Friday, January 23, 2015

Quote of the Day -- from Peace Pilgrim

"Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you -- and in this materialistic age, a great many of us are possessed by our possessions." -- Peace Pilgrim

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

30 Days of Yoga -- Eventually...

A few days ago, I impulsively bought a supercheap 30 day unlimited pass from Yogaworks. That's right -- I can take as many classes as I want, on any day that I want, at any of their locations, for a month.  All I have to do is activate it by January 31st.  Thanks to a yoga passbook that fell in my lap last spring, I bounced in and out of all kinds of yoga classes long enough to realize that I quite like bending my body into submission. And it did come as a surprise to me, to know that my body could still surprise me.

For some strange reason, I haven't pulled the trigger on this offer yet. Probably because everything is still relatively dead calm and I'm enjoying the quiet before the whole wide world comes rushing in.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

That State of the Union Address, though...

If you missed it, here it is -- President Obama takes what can only be described as a victory lap as he outlines his two year plan for the nation. Jump to 21:53 for the start of the speech. To read along, click here

The response from Republican Senator Joni Ernst -- proud Iowan, wife, mom, military veteran, pig farmer and former child hog castrator -- is not to be missed.  That bread bag remark alone launched a jillion well-aimed memes.

Who is Senator Joni Ernst? Five minutes ago, she was a rural county auditor. Once she landed in the Iowa legislature, the Koch brothers came along -- and yes, so did several other billionaires -- to bankroll her political rise. A scant three years later, she's a senator -- the first woman to represent Iowa and the first female veteran in the Senate. A week after being sworn in, she's tapped to give the Republican response.  Coincidence? Not according to Senator Ernst, who (along with several other Republican politicians) credited the Koch brothers for their success. 

Cindi Lauper was right. Money changes everything.

When you realize Senator Ernst is working hard to strengthen the agenda of a few very powerful billionaires who, like Simon Bar-Sinister, would like to take over the world, it really puts all that folksy, homespun, rural, (lower) middle-class talk in a different light. To my ears, it sounded sardonic. They don't call her Exxon Ernst for nothing.

Here's the must-see political ad that put Senator Ernst on the map.  Because going on and on about liberals and government waste of our hard-earned tax dollars and such is more than enough to distract people from the fact that you're basically an ambitious tool.

That should be enough to make anyone squeal.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Quote of the Day -- from Chris Rock

"Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before. So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. 

If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people."
(Read the rest of the New York interview here.) 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

THE NEXT GIG: East Ville des Folies -- February 7th at Webster Hall

I'll be singing jazz at East Ville des Folies as they resurrect the not-so-temperate 1920s for their Third Annual Beer and Whiskey Festival -- replete with four floors of burlesque, booze and savory delights -- on Saturday, February 7th at Webster Hall. Come get foolish with us.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Pick Up The Pieces

As I get my priorities in order and piece together the rest of the year, this song by the Average White Band is on permanent repeat in my head, so I thought I'd share.  Somehow, through a flurry of to do lists, phone calls and flow charts,  everything is taking shape in this effortless way that smells like a promise foretold.  Winter is the perfect moment to hibernate, work on new ideas, work on self.  I've got a new cookbook, a new blank book, I'm re-reading books on music publishing.   I submitted songs to the IMAs and the ISC.  No matter how much I practice, it's never enough.

I'm clocking 6 miles and 20 flights of stairs every day on my fitbit. To get this chunk off of my midsection, I'm going to have to double those numbers and eat clean. I need new ASICS running shoes and my mornings in the gym until spring to pull that off.  A ten week timetable is doable. The dental surgery I've been putting off will even things out. So will a month of unlimited yoga

Talk about eating clean: I'm doing the winter farm share from the Corbin Hill Food Project -- and I got a lamb share, too.

And then there's the banjo in the living room that's on permanent loan from Mike that won't stop glaring at me because I haven't touched it in forever. So that's it -- I'm getting cheap weekly lessons, I'm going to touch it all the time. Clawhammer, here I come.

My Baby Taylor hasn't let me down yet. I used it to write my next album -- which is done, more or less.  More songs keep churning out of me, though.  I want to record, mix and master it before the end of the year, no matter what. A spring 2016 release would be ideal. I'll be in Europe on tour in March, God willing.  In the meantime, I'm a performing musician with HAI, working on a set of holy blues and learning how to sing all over again. At least that's the way it feels these days.

Hilliard Greene promised me music theory lessons.  The junk room is starting to look like a junk room. I want to try the tasting menu at Minton's.  I have to go down south to see my Godbabies.  I need a backup pair of my favorite Sam Edelman pumps, in black.  The wine rack in our bar is completely empty.  I have to get a Fender Strat, for the road.

I have to pick up the pieces.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Wednesday Night Residency at Minton's Continues!

The JC Hopkins Biggish Band in action at Minton's. Photo by Gabi Porter

Every Wednesday since last May, the JC Hopkins Biggish Band has been seriously tearing it up at a newly-revived Harlem hot-spot called Minton's -- the place where be-bop was born.  Thankfully, we get to keep that ball rolling into 2015.   With six horns, a rhythm section and a very grand piano, it's not exactly a big band.  We swing hard, though. Some of the hottest players in the city are in that band, gliding through beautiful arrangements of unexpected standards and original songs that shine.

Charles Turner is a wonder.  Strangely, we sound like we've always sung together. 

Sit at the bar and have a drink and let the music embrace you. Dance, if you like. And yes, the Lowcountry cuisine is kind of fantastic.

“The birthplace of bebop, Minton’s on 118th Street, has been reborn as a venue that is as classy as it is historic. The long-neglected room has now been remodeled into one of the most attractive venues in the city, with a menu that puts most Midtown clubs to shame. The combination of pianist-bandleader JC Hopkins and vocalist Queen Esther expertly recapture the vitality and energy of Harlem jazz and blues of 70 years ago without slavishly imitating anyone and are thus a perfect fit, and they should help the relaunched room attract the attention of dancers as well as diners.” — The Wall Street Journal

Minton’s — 206 W. 118th Street at St. Nicholas
Doors open at 6:00pm.
Performances at 7pm – 11pm.
Music charge: $10 at the bar, $20 at a table.
Dinner reservations are recommended.

For more information: 212 243 2222

Friday, January 02, 2015

That Gratitude List

Someone encouraged me to create a gratitude list instead of making pithy resolutions for the new year.  To be honest, there's no room for resolutions in my life. I'm constantly chipping away at my goals and priorities, and something usually comes along and turns everything upside down when I least expect it. That forces an overhaul, of sorts. And then I start all over again, in the middle of everything.  I'm so used to getting the rug pulled out from under me in some way or another that I'm not so sure I'd know any other way to live.  It's kept me hungry.  So there's that.

Here it is, before it changes into something else. 
  1. I am so grateful to be alive -- right here, right now. Period.
  2. God's presence in my life is a beautiful thing. 
  3. I'm grateful to my younger self for taking such good care of my body and I'm grateful to who I am now, for the drive to maintain it.
  4. MPB makes me want to be a better man and every day, there is more love.
  5. I'm grateful for my family: the ones who raised me, the ones that God sent to me and the ones who are growing me up as an artist, who inspire me and compel me to get better at all of this.
  6. I'm grateful for my "mentor" James "Blood" Ulmer.  Then again, he's not my mentor at all. I don't know what he is to me.  There's too much in there to say any one thing. I love him more than he will ever know.  That's what he is -- the one who is dear.
  7. To feel inspiration move through me and change me as it does so is a privilege.  I'm eternally grateful for my life as an artist.
  8. Here's another debt I owe to my younger self: I'm grateful for my tenacity. I didn't give up on my talent or myself.   I developed what I had and then I came to NYC. Once I took root here, I didn't quit. I stuck with it and I kept growing. God help me, I'm still growing. God help me. The bottom line is, I am responsible for the talent that God has given me. What could be worse than having talent and doing nothing with it?
  9. I'm grateful that I make my art, my way.  The songs on my latest album sound as good as they did the first time I heard them in my head.  That's nothing short of a miracle.
  10. And last but not least, I'm grateful that I'm still in New York City and that I'm still in an increasingly gentrified Harlem.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year!

I slid sideways into the new year, starting on New Year's Eve Eve when I sang at Lincoln Center to a packed house (with a line out the door, down the street and around the corner!) with the JC Hopkins Biggish Band.

Here we are at a well-attended soundcheck in the Lincoln Center Atrium.

From there, I sprinted downtown to The DL for The Salon's annual New Year's Eve Eve fete. (That was a sold-out situation -- three floors, over 50 performers, two orchestras, lots of burlesque. Crazy.) 
Thankfully, I left after my set so I could sing my heart out at Minton's (which was filled to capacity) with the Biggish the following night.  The band was all the way live.  Truth be told, the party we were having onstage was as hot if not hotter than the party in the room -- or next door at The Cecil, which had its own boogie down going with The Kennedy Administration and their New Year's Eve party, Forgive and Forget. Somewhere in there, Jazzmeia Horn gave birth to a baby girl -- after 40 hours of labor.  (WOW!!!) 

Needless to day, I slept until I could sleep no more. After a long movie with MPB (The Hobbit), a long walk and some righteous, incredibly unpedestrian Chinese food, I felt recalibrated.  I'm shifting my life around in bold ways, shaking new ideas loose and reconfiguring my goals and priorities for the year in weekly/monthly increments. Its easy to get lost in all of the pop and verve in my head if everything is all over the place.

I'm going to start this year by breaking some bad habits and creating new ones. Once upon a time, scientists believed that it took 21 days to create a good habit. As it turns out, it can take anywhere from 2 to 8 months.  A habit takes time to stick and how long that takes depends on the individual, amongst other things.  Commit to the process will have to be my mantra.

The first thing on tomorrow's agenda? Running shoes.