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. 

Monday, February 09, 2015

If this doesn't sum up Kanye West, nothing will.

Actually, it kind of sums up the Grammys, too.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Make Cool Art!

I am eternally grateful that I get to make the art -- and create the imagery! -- that I want to see in the world.  At the moment, there's plenty of auditions and callbacks and gigs (oh, my!) and time must be spent honing all the tools in the proverbial toolbox (voice lessons, piano lessons, on camera acting lessons, etc) As for what I'm making: there's a new song cycle in the works,  I'm developing a jazz musical (The Billie Holiday Project) and I've finally started Georgette, the twang-drenched, feminist, country & western band of my dreams. 

Click here for what I'm up to in February -- and here's a heads up for what's happening in April.
  • Uncharted: Georgette, featuring Lee Ann Westover and Queen Esther -- April 9th, 8pm.  Country comes to the Village. Yes, there will be a house concert deep in the heart of Billyburg in late March and yes, we'll get to you via Concert Window if you can't get to us.  We're on Facebook! For tickets, click here.
  • Queen Esther Sings Billie Holiday: The Rare Sides at Minton's Harlem -- every Tuesday in April.  With direction from Talvin Wilks and music direction from Jeremy Bacon, a different program will be presented each evening -- including an abbreviated version of The Billie Holiday Project -- to illuminate unexplored facets of Lady Day.  For more information: 212 243 2222.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

WOW -- A German Fairy Tale Map?!?

I'll be in Berlin next month for a spell on an impromptu working vacation that will find me slowing things down to a crawl so I can actually enjoy much of what has only been a blur when I'm  on tour. Although Austria has better food, Germany seems to be having a culinary renaissance that has foodies, world class chefs.

Aside from the Black Forest and my love of Grimm fairy tales, I never longed to spend time in Germany when I was a child.  It seemed so farfetched, that a land of beer, sausages and schnitzel, with lederhosen and lots of Midwestern looking blondes, would have anything I'd want.  In my mind's eye, any city would look like a Fritz Lang movie -- morose, shadowy, heavy. Toss in their Nazi past, the Cold War and Checkpoint Charlie and it all added up to one rather harsh nein!  Europe meant following the footsteps of my ex-pat African-American artist forefathers and mothers, and that meant Paris or perhaps London.  Italy and Spain were much more inviting, more fun. Germany, with its ugly past, wasn't even on the map.

I couldn't have been more right -- or more wrong.

Anthony Bourdain in Berlin Part1 from Torsten Richter on Myspace.

It's much too simplistic and dismissive -- and convenient! -- to point to the Nazi atrocities and say that Germany is a horrible place.  The truth is, every country in the world has a repulsive past -- especially the European countries that some tend to idolize.  Beautiful, idyllic Spain has Cortes -- otherwise known as Cortez the Killer -- the conquistador who brought down the Aztec Empire and initiated the colonization of the Americas.  He didn't just rape, murder and pillage millions, either: it's estimated that during his siege, smallpox wiped out at least 25% of the population -- more than 3 million people.  We have plenty to ignore -- 400 years of slavery, tens of millions of Africans lost during the Middle Passage, Native American genocide.  At least Germany acknowledges its past -- and atones for it.

Africans have apologized for slavery -- so why won't America?

When I mention Berlin these days, I usually find myself in conversation with performers, musicians, writers and thinkers that have found their way to that budding metropolis after years of having worked in New York City to no avail and much success.  Here are a few of the reasons why I'm thinking of exploring the possibility of living there.
  1. Germany has become a European powerhouse, economically. They have a 5% unemployment rate -- and that means with more people working, more people are spending. In contrast, Greece and Spain have a 25% unemployment rate overall -- and in Spain, nearly half of those under 30 (the lost generation) are out of work.
  2. You can go to graduate school in Germany for free. And believe it or not, most of the classes are in English.
  3. It's cheap, fun and full of artists from all over the world.  New York City, in comparison, is extremely expensive, full of dilletantes and not much fun when pretty much all you do is work to pay the rent.

 I've been studying the language, reading about its history and making an extensive itinerary. Let's see what happens.

Isn't this a fun map? I won't follow it this time around but I will keep it in mind as I roam. 

Monday, February 02, 2015

February's NaBloPoMo - Make!

This month's theme is "make" -- whatever that means.

What's interesting is that there is so little that America manufactures anymore and most people have a tendency to not make things, but purchase them as needed and discard them with abandon. Once upon a time -- as recently as the turn of the century -- everyone made their own clothes.  They also grew much of their own food. When my mother was a kid growing up in the rural South, you weren't allowed in stores to buy clothes off the rack. You had a sewing machine, you learned how to sew what you wanted and mend your hand-me-downs. If you really had to have it, you ordered it in a Sears and Roebuck catalog. You got resourceful. You made what you wanted.

This was the Southern way, the way I was raised. To be able to make things with your hands, whether it was the curtains in the living room or the pretty dress you saw in the window.  To cook, to bake. To keep a garden seasonally, grow a fruit tree and eat what you grow.  I have all of that in me and have embraced some part of that somewhere along the way in my life -- but I live in a city that doesn't necessarily give me free rein to live that way.

Of course, this got me to thinking about what I make and as it turns out, it's a lot. I would like to add clothes to that list.  I was taught to sew as a child and I'd love to pick it back up.  Knitting, too.

It's kind of wacky that we need a website to scour the nation to find American manufacturers and then have them plead with us to buy American in this really jingoistic way -- like you're less of an American if you don't -- but here it is.  They should have that conversation with the American manufacturers that take their business to other countries.

And then there's The Buy Black Movement. But that's another conversation...