It’s been a long while since I wrote any updates about my album, ETHER . As it turned out, the universe had other plans for me, with many bends in my road, that included a serious health detour. An abscess root canal had centered in my left side of my jaw, that necessitated immediate ‘state of the art’ surgery for jawbone reconstruction. So, having come out the other side now, I am very relieved and thrilled to share, that I am currently recording my album, ETHER. And if I do say so … the thirteen original pop jazz songs are coming together beautifully!
I admit, the surgery was a bit of a nightmare for this singer, but once I got on top of the jaw joint mayhem, along with my new mouth, and tongue placement, I gained a gentler and more patient approach to myself. It has been a rather profound healing process. I also learned, yet one more time…that the creative process has its very own wise timing. Because during recovery, I honed and dug deeper into my music and lyrics while also deepening my spiritual practice and meditation. Songwriting is a humbling and mysterious process I deeply respect and love. So I believe through letting my songs ‘breath’ over this past year in particular, they have benefited all the more… yet I’ll let you be the judge of that after you listen to them, yourself.
For this high achieving mother and musician, it was hard to let go. I always had way too much on my plate. ‘Running to stand still’ had become an accepted way of life. Wasn’t that why we called it the human race after all? As someone who can revert to perfectionism, I also caught myself measuring my recovery progress and beating myself up for not healing quicker. That was not very nice. So when I finally gave myself permission to be and do nothing… sleep, think and heal, it felt good. Really good. And RECKLESS! In a most unexpected way.
I spent a lot of time really listening to the gorgeous bird songs outside my window… the sublime silence… and the rhythmic ocean’s waves… that happen to be right in my front yard. I know, pretty amazing. A memorable day was when two dragonflies literally hung out on my shoulder and lap, for over an hour, with a pod of Orca whales also in view! Which immediately dispelled the limiting thought ‘ life was passing me by’. What a programmed societal hoax because I was exactly where I needed to be, with the most incredible island sanctuary to recover in, and loving family and dear friends to support me… that most people would clamor to experience. So, the most fascinating part of being forced to unplug from both the global timer and my own inner metronome was that it slowly took me back to my own natural rhythm. An innate kind of timing that as it turned out, was reminiscent of when my child was born.
So, since the ‘so called’ detour happened, I can honestly now say I am sincerely grateful for the insights I’ve learned because of it. For one thing, I am certainly far more in touch with my tongue. That may sound unusual, but it’s true. After my operation…my poor tongue (and joints) took the brunt of it. Dominique Eade, an exceptional Boston teacher and vocalist, first opened my awareness up to ‘connecting to my tongue.’ For instance…did you know that our tongue is ‘ridiculously’ connected to every muscle and nerve in our mouth, throat, neck, shoulders and jaw? I mean, who knew how much tension could be stored in one’s tongue? And what a difference to one’s sound, it makes to release it? It’s just the beginning of my new-found body wisdom and self-awareness, which I happily now find myself self correcting with each conversation, yawn, kiss, each bite of food, and… each note and vowel in every song. Is my tongue relaxed? So, the deeper metaphors of this experience continue to be far-reaching for this evolving singer, songwriter.
With my recording cycle now in full tilt again, I take all these experiences and more… into the studio and my songs. I feel very fortunate. Sure, my life has sped up once more and my plate is full again, yet, it is at my own pace with an easier stride as I feel a new sense of calm excitement and curiosity, about what lies ahead. I adore recording and the relaxed and intimate process of this recording cycle, with my talented pianist, Juno winning producer, co- writer and engineer extraordinaire, Chris Gestrin. It is the highlight of my year so far.
I LOVE completing my thirteen pop, jazz songs that I happen to feel are pretty special. I hope you will too. I really look forward to sharing them with you, at release time, next fall. So to you who have taken the time to read this, many thanks. I welcome any of your comments or feedback and I will be sure to post ‘Part 2’ and the further adventures of this ‘Reckless Grace’ journey, soon! Life… isn’t it something?
Having not written my blog for sometime, tonight’s landmark event, seemed a fitting reintroduction to do so as I was fortunate to have the Cellar as a steady gig over the last ten years. So I wanted to take the opportunity to pay homage to the man who created the popular Vancouver venue called, “The Cellar Jazz Club” that became very close to my heart. After thirteen and a half year’s, tonight (Wednesday Feb. 26th) is the club’s final show. After his last gig in his own venue, owner, manager, label owner, musician, radio host, booking agent, father and husband, Cory Weeds will give his farewell speech to a live packed audience as well as through livestream.
The Cellar was an intimate jazz listening house, that rocked our worlds. This beloved venue was a reflection of Cory’s ardent love of jazz that was nurtured by his proud parents Bill (a jazz guitarist) & Betty Weeds who I came to know, at one of Cory’s Cuban Jazz Tours. I recall when Bill and Cory attended my first performance of the Joni Mitchell Retrospective, in 2002. Afterward they made me feel like a million bucks. New to the Vancouver scene, I so appreciated their support even though I was acutely aware, I had much to learn.
I also recall talking to Cory in those early days when he struggled to juggle his intense schedule while dealing with the millions of details that a restaurant required as well as keeping up his own chops, the constant bookings, the inevitable disgruntled folks, the ‘no shows’, the small houses, and… our sensitive artistic egos. (I once ran a restaurant and have my retail business, so I also had some idea). I still marvel at his abilities and relentless drive, at how he strategically interconnected his network that provided consistent gigs for the local burgeoning talent and attracted some of the most legendary musicians of our jazz day. His hands on, behind the scenes experiences, I feel sure would make a fabulous bio some day.
Over time as the club became the local jazz haunt it also became like a second home to so many music lovers, near and far including the local ‘Kits’ community. From Cory’s straight out, succinct yet sincere manner, to the warm and wonderful staff who always made everyone including me, my family and band, feel so welcome, it was a great experience. I grew to love my gigs at the Cellar. Overtime, my professional relationship with Cory enabled me to build my repertoire, my audience and work with some of Vancouver’s finest jazz musicians.
Whereas the other jazz clubs turned me away because I was not a ‘jazz purist’ per se, Cory loved that I sang standards and also wrote my own jazz/pop tunes . He gave me the space, to try them out and refine them at the club. I will always be grateful to him for this and so much more as it gave me the confidence, to stick with it. And I have.
I also really dug the large colorful dramatic paintings of jazz legends that adorned the wall. Especially the Billie Holiday one. Not to mention the Steinway Grand that was such an amazingly wonderful addition last year. What ingenuity was demonstrated when he sold each of the keys ( as he had done for the Yamaha before it to help pay for it ) and then commissioned a painting with the names of the patrons on each key. I bought one of the keys for the Yamaha that now sits in Chris Gestrin’s recording studio that we will be using for my upcoming recording sessions.The women’s bathroom upgrade was a highlight too as believe it or not, that bathroom lent itself to some of the most intimate conversations, as only women can do while preening.
What really stood out to me however, is how he provided such a respectful almost reverent atmosphere for we musicians in educating the audience with his consistent clear ” be quiet and listen ” precedent that was set from the get go. So the club was a great opportunity for an audience to really ‘ listen’ to all the nuances and subtlety presented and as a performer, to really be heard and seen. I can only say that as someone who struggled with this need as a child and later as a vocalist, this was the greatest gift. When I sang there, I sure felt seen and appreciated. And I felt connected to a world I had only once dreamed of engaging with. It gives me goosebumps and makes me kinda teary to recall some of those passing moments. For it was those moments of bonding with my audiences, that changed me too.
Those who attended the Cellar know their own version of magical moments amidst the flowing music, counter cultural vibe and candle lit glow, with a glass of Chardonnay in hand. Yet, how does one describe being transported to another time and place for instance, or moved to utter breathlessness and wonderment through a sax, clarinet, guitar, piano, bass solo or vocal scat? And yet this and more happened every night, every week… at what became a primary showcase for a wide range of local and international instrumentalists and vocalists. It attracted devoted appreciative audiences who became the foundational support for the club to eventually earn its well deserved status, as the #1 premier jazz club in Vancouver. All of this and so much more, will become a part of Vancouver jazz history, after tonight.
Having recently closed my own doors to my jewelry business on Bowen Island , also after thirteen and a half years, I feel I can empathize with Cory’s huge and courageous decision. Let me emphasize though that I in no way compare my retail experience to Cory’s jazz club & restaurant experience. Yet as a business owner as well as a performer there, I do know firsthand what it takes to commit to envision, birth and grow a business through the seasons of one’s own life , and all those it touches. Also I know about being held accountable in following through on that vision, every day… through every up, down, ebb, flow, twist and turn. Against all odds. Or with them. And also about letting it go.
So now as this Cellar era comes to a close I share a sadness so many also feel . I will genuinely miss being able to sing on that intimate stage . Although living on an island does not afford weekly attendance I have many, many fond and wonderful memories over those years from attending a lot of shows and being enthralled, on both sides of the stage. I loved being a performer as much as I loved to listen and learn from others. I was but a small cog in the club’s roster, yet as you can see I formed a strong alliance with it. Life as we know, is all about change and letting go. Opening and closing. Hello and goodbye’s . Yet we are lucky that this is not goodbye. Not really. As Cory recently announced he will continue to book jazz performances at 1789 Restaurant in Vancouver and it will move into a different cycle with Cory blazing undoubtedly, many new pathways.
So this is my way of acknowledging Cory and The Cellar , knowing I am but one of the many musicians near and far, who have their own stories to share too. I cannot profess to know all the myriad emotions Cory or any of us will be feeling tonight, yet I know how precious it will be to hear him share his real and poignant perspective as we all let go together. Thank you to all the staff and extended family of the Cellar. All the musicians I heard and to all the folks who attended my gigs there too. For your kindness. Your listening. Your passion for jazz and most of all , thank you Cory… for your passion, example and leadership. I look forward to what’s ahead.
I wrote Luminescence after an early morning walk in Oahu, Hawaii, about discovering my inner voice as a child. To me, it also speaks to the inner muse within each one of us. This song was co – written by Chris Gestrin and I and will be included in my new album currently in pre- production.
My dear friend Eric L. Bronstein, a jazz bassist and Dr., recently shared some thoughts about an interview he had heard on NPR about what the late Ravi Shankar had once said about his music… ” that it was always about tranquility and sadness, as in reaching out in trying to find something, as if to a lover, or to God… “. This stirring passage mirrored exactly what I felt as I sat in a circle of women the other night. The circle was in support of my close friend, Samantha Knowles who was bravely facing a partial mastectomy. She is very open about this life changing process and I know won’t mind me sharing this. In our circle of women, we were asked to pass her wool ball between us. The wool was from Sam’s favorite childhood sweater she and her young son Oscar had carefully unraveled. We each in turn, wrapped the wool around our wrist, several times, as we offered Sam, whatever we needed to share with her, in our poetry, song and tears. Then, we passed it randomly along to another. This eventually created a wondrous web of wool that surrounded her in a symbolic, tangible tapestry of support. We each have this wool still on our wrists, until Sam requests we take it off. This wool reminds us of our connectivity, while representing so many unspoken things, like the powerful wisdom in grief’s vulnerability.
This juxtaposition was also present at the recent Jazz Benefit for Ross Taggart to support his challenging cancer recovery process. A huge outpouring from the Vancouver Jazz community came together in a rich evening of non stop performances and jams while Ross watched from his hospital bed via Skype. An intricate network of connections, near and far were represented that he has created all these years in each composition, gig, and friendship. Over the course of the evening we heard selections from his many bands, with his best friends performing, without him, on his own compositions. Each person wove personal vignettes or offered their exquisite musical expression. From his friends, Master of Ceremony’s Rick Cluff and Margaret Gallagher of CBC Radio to saxophonist and one of the organizers, Campbell Ryga. Each performance including the interplay of Ross’s students and colleagues before and after the concert, enraptured a grateful and emotional audience. The magic web that unfolded around Ross provided a container to express love, joy and saddness in a personal and collective way, in an extremely moving and rich circumstance. I was not alone in feeling the tangible power of love expressed through jazz to heal and lift that night with hundreds of Ross’s friends and fans. Brian Fraser of Jazzthink’s recent ezine ( who opened our evening with Ross with a moving introduction) describes our evening with Ross masterfully, in his recent December issue entitled ‘Real Community’. http://www.jazzthink.com/ezine/1212_ezine.html
Here’s a link to a recent Performance of Bill Coon and Ross Taggart performing~ Four http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_beAcSPNz8
All of us are directly or indirectly affected by cancer these days in one way or another. Many of us have lost family and friends already to it and pray for the safe recovery and remission of so many more. It has sadly, become a global epidemic, that we still do not have a full understanding of all the causes or cures. So we have to rely on our instincts and our ability to rise to the occasion to enfold ourselves, our friends and our families, with whatever naked strength we can muster, even when we feel we may have none. Somehow… we do and it matters, so very much. Through a word, a card, a touch, a song or a trumpet solo.
So much of the kind of music my friends and I are drawn to these days I find, has a certain tonal, chordal relationship that often contain a tension… between happiness or sadness, peace or disquieted angst. A chordal progression for instance may seem to float in a suspension of sonic opposites, that can feel at once, both comforting and yet also sad. It can go so deep inside your heart with a restlessness and urgency that you feel you might possibly explode from all the emotion, yet in the next moment, it brings a portal of deep release and stillness both light and dark. Like the coal of darkness that also has a glimmer of a star. In this space of connectivity between notes, lies the potential for new understanding with a tranquil, sad and utter beauty, that brings a joy, all its own.
When I was growing up and learning the art of socializing, like most kids, I used to say whatever came to my active, exuberant mind. For instance at a formal family dinner party with people we wanted to impress, I suddenly blurted out, ” Dad?…is the intelligence of a baby determined by how big an orgasm is ?” This inquisitive statement haunted me from then on, repeated mercilessly with gales of laughter over my lifetime, that made me wish I could disappear into the center of the earth. Yet, I learned through many such episodes, that timing and delivery were indeed, critical. At first my family thought it was cute, then it became embarrassing, and as time wore on… annoying. Then when I became an adult, it became an issue. Thankfully I did not stifle myself, and instead have adopted a practice of what is now referred to by many spiritual teachers, as “mindfulness.” I have now come to a simple solution. That in any situation, I pause, I consider, I choose and then… I speak. What, how and why I say and think, is very important . This also applies to singing and performance. Expressing from an unruly mind with scattered thoughts is simply not creative and does not serve anyone , especially myself. Being mindful and choosing ones thought can make or break a heart.
“You may believe that you are responsible for what you do, but not for what you think. The truth is that you are responsible for what you think, because it is only at this level that you can exercise choice. What you do comes from what you think” ~ A Course in Miracles
Thanks to my friendship with NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan, that began last Feb. at a vocal workshop in Vancouver, I decided to apply to INTERPLAY JAZZ & ARTS . http://www.interplayjazzandarts.org/ IPJ&A is a unique jazz camp in pastoral Woodstock , Vermont that was created by the talented couple, Fred Haas and Sabrina Brown in 1996. Over the years, it has attracted a roster of world-class jazz teachers/musicians ( including Fred) plus an ardent following of “play” ers, including myself. Some of the teachers ( and students) were new this year, but most have been with IP from its genesis.
With IP’s unique , holistic approach that integrates yoga and mediation , it encourages a balanced and integrative approach to the improvisational art of jazz . A fan of holistic medicine, and yoga IP was right up my alley. To my delighted surprise, I became the first recipient of the Georgina Williamson Vocal Scholarship, generously provided by the wonderful Mimi and Marshall Heuser, close friends of Georgina’s. I announced my scholarship on FB, at my gigs, in my email newsletter and to anyone who wanted to know. I knew that it would be a great adventure, yet I did not know just HOW great. I was intrigued by the description “ a holistic jazz experience that will change your life” on their website. It made me wonder, to what extent? I am no stranger to testing myself in unknown waters . I have had a lot of unusual experiences from communal living to studying in LA, to raising my daughter on a rural island, to attending workshops at Esalen, Big Sur or Hollyhock on Cortes Island . So, I was ready for the experience, yet with the impending release of my third CD… I still wondered… how much would it change me? I am not sure I can fully describe this yet, as I continue to feel the changes initiated at IP very much at work in my life now. Yet, perhaps in sharing aspects of my process, over the course of the next few weeks in this blog, you will both get a good sense of it.
Upon arriving, I was excited and anxious. I did not want to let anyone down. Or myself. I am happy to say, I did not. To take full advantage of my time, I inhaled every possible musical moment I could. Of course I could not experience it all, as so much was always going on in tandem, but I sure did my best to try. During our “meet and greet” dinner party I met folks from all over the US ranging from 14 years of age to Maestro Gene Bertoncini in his 80’s. It was tough to decide where best to focus my energies as there was so much to choose from. Yet, based on their helpful advice, that night, I joined the Gospel Choir with the inspirational Dartmouth Director Walter Cunningham. It was a very good decision. It was also the first of many …” Oh My God”! moments . Why? Not only can Walter sing like an Adonis Angel who has a massive octave, perfect pitch range, he is also as beautiful to look at as he is to listen too! It’s no secret. He is fitter than any fiddle with a winning smile and expressive, warm eyes. He exudes a stadium of unlimited energy, joy and focus. He’s the kind of easy, happy person everyone wants to hang out with. And yes, I like and respect him a lot. Check out his website if you don’t believe me. http://www.shoutlife.com/profile_view.cfm?uid=103702 All I can say, is I have never heard anyone sing as powerfully, nor as tenderly as Walter. He is a humble genius, a gifted musical conduit, who shares Gods’ and his wisdom through Gospel music . Walter’s stories are the best! When stumbling blocks came up vocally, he shared vignettes of personal imagery that helped elicit the sensitive, specific nuance he wanted us to feel in the words or the phrasing or the vowel shape of each line. All was taught and sung carefully, note by- alto- tenor- bass-soprano note, while accompanying us on the piano. All by ear and memory. Which is part of the gospel tradition. Walter was also adept in how to reach the range of folks in our group, from experienced vocalists to beginners, from all paths, from the Jewish tradition to Buddhists to atheists. Very quickly we all came together under his expansive, universal musical umbrella.
Folks, I am a native Northern Ontario, Canadian, white, brunette ( EH?) who relocated to the West Coast in the 70’s. I listened to some gospel over the years including Mahalia Jackson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJg5Op5W7yw but never had the pleasure of being in a Baptist or Gospel Church choir. I had I sung in a local church choir for eighteen years, and in a gospel choir in Vancouver a couple of years ago. Not to diminish those stepping-stones, but perhaps it took all those experiences for me to really appreciate whose presence I was in. For, within our trans-formative three-hour rehearsal, by night ends our new group of thirty plus singers actually sounded like a real gospel choir. Most importantly though was that we all connected. In those pristine moments, I felt like I began to understand the spirit of Gospel music that is fundamentally at the root of jazz. Under the focused, commanding, and compelling direction of a teacher like Walter, I knew I was with a Master. My bumps goosed! That was just the first night…
I was awarded a full scholarship from Interplay Jazz & Arts, in honor of Georgina Williamson, to study with the great Karrin Allyson & NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan in Woodstock, Vermont for a week in June! My thanks to the Founder and Director, Fred Haas and Co- Director Sabrina Brown. The holistic jazz program integrates daily yoga , meditation, a beautiful setting and marvelous food- I can’t wait!