Monday, March 09, 2015

Queen Esther Sings Billie Holiday -- Minton's in April

Queen Esther Sings Billie Holiday: The Rare Sides
A different program each week!
Every Tuesday in April
Sets at 7:30pm and 9:30pm
$10 at the bar — $20 at the table
Minton’s Harlem
206 W. 118th St.
for info/reservations 212 243 2222

April 7th    Holiday on Broadway
In honor of Billie Holiday’s centennial (April 7, 1915 – April 7, 2015), Queen Esther recreates the program from Lady Day’s Broadway debut Holiday on Broadway, which opened on April 27th, 1948 in the wake of her first Carnegie Hall appearance.

April 14th   Queen Esther Sings Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall, 1956: A Refracted Set
Using personal letters, soundbites and interview segments from Lady Day herself, Queen Esther puts a refracted spin on Miss Holiday’s last Carnegie Hall performance, giving the audience a new perspective on the greatest jazz siren of the 20th century.

April 21st and 28th   The Billie Holiday Project
With the relatively unknown yet timeless songs of the iconic siren Billie Holiday as an aural backdrop for several newly unearthed Zora Neale Hurston short stories from the height of the Harlem Renaissance – including Monkey Junk, an uptown “fable” of Black city life and an instant classic – Queen Esther explores new ground by giving this unexplored material a fresh perspective.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

My Travel Essentials -- The Top Five

Of course, there are certain things that live in anyone's carry on bag when traveling internationally -- passport, wallet, a very smartphone, housekeys.  And there's the well-stocked girly bag that always lives in just about any purse -- hand cream, hand sanitizer, lip balm, tissue, etc.  These are a few of the other things that are coming with me when I fly the friendly skies next week.
  1. Bose Quiet Comfort Acoustic Noise-Cancelling Headphones -- When it's time to make the world go away, accept no substitutes. 

  2. A fully loaded iPad Air 2 -- With this handy ultra lightweight tablet, I'll be able to make videos, write and record songs, watch movies, practice the piano and work on my music theory, Skype my pals and a lot of other things I haven't even thought of yet. 

  3. A Satechi bottle top portable humidifier -- Nothing has the capacity to minimize my vocal mojo quite like a dry hotel room.  If nothing's wrong, that dryness can make things problematic. And if there's a problem, it can make things worse. The steam from a hot shower helps in a small room -- but not for long. This portable device is a great solution.  Its simple, fits on just about any water bottle and will last up to 8 hours.

  4. I hate to sound like Howard Hughes but the tap water on airplanes is notoriously filthy and everything else is suspect.  Thanks to Britta, I've fallen out of the habit of buying a bottle of water whenever I'm thirsty.  And when it's this easy to drink water, I tend to avoid everything else.

  5. ...and because I'm turning into a boy scout, I'll need a portable charger.

Monday, March 02, 2015

The NaBloPoMo for March: News

I keep a journal, I'm diligent about my morning pages and once in a blue moon, I'll write an article or an essay that gets published somewhere.  Writing every day for a month at a time via NaBloPoMo has proven to be excellent mental floss. It never fails to shake something loose creatively, especially if I'm spreading that information around.  Spring is almost here.  I've been growing a lot of ideas.  It's time for them to bloom. 

When it comes to news, most people I know trust Reddit or Twitter before they'll tune into a network. I don't trust any of them, so I'm constantly cross-referencing whatever I can get my hands on until the mosaic of information that I collect gives me a three-dimensional picture of what's really going on.  Sorting through bits of "newsworthy" flotsam is such a constant, I do it without thinking about it.  All manner of trivia gets stuck in my head that isn't necessarily newsworthy.  Like the weather in Bora Bora vs. Walla Walla, or what A'lelia Walker's last meal was or what happened at Attica or overtly racist white people who justify their cultural appropriation or fun details about Freud's cross-dressing niece Tom. And having wide-ranging conversations with people who are smarter than me is really important because that's a wonderful way to grow and learn new things.

The problem is, most people don't know how to think critically.  It's not what's taught in schools, which is why most people don't know how to argue a point with any real clarity or insight.  They repeat what they heard or what they're emotionally clinging to or what some conservative news outlet told them.  They're too emotionally attached to what they're saying to be truly objective. Or they're just flat-out not listening to what is being said. All of this is compounded by the fact that they usually have a conflated sense of self that won't allow them to admit any of this. 

Meh. MPB is right. It's better to not engage in the first place.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Next Gig: The Sweetheart Soiree - TONIGHT at The Norwood Club!

-->Return to romance at Michael Arenella's Sumptuous Sweetheart Soirée.

For our Soirée's sixth, swoonful year, we again have the pleasure of hosting at the only rendezvous befitting - NORWOOD. "A home for the curious," the landmarked 1847 mansion is a strictly private club. Enjoy a rare opportunity to experience this stylishly bohemian hideaway as our guest.

Whether with an amour, wedded to one you adore, or hoping to meet the one you're looking for, this promises to be an evening of enchantment and delightful intrigue. Plenty of plush seating, room for dancing, artisanal cocktails and an array of delectable hors d'oeuvres and sweets assure a most divine affair.

A passionate programme of entertainment will be featured over four floors of this lavish Victorian manse:
MICHAEL ARENELLA and His Sextet, your devoted host and beloved bandleader
Jazz royalty, QUEEN ESTHER and Her Trio
Tap-dance darlings THE MINSKY SISTERS
Enjoy a dance lesson for both singles and doubles at 9:30PM with
The ever-dapper and undeniable adorable RODDY CARAVELLA
A cheeky portrait in our sweetheart kissing booth with your nibs

Cupid-approved cocktails alongside fabulous wines will be available.
For purchase at three unique bars, complimentary gourmet hors d'oeuvres.
And sweet treats will be featured throughout the evening.



Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday the 13th #1: Photoshoot!

Because Friday the 13th happens three times this year -- and won't happen again for another 11 years! --  I thought it would be fun to do something momentous for each one.  I'm not superstitious but I know way too many specifics about my Southern rural traditions, and I have sense enough to respect them.  Everybody's got their thing.  Such is life.

It's interesting to mark the days this way, with art that I make or ideas that catch me off guard.  This moment came together with photographer Steven Rosen so effortlessly, it felt like fate.  Steven was the one who took this portrait of me at the Jazz Age Lawn Party last year.  This photo captures the ethereal, timeless, elegant nature of the event -- and me! -- so completely, that asking him to shoot me for the April residency was a no-brainer.

I will be in residence at Minton's Harlem every Tuesday in April, with a program I've created that is dedicated to delving into unknown facets of Billie Holiday's body of work.  Every week, I will present a different idea, with unexpected results. What's especially exciting is that 2015 is her centennial year and the first Tuesday of the residency -- April 7th -- is her birthday.

I have been thinking about the visuals for this project for a long time, mostly because I was in the process of shaping my own image and I knew that it would bend its way onto this idea whether I wanted it to or not.  I wanted something simple and austere, yet elegant and beautiful -- mood-inducing stuff -- because ultimately,  I should look the way the music sounds. But it's bigger than that. I can no longer have anyone look at me and think of anyone else except me. And that's WAY more difficult than it sounds. 

Here's an out-take. And just in case you were wondering: I'm wearing a Byron Lars silver hobble dress, I did my own hair and make-up, and yes, I styled it myself.

For information about the April residency at Minton's Harlem and/or to make reservations, please call 212 243 2222.

I know there are a lot of people who will be looking for gardenias in my hair or an imitative send-up of her more popular material, because quite a few of those people have approached me whenever I sing any Holiday standard with a peony on my head.  Sometimes they say the oddest things, like how my flower is on the wrong side of my head or how I don't sound like Billie Holiday at all or how I must listen to a lot of Carmen McRae or Nina Simone or whoever their favorite black female jazz singer is.  I love peonies. I think they're a gigantic burst of color to my soul. I think they wake up something in me whenever I wear them. But I can't wear them anymore.

I have absolutely no intentions of turning myself into Lady Day for a month.  Miss Holiday herself got tired of that flower and those songs long before she passed away, and made a point of moving past them with resolve when the rest of the world refused to do so.  My question is, what about the rest of her work?

I hope that everyone is as interested in her rare sides as I am -- those songs that were hits back in the day but don't get a lot of attention, here and now.

See you in April.