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. 

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