Thursday, April 16, 2015

Spring Cleaning, Part One: Swaps!

Time to watch an episode or two of Hoarders for motivation, roll up my sleeves and clean house.

This month, I'm starting with my closets. I'd like to refresh my wardrobe but I don't have the money to fling at every cute outfit I see when I window shop -- and frankly, I've got way too many items that I never wear.

My solution? Swaps! Who knew that you could swap your clean, gently used/not broken stuff -- including housewares and whatnot -- all over Gotham for free? (I didn't!) 

Here's a short list to get you started.
  • Stop 'N Swap! Sponsored by, you can show up with that blender you never use -- or come empty-handed and take whatever you need.  (Sounds like hippies to me...!)
  • Fashion Swap and Meet is wunderbar -- their last swap featured fashion bloggers.
  • Although features over a dozen swaps in the New York area (including one for single parents with small kids), Five Boroughs Clothing Swap looks promising. It's members only -- hopefully with others who are as thrifty and fashion-conscious as you are -- it happens six times a year and it's free.
  • There's lots of shops that swap, like Thrift Disco and The Frock Shop...
  • ...and yep, you can do this online via Swapdom, Swap! and Thread Up.
My solution? A few times a year, there's an extremely private swap amongst maybe a dozen friends that involves a lavish meal, lots of wine and clothes galore.  Whatever gets picked over is donated to a great cause, like a women's shelter.  (My favorite donation spot: The Bottomless Closet.)  And because I know which girlfriend has that pencil skirt I used to love, I can always get it back if I miss it too much.  That's the beauty of swapping with a closed circle of friends: we're all up in some small part of each other's closets.

There's also another seasonal swap amongst friends -- a tea party! with cocktails! and delicious tea cakes and whatnot! wheeeee! -- that's strictly vintage.  All this with regular donations to the Salvation Army means that my closets are actually in pretty good shape these days. And here's a happy bonus: losing this pesky winter weight means that I get to wear all the clothes in my closet, not just the stuff that fits me this week. 

Next month: Zen and The Art of Clearing My Junk Room...!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Billie Holiday Post Script 2: Carnegie Hall, 1956 -- The Refracted Set

On Tuesday night at Minton's Harlem, with a wonderfully enthusiastic audience (another full house!) and my coterie of musicians, I deconstructed Billie Holiday's last Carnegie Hall concert from November 10, 1956, which was created to promote her autobiography Lady Sings The Blues. Instead of reading from the book, I read from bits and pieces of ephemera I found at the New York Public Library.  It was a stellar night.

The next time you think of Billie Holiday as a victim and a heroin addict first instead of a genius musician, there are a few explosively noteworthy trainwrecks that you should reconsider, too. Frank Sinatra -- who openly admitted that everything he knew as a jazz vocalist he got from Lady Day -- was a violent alcoholic, addicted to painkillers and, some say, bipolar. Thelonious Monk drank, smoked pot and did drugs to excess. And yes, he had bipolar disorder.  Charlie Parker's propensity towards drug excess was legendary.  Miles Davis. Need I say more?

Nevermind infamous jazz musicians -- everybody knows about them. What about common drug usage?  During the Victorian era, laudanum -- a mix of 10% opium and 90% alcohol and flavored with cinnamon or saffran -- was especially popular.  And why not? It had been popular with the Greeks in antiquity. The Victorians used it to cure menstrual cramps, headaches, as a tranquilizer, even fed it to cranky babies. Everybody drank this stuff.  Keats. Shelley.  Dickens. Louis Carroll.  It was as common and as socially acceptable as scotch -- and much cheaper.  Not surprisingly, it was the beginning of the 20th century before they realized it was lethal.

And the rest? Chopin did opium drops on sugar cubes every day.  Leonard Bernstein was heavily addicted to alcohol, drugs and painkillers, quite possibly because of his latent homosexuality -- or heterosexuality, depending on who you ask. Stravinsky was horribly addicted to all kinds of medications.  Contrary to popular belief, Miss Holiday was hardly the only one on a landscape of creative individuals that drank, smoked pot, did drugs and led what many consider to be a tragic life.  (Charles Mingus? Louis Armstrong? Bessie Smith? What black jazz musician led a life that wasn't tragic in some way?) Everyone had their fair share of misery but for some strange reason, no one else's addictions are listed before their achievements.  Probably because of the media hype that sensationalizes every foul aspect of What Happened To Her -- along with that ridiculous, cockamamie biopic starring Diana Ross -- we are left to view her as a hapless victim. No one seems particularly interested in focusing on her accomplishments, which are nothing short of incredible.

 Well. I'm interested.

Join me next week at Minton's, where my April residency in tribute to Lady Day continues. For more information, click here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Berlin: Poor -- But Sexy!

MPB said Berlin felt like New York City in the 90s -- and he was right.  With that in mind, I'm not so sure if I miss that city or what this place used to be.   Maybe its a bit of both.

As Gotham puts the squeeze on me and I defiantly make my art by any means necessary, I keep practicing German and I keep my options open.  Lots of things are pulling me across the pond. Like gigs.  And graduate school.  And fun. Let's see what develops.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

TONIGHT: Georgette (Queen Esther + Lee Ann Westover) at Uncharted! 8pm

 Uncharted!  Thursday, April 9th at 8pm  -- $20
Greenwich House Music
46 Barrow Street
New York, NY
Ph: (212) 242-4770

 *Please note: Your ticket gets you free beer and wine all night long.

As a part of the Uncharted Music Series at Greenwich House Music School, singer/songwriter/musician Lee Ann Westover and I will be blazing away as Georgette,  our newly formed alt-country/Black Americana outfit.  

With George Jones as our namesake (because I love him -- and why not?) we've decided to delve into a few 70s feminist classics along with some of our own original material.  The result is a twang-drenched, soulful and *surprise!* irreverent take on modern sounds in country music. 

The Band:

Hilliard Greene, bass
Pete Matthiessen, guitar + vocals
Dalton Ridenhour, piano + vocals
Shirazette Tinnin, drums
John Widgren, pedal steel guitar

 See you there!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Billie Holiday Post Script 1: Holiday on Broadway

On Tuesday night at Minton's Harlem, I stood in a room that Billie Holiday herself performed in many times and I recreated her 1948 Broadway revue to a packed and attentive house with some of the best musicians I know. And I did it on her 100th birthday.

It doesn't get any better than that.

Thank you, Julia Collins for saying yes to my ideas, thank you Talvin Wilks for grounding and shaping the work, thank you Jeremy Bacon for those flawless charts and thank you Charles Goold, Noah Jackson, Wayne Tucker and Patience Higgins for playing the living daylights out of this music. (And thank you Jett Drolette for photographing us all night!) If you were a part of the audience, thank you for celebrating Miss Holiday's 100th birthday with us. I hope you had as much fun as we did.

Next week on Tuesday April 14th --using sound bites, personal letters, rare news clippings and reviews, and yes, her music -- we will reimagine Lady Day's last Carnegie Hall performance in November of 1956.

See you there.