word to another, and boom. Pretty soon you’re in a situation where nothing is going to be accomplished and everyone is going to be unhappy.

As a musician, and as a person in general, we need other people to assist in our daily lives. Maybe that person is a soundman, a secretary, a fellow musician, or the butcher at the grocery store. When there is a task at hand it’s better if all people involved are focused on the same goal: to achieve the goal efficiently, successfully, and with the least amount of fuss. With that in mind, here are a few tips to achieving a pleasant working environment:

1) SMILE. Everyone can benefit from smiling (Men, I mean you! Smile more! Smiling is not for women only!). People like smiles. Smiles put people at ease. Try it.

2) Introduce Yourself. You will get better service if people know your name and you know their name. Don’t address anyone by “Hey, You!” It’s not polite and it makes people think you’re too big for your britches.

3) Small Talk. A simple “How are you today?” can work wonders, or a comment on the crappy weather. 5 seconds of bonding and you have a new friend who WANTS to help you.

4) Tell Them What You Want. Don’t make people read your mind. You know how you want to sound in the soundsystem. No reverb? More treble? Tell them. Most people are relieved to not have to guess how to please you. That being said, don’t be too demanding or act like a know-it-all. Just communicate what you want in a simple and straight forward way.

5) Save the aggressive behavior for when you really need it. Some people will be bad at their jobs or will be jerks, and you will NEED to be able to knuckle down and get their attention (by this I mean asking for a supervisor or just being more aggressive in your direction, etc). if you pull out this behavior too soon, you won’t be taken as seriously. Try to kill them with kindness first, and then proceed from there.

These are just 5 Tips, can you add something?

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Feeling down? Kind of Blue? Jimmy Cobb Can Fix That.

What is Jazz? Where is Jazz going? Jazz is dead! Nobody likes Jazz!

These are all things I hear quite a lot. They’re in magazines, on blogs, on facebook, on twitter (check out Jazz is the Worst for some laughs), and, for the most part, these statements are being made by Jazz musicians and Jazz critics. I think the general public doesn’t care. Not that they don’t care about Jazz per se, but that they don’t care about these intellectual inane arguments. I believe they care about feeling good. They care about going out to have an experience where they come home feeling better than they did when they went out.

That’s certainly the kind of experience I had last week when I went to see Jimmy Cobb at Fat Cat. (If you live in the New York area and you have not seen Jimmy Cobb lately, you should. He is a living Jazz legend / amazingly swinging drummer, who you have probably heard on “Kind of Blue” among other legendary records, and he plays somewhere in this city nearly every week. They aren’t all posh $50-a-person places either. The cover charge at Fat Cat is $3.) I have been going to see Jimmy Cobb play at Fat Cat for 10 years. When I moved to NYC in 2003, Jimmy played nearly every Sunday at Fat Cat with Ilya Lustak and Frank Wess (bass players were on rotation) and I was there, in the front row, nearly every Sunday. I would sit there, listen to the music, and pretend I was in the band, comping along with Jimmy. (Comping, simply defined, is the rhythmic accompaniment that occurs at the piano / guitar and the drums behind a solo). I wouldn’t close my eyes, but I would just watch Jimmy’s snare drum and focus on his response to each solo and each tune. You might think this makes me sound like an obsessive crazy nut job (and maybe yes, a little), BUT I did it because it made me feel good. The rhythm of Jimmy Cobb, comping, ride cymbal and all, can put a smile on anyone’s face.

So if you ever find yourself wondering, ‘What is Jazz?’ Just go find some Jimmy Cobb, live or on record, and hear the answer.

If you’re viewing this in your email, the youtube video (above) may not be clickable. Please view the blog post in a browser to watch the youtube video.


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Throwback Thursday – My First Time in Europe (with audio!)

In 2011 I gave my first performance in Europe. I was invited to appear as a special guest with the world renowned WDR Big Band in Cologne Germany where I would appear alongside fellow vocalist Denzal Sinclaire, with arrangements by David Berger.

on stage in Essen

on stage in Essen

I was absolutely thrilled to visit Europe and Germany. The rehearsals would take 2 weeks (quite a lot of rehearsing!) and we would give 2 performances. The day before my flight to Germany I came down with the flu! I was so nervous about the travel and the time away from home that I was super focused on being healthy and instead made myself sick. It was pretty awful! I flew on the plane with a fever and spent the entire first week basically asleep in my room or in rehearsal. It was my first time navigating a European pharmacy (my advice: bring a translator) and my first time subsisting solely off of room service (the Hilton in Cologne will take good care of you). We had to take press photos in that first week, and I won’t even bother to show them to you because I had such a fever that my hair wouldn’t do anything but stay plastered to my forehead. I also didn’t take a computer OR a smart phone, so I was basically cut off from all my friends and family (even Facebook!). It was quite a challenging time away from home and certainly brought me face to face with the sometimes unpleasant reality of being on the road.

In the Christmas Market, the most common misspelling of my name!

In the Christmas Market, is that my name? Nah, just mushrooms.

Once I began feeling better I was able to really enjoy my surroundings. Of course the music was fun, and getting to work with such musicians was really quite a treat. Cologne is a beautiful city, and since it was around Christmas I was able to see the Christmas Markets and drink some Glühwein (verrrrry strong). Performing at the Koln Philharmonie was very special, because it is such a beautiful space. After the concert I remember they served us Kölsch backstage (I might have kept a few of those tiny beer glasses, just maybe). 

That performance was broadcast on the radio and online; I’d like to share it with you, so I’ve uploaded most of it to my Soundcloud account. I hope you enjoy it :)


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