Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Sixth Day of Kwanzaa: Kuumba


today's principle: to do always as much as we can, in the way that we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

making our world a better place doesn't necessarily require gobs of cash or anything that money can buy.  sometimes its the little things that matter the most.

i'm a creative thinker and i believe that creativity is an important force in the universe, so this is usually the day that i give Kwanzaa presents. i got caught out there early on, making greens for our extra-special watch night eve dinner but thankfully i managed to pull it off anyway.

i make the best pound cake in the world.  don't believe me? just ask anyone that's ever had a slice. some folks call it scratch cake because you make it from scratch and it's so basic and simple -- eggs, cream, salt, etc -- but it's really remarkably light and delicious.  the recipe is a family secret that has been a part of us for years and is passed down to each female child that is a direct descendant, which kind of makes sense. your daughter in law may not know how to cook but the girl child you raise definitely will.

if you are black, if you know what pound cake is and why it matters and what its supposed to taste like -- and yes, if you are from the south (because we maintain black folk traditions that other regions don't know of or discard for the sake of "progress") -- a slice of this cake instantly transports you to your grandmother's kitchen, your mother's dinner table, your neighbor's house for thanksgiving.  and everyone's pound cake is different. it's like a signature. they are all the same, with those same basic ingredients and somehow, they are radically different, and who knows what that's about.

this is a snapshot of jimmy carbone of jimmy's no. 43 on e. 7th street in new york city and myself, with his kwanzaa present. he's the dopest chef ever. he brought all that ridiculously delicious food to the jazz age lawn party last summer but he's been holding it down in the lower east side since, like, forever.  i became an instant fan when he had a little place called mugsy's chow chow. but that was a long time ago. that was the 90s. (!!!)


i think jimmy likes his kwanzaa present...!

i always feel bad about making scratch cake for kwanzaa because once you eat it its gone.  i wanted to make things that would last. i wanted to knit sweaters. a scarf! something that you could hold onto later. cake doesn't work that way. when i told that to jimmy, he laughed and said, it's not gone yet!

and then he said something interesting.

jimmy said that it's the memory of the cake that's lasting. the memory and how that memory is created. that's what really matters: the conversation, the coming together of so many different folks that you wouldn't think had anything in common, the socializing, the connectedness. it's the moments that happen around the cake, not necessarily the cake itself. and yet, yes -- it's the cake. 

then he waxed poetic for a moment, about how as a kid in massachusetts, his italian parents would bundle him and his siblings up during the holiday season and they'd go visit family and friends and bring lots of food, and what a bonding experience that was, how important that was for all of them.

and then he very sweetly offered a slice of cake to everyone at the bar -- the happy couple next to me, on their way to a phish concert; the guy reading a book and eating alone; the beautiful skinny bespectacled bartender who inhaled hers in one bite and, laughing, dove in for another. and then he gave some to other customers. and we all had that beautiful moment. 

of course, i had to tell jimmy about watch night and freedom eve. he'd never heard of it. not surprisingly, he hadn't heard of the traditional meal that happens afterwards, either.

the next time i see jimmy, i'll bring him some gullah rice. (he's never heard of that, too.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Fifth Day of Kwanzaa: Nia



today we focus on nia, which officially means to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.  i think it's hard to pull off a collective purpose for the community if we aren't on point individually. my first question to anyone today would be, do you know your purpose in life?  if you don't know, what are you doing to figure it out? if you do know, how are you accomplishing it?

are you living your life on purpose?


Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Fourth Day of Kwanzaa: Ujamaa

today's principle: to build our own businesses, control the economics of our own community and share in all our work and wealth.

in other words, buy black


once upon a time, we had our own black doctors and dentists and midwives. we ate at our own restaurants, drank in our own bars and juke houses and attended our own churches and schools. we frequented our own businesses and shopped in our own grocery stores. because we weren't allowed to do so anywhere else. well -- legally, we could go anywhere. but if we did go to the white part of town, we were quite literally taking our lives into our own hands. 


in too many instances, prosperous black communities were obliterated by angry whites who resented their industriousness and financial independence and/or who wanted their land and resources.  remember the rosewood massacre of 1923?  an entire prosperous self-sufficient black community in florida, slaughtered on the supposed infallable word of a white woman who cried rape.  and no, that wasn't an isolated incident. for more on the subject, read buried in the bitter waters: the hidden history of ethnic cleansing in america by elliot jaspin.


buying black -- like buying american -- isn't as easy as you might think. the story of one chicago family's effort to buy black is the stuff of what some would like to think of as urban myth. or an impossible dream, maybe. i buy things mindfully.  i want to know where it comes from, what corporate entity is behind it, who's getting my dollar. i'd prefer to empower a black female but hey -- that's just me.


 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Third Day of Kwanzaa: Ujima

This means "to build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and solve them together." 

My immediate thought turns towards volunteer work within the community but it's much bigger than that.  The African proverb of the village that is required to raise a child holds true here, too. In the same way that the parents aren't the only ones who grow a child into the fullness of adulthood, we help or hinder each other in a myriad of unseen ways that reverberate through our inner selves constantly.

No man is an island. No one does it on their own.  You may have a great idea but it's going to take a lot of people to help you pull it off. Quiet as its kept, it takes a village to live a life.  It certainly takes a village to have a career. 

How could we possibly have made it through The Middle Passage, over 400 years of slavery, the Antebellum South, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the homegrown terrorism of the KKK and the overall violence, the degradation, the virulent racism (institutionalized and otherwise), the microaggression, the indignity, the almighty insufferable all-consuming flat-out ignorance of much of the American populace has towards us if we did not have each other?

Remember this, loud and clear: we were not supposed to survive any of this. Millions of us were lost as slave traders crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The work was much too hard for anyone else. We were not supposed to make it.

To read the best explanation for Ujima that I've gotten so far, please click here.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Second Day of Kwanzaa: Kujichagulia



According to Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa, self-determination means "to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves."

This definitely isn't a principle that I celebrate once a year. This is my way of life.

If I give a gift on this day, it's usually a blank book. You want to define yourself? Keep a journal. I know, I know -- I'm supposed to make that book. I did consider it a few months ago when I looked at some book binding kits out of curiousity and totally fell in love with the entire process. Somewhere in there, I saw an exhibit at MoMA from a German sculptor whose name escapes me that put together pulpy looking books from magazine ads, newspapers, you name it.  When you leafed through it, it was complete gobble-dee-goop -- which is apparently what he thought was in most periodicals, anyway.

I'll probably end up making a book for myself, just to see if I can do it.



Thursday, December 26, 2013

The First Day of Kwanzaa: Umoja



Kwanzaa -- which is a cultural and social observance amongst African-Americans and has nothing to do with Christmas or any religious celebration -- is, in my opinion, a many splendored thing.  It is inclusive, it has principles that are universal and because you can veer away from the hard and fast rules of it all any way you like (and yes, there are rules), it can also be a lot of fun.

Basically, you have to make the gifts that you give. Educational gifts are encouraged. What's important is that you give of yourself.  The upshot of it all is, for those seven hectic days after Christmas when the rest of the world is running around buying more stuff, returning stuff for more stuff or breaking toys they just got, you are gathered together with your family, your friends who are your family and the ones who really matter, and you are focused on other things.

My first day of Kwanzaa was an unstoppable fountain of joy.

Onward and upward.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Bucket List 2013 -- The Harlem Edition (Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa!)



None of the winter bucket lists I see online ever resemble mine. Not that I wouldn't want to go on a carriage ride or make gingerbread houses. That sounds cute but I'm way more likely to be found staying up all night making Kwanzaa presents or sipping my specialty Mexican hot chocolate at a black folk pot luck.

There's no getting away from Christmas once it explodes sometime in the fall (!!!) but the truth is, Kwanzaa has nothing to do with Christmas, it's not religious and it's not an anti-white people holiday alternative. Like a lot of things black folks do, Kwanzaa is something that we do for our selves -- to unite us, to honor our past as African-Americans, our collective history and our ancestors, and to reconnect with our purpose, as individuals and as a community. If white people are down with that and want to participate, hooray. There's always plenty of culture to go around. If not, oh well. It's really not about them.

Kwanzaa is much more fun than Christmas -- and for me, it's very personal. You have to make the gifts you give -- something that stymies a lot of people I know, until they realize that the gift doesn't have to be tangible.  The day you give the gift can infuse it with even more significance. If you're not craftsy, educational gifts are encouraged.  The Kwanzaa gifts I have given are pretty out there, I suppose.  You give what you have. You give who you are. I have been a pretty good wingman, agony aunt and third wheel in times past. I've given a voice lesson and a performance clinic here and there.  Once I even taught a friend how to smother a chicken.  And my pound cakes -- as well as my tomato pies -- are kind of legendary.

There are hard and fast rules but I don't live and die by them. I make them my own. Will you light Kwanzaa beeswax candles? Maybe.  Truth is, my libation ceremony will probably be cocktails with a few sisters at a speakeasy.

Lemmie put it to you this way. Christmas means running around in malls and bouncing around online and buying presents -- and if you run out of ideas or time or patience, Christmas means sending gift cards or cash money. You must send something. Kwanzaa means giving someone something very personal, something that you make with your own hands, something from you that will hopefully resonate with them in some way. You must give of yourself.

Here's a winter bucket list that may look a lot like yours.
  1. Get a wreath for your door -- or better yet (in the spirit of Kwanzaa),  make two and give one to a friend. 
  2. If you haven't already, it's probably a good idea to start assembling your Kwanzaa presents. (Un)fortunately, (most of) the things I make are edible. This year, I'm getting especially craftsy for a select few. (Finally!)  Otherwise, I'm locked in my kitchen for beef stew (Evan), smothered pork chops (Jane), several quarts of Mexican hot chocolate (you know who you are) and -- of course -- pound cake.
  3. Wait until that (Southern) ATL visit and go sit on Black Santa's lap at Greenbriar Mall. You know that's my story.  Black Santa, baby. (More on that here.)
  4. You wanna watch a holiday movie? Forget Elf. Watch Bad Santa with a bunch of black folk -- unedited, of course.  You'll laugh so hard, you'll scream.
  5. Go to The Apollo Theater's Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night on Friday, December 27th.
  6. Go to American Museum of Natural History's Kwanzaa 2013: 35th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, December 28th.
  7. The dance company Batoto Yetu will celebrate the seven principles of Kwanzaa with movement and festivities at Aaron Davis Hall on Saturday, December 28th.
  8. From December 26 - 28, The African Burial Ground has a pretty spectacular Kwanzaa celebration -- the 10th Anniversary Observance of the Rites of Ancestral Return -- that includes short film, visual art, live music and performances that run the gamut from spoken word to The Black Nutcracker. And yes -- all of it is free and open to the public but reservations are required.
  9. The Studio Museum in Harlem has Hands On Kwanzaa Celebration -- art making activities and an interactive performance program for kids -- on Target Free Sunday, December 29th.
  10. Skip the Bridge and Tunnel crowd, the tourists and the rest of the amateurs and celebrate New Year's Eve Eve instead of New Year's Eve.  (That way, you can enjoy First Night and still have fun with revelers. More on that here.) You can catch me and my jazz quintet The Hot Five at The Player's Club in Grammercy Park on Monday, December 30th for The Salon's annual fete and December 31st for The Player's Club and their New Year's Eve gala.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dear Black Santa -- The Short List

This is what I want from Black Santa -- and no, it's not in order.  Will I get it by December 25th?  Everything is happening all at once and Christmas is always on its way, so the short answer is no and yes. 
  1. A lean, strong, healthy body -- with smooth, clear, wrinkle-free skin and a clean bill of health.
  2. Yes, I want to win the pie contest again at the Jazz Age Lawn Party. (There, I said it.)
  3. It would be nice to run a mile in less than 9 minutes without feeling like I'm about to have a heart attack. 
  4. Millinery classes galore -- because it's high time. 
  5. A virtual album release party every other month via Concert Window, starting in February.
  6. Weekly all day scrub it down/soak it up visits to Spa Castle. Or at least K-Town.
  7. Regular visits to see our twin God-daughters in Charleston, SC.
  8. A powerful left hook and a much improved right cross.
  9. A lengthy stay -- all by myself! -- at Bikini Bootcamp in Tulum, Mexico.
  10. A European tour -- with my music! --  in the spring.
The important thing is, I've still got my foot on the gas.  Selah.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Girls Not Brides

Bill Gates recalls once being invited to speak in Saudi Arabia and finding himself facing a segregated audience. Four-fifths of the listeners were men, on the left. The remaining one-fifth were women, all covered in black cloaks and veils, on the right. A partition separated the two groups. Toward the end, in the question-and-answer session, a member of the audience noted that Saudi Arabia aimed to be one of the Top 10 countries in the world in technology by 2010 and asked if that was realistic. “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates said, “you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10.” The small group on the right erupted in wild cheering.



Astonishing but true: two thirds of the world's illiterate population are female.  In many countries, secondary education isn't free. In most poor families, if there's a choice between educating a daughter or a son, the boy goes to school and the girl labors in the fields and does housework.  The consensus is, girls leave (to raise their own families) and boys stay (to take care of their parents -- or at the very least, their mothers). Some girls are forced into marriage when they are as young as nine, with the tacit understanding that the husband won't have sex with them until they are of age. Quite often, they have sex with them, anyway. The results are often catastrophic.

Yemen must be hell on earth for little girls.  Then again, I suppose that when you're dirt poor, receiving a hefty pile of money to marry off your prepubescent daughters would be big business.  It's also tradition. 

The idea of putting girls first rankles a lot of people -- especially when it's African and South Asian girls.  The truth is, girls are denigrated all over in the world. Although Chinese girls are making great strides towards education in the cities, school is a rare luxury in rural areas.  And yes -- believe it or not, there's much work to do right here at home.

I loved books when I was a kid. My mother taught me how to read when I was 3 years old -- thank God.  By the time I hit kindergarden, I was on fire.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Oh, Kanye, Part 3: That Confederate Flag and You

So these are the images in question by artist/illustrator Wes Lang



Nothing you haven't seen before, if you've even so much as glimpsed bands like Lynrd Skynrd, Metalica, Megadeth, The Grateful Dead, Judas Priest. Or if you know any bikers. Or purveyors of West Coast tattoo art. Kanye is appropriating that imagery and more, and draping a Confederate flag over it.

(Meh.)

I suppose Kanye KKK hoods and robes are next.  If he makes them fashionable enough -- and he can because that's a big part of what he does -- he won't have any trouble selling them. (Hey, that's got a ring to it - Kanye KKK!) He can wear one all the time and call himself The Grand Dragon Wizard -- of Greatness and Brilliance. Because, according to him, that's what he is.

Of course, later he will sell those KKK outfits -- and the regalia that accompanies them -- in Barneys in pastel hues for thousands of dollars. Because he's brilliant.  Right?

He sounds bipolar to me. Here's a few symptoms.
  1.  Feeling unusually “high” and optimistic OR extremely irritable 
  2. Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities or powers 
  3. Hyperactivity 
  4. Racing thoughts; jumping quickly from one idea to the next 
  5. Impaired judgment and impulsiveness 
  6. Acting recklessly without thinking about the consequences 
  7. Talking so rapidly that others can’t keep up 
  8. Distractibility
    1.  
       
Manic depression is touching my soul
I know what I want but I just don't know
How to, go about gettin' it
Feeling sweet feeling,
Drops from my fingers, fingers
Manic depression is catchin' my soul

Woman so weary, the sweet cause in vain
You make love, you break love
It's all the same
When it's, when it's over, mama
Music, sweet music
I wish I could caress, caress, caress
Manic depression is a frustrating mess

Well, I think I'll go turn myself off,
And go on down
All the way down
Really ain't no use in me hanging around
In your kinda scene

Music, sweet music
I wish I could caress, caress, caress
Manic depression is a frustrating mess
                  Well, that just about sums it up for me. One thing is for sure. That flag isn't going anywhere.

                  Sunday, December 08, 2013

                  Sunday Sermonette



                  This is Sylvester Stewart -- otherwise known as Sly Stone -- at the tender age of nine (!!!) singing Walkin' In Jesus Name.  Listen in and be blessed!

                  The Day The Music Died

                  Today in 1980 -- 33 years ago! -- John Lennon was murdered in New York City. For an interview with music critic Greil Marcus, click here.

                  Friday, December 06, 2013

                  Oh, Kanye Part 2: That Confederate Flag (in context!)

                  Now might be the moment to take a look at the Confederate flag in context -- something that most people aren't willing to do.

                  Everyone was flying a lot of flags in the South during The Civil War. (Please note: This war has a lot of names. Many Southerners refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression because according to them, it wasn't a war. It was an invasion. Most of their black counterparts called it The Freedom War. You get the idea.)   The Confederate flag as we know it (also known as "Stars and Bars") actually originated as the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee.  There were three official Confederate flags to represent the new nation, none of which resembled the battle flag. To add to the confusion,  each Southern state created their own flag. All this flag waving was more than confusing, especially in battle. It was General PGT Beauregard who came up with the idea of a peace flag and a war flag, so enemies could easily be recognized in the fray.  He gave his assistant William Porcher Miles the task of creating the war flag. How he came up with it is more than interesting.

                  Inspired by the flags that he saw at the South Carolina secession convention in December of 1860, Miles -- who had been chair of the Committee on the Flag and Seal, conveniently enough -- came up with a blue St. George's Cross (also known as a Latin cross) on a red background, with white stars that represented each  slaveholding state. 


                  No surprise that he put the crescent and palmetto from South Carolina's state flag in the upper left corner.

                  This flag, however, is the one that was chosen.



                  Miles changed it to a St. Andrews Cross (the cross of Scotland, interestingly enough) to appease Southern Jews who didn't want any religious symbol to represent the nation.  The number of stars changed according to how many states had joined The Cause.

                  Miles changed it to a St. Andrews Cross (the cross of Scotland, interestingly enough) to appease Southern Jews who didn't want any religious symbol to represent the nation.  The number of stars changed according to how many states had joined The Cause.

                  Needless to say, because the Southerners lost the war and remained rebels who were deeply committed to the idea that the war was an ongoing situation, the battle flag -- also known as The Dixie Flag, The Confederate Navy Jack, The Southern Cross and yes, The Rebel Flag -- was the one that they wholeheartedly embraced. 

                  As a Southerner by proxy -- that is, someone who is two generations removed from slavery -- I can't hold onto the Confederate flag in any way.  For the life of me, I don't understand exactly what Southerners have to be so proud of.  First of all, you lost. Yes, that's right. You lost the war. Yes, you fought valiantly. Yes, you have your brave war heroes, your majestic leaders. Even with all that greatness, you lost the war.  It doesn't matter how many times you dissect, review and reenact the battles. You still lost. 

                  There, I said it.

                  Secondly, you fought for states rights -- that is, the right to have slaves -- which *surprise!* was completely immoral.  Thanks to the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the growing abolitionist movement, Abraham Lincoln's election and a few other factors, the Southern antiquated social construct was eroding quickly. The end.

                  Last but not least, the antebellum South arose -- wherein millions of black people were displaced, whole communities slaughtered, torture, violence and lynchings of black men, women and children was rampant and rape was commonplace. The state and local laws did nothing to defend or protect black people and the federal government did not intercede. Where is the pride in that? 

                  We are not a monolithic people. I no more expect young Southern black folk to take up the Confederate flag en masse than I would expect to see all young Jews running around wearing swastikas and waving SS flags.  Because they know their history. It's a real shame that we don't know ours. That's what's missing --  a healthy dose of history and some real perspective.  A lot of old black folks lived through it and way too many young black folks don't know about it.

                  You want a strong dose of Southern/American history? Read Buried In The Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America by Elliot Jaspin and then tell me if you seriously want to wrap yourself in a Confederate flag.

                  A description from Goodreads: Leave now, or die! From the heart of the Midwest to the Deep South, from the mountains of North Carolina to the Texas frontier, words like these have echoed through more than a century of American history. The call heralded not a tornado or a hurricane, but a very unnatural disaster--a manmade wave of racial cleansing that purged black populations from counties across the nation. We have long known about horrific episodes of lynching in the South, but the story of widespread racial cleansingabove and below the Mason-Dixon line--has remained almost entirely unknown. Time after time, in the period between Reconstruction and the 1920s, whites banded together to drive out the blacks in their midst. They burned and killed indiscriminately and drove thousands from their homes, sweeping entire counties clear of blacks to make them racially "pure." The expulsions were swift-in many cases, it took no more than twenty-four hours to eliminate an entire African-American population. Shockingly, these areas remain virtually all-white to this day. Based on nearly a decade of painstaking research in archives and census records, Buried in the Bitter Waters provides irrefutable evidence that racial cleansing occurred again and again on American soil, and fundamentally reshaped the geography of race. In this groundbreaking book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Elliot Jaspin has rewritten American history as we know it.

                  Thursday, December 05, 2013

                  I'll Tumble 4 Ya

                  I fell into a conversation over a pot of tea with a gal pal for the umpteenth time who expressed a profound sense of confusion when we were talking about what I do. The conversation went something like this:

                  Setting: A noisy, super trendy coffee shop on Food Drink Boulevard. She looks like she's on her way to a first date with a guy she likes way more than she should. I look like a Nigerian graduate student -- as usual.  She's eating pastries. I'm eating clean. We are talking about everything and nothing.

                  Her: I went to your website, I saw where the gig was and stuff.

                  Me: And?

                  Her: I dunno. I wanted more.

                  Me: More what?

                  Her: I dunno! More stuff.

                  Me: Well. (slight pause) Did you scroll through?  Did you see the photos? I've got a blog, too. Actually, I've got two blogs.

                  Her: I don't have time to read all that! I mean, I have time. I guess. I dunno... (her voice drifts off)

                  Me: You are such a ding-dong!

                  Her: I know, right? (we both laugh) I dunno. The website is cool but I want more you. You know? Everything is there and it's cool but. There's not enough you.  And not enough stuff.

                  Me: (hissing) What stuff?

                  Her: You know. Stuff! I wanna see everything.

                  Me: (to myself, trailing off) I don't know what that means.

                  End scene.

                  Later, I remembered a friend saying something about how I shouldn't make it difficult for anyone to find me online.  And I was like, duh. But it's different for me because I wear a lot of hats and those hats have hats.  So I've created a specific place for a specific hat -- a Tumblr site for the music that I do. Actually, it's primarily for the next album, which should be out by next month.  I want anyone -- even my little teatime friend -- to be able to go to that site and have the sensory overload for my new album that their post-modern 21st century sensibilities have grown to expect.

                  I get it. Social media is a hydra and everybody's different. Everybody has their favorite platform, their favorite way to dissect information online. Some people are fine with a great website that has all the information in one place. Some people want a blog so they can read all about it. Some people just want to know where the next gig is happening. Some people don't like musicals or cabaret acts or performance art or hot jazz or swing music or whatever else I'm up to. They want rock and roll, straight up -- and that's all they want.

                  It's ok. I love you all.

                  http://thisisqueenesther.tumblr.com

                  Next up? A 3 minute video/doc/EPK.

                  Wednesday, December 04, 2013

                  The Next Gig: Queen Esther sings Billie Holiday at HAF Sessions, 12/12

                  FYI: I'll be doing a short 30 minute set of Billie Holiday's rare sides for this event, and I'll be accompanied by guitarist Marvin Sewell in one of Harlem's newest hotspots.  (For tickets, click here.)



                  “The HAF Sessions are an incredibly important part of honoring our commitment to both the artists we work with and the community we serve. Our goal is to establish a continuous presence in curating contemporary work.” JJ El-Far -- Harlem Arts Festival Creative Director, Co-Founder

                  Tuesday, December 03, 2013

                  Why is everyone (talking about) leaving New York City?



                  (This sounds an awful lot like Lou Reed, doesn't it.)

                  The other day, someone said offhandedly that New York City was like a 50 year old woman who hasn't realized she isn't 20 anymore. That cut me to the quick -- in part because it meant that I was culpable in some small way by having taken up with such a delusional middle aged broad. I want to believe that there are probably a dizzying array of things that I haven't realized either but the unfortunate truth is, I do realize those things and I'm here, anyway.  I'm not sure what here is -- a modern day purgatory, a self-imposed exile, a bad habit that's eaten up the best years of my life. Or maybe it's just flat-out stupidity.  It's probably all of those things and more.

                  Every other day, some artist I know goes off on some rant about the death of this city that sparks something in me.  How they have to work a full time job or work freelance, and there's no time or energy left to create anything because the best of you just got squeezed out to pay rent and student loans. How working freelance means that you're at the mercy of a backwards situation -- that is, you're taking the work no one else wants or is able to do. You are grossly underpaid because there's always a recent college graduate who would be happy to do it for less than nothing or better yet, for nothing at all, just so they can get enough experience to climb over you and get ahead, where ever that is. How the best of what you've got has gone into everyone else's creative situation and years into this bone-crushing, soul destroying grist mill of a town, you've got nothing to show for it.

                  Librettists. Dancers. Musicians. Filmmakers. Graphic artists.  Clothing designers. Stylists. Visual artists of every ilk imaginable. It's like an epidemic of some sort, when everyone gets the flu one by one. You're on the train, someone coughs and the next thing you know, you're in bed for two days. We're all feeling it. We're all experiencing it. We're all aware of it. And no one is doing anything about it. Everytime I turn around, I'm running into someone that let's it blurt.  They're moving to Austin, Texas or they're running off to Berlin or God knows where. And God knows there's always graduate school.  Or a national tour. But those things only prolong the agony.  Eventually, you return and you catch this sickness, just like everyone else.

                  I ran into a friend on the street -- well-educated, somewhat well-known and struggling like the rest of us -- who went off on a tangent out of nowhere about how impossible it is to find space in the city to sculpt large scale work.  What's obvious by now is that this city is a place for those who are already on top, not the rest of us who have yet to establish ourselves.  Ah, but it wasn't always so.  There used to be room at the table for all of us. Now we sit here, with our bowls extended and our wide open hungry eyes peering into that dark urban abyss, wanting more and not getting it. It's only a matter of time until we go away. Right?

                  There are others who seem to recognize this -- everyone from twentysomethings who've figured it out already (dig this line from that article: "Why would I want to make it there when I can make it everywhere else?") to David Byrne and Patti Smith and a lot of other people, too.  Everyone isn't just talking about leaving New York City. They're actually leaving. Early and mid-level artists are experiencing a collective grand mal seizure of epic proportions.  All these part time jobs just aren't adding up like they used to do.

                  This quote from an article in Crains that was published in 2010 pretty much sums it up: Industry experts worry that New York will become a place where art is presented but not made, turning the city into an institutionalized sort of Disney Land. One arts executive says it could become “a Washington, D.C.,” a sterile, planned city with a number of cultural institutions but few artists—certainly not a place known as a birthplace for new cultural ideas and trends.

                  David Byrne is right.  Take a long walk through any Manhattan neighborhood and you'll see we're well on our way to urban sterilization. The rest of us will eventually see ourselves out.

                  Monday, December 02, 2013

                  End of the Year Blowout!


                  I'm going to do NaBloPoMo because I need to get unstuck with my writing. Whatever prompts me into these spontaneous fits with these little scribbly moments will give me the impetus I need to dig in with everything else.

                  Someone on Fitbit's blog threw down a gauntlet and challenged everyone to walk/run 600,000 steps by December 31st. They made that challenge three weeks ago but of course I didn't see it until last night. At this juncture, that would mean I'd have to run something like ten miles a day. Right away, I figured why not. If I aim for ten, I'll probably do five, which is what I'm supposed to have under my belt every day, anyhow.  So I'll be getting unstuck physically, too.

                  The real reason I'm jumping on the fitness fast track is because I'm singing at The Kennedy Center's Millenium Stage next month with my jazz collective The Hot Five.  When they told me that they're doing a simulcast that will be archived -- well, that just about cut it.  I'll be hornswaggled if I won't look amazing on camera for posterity.  A snapshot on an off day is one thing. Forever and ever for the whole world to see is something else.

                  The quintet and I will be at The Player's Club for New Year's Eve Eve and I return with a duo for New Year's Eve, so there's that.  What's really driving things forward at the moment is the timeline I sketched out with my director Talvin Wilks for The Billie Holiday Project, the musical I'm developing.  We had a meeting last week that truly lit a proverbial bonfire under my butt. 

                  I'm starting every day this month with a drop off to Bottomless Closet or the Salvation Army for that handy dandy tax write off, and I'm decluttering absolutely everything.  Stuff is getting thrown out, shredded, donated or sold, in short order. By New Year's Eve, everything must be in order -- cleaned, scrubbed, scoured and organized -- because as the saying goes, how you end the year is how you'll live out the next one.

                  Onward and upward, kids. 

                  Sunday, December 01, 2013

                  Sunday Sermonette



                  And now, a word from Lady Tramaine Hawkins -- the first vocalist I ever made a deliberate effort to imitate, ever.  She's a real powerhouse.

                  While she was in high school, she was a member of The Heavenly Tones which eventually became  Little Sister, the four member group that sang backups for Sly and The Family Stone -- on recordings and in concert.  Lady Tramaine eventually married Walter Hawkins and was lead vocalist with his Love Center Choir for years. That album Love Alive! is a basic and simply shimmers with empassioned brilliance. It's the perfect synthesis of soul, funk and traditional gospel. 

                  How interesting that Lady Tramaine, the Hawkins brothers and Sylvester Stewart were walking down the same (gospel) path, more or less...