The Vocal Aftermath


I have yet to practice today. I have yet to dig my voice up from the nether world of post-cold post-nasal drip waste land. Which seems so a propos, looking at the aftereffects of the snow storm last Sunday. Yeah, that car, unrecognizable under a pile of snow, that's my voice, only the side mirror peeking out. Well, maybe, if I'm lucky the sun will shine down my throat and thaw my vocal chords from their paralysis and the general feeling of "Wha...?", so that I can swing by my husband's gig in Brooklyn tonight and sing and swing a little bit and start feeling like a vocalist again. Now, wouldn't that be lovely...

Merry Christmas to the dead and the living

For years after my dad passed Christmas Eve was the day when, after all the joyful prepping, decorating, gift wrapping, praying, eating, singing, and (it's TRUE!!!) walking to church for Mette in the snow with a lantern, we would stick a three-foot high Christmas tree on his grave, and, after several sometimes vain attempts of lighting the candles in the nightly wind, stand in silence, while my mother quietly cried into her handkerchief. Those moments were hard. Especially the closeness of pure elation (I particularly loved singing "Stille Nacht" in the darkened church) and deep, gut wrenching sorrow. But it was all part of the ritual, including my father's siblings who would join the circle, each armed with their very own handkerchief to weep into. Only after a decent amount of mourning would there be the acknowledgement of the person next to you, the aunt, uncle, brother, sister.
But it had to be done. It was part of the ritual, the inclusion of the dead in the celebration of the living. "Merry Christmas" was said at the end, over and over, like a mantra, until we all dispersed back to our warm houses, leaving the dead behind, but still putting a candle in the window, so they too might find their way home.

I Miss Christmas

I miss Christmas. The old one that I remember from child- and young adulthood. The rituals (as Catholics we would fast until about 4pm in the afternoon, someone had to get the Light of Bethlehem from the church, the tree needed to be done up, etc), the cooking, the praying (my grandmother admonishing us for being simply unable to keep it together and giggling incessantly during the rosary - but only because she SNORTED!!!), the singing in front of the tree, lit with REAL candles, and, yes, the gifts. All of this does not exist anymore for me. Now all I see is the machinery that tries to make us believe our loved ones only know that we love them, if we buy them large and expensive gifts. The Christmas redux that I see all around me, starting with the nauseating loop of the same 5 Christmas tunes in every store I enter (essentially since November 1st) that is supposed to get me in the mood to spend money I don't have for stuff I don't think anybody needs on a holiday that has nothing to do whatsoever with increasing my credit card debt. So, what gives? What does this time of year mean for a recovering Catholic with an aversion to cultish behavior of any kind, especially of the monetary variety? I like to think it means bringing a bit of light into each other's lives by letting each other know that we are THERE for each other. Especially when it's cold and freezing out and we might have another 3 months of this lying ahead. So, no, I won't go and plunder my account to satisfy societal mandates. I will however write cards and call my friends and family to let them know how much I love them. And yes, there will be a tree, because it gives us joy. But alas, no real candles.

Citizenship

160 people from 57 different nations were gathered to become American Citizens. There was a lot of waiting involved (about three hours of it), the lint from the rug crept up my shiny new black boots, we had been relieved of our cell phones and cameras - for security reasons - ah, security, following me everywhere. In the end, the judge came and spoke, we pledged and we swore, and I must admit, that I got just a little bit choked up. I know I know, all you cynics out there: as Craig Ferguson would say - I await your letters. Trust me, I am fully aware of the flaws of this country. Just like any other democracy, this one has a slew of problems to contend with, a mountain of issues to solve. And there are many things I do not like about the election process OR the politics here. (the strange extremism blooming on both sides of the aisle? the aisle? the disregard for the need of solving some of our bigger problems right now and the tendency of pushing solutions back until after the next election cycle? want me to go on?) BUT I have found that a lot of good is to be said about the constitution and its amendments, on which this country is based. The rights and freedoms of its populace. Having studied for my citizenship test (and unfortunately forgotten many a fact already due to early onset dementia, no doubt) I have learned to appreciate the ideals this country is based on. Those ideals I can appreciate. 57 nationalities in one room, being sworn in as American citizens. Somehow, that gives me hope.

One Word At A Time

A student asked me the other day how she could go about interpreting a song. She felt overwhelmed and disconnected from the material, kind of like a tiger jumping through hoops, getting caught up in the "how to" of it and losing sight of the "what" or "why".
After having worked on vocal technique with her for over 30 minutes and starting in on the "song" part of the session, I asked her to step away from whatever it was she was trying to do. No adding to, no taking away, no "interpreting" or "acting" of the lyrics. Closing her eyes she sang the song we were working on one word at a time, without any emphasis on anything other than that one word, followed by the next word and the next. Allowing each word of a lyric to come to her instead of rushing towards it and trying to mangle it into something it wasn't, the song became her song. It became simple, effortless. Free of judgment and deeply personal. It moved me. And made me think about all the preconceptions, judgments and interpretations we carry around in our minds every day, towards every person we meet. Even every task we are supposed to perform. Maybe focusing more on just the next "word" might be a nice exercise for a day or two, just to see how it feels to walk around without allowing the constant monologue inside our brain to dictate how we feel and see the world.

Thank You Thank You Thank You Thank You

As someone who was not raised in this country I never could quite wrap my mind around this holiday called "Thanksgiving", a day, it seemed, when families got together, drama unfolded (according to various movies), dark and half forgotten family secrets were unearthed, women cried, children fled and men withdrew to their dens to watch a mysterious game called "Football" (I think). I still don't have a connection to this day, even after 16 years of residing in this marvelous city of New York, having built a life here, complete with a happy marriage, a wonderful group of friends, a pretty great teaching gig, my own successful recording business, a career as a jazz vocalist and a fabulous apartment in - gasp - Manhattan. But it seems to me that even a non-American like myself can connect to the word - "Thanksgiving" - giving thanks: for, well, all of the above. Which, I believe, should not be restricted to one out of 365 days of the year. So, here's my early New Year's Resolution: I will commit to saying Thank You every day in the year 2011. Who's with me?

Slightly out of tune...

It was a large, brown grand piano. Sitting in the corner, beside the stage. The fact that it was not actually sitting ON the stage should probably have given me a hint as to the quality of this instrument that, visually at least, dominated the room. It was not until after sound check, dinner, show, shmoozing with friends, family and strangers, not until the fire in the open fireplace had almost burned down to its embers, we had broken down the PA, and the lights were turned off, that I finally, FINALLY got to sit at this piano and see what happened if one actually tried to play on it. As I hit a supposed Major chord, the maws of hell opened up, a dust cloud emerged from the piano's voluminous body, the emanating sound transporting me smack into the soundtrack of a horror film. Nothing I played made sense! The notes kept squealing and trying to squirrel away from underneath my fingers, down was up, and up was, well, something entirely different. Truly, it was magnificent! Only a Bach Prelude would do to illustrate the magnitude of the out-of-tuneness that was mauling my ears. Desperately trying to hold on to the piece, I had to concede defeat and give in to the strangeness that purported to be a C-Major chord, that wickedly and cunningly lead me astray into an atonal depth that I had heretofore only experienced in my darkest, most glorious nightmares.
Witness the Destruction HERE

One - new photo


Because I can't think of anything constructive or funny to write about (my life just tinkers along merrily while I try to get my stuff in) and I have another show coming up in New York City with my beautiful pianist husband Walter Fischbacher, I've decided to use this blog for the release of a new photo of me, which my friend Quimera Music (www.quimeramusic.com) took and added the glorious touches to.
I'll post the details of my show (Tuesday, Nov. 23rd at Miles Jazz Cafe NYC) in a separate Events posting on my various (and by now numerous) outlets tomorrow.
Until then, be well, be creative and fierce!

Rake handle singer

We've seen it a million times in Romantic "chick flicks" (most notably "Bridget Jones Diary"): the lead actress lip-syncs a tune while clasping a hairbrush handle and transforming said brush into a make-believe microphone. These instants of uninhibited romantic mania do of course not happen in real life...or do they? I buckle under the weight of your accusing stares and admit it: YES, I did sing into a handle posing as a microphone! Except: it wasn't a hairbrush. No! My fake microphone of choice was, in fact, a rake handle. Growing up on a farm in rural Austria I had plenty of opportunities to bend a farming tool to my will, and I did so, with great gusto! I also did not lip-sync, because, funny enough, there was no sound track to my raking and hay making efforts, apart from my singing. In fact, my whole family would be singing various tunes while in the field. And we would sing extra loud when we passed each other to make sure the other person knew just what tune it was we were mangling that day. My older sister driving the tractor belting down some Peter Alexander (you know, the Austrian dude from the fifties movies with Caterina Valente), my other older sister raking in the opposite direction with the help of some folk tune, and me, probably laying down some Michael Jackson (my memory is a bit hazy on that part). My brother pointedly did NOT sing. Must be a girl thing, I guess.So there...don't say this stuff doesn't exist, because it does! And I can attest to it!

And by the time they're five...

Working with small children is a very interesting experience. They are so open, so interested and oh sooo easily bored and done with you! Who knew I would ever do the C-Jam Blues (in about five hundred variations) with a group of two-ear-olds? And the five-year-olds - don't even get me started! They are essentially done with life, have seen it all and just want to go on plotting the end of the world, which I realized when I noticed them leaning back with folded arms, drawing on their cigarette, with a derisive look in their eyes that clearly stated, "is that all you've got?"

Characters

One of the glorious things when on the road is the encounter with people who, in their sweet and sometimes disturbing uniqueness or cliche-fulfilling ways make your day, or night, depending. There was the chain smoking sex therapist, who kept on lighting up enthusiastically despite a complete loss of voice. The very drunk species of southern Bavarian "Stammtisch" inhabitant who had already been nudged towards the door by the be-dirndled waitress but kept trying to string a sentence together to fling at our poor but very sweet bass player; who, on his way out of the "Wirtshaus" spontaneously, and, well, in a very trainwreck-like fashion, serenaded me with an umpah band song that I had never heard, mimicking what looked like a broken clarinet. It was difficult to say... Or the lady on night shift at the hotel, who, at 1am, blessed us with an outer stream-of-consciousness monologue while we had a night cap at the hotel bar (very generously poured, I might add), and did NOT stop until we left, claiming she could speak various German AND Austrian dialects which, to my apparently deaf ear, all sounded the same (oberpfaelzisch, I think). But my favorite kind of "character" came in the shape of the jazz club owner, who, in 1986, moved to his present location precisely to run a jazz club in the basement of a commercial building, and whithout whom the place would definitely no longer exist. Who just loves to talk about jazz, recordings, musicians who have come through, the state of the business, more jazz recordings (oh Sarah Vaughan live in Kopenhagen! - must get my hands on that one!), meanwhile wielding first a broom, then a microphone cable and later a dish towel, keeping the customers lubricated and us musicians happy with his musical punctuations, thoroughly upbeat manner and, well, interesting coffee. Thank you, Eugen! I hope you stay with the jazz community for many more years!

when old friends sing together

Berlin: Shared Night at B-Flat. My friend Alexa and her husband Jens host this night once a month, on the first or second Monday of the month, sharing the stage with another, invited, act. Except last night it was a somewhat unique constellation. It was in fact a congregation of old friends who had met fifteen years prior as music students in New York City. Struggling, searching for their voice, their identity, trying to stay afloat in the ever chugging maelstrom that is spitting out the ignorant and devouring the hopeless. Each one of us was hesitantly trying to assemble a musician's life, not quite knowing or recognizing all the pieces of the puzzle, searching for his or her particular way through an undulating maze.
Now, fifteen years later, in Berlin, things are different. Alexa Rodrian, Beat Kaestli and I arrive here slightly bruised by life's daily challenges, somewhat tired and worse for wear after years of pushing, creating, living, becoming partner, wife, mother. But also with a clear sense of who we are, as artists, as friends, as human beings. Each one of us raises their voice, their own, unique voice, and in the end, we come together in a song or two that bears witness to our deep disparity as beings and personalities that nonetheless blend to a true, ringing harmony.

The Dunkin Experience

Scene: a Dunkin Doughnuts somewhere in upstate New York
ME: "Do you have tea?"
DUNKIN LADY: "Yes, we do."
ME: "What kind of tea do you have?"
DL: "Small, medium or large."
End of Scene.

The Incredible Bizzarness Of Promoting Your CD

The CD is done. It is out in the world, and soon, oh soon, I can move on to my next creation (with no idea what it's gonna be... suggestions?) But until then I have to dedicate at least part of my energy to the promotion of THIS CD. Ah!!! As an independent artist it is completely up to me how much money I wish to (or CAN) throw at the problem of getting the CD heard and reviewed. That part I can control. What I cannot control is whether or not anybody will take notice, despite having assembled a remarkable and decidedly female team (I literally just noticed this!). Of course, one can choose not to invest the money in promotion, but then - and I speak from experience here - one needs to invest in a whole load of storage for the unsold discs. There's only so many coasters one person can use, you know...So, promoted the CD must be! (Thank you, Yoda.) So far, so...well, you know.
Upon trying to get my music reviewed in Germany, though, a country that I tour fairly regularly, I was told by one journalist, that for that to happen I would need distribution in that country. Why? Not so the CD is readily available, should a wayward customer accidentally pop in on a CD store and wish to pick up a copy, oh no! It's because the Distributors are the ones who in essence fund the press by placing big and well-paying ads in the German jazz publications. And so it goes, and so it goes...and now I know, and you do, too.
Having come to terms with the fact that the jazz market appears to be a rather small entity anyway, I will continue to carve out my niche in it and do what I can to get my music out there. But I have also come to the conclusion that I am a much happier camper, if I focus on the things I can actually DO and not on the things I believe I should have done or cannot do.
Thank you to Ann Braithwaite and Lisa Reedy, my PR person and radio promoter respectively, for being on my team!!!

The Notary Public

His base of operations is in a dingy, crammed and dusty hardware store with a peeling sign outside. It looks like it's been there for hundreds of years, and, stepping over the threshold and adjusting to the lack of light inside, I am surprised to find that they actually DO sell elecric light bulbs. The gentleman behind the counter, sliver-haired and bespectacled, informs me that the Notary Public will be back in ten minutes. When he finally steps into the store, ashtray-thick glasses hiding a pair of squinty eyes over a droopy, thin moustache, he looks me over and says, "You again! Didn't I just see you? What do you want NOW?" Well, the last time I actually was in to see the Notary Public was pretty much a year ago, but I let that one pass, and instead inform him that it's that time of the year again. "Well, I guess you still don't make any money, right? Here, let me see." And he grabs my paperwork in need of certification, fishes in the ample folds of his cardigan for the Notary stamp and proceeds with his work, my income papers resting on his voluminous belly. "How can you even live on that?" he opines. I mumble something to the effect of "I manage..." thinking "really none of your business". Sign sign, stamp stamp. "That's four bucks. You can pay at the counter." And with a turn he vanishes deep in the bowels of the store. "Good bye" I mumble and drop off my cash with the silver-haired spectacles.

"Songs Of Love And Destruction" Out TODAY



I am very glad and excited to announce that my CD "Songs Of Love And Destruction" is officially released as of today! First reviews have been fluttering in, I am including a couple of links below.
Come swing by one of my music pages to take a listen to some samples, comment, communicate! And swing by during my CD Release Concert on October 4th at the Zinc Bar! Apart from my brilliant band I will also have the fantastically musical Ingrid Jensen on trumpet adding her voice to the mix.
Thank you to all who have helped in making this CD, in one way or another. You know who you are, I love you dearly.

Reviews:
www.allaboutjazz.com
blogcritics.org

A birthday song for my mother

Writing a song for your mom's birthday is like ripping open your body right above the solar plexus and letting the ghosts from your childhood reappear. The thought to do this struck me whilst vacationing in Prague a week before my mom's 70th birthday. It was a big one, a significant one that had the potential to wreak all kinds of havoc on my wispy soul. It was the age my grandfather died a miserable death after an awful stretch of bone cancer, and I, unable to bear the pain of seeing the mere husk of him, hid from the truth. It is also 30 years longer than my dad had on this earth, before he, too, was felled by the vicious creature. It is, in a farm village in rural Austria, generally considered the age, when people think of you as OLD. But I don't think of my mom that way. Yes, she is fragile due to her long illness (she has multiple sclerosis), but she is tough, that one. Weathered and stringy, like a strip of well-worn leather, with a life of hard work and the deep creases of hardship etched around slightly hazy eyes. A life of dreams lost or given up, for the sake of survival of herself and her children. Of constant struggle against the forces that would tear her family apart, that would rob her of the strength she needed to get up every morning, get behind her own sysiphusian rock and start pushing it up the mountain, knowing that she would have to do it all over again the next day. Of seeing her children grow up into responsible, healthy adults who would follow their own dreams, creating their own lives which still included hers.
Sitting in the botanical garden in Prague, armed with a pencil and a piece of paper, I was engulfed by the spirits of a time long gone that, surprisingly, still had a stronghold smack in the middle of my heart. It was time to give thanks, to acknowledge and appreciate all that I have been able and allowed to do, because she kept getting up every morning, doing what she could, never giving up and never letting the demons win.

What a night...

The other end of an intense but incredibly rewarding week of jazz workshopping has been reached. It's Monday, and I'm into my second day of - gasp - VACATION here in Prague. Have yet to sort through 8 gigs worth of pics from the workshop and will post a small selection here at a later date. After a very successful singers' concert on Friday night (with me feeling proud as a mother hen) the last day of workshop went by very quickly, and on Saturday night, while the final student concert was happening at Jazz Dock, I had my own full show at another jazz club here, U Stari Panj. I was incredibly weary and tired, but music has the ability to pick me up and restore me. We played to a sold out room (!!!) and had an absolutely fabulous time! Shout-out to Frank, the owner, for running a great club and being an incredibly kind person.
By 1am we were done with our gig and went back to Jazz Dock to the post workshop jam session. They were seriously rocking the stage when we walked in, with some tight funk music and a nice horn section. One thing lead to another, drinks were had, music was played, songs were sung, and at sunrise I found myself onstage, singing "Route 66".
Walking home with my husband in the very early morning was sweet, and we decided to go straight to breakfast at our hotel (6:30) before going to bed.

Thank you to Magda, Kuba, Petr, Klara, Veronika, Jarda and all who have worked hard to make this workshop a success. Also thank you to Aga and Hanka, my fabulous vocal teacher colleages, and, finally, the students! You were great, dove right in with us into a superintense ride of exchanging ideas, learning and creating. I had a fabulous time!

Workshop in Prague!!!

Sorry cats, I have not been a good girl in terms of blogging regularly. Life caught up with me and I was swept up in preparations for my trip to Europe and finishing a track I was working on. So now I'm in Prague and feel all sorts of guilty for not being on top of this thing, but here it is. I'm up to my eyeballs in teaching at the Jazz Workshop in Prague, which is going famously. I even got a cool T-shirt that I might actually wear. Maybe tomorrow??? Prague is the postcard city it has been for the last couple of years, I'm in a lovely hotel (after a rather stinky night in a different room I reside now in a completely odor-free environment) and having a complete ball with my students. It's great to be able to give impulses, ideas, prod them in a certain direction, and generally help them get a better understanding of their instrument and chosen style of music. Hopefully there will be some pictures along the way which I will post accordingly, maybe with my next blog! But now I must be off to Jazz Dock where an award-winning young band called "The Three Cheeses" (well ok quattro formaggi) is performing tonight.
Will post again soon! In the meantime loads of good vibes from the Vlatva River!

Street Warrior

I have been a New York City bicycle rider for years. I have lost gallons of sweat on 5th avenue, right before passing the Public Library where I usually have to pass several express buses, have managed to avoid bike versus pedestrian collisions, frozen my fingers off in January and caught a sinus infection in the process, had some of my greatest insights while barreling through a Manhattan canyon and - yes - landed flat on my backside at the intersection of 34th and 2nd. (It was HIS fault, by the way, but that's beside the point, when you're riding a bike in New York City). I AM A STREET WARRIOR. To borrow a phrase from our president: Make No Mistake! Riding your bike in Manhattan IS WAR. I have won many battles and lost a few, and who knows about the eventual outcome, but so far so good. When riding a bike on the Great Avenues of this splendid city I tend to adhere to the infinite wisdom of Yoda, who gave Luke a very useful piece of advice in the marshes of the Dagobar system during the crucial "raising of the ship"-sequence. "Don't try. DO!" You either ride a bike, or you don't. There is no room for dawdling or dabbling. If you want to dawdle, go ride with the hordes in Central Park.

My bike is a sturdy beast that can sustain a dip into a pothole or the very unpleasant trip up the freshly stripped 1st Avenue, and my marbles are protected by a fire-red helmet. But I do know that it's dangerous. I have seen the white-painted bikes marking the sites of deadly accidents, and I have had my share of close calls. But I have also learned to assume that a) nobody sees me b) everybody around me is insane and c) will do unexpected and irrational things. Shifting my attitude that way has, strangely, also helped me get a handle on life in general. So, life lessons learned here are:
1) Don't try - DOOOOOO!!!!!
2) Everybody around me is insane!
3) And WILL do unexpected and irrational things!

And now I'll grab my black, duct-taped, aging bike and helmet, weather the late June heat and ride into the sunset on Park Avenue (ok, no sunset, but definitely Park! - it's sooooo wide!!!)

The screaming baby, the tennis star and the incident with the reserved seat


What is it with airports at stupid o'clock in the morning? Sometimes it's purgatory, sometimes it's heaven, but these early hours are always accompanied by a sense of weightlessness and a stupor it's hard to shake, even with the help of a $5 cup of wimpy cappuccino. (I'm looking at you, Charles de Gaulle airport!). After four hours of relentless baby screech due to a double threat of very little travelers not at all happy to be carted around the globe at 2am (yes yes, I do feel for the poor one-year olds who cannot grasp the concept of air travel, let alone cabin pressure change, but a girl needs her sleep!) I arrived to a glorious sunrise at Charles de Gaulle airport, which, I must shamefully admit, is the only part of Paris I know. It was 5am. No coffee to be had, nothing but to endure the carting around on a crowded bus from one terminal to the next to get my New York Connection. After whizzing through security (again), locating and making it to my deserted GATE 37 (insert choir of angels singing a glorious "AAAAAAHHHHH") I discovered that there were seats with electric plugs (watch a movie on your laptop while you wait!) which I promptly steered towards, only to be admonished by a lone figure behind a little "Air France" lectern, that these seats were in fact "RESERVEES!" I must shamefully admit that since my nerves had been laid blank from four hours of the aforementioned I did utter an unflattering expletive but caved and proceeded to occupy a plug-less seat. After immersing myself in the movie du jour for a fitful 30 minutes I saw a lady with a PAPER CUP of what surely must be - gasp - COFFEE! Ten minutes and some awkwardly mumbled French phrases later I was perched on a chair next to a little table, coffee and pain-au-chocolat within reach, resuming my movie watching, when I saw Tennis Star walk towards the freshly baked goods! I did gawk just a little to make sure it was really her - the lady has legs up to her neck and is kind of hard to miss - only to resume my pretend blase-ness in the face of worldly fellow travelers. For some reason, knowing that she would be on my flight, albeit in First Class as opposed to the Cattle Section, made me happy. Bring on the babies, the nuked omelets and the tiny pillows! I can deal! Oh, and for the record - I do not need a seat with a plug, because MY laptop is in fact CHARGED.

Beyrouth 2

Spent yesterday afternoon with Waleed Akar, the owner of Mojo's Jazz Club here in Beyrouth, and his journalist friend. They took me to the sea for lunch - an opulent meal of fried fish, fresh hummus, taboule, stuffed grape leaves and the thinnest pita bread I have ever seen. AND, very incongruously, French Fries. I saw a guy fishing on the beach and asked the journalist, if it was ok to fish so close to the coast. He told me that you can't really eat that fish, if there is any, because the sea is still polluted from the 2006 war with Israel, when several oil tankers were destroyed. The Lebanese get their fish from Turkey. That made me incredibly sad.
Politics are a huge topic here, especially what is going on in the Gaza strip right now. Protests on the square in front of the international office building downtown have lasted three days, but apparently the protesters have been asked by the government to cease their sit-ins, that they have made their point. The border to Israel is only about 50 miles from here, so the whole drama feels slightly more imminent than when I read about it in New York.
The population here is generally tri-lingual, due to the various occupations over the last couple of centuries (most notably the French and the British), with everybody here speaking Arabic, French and English. So far I have managed to learn one word in Arabic - shoukran, which means "Thank you". (the spelling might be completely off, since this is more or less phonetic). So communicating with the audience during my shows has been fairly easy. Tonight we'll have one more show, and then I will finally have a drink!
My flight back to New York leaves on Sunday morning at 2am. Red eye, here I come! But first, one more show, and, hopefully, a trip to downtown Beyrouth.

Beyrouth 1

On Tuesday I landed in Beyrouth/Lebanon for my first venture into the Middle East. I am performing at Mojo Jazz Club for three nights, and last night was my first night on the gig. It is always slightly nerve-racking to go into a situation, where I have to perform with a band consisting entirely of people I don't know, especially when there is only very little rehearsal time involved. Granted, my music isn't terribly complicated, but, to quote myself, it's "A little bit tricky" (but not that hard).
Strangely, upon arriving at my hotel on Tuesday and taking my first walk in the streets of Beyrouth, it felt a bit like New York. People are loud, energetic and have a gruff exterior, only to reveal a minute later that they are your best buddies (well, ok, not quite like New York) AND they drive like maniacs!!! I was warned twice on my way here NOT to attempt to drive in Beyrouth, unless I had lived here for a few years. OK, point taken.
In any case, back to the show. So far so good, I would say, and I think the band agrees, that we found each other during the second set of the first night. All of a sudden there it was - common ground. Not that the first set was bad, but THE CONNECTION opened up during the second set. Funny thing happened during the first one though. Georges K., the pianist, dropped the last page of his chart during his solo, and, while I was perusing my shakers, I went over to him and put it back on the music stand. On my way back I noticed that the piano had gone eerily silent during the solo (he was using a keyboard, btw)!!! Looking down on the ground I noticed that a cable was unplugged, and Georges was grinning at me helplessly. Turns out while helping him get his charts back together I also robbed him of his sound by inadvertently stumbling over and unplugging his power chord! oh, the joy of live performing! Next time I'll bring a solid roll of duct tape and tape all lose ends to the floor.
Off to explore new corners of this great old city! I might blog again on this one, if the wifi holds up (sitting on the floor in the doorway of my hotel room, which is the only place where I can get an occasional connection). Until next time...

No more finger pointing!

To be political or not to be political - that's an interesting question. As I am absolutely heartbroken over what is going on in the Gulf of Mexico right now and possibly in the foreseeable future, I am having a hard time writing about how to retract your false vocal folds or what throat spray to use when travelling from New York to Beirut. I think it was about time that somebody blew a gasket over the abysmal neglect that has been bestowed on this whole incredible disaster by the current administration. (I'm talking about you, James Carville!) Seriously, fez up to your administration's shortcomings, go down there and show support! This looks to become one of the biggest ecological disasters in history, and you are talking about shifting troops around? Stop the politicking and get your hands dirty, Mr. President. Show us that you care.

Ooh - it's Christmas!!!




I am happy to announce that I received the finished copies of my new CD "Songs Of Love And Destruction" today. I have to say, I've been through this process several times before, and it just doesn't get old. Opening up the first box of 1000 identical little squares just gives me a thrill every single time. This is generally accompanied by a sigh of relief that the cover did not, in fact, turn out to be a black catastrophe, and that the CD is in fact not skipping and contains MY music, and not somebody else's. (Paranoia, my old friend/I've come to bask in you again...)
"Songs Of Love And Destruction" is not slated for official release until September first. I will keep you posted on the digital release date, which might happen much sooner. In the meantime, feel free to swing by my Myspace and Facebook pages for samples. By the way, the cover was done by the fabulous Bruno Silva! :)))))

It's the most wonderful time of the year

Some days, especially during allergy season (that season seems to grow longer every year) I feel like my voice is lodged in a humungous steel drum filled with water. Today is one such day. Days like these make me feel non-singery like nothing else (except when I actually do lose my voice). So what to do? Strong coffee - check. (although naturally completely unadvisable due to it's drying-out effect)
Playful futzing on the computer and general singing-avoidance behavior (including writing a blog on this all-encompassing and worldly subject matter) - check.
Looking for more things to do that don't involve singing (watering the plants, calling clients, getting a nose-full of cat hair) - check.
Booking a jam session with a really cool bass player, that happens - gasp - today! - check. (note to self - what was I thinking? Why didn't I study the weather/pollen patterns more carefully when I booked this thing last week?)
So, I guess it's just no use. I will get in touch with my grovelly side, throw some delay on my vocals and just get on with it. Oh, and do a lot of hihihis, hoping for the Bernoulli effect to kick in.

New frontiers

How much technique does a successful vocalist need? Apparently as much as one can get one's hands on. I finally made my way to an Estill Technique Course here in the city, and it was such a great experience to
a) be surrounded by like-minded people who were eager to learn, to improve not only their singing but also their teaching for the sake of future generations of singers
b) get an immensely detailed yet strangely applicable bulk of knowledge presented in a way that made my head spin alternately from elation and overload.
Ultimately we all have to find the tools that work for us, that help us be the best vocalists/speakers/teachers we can be. It's the constant striving for finding the word, exercise or explanation that makes your brain click in the right way that propels us to seek ever higher levels of expertise. The need to understand, the urge to be able to recreate what I hear in my head. After 20 years of studying, practicing, giving up, returning, analyzing, putting things together only to tear them apart a minute later, I have come to terms with the fact that this quest for vocal freedom is actually endless. I will spend the rest of my life seeking out that new frontier, that new limit that I find I have set for myself, identify it and overcome it. And then turn around and pass on what I have learned. How cool is that?

Licensing - a little bit tricky but not that hard

On Saturday I successfully sent off my new CD to the duplicator, after a whole day of detective work on obtaining mechanical licenses for the songs I'm covering on my new CD. Most of them were fairly easy, but then there was that elusive Beatles tune. The Beatles song book has been sold and auctioned off more times than I cared to know before I ventured into this publishing mess. And part of me wanted to not even bother digging any deeper, but I felt compelled to track down the licensing people in essence for purely egotistical reasons - good karma. I believe in the protection of intellectual property. If ever somebody would like to cover one of my songs and include them on their record, I would, of course, feel deeply honored. AND I would like to be paid for it. So I'm just hoping that if that day comes there will still be a viable version of Intellectual Property protection in existence, and there will be those who respect another person's creative output enough to go through the motions. So there. Now I'm still waiting to hear back from HFA on that last, elusive tune...

Sometimes I dream music...

and if only I could wake up in time, I feel like I could write it down. I have dreamed the sound of my next record. Immediately after I woke up a question popped into my head: "How on Earth am I gonna pull THAT off?!?" So maybe this sound is of a project a little bit further down the line, but I found it beautiful, intriguing. It might also be that these sound-filled dreams really simply help me keep going, to keep whittling away at that sound, that ephemeral quality of beauty, sadness and power. There is always more to strive for, an effort to be more precise in what it is I am trying to express. An evolving toward clarity, removing one delusional veil at a time. Now that makes my heart sing...

My name is just a jumble of letters

Staring long enough at my name, going through font after font, looking for just the right one to convey - well - modern, jazzy, classy, sad (because of the title of the new CD) but not defeated, strong and yet vulnerable, to make it fit in with the picture I finally chose after agonizing over which way to go with the cover design for weeks, making it a bit larger, a bit smaller, a bit lighter or darker, grayer, less gray, with or without raindrops in the backdrop of the picture, sooner or later I arrive at the moment, where I have stared at my name long enough for it to lose any meaning. For it to look utterly wrong in any context. What an odd word - Lohninger - what does it mean, if anything? (I await your letters...)

Czech Republic ten times please! (prosim...)

As I was sitting on my plane back to New York, I looked at all the pictures I had taken with my Blackberry throughout the last ten days. Ten days of essentially the same routine of
a) Arrive at new town
b) Check in at hotel
c) Unload van, set up PA (we travel with a full sound system, because we are REALLY picky about sound)
d) Do sound check
e) Go to hotel, take quick nap, do yoga, gargle, warm up, get dressed, put my face on
f) Perform
g) Chill out a little with beer (for the band members) and water or (gasp!) tea (for me)
h) Break down PA
i) Go to hotel, gargle, take face off, go to bed
j) Get up the next morning, have breakfast, check out
k) Load van
l) REPEAT

This is what we dream of, when we are children. Being on the road and just DOING IT. Of course you never think about how hard this actually is. But that's ok. It's also ok not to tell anybody how hard it is, that would kind of destroy the image of the free bird who is allowed to express herself on stage every night with the audience looking on and bringing their own dreams, hopes and yearnings to the music.

As I was looking back at the last ten days in pictures I was in fact overcome by an immense gratitude. I get to do this. I get to go on the road, experience what it is like to BE on the road, warts and all. I get to feel the elation and deep exhaustion, the desperate need for a cup of coffee, the terrible, panic inducing fragility of being a vocalist on the road, and, most of all, the sharing of music. I am privileged. I am deeply grateful. I am so doing this again!

"Hush Now" Cover Released

A few weeks back I blogged about the great collaborative effort between myself, composer Patrick Rundbladh and Swedish saxophonist Anders Paulsson. In just a few weeks the single will be released digitally on all major outlets. Here's the cover. I will post again once the song is available for download. By then I will be in Czech Republic. Such is the life of a working musician.
www.lohninge.net

When Singers Hang...

Things might start a bit dark, with caustic humor and cynical comments about the sysiphusian task of continuing to record and make music flying around. We might be whining a tiny bit about the frustrations of our chosen profession, about the changing climate in the music business - wait, is there still a music business? - nodding knowingly to what is said, recognizing the issues discussed as our own. But gradually we start to remind each other and ourselves about the great fortune that brings us to this moment, to this table at the French Roast on a rainy February afternoon. Yes, what we have chosen to do is incredibly hard to pull off. The obstacles are plenty and sizeable. And we constantly have to rise up above ourselves to keep from being pulled into the vortex of paralysis and procrastination. But we get to do what we love. We get to pursue our greatest passion with everything we've got (well, ok - still got to make money doing whatever it is we each need to do to pay the bills). Nobody is holding a gun to our heads, forcing us to press on with this madness and folly that is our calling. And we do find solace in each other - kind of like a vocalist support group.
Two hours, a meal and some fortifying coffee later, we step back out of the beautiful afternoon bubble, a little bit lighter and a bit more heartened by each other's company. Tomorrow we'll get up in the morning and start rolling that rock up the mountain all over again. For today let it just plummet into sweet oblivion.

A photoshoot with hickups


After months of planning, scouting for a studio and scheduling conflicts my friend Quimera and I finally decided on a date, time and location for a photoshoot, as she had pointed out to me many times before, that I really NEEEEEEDED to GET NEW PICTURES! (which was, of course, correct). So, last Wednesday was going to be THE day, Quimera was going to shlepp from Brighton Beach to the Upper East Side to prep me (numerous shades of delicate coloring on my face, and THE HAIR), and then we were going to take a cab to Skim Milk Studios, our photo studio of choice, with several clothing bags and Quimera's voluminous make-up kit in tow.
On Wednesday, of course, is snowed. Considerably - for New York City. If you live in the city you know that about an inch of snow (2.5 cm for my European readers) will essentially bring the city to a standstill. The subway will be delayed, because it runs above ground in places, and there will be NO CAB TO BE HAD, apart from the fact that under the circumstances it's probably safer and faster to walk than take a cab anyway.
Valiant warriors of the asphalt jungle that we were, we decided to plow on - quite literally, as it were. Quimera's train was - guess what - delayed. I could not put on a hat - and I ALWAYS wear a hat in snowy or even mildly chilly weather, because I am a paranoid, psycho-somatically inclined vocalist, and we hurried through the snowy mess on the Upper East Side, obsessing about the safety of my hair and make-up, sheltered underneath my tiny, rickety blue umbrella, and the additional train delays getting to the studio. Forty minutes behind schedule - an eternity by New York standards - we reached shore at Skim Milk Studios, where a very sweet assistant informed us after several tries that the flash light on the digital camera the studio provided was malfunctioning, and he had to call back the owner who had just left the premises.
In the end we did what we came to do, Quimera shot a gazillion photos of me, the weight of the camera rendering her right arm practically useless after about three hours of shooting - I swear she was listing to the right when we left, I dressed up, stripped down, dressed up again etc. It was fun, it was exhausting, and by the end of the session it had almost stopped snowing.
Thank you Quimera for being such a trooper! You were truly marvelous.

"Hush Now" - A Swedish-Austrian-Manhattan-Coney Island-Stockholm Collaboration

Once in a Blue Moon a constellation of people, circumstances and ideas comes together that enables the creation of something magical. As artists we like a good challenge and tend to just go with an idea, not knowing where it will lead, what it will become. We see a short piece of red string, grab it and pull, unearthing the next short piece, take a step, pull and so on. Patrick Rundbladh, the Swedish-Coney Island part of this constellation and an incredibly talented film music composer, presented me with the first piece of red string one sunny afternoon in the Summer of 09, when he played me a beautiful piece of piano music he had written. Would I like to write a song on top of that? Well, why not? He then played me the same track with a soprano sax playing on top of it, which was absolutely gorgeous! And here we find the Sweden-Stockholm connection in the shape of renowned soprano saxophonist Anders Paulsson. Anders and I have never met, but with the advent of internet technology we can just shoot audio files through the ether (or are they bounced into space and back down? I'm a bit hazy on the details), work on them on opposite ends of the Atlantic and have it all assembled back in Coney Island. I do hope to one day actually play with Mr. Paulsson, but I think this song we created over the last few months is a good start. It ended up being called "Hush Now". Today I heard the final, mastered mix (thank you Patrick!) and am very happy with it! It will soon be released in download format only, so stay tuned. Cheers!
www.lohninger.net
www.anderspaulsson.se
www.prmusicproductions.com

The Trouble with Singing and Air Travel

Many "Do And Don't" lists have been compiled to help a human being cope with long distance flights, jet lag, dehydration and all the accompanying side effects (woolly feeling and brain fog in the scull, anyone?), and I dare say that vocalists are particularly afflicted by the effects of shooting through the skies in a tinny tube with 300+ strangers, checking several time zones and the odd ocean. Although many distractions are offered on a plane, from movies to food to liquor to the companionship of the Turkish grandma across the aisle brandishing photos of her loved ones and repeating the same words with varied intonations, the fact remains that air travel is hard on the body. Over the years my stockpile of in-flight tools and pre-flight medications has grown quite a bit, to the extent that I transform into The Mummy's little sister on an overnight flight, completely concealed underneath a protective layer of eye mask, mouth mask, ear plugs, hoodie and two of the flimsy airplane blankets, if I can get them. Oh, and do NOT forget the ever present scarf, lest I catch a draft of that poisonous recycled gas mixture they call air.
I've been told and have read many times that drinking alcohol on a plane is BAD BAD BAD for you. Which is probably true, but since I don't like sleeping pills (they give me the sluggish feeling of a sloth just raised from it's winter slumber) and I absolutely MUST close my eyes for 3 hours on a cross atlantic flight (my own personal rule), I like to take a couple of drinks combined with Melatonin. I also usually load up on anti-oxidants pre-flight in the hopes they might actually do something, like protect me from the classic post-flight cold or cough.
No matter what I do though, my voice just tends to be about a day late whenever I fly to Europe, which makes me think that my voice and my soul have entered into a pact that they would travel together forever, leaving me to arrive at my new location feeling stranded, voiceless and discombobulated for the first 24 hours . Nothing to do but rest, hydrate and - I know, counterproductive - have some espresso.
www.lohninger.net

An anecdote from the road

Not too long ago, while touring in X, I had a gig at a fairly big and well established jazz festival in the city of ______ . A few weeks before the festival I was sent the paper work via e-mail: tech rider, stage plan, and holiest of holy - The Contract. I was going to be paid $_______, which would happen with the financial support of the Austrian Culture forum in the country, and, to my great delight, we were going to sleep in a ***** Star Hotel! Until the second draft of the contract arrived, with an apology and an amendment pertaining to our lodging arrangements. A mistake had been made. Apparently we were not going to stay at the ***** Star Hotel (!) but instead in a starless hostel in town. Fair enough, I thought, as long as there would be separate rooms for the musicians and it was going to be clean. The ***** Star Hotel was, of course, reserved for the well established jazz artist ____________, and a flustered assistant had sent out the wrong contract.
The actual festival gig in ________ was great. We played a solid show, the stage was lovely, well lit, good sound (I got a stereo mix all to myself!!!), and I received a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Afterward, as I was talking to the promoter, I found out that we would in fact NOT receive payment that very night (highly unusual, especially, if not cleared with the artist ahead of time), but that the money would be wired to my account by the Culture Forum. Bummer, but well, the Austrians are pretty reliable that way (They did deliver in the end). Upon arriving at our accommodations at 1am in the morning we were presented with the following scenario:
a) there were no single or even double rooms available for the musicians
b) we could choose between
Version 1: sharing a 12bed room with 5 Romanians
Version2: having 1 room to ourselves (the entire band), but having to walk through a room occupied by 3 Slovenians, in order to get to the (shared) bathroom.
What to choose? It appeared we had fallen quite far from the ***** Star Hotel in the first draft of the contract.
In all fairness I do have to say that after we called the promoter, who had just gotten home and was most certainly completely knackered, he arranged to put us up in a very nice upper scale hotel with a huge breakfast buffet and mini bar, picking us up from the hostel and driving us there at about 2am in the morning! Since it was the last day of the tour, we were able to do a sweet, comfy hang in one of the beautiful hotel rooms, with some decent vodka at hand to celebrate our good fortune. So, in the end, it all turned out well, and it gave me something to write about! Cheers!

363 Days

A voice teacher I knew many years ago once said, "you have about two days per year, when the voice is just soaring, everything feels right and is open, and you just open your mouth and SING. For the other 363 days you have vocal technique." I do love that quote, as I think it does sum up nicely one of the major challenges of being a vocalist. As far as I know, the voice is the only instrument that is synonymous with the human body. There is no separation, no "filter" or other tool that we need to study (although of course it helps tremendously to study, say, piano as a vocalist, but that's fodder for a whole nother blog). Now I don't know about you, but my body is definitely not a machine. It feels different every day, depending on amount of sleep (or lack thereof), the weather, what I ate, my mood, my workout regimen etc. There is the rare occasion when I start to sing and everything simply flows. It's HEAVEN. I don't want THAT to end, and I feel like I can sing forever, which, of course, I can't. So I continue to study vocal technique, to practice (albeit by far not enough!!!) and to prepare myself for every single one of those 363 days, none of them the same, each one of them with it's very own challenge posed to me: "Now, can you sing through THAT?"

To Warm Up Or Not To Warm Up - is that a question?

I have some singer friends, fabulous vocalists all, who don't warm up for a gig. I think that's amazing, but I also know that it doesn't work for me. In fact I hate singing when I'm not warmed up. This may be due to my allergy-infested and mucous-riddled upper respiratory tract, but it's also been like that since I started seriously working on my voice. To me it's a mental and physical opening and focusing, a letting go and tuning in. Releasing the wrong tensions and strengthening the right ones.
When I was on tour last September I played 13 shows in as many days in as many cities. The grind was grueling, to say the least, and culling a warm-up period out of our busy schedule became a matter of vocal survival to me. Four to six hours on the bus, lugging around and setting up a full PA each night (including those oh so handy sub-woofers), bad gas station food and unfamiliar sleeping quarters each night caused me a tremendous amount of neck and shoulder tension. I ended up putting in 30 minutes of yoga followed by 30 minutes of vocal warm-ups each night, starting with a very small sound, gradually working my way up to a more open, relaxed (tongue and jaw anybody?) body feeling.
So, singers: feel free to sound off! How do you get ready for a gig? What works for you, and what doesn't? Is putting on a pretty dress and make-up enough for you to get ready for a show? Comment away!!!
All the best
Elisabeth Lohninger
http://www.lohninger.net