West Coast Wind Down and NYC in December

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

I took a long hiatus from posting on my website.  Not intentionally but life took a very busy turn these past few months and I apologize for not being in touch.  Many of you who will read this post are a tech savvy bunch and I’ve been in touch with many of you through FB and twitter.  Still, there’s no better way to tell what’s going on that this forum here. So let me share what’s been going on and what’s to come…

As I write, I’m wrapping up some time in San Francisco spent collaborating with bassist/composer Lisa Mezzacappa. We started working on Election Day (what a marvelous turnout and result!!) running a workshop in esteemed pianist Myra Melford’s class then devoting 5 days to rehearsing and developing music for our newly launched trio project w guitarist John Finkbeiner which Lisa and I are both writing for.  So new that we’re still working on a name and I’m excited to collaborate with Lisa whose a fantastic musician with a strong musical voice and great ideas and compositions.  Then we began a whirlwind of activity that including recording a video for the group, went on a couple of radio shows (KALX on the Amazing Grace show and KPLA Berkeley on Derk Richardson’s Hear and Now), performed in Sacramento and in Los Angeles (where flautist Nicole Mitchell joined us for first set at the Blue Whale), earlier that day teaching a wonderful and dynamic workshop to Nicole Mitchells’s grad students at UC Irvine.  The tour culminated in our trio performing at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as part of a triple bill that included cellist Marika Hughes and the Parkington Sisters.  That was a glorious night – not only did the music in our set feel right and settled, but the other sets were strong in character and musical choices.  Plus the vibration back stage was so positive as was the brief post-concert discussion moderated by vocalist Laurie Antonioli. The next morning, we went into the studio to lay down the music…an exciting time and I’m looking forward to more with Lisa.  Look out for us on December 15 at the Brecht Forum with reedist Daniel Carter and bassist Adam Lane…

Since then, my husband and I have been enjoying a long overdue vacation…seeing California and all its beauty really for the first time.

Heading home in a few days and so…looking…forward…just….can’t wait…to play with the Fay Victor Ensemble again and we’ll be performing the the 55 BAR this coming THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 29 for the Early Set starting at 7PM as part of my monthly residency there with Anders Nilsson on guitar and Ken Filiano on double bass December I’ll close out the year at the 55BAR doing a Blues & Standards program on THURSDAY, DECEMBER 27th and before that – at the Brecht Forum on SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15th.

Since its been awhile that I’ve been in touch – I do hope that you all in and around NY were spared too much trouble with Sandy…I know some of you had a hard time.  I wish that its all behind you if you did.

Finally, on December 4th – Arts for Art/Vision Festival will put on a benefit called Under the Line: a tribute to Ornette Coleman that will fund and support a much needed, affordable music/art venue in the Lower East Side.  Please consider joining the celebration and/or contributing to this worthy cause.

Thank you for reading,



Life/Work Lesson: Connection

SDC12066Last year, I gave a workshop in New York City on confidence and connecting with an audience. During that workshop, a discussion erupted about putting a spell on an audience. How does that work? I offered that I had no clue and then I remembered a pivotal moment along the way where I confronted that same question.

Back in 2000, a promoter that I’d worked with before called me up to do a German festival. He told me I couldn’t bring a whole band but an just an accompanist.   The promoter liked music that attracted audiences to partying and anything too cerebral he would take issue with for these festivals he booked. I really wanted to make a good impression because the guy paid well and hooked you up: 4-star hotel, 1st class train fare and all the meals were on him. Besides he booked about 10 of these yearly, not to mention other gigs that came up. I thought if this works out he’d book me on more festivals with more opportunities to develop that side of my singing. So I asked pianist Curtis Clark to come along…one of the most delicate pianists around!

At the festival we were given a small stage off to the side of the main stages. Despite the leakage from the bigger groups close by, it was a cool spot for a duo with tons of space. We talked through what the first set would be, did our sound check during which I instructed Curtis how I wanted to “drive the music home to the people…” He didn’t say anything. I was determined to do well and make those people like me and make that agent LOVE me.

We went out and did our first set. We had a big crowd and I went into overdrive to keep them there. Reaching and pushing out to the audience, looking at them in their eyes with yearning. Sometimes I heard Curtis but most times I was focused on getting them to like us.  I really wanted them to like us. The crowd stayed but the audience reaction was pretty lukewarm. The kiss of death as far as I’m concerned.  No-one hung around to even say “Danke”. Scheisse.

When the set ended, Curtis and I headed backstage to eat and relax before we played again. As soon as we sat down he turned to me and said:

“What are you doing?”

“What do I mean ‘what am I doing’?” I said.

“Why are you pushing the music so hard? Why are you fighting me?” he said.

I was stunned and speechless – not easy for me. After an awkward silence I asked him what he meant by that. He replied,

“You seem to be worried about keeping a big crowd and we’re not together musically. It’s not happening. If we get together and communicate with each other, the music will be stronger. If we do this you may lose some audience, sure, but the audience that stays will stay because they want to HEAR us.”

I knew that first set didn’t work but I didn’t think I did anything wrong. I pulled out every “performer” cliche I knew of. I worked HARD to get and keep the audience’s attention.

So this was a revelation. I gave myself such a hard time for not being a strong performer in the sit-in-their-lap vein of entertainer. I saw it as a weakness for a longtime that I wouldn’t, for example, jump into a mosh-pit from stage. I don’t like to say too much and I want the music to speak for itself. I’d seen performers go to great lengths to pull the audience toward them: be funny, dress sexy, sing seductively, all these “extra” activities that looked like overcompensation to me. That was just what I did during first set and probably many times before, just not as amplified. Here he’s saying I can own that aspect of myself, my essence is good enough.

Curtis went on to suggest that for the next set we simply focus on getting together with the music. Communicate and respond with each other and see what happens. I nervously agreed to give it a try. It couldn’t be worse than what went before and for all the hard work in the first set, it was clear that I was no favorite of the promoter and he didn’t think the set was was “rollicking” enough. So I had nothing to lose.

That second set had a weird pause when we started out but it eased and we began to make…music. The audience changed; quite a few walked away once we moved in unison more. That was hard at first. Yet those who stayed had sweet smiles and enjoyed the music. They looked me in the eyes. It’s the first time I recognized that I allowed me to be me – even if just for a moment – in all my vulnerability on stage and it felt GOOD. A profound moment.

I’ve taken that moment on that stage in Germany to heart. I now continually strive and struggle for a more organic connection with an audience.  Learning more and more how to be the genuine me, how to extract the truth of myself into the songs I sing and the music I write. It’s a fundamental part of my journey. Digging deeper as my psyche will allow. How lucky I feel. I owe Curtis because his honesty with me that day caused a tectonic shift in my outlook as a vocalist. It went on to inform the ensemble band-leading sound and approach I’ve been working on.  Thank you, Curtis.

If you love jazz and/or piano, check him out he has a number of recordings and he’s a very special player and composer. Here’s his myspace link: http://www.myspace.com/curtisclarkmusic

-Originally posted on the Visible Voice in July 2008

Life/Work Lesson: Filter

Life Lesson: Anton Goudsmit.

Anton Goudsmit is a Dutch guitarist who played in my Amsterdam based group for over 3 years. We met through my husband and since he was a fixture on the Amsterdam music scene,  I had heard Anton play live a couple of times.  I loved his playing, his energy.  He exploded on stage.  When I decided to put together  a group s few years later, I booked Anton for a couple small gigs, playing mainly standards with little rehearsal. I didn’t know it then yet my whole idea of music and what was possible started to change.  My husband and I had started writing and I yearned to express  my own words and voice more. I was busy figuring out my own sound, beginning to tire of the jazz mannerisms that I had latched on to and I didn’t know how to shake  off.

I can best describe Anton as the perennially good side of a 10 year-old with all the greatest of intentions. He is a warm, carefree, fun-loving, open, brutally honest and creative person who was and is always in the moment. Sometimes I’ve tried to have a conversation with him and he veers off looking at some clouds while he contorts is face in a weird way. Then he’s back, dead serious, looking at me dead in the eye. Always present. This made the experience of performing with him a gift because I never knew what would happen. He showed me the pure joy that lay in just expressing oneself in the moment and how an audience can react to that. Audiences LOVE him. Anton had no filter.

Anton and I connected immediately on those early gigs and started working together shortly thereafter.  As it turns out he is, to date one of the best musicians I have ever worked with. He is a serious musician and an original thinker. His skills as a guitarist are world-class and he has his own “sound”.  He is pretty influential on my sound because we played many unisono passages with voice and guitar on original pieces or arranged standards.  He had to figure out how to sustain a tone and I needed to blend my voice with is sound.  I asked him to be on Darker Than Blue, my second outing for the Dutch label Timeless Records that I’d record in New York.  I knew we were off  to a good start when House Party Starting, the Herbie Nichols tune  I couldn’t find the music to, turned out to be Anton’s favorite tune when he was studying.  He knew it inside and out. Everything fell into place on the recording. I asked him to be part of a new band I was going to form. He said yes immediately and stayed in the band until I left the Netherlands for good in 2003.

We performed a lot with that group so I saw how much he was a part of the music he created and how it all came out like water. How the ideas flowed in anout through his fingers. All the time.   Anton and I talked about it, me trying to understand something that was so purely him that he never gave the thing a thought. It’s just how Anton was.  Same off stage.  Same onstage. This was the way to BE. Was it possible for me to be that way too?  No buttoned up sentiments or canned nuances with walls in between me and the audience. The real thing – true connection. I too sought to be more honest in my expression. I wanted to express ME. Whatever that is. Anton showed me the door and walked me through it sometimes and it was a treacherous yet exhilarating feeling to try. Try to express ugly, sad, happy, angry, sensual, loud, strong, vulnerable, sassy, sexy, political, analytical, beautiful, spiritual, small, big, historical, bad, righteous, bawdy and a whole lot more.

I owe Anton big for that.

Check out a video and here him play on the link below..
Han Bennick & Anton Goudsmit

Originally posted on my teaching blog The Visible VoiceJuly 2008

How I Learned to Eat More Music

Fay Victor Ensemble CD Release
Fay Victor Ensemble CD Release

This has been an amazing year for me. With the release of the FreeSong Suite and the reaction to it, suddenly everything starts to move with a flow and momentum that I haven’t experienced before.  Flowing and falling into it and somehow knowing that all is headed in the right direction.  I am so grateful to all the amazing friends, family and supporters over the years who have kept me going…letting me know that I have something to keep going.  That support has been and is priceless. It has meant so much that now that things feel like they are “going” I hardly know how to react other than with deep gratitude and a strange nervousness.

So I’m thinking a lot about how this has all taken shape.  How some decisions I made clearly lead here and other choices felt right but couldn’t be explained.  How my past has bought me to this place where I feel at home performing my own music on my own terms and getting recognition for THAT.  With all this thinking, a conversation I had some years ago keeps coming up. Much of my musical life as an autodidact I’ve learned along the way, on the fly, tidbits of info chosen just for me and my little journey to wherever. Usually in the midst of conversation.

About 10 years ago, hubby and collaborator Jochem van Dijk was involved in a vocal project put on a by a Dutch vocalist Sandra Stark with 3 voices and a trio of guitar, accordion and percussion. A couple of Jochem’s pieces were involved in the project so I went to one of their concerts an hour north of Amsterdam and the percussionist of the trio dazzled me most  because he was so versatile and dynamic.  He had a strange drum kit to my eyes.  It  looked like a bunch of snare drums with one hi-hat and a small bass drum and tons of musical toys and trinkets that rattled when he used them and when he didn’t.  I couldn’t take my eyes or ears off of him.

At the end of the concert a bus was organized to take us all back to Amsterdam and I had the great luck to sit next to Alan Purves, the great Scottish percussionist who I just listened to.  We started talking about music, people we knew in common and he asked me what was I into and what type of singer I was.   I went into this thing about how I’m a modern jazz vocalist performing some original material and standards. I said I was starting to think differently about using the voice and was getting oodles of inspiration from people like Cathy Berberian, Roberta Alexander and Jeanne Lee and besides that I mainly listened to instrumental jazz and mostly post-post bop.  I went on and on about how I loved Ornette and Ayler, etc.  He listened intently and said:

“Very precise.  You know exactly what you like.”

“Yes I do…” I said confidently.

He said, “Sounds like you’re on a music diet.  For me, I can’t get enough of  music. I love all of it,  I’m a music hog.”

At first I thought he was crazy…how can you love ALL of it! Then my brain fell silent and I began to feel very patronizing and realized that I must have sounded like an arrogant little snot. I also saw in technicolor that I was NOT as open as I thought I was.  and BOY, I thought I was. That pissed me off. So I said to Alan…

“What do you mean? I think I have  good taste and I listen to music now that I never knew existed…” He cut me off.

“Maybe…but you are so sure about it.  That’s why I call it a ‘diet’. I like to be in uncomfortable situations.”
He continued, “then I like to see what I can come up with, whether it’s a simple rock
backbeat or a complicated polythrymic piece. I like playing everything and finding my own way into it.”

He got me. I was speechless again. A weird silence ensued and soon went on to talking about normal life things like where we lived, what was our fave Dutch food, Scotland and joking about cows on the countryside we were driving past. Yet the “music diet” conversation never left me and made me see how closed I was and how tunneled my vision was for what I wanted to do.  Alan revealed a way of looking at things that had eluded me…and he made it sound so easy.  I heard it in his playing.

After that day and some serious soul searching I began feeling freer to just “try” things.  To let things happen and control my music less and less once I’m actually in the moment of making it.  It’s a hard thing for a vocalist to let go of because we do need others musicians as a reference point many times.  Alan made me see this differently and I am eternally grateful because I KNOW this conversation directly impacted my musical direction to the point where today..I’m not afraid to step into any musical situation and give it my all…without fear and I usually find my own way in.

Frank Zappa on being wit’ yourself

Last week I posted this on FaceBook and wanted to share on the FV site as well.  As a musician, needing time alone is crucial if for no other reason than to have space to take in the world so you can actually say something about it.  Loneliness is something I’ve grappled with  for a longtime.  I’m pretty comfortable being alone but sometimes feel guilty that I’m not ‘more’ social or more ‘visible’. And one of the things I’ve read along the way was an excerpt of an interview of the great Frank Zappa giving his take on the subject.

I ran across this and it struck a chord.  The answer to the second question is the thing but I’ve added the preceding Q&A as that’s not too shabby either. I’m not saying this is what I feel but I see his ‘meanin’ and I definitely think its a valid point of view hopefully open to a jubilant discussion.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  A jubilant discussion about being alone!

Frank Zappa Companion
Interview Revolt against Mediocrity

Originally printed in The Progressive, a Wisconsin Monthly magazine (1986)

An excerpt:

Q: What do you see as your greatest accomplishment and your greatest failure.

Zappa: I would say that my entire life is a massive failure. Because I don’t have the tools or wherewithal to accomplish what I want to accomplish. If you have an idea and you want that idea to be done a certain way and you can’t do it, what would you have? You have failure. I live with failure everyday because I can’t do the things I really want to do.  Unfortunately, I have these ideas that are just too fucking expensive.  In realistic terms, you’re looking at a genuine daily failure syndrome. I have no fantasies about what the odds are at being able to do what I want to do. It’s not going to happen. Once you realize what your limitations are and realize that even if you “achieve” something it doesn’t make a fucking bit of difference anyway, then you can be “okay”. I enjoy sitting down here (in the studio) all by myself typing on the Synclavier. I can do 12 hours and I love it. And I know that ultimately it doesn’t mean a fucking thing that I did it.  It’s useless.  That’s oaky; it makes me feel good.

Q: It seems that for most people that kind of isolation would lead to loneliness.

Zappa: Try to imagine what the opposite of loneliness is.  Think of it. Everyone in the world loves you? What is that? Realize that you’re in isolation.  Live it! Enjoy it! Just be glad that there aren’t a bunch of people who want to use up your time. Because along with all the love and admiration that’s going to come from the people that would keep you from being lonely, there is the emotional freight you have to bear from people who are wasting your time, and you can’t get that back. So when you’re lonely and you’re all by yourself, guess what you have? You have all of your own time. That’s a pretty good fucking deal.  Something you couldn’t buy anyplace else.  And every time you’re out being sociable ad having other people be “nice” to you so that you don’t feel “lonely,” they’re wasting your time.  What are you getting for it?  Because after they’ve done being nice to you, then they want something from you. And they’ve already taken your time!

Loneliness, once you come to deal with it so that it is not an uncomfortable sensation, so it doesn’t feel like drowning or something is not a bad deal.  It’s a good deal. It’s the next best thing to solitude. I’m not talking solitary confinement.  Solitude. If you’re sensitive to loneliness, then you’re gonna be in trouble, because then the loneliness turns into something really painful, a horrible depression and then you die.  One way or the other, you just die.  So who needs that shit?

Slow Singing – Part One

I sing slow.  I really do.  No matter what the tempo or so…my aim is to make it sound even slower. In early July,  I had a duo gig with Dom Minasi at Le Grand Dakar in Brooklyn.  Dom is a great player with a penchant for fast runs and forward propulsive rhythm.  The opposite of my way of dealing with rhythmic phrasing when I sing.  I look for weird holes to accent in the music and it’s waaaaay behind the beat usually.  It does depend on what’s happening musically as well but.  generally I would say it’s the way I do things. ..and it’s funny that it developed this way.

When I started out I was part of a weekly vocal workshop at the Williamsburg Music Center  (Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY) run by bassist/guitarist Gerry Eastman.  After hanging out there for a couple of years religiously I managed to get a bit better so Gerry would have me sing a few tunes on some of his gigs.  He always complained about us vocalists and these ballads we loved to sing.  Some days the vocal workshop would sound like a long sad tale of unrequited love, repeated over and over again.

One night on one of these gigs, I decided I knew best and went and opened the set with a ballad. The audience was so kind and responded warmly.  They listened and when I was done, they applauded enthusiastically.  Gerry smiled the smile of a happy teacher and said “what’s the next tune you’d like to do?”

I said “My One and Only Love.”

He gave me a stern look “But you just did a ballad…didn’t you”

“yeah…but people dug it.  I think it it will work” I said

Chuckling, he said “Alright…My One and Only Love it is.”

I had the audience and the moment the intro was played, I saw their eyes glaze over  but I was adamant and sang  my little heart out. After the set ended  Gerry asked me if I noticed how everyone was eating, chewing and talking all over my shit and how the moment I did something more uptempo, the audience came back.  I noticed how they turned away.  I heard the clamor of silverware and loud conversation all over my shit as he said.  He went on to say that if you’re going to sing anything  slow tune…it has to say something. It can’t just be pretty or about just hitting the notes.  What are you saying

That day and that discussion had me busy for quite a while. I also had trouble  singing uptempo tunes like “Cherokee” because I never could phrase things without sounding rushed.  It was an issue I battled with for a long time.  How to phrase lyrics so that they’re clearly understood while swinging at a uber-fast tempo.

My solution…pick the right tempo for what I want to say with the song. How to do that?  How do you know what is right.  How can you sing slow and hold an audiences attention.  What is so wonderful about singing slowere tempos in the first place.  What are some cool ways to figure out the tempo