Music by Contemporary Women Composers

Music by contemporary catherine

Including my “Vocalise” for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet in Bb.  (My surname only has one of each letter!)  Called “Vocalise” because I set out to write a “Vocalise” for voice and clarinet – but it took on a life of its own (as these things do), and became a work more suited to instrumental forces – winds.  But I retained the title.  I can’t wait to hear it performed by these superb musicians!  And I love the atmosphere of the venue!

If there is a soprano out there who feels she would like to give the flute part a go, that would be great too!  I would love to hear that!

Also, great that this concert is contributing towards putting women composers on the map.  Women have been grossly ignored in the world of classical composition throughout its history.  Today, when there is no shortage of women composers, there is no excuse.  Just a couple or so years ago, not a single work by a woman composer was played throughout the entire summer prom series!  And in the days when massive CD stores were still gracing the West End’s main streets (London), I went into the largest classical CD section to be found in a CD store in London (Tottenham Court Road) and could not find a single CD featuring works by women composers.

Swing Abeba

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 03.47.29My first love from early childhood was music: classical piano-playing, and singing (especially folk), accompanying myself on my beloved guitar.

However, it was social anthropology that I took to doctoral level, and as a way of not letting go of music, I specialised in the anthropology of music.

During my doctoral fieldwork, I performed with an Ethiopian-Jewish band called “The Band of Blossoming Hope” for 9 months.  (See my book:  Gondar’s Child.)  I also had lessons with the famous Ethiopian Christian singer Aklilu Seyoum, who coached the Band, in the Ethiopian intervallic mood-mode systems known as “keñetoch”.

Prior to this, I conducted research on Jewish society and music in Yemen, and wrote a substantial thesis on this subject.  Very many hours were spent listening to, analysing, and even painstakingly and painfully transcribing their music, and other kinds of Yemenite music.

Perhaps it was Ethiopian music, and also the American blues singers who frequented the folk clubs in Israel, which opened me up to jazz. Upon returning from my fieldwork to the UK, for years to follow, jazz became my passion. I studied with established jazz vocalists, performing at jazz jams, working hard on my vocal improvisation and learning the standard repertoire. Among the early tasks I was set was to sing along with recordings of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet-playing: a great training!  In my quest for jazz, I went to Manhattan where I attended lessons and vocal masterclasses, went to all the jazz jams and performances I could manage, and generally infused myself with jazz.

I am glad to say I finally returned to “my own” music and first love. I resumed my classical piano playing, and took it to another level – the most meaningful thing I feel I could have done with my life!

Years ago, I told a jazz musician about my background in music – all these diverse intensely-studied and deeply-internalised influences – and he said: “It will be dynamite when it all comes together!”.

Swing Abeba, a work for solo bassoon, is an example of some of these influences coming together.  Whether or not it is “dynamite” – even a small quantity of dynamite – even a teaspoonful, is for the listener, or player, to determine!

“Abeba”, means “flower” – part of the name of the Ethiopian capital city where modern Ethiopian music took root. “Abeba” is also a common refrain in their vocal music. True to its title, this work is influenced by Ethiopian popular music, which in turn was strongly influenced by swing rhythm in American big band jazz transmitted from an army radio station in Kagnew, in neighbouring Eritrea in the 1950s.

Ethiopian music – essentially song-based – consists of pentatonic melodies which tend to be deeply embedded in copious melismata, progressing in an improvisatory manner, similarly to jazz.

Accordingly, Swing Abeba begins with an Ethiopian, pentatonically melismatic treatment of an un-Ethiopian theme.  The music then breaks into a jazz-swing scherzo. The call-response nature of this scherzo recalls this feature of Ethiopian music. The second section begins with a slow, heavily melismatic ad lib passage marked “molto espressivo e pensivo”, which leads into a second swing scherzo, the opening themes reappearing in a different guise in the closing section.

In the recording here, it is played beautifully by John McDougall.  An earlier version of Swing Abeba was performed, equally beautifully, by Glyn Williams at the 17th New Winds Festival at Regent Hall in London, 2014.

 

 

Thin’s a child to the adult sex

Dancer-yellow

Artist-Yehuda Bacon-mixed media

Following on from my previous post:  “Bell, or Pas Belle”…..

A while back, I read an article about a composer who found some old cassettes of his which had decayed over time, and he wrote a composition using these decayed tapes. 

This caused me not a little concern.  I have boxes and boxes of cassettes with irreplaceable data and recordings.  So I am in the process of having my most precious recordings digitalized, although apparently my cassettes are, on the whole, in quite good nick – having been safely stored.

One of the recordings I’ve just had digitalized is of a song which I called Positive at the time, because it was about trying to think positively.  Here, I’ve decided, instead, to use the beginning of the song as a title.  It starts:

See it thus

Thin’s a child to the adult sex

I want none of that….none of that

This was when Susie Orbach’s book:  Fat is a Feminist Issue, had made a big impression on me.  The idea that the idealised thin (and devoid of body hair) aesthetic imposed on, and adopted by, women in the West, belongs to the concept of women as the child-like sex.

I was also influenced by an album by This Mortal Coil.  In one of the songs on this album, you cannot make out any of the words which the singer is singing – intentionally.  It is part of the style and atmosphere of the song.

This seemed like a great idea!  In this song that I had written, I felt quite exposed by the words after the initial lines.  So I decided to sing it disguising the words in a way that they were almost impossible to make out:  the voice would be more like an instrument providing melody, atmosphere and emotion, without fully-decipherable words.  After the opening lines, the words are not positive at all, but give expression to the way in which, in certain life (and death) situations, your pain can spill over, and other people’s pain can spill over onto you, in a way which can sap your confidence completely, and make it impossible to act on feelings of love, or of being in love.  I had recently passed through such a time, writing songs which gave vent to some intense emotions.  (“It’s slash your wrists time!” would be uttered –  it was later revealed to me – when I got up to sing in my local folk club!)

I met up with a guy who I have to credit with producing this recording:  Sal Paradise.  He got me to work properly on the guitar part until it was perfect before he agreed to record it.  He then doubled the guitar part with a delay inbetween the doublings, and added chorus, and a tabla sample on a loop.  (On his travels, he had recorded musicians, but I omitted to ask who the tabla player was behind this sample.)  He said he would make the vocal part “sweet”, but I think it is pretty much how I sounded back then, in the late 1980s. 

He then made us both a curry.

Unfortunately, he never let me have a decent copy of the recording.

So here it is:  Thin’s a child to the adult sex….

 

 

Michal 06 for Solo Clarinet at l’klectik Art Lab

18th London Wind sept 2015 new yellow

My work for solo clarinet, Michal 06, will be performed again on Tuesday October 13th, at l’klectik Art Lab, London SE1, by Phil Edwards. He performed it so beautifully and gave it more than I could have imagined, last month at Regent Hall. He has completely made it his own. The acoustics of the venue were amazing, which brought out polyphonies in the piece I haven’t heard in it before, and which I couldn’t have anticipated when writing it! I’m thrilled that he’s performing it again!

What is(n’t) this thing called love?

Residents of Holy Isle - 2 wild foals

Residents of Holy Isle – 2 wild foals

“You don’t know what love is

Til you’ve learned the meaning of the blues….”

I recently went on a retreat on the Holy Isle, off the Isle of Arran, with Tibetan Lama Rimpoche Yeshe.  On a couple of evenings, volunteers on the island held a “discussion meeting” – a topic for discussion was decided upon, and we were to discuss the nature of the subject, from the heart, while remaining in the present!

On one of these occasions, the subjects decided upon – since a number were thrown up – were love, and false perception or delusion.  Being “in love”, for example, is an example of false perception or delusion:  the object of love can do no wrong.  (Although can we ever truly perceive a person?  Or anything?  Is perception always distortion stemming from the perceiving mind?)  Being “in love” may consist of attachment rather than love, and may incorporate obsession, dependency, and other unhealthy mind-states.  From a Buddhist viewpoint, attachment or clinging is one of the most harmful states of mind:  harmful to oneself, and harmful to the person to whom one is clinging.  However, most unenlightened human beings do not seem to know how to love without attachment.

This can manifest in an infinite variety of ways – some relatively imperceptible, others more extreme:  parents clinging to their (even grown-up) children – not allowing them to live their own lives… breaking up relationships.  Closet gay people can cling to their straight marriages – forcing their spouses to unknowingly live a lie.  (Thus, the consequences of homophobia can harm straight as well as gay people, as any phobia harms the phobic.  And that is not to say that only straight people are capable of homophobia, by any means!  But I digress……)

Someone had proclaimed, earlier, when Lama Yeshe was leaving the Island, “I love you, Lama Yeshe”, so the question arose whether this was love, or gratitude, or love mixed in with gratitude.

Someone posed the question as to whether love and compassion were the same thing.  I suggested that it would help to discover this by looking at whether the love we feel for living beings is the same as love we may have for inanimate objects.  Somebody reacted strongly to this. “Why do we need to know?”” she demanded.  I pointed out that this could help us to know whether love and compassion are the same.  “Why do we need to know?” she reiterated.  Because we are examining the nature of love.  And therefore we need to look at what isn’t love.  “Why?”  (In her place, at her age, I might have pointed out helpfully that bananas are not love!  Donkeys are not love!)  Because we are trying to find the essence of love. “Why?”  She couldn’t relate to what I was saying, she explained later.

Perhaps I was not discussing from the heart, but was entrenched in the old habit of academic debate.  And assuming that we were all engaged in the pursuit – probably also academic – of the essence of a concept, and the meaning of a word. Of what practical use is it to know the difference between love and compassion?  How does it affect our lives to know the difference.  Do we indeed need to know?  And another interesting question:  can love exist without compassion, and can there be compassion without love?  I can anticipate what the young challenger at the discussion meeting would have responded with:  “Why do we need to know?”!

I can think of at least one practical application:  I love my guitars, for example.  (Which is in fact attachment – or maybe something a little more complicated.  It is not just that I can produce music with them, sing with them – as I could do that with other guitars which might have a more beautiful sound.  It is that I have imbued them with value because of their link with my personal history and personal relationships – but that is also not all it is, since I may not have imbued other objects linked with my history and relationships with the same value.  And here, I seem to be closer to an analytical enquiry, rather than an enquiry from the heart!)  But if I felt compassion for my guitars, I think that might give cause for concern!  This, I think, is one reason why it might be important to know the difference between love and compassion!  I think compassion is something that arises in the face of suffering, and inanimate objects can’t suffer.

Science fiction, however, is crossing this boundary:  we are presented with robots modeled perfectly on the human form (externally), which are capable of loving, and which have feelings which can be hurt.  And the result is that the consumer’s compassion is aroused by a convincing portrayal of such emotions.  Is the consumer then projecting her/his emotions on the inanimate object?  Or is it that humans can create objects which then take on lives of their own, developing in their own way, beyond the control of their manufacturers?  So far, this is confined within the realms of science fiction.

It is also problematic to use the word “inanimate” in relation to robots which mimic life, or even in relation to guitars, which can respond so beautifully to a musician’s fingers, which have individual quirkiness, and which “die” if they remain unplayed for too long.

Holy Isle - looking onto Isle of Arran

The Holy Isle – looking onto the Isle of Arran

Artichoke Heart

Marilyn Herman CD back cover

Many years ago, this guy said to me: “My heart is like an artichoke.” He elaborated: each leaf or petal, reaching out to a different woman! This was in Paris, so in fact he said: “Mon coeur est comme un artichaut!” He also said: “Oh Mareline! Tu es la nuit et tu es le jour!” (He had seen me in grief, and he had seen me in exhilaration from dance.) This inspired my song: “Artichoke Heart”.

In 1996/7, I set out to record an album. I started to arrange my songs for jazz musicians, and went into a studio and got as far as recording three songs with three fantastic jazz musicians. First we had a couple of rehearsals, and I had a very precise idea of what I wanted from the musicians. I think it was at the end of the first rehearsal that the pianist said to me: “You have some good musicians here. They can do a lot if you let them!” So I let them!

I chose a studio where the singer Desrée had recorded one of her albums. It was a 24-hour recording session – the studio had a special rate for 24-hours, and I had a lot of stamina! After the first six hours dealing with musicians, I took a break. 6 hours was a long time to be entombed in a windowless studio, so I came up for fresh air. It was night-time on the edges of the City, and there weren’t many places to go to – just a few pubs open. I walked into one of them to relax and have a drink. The only other woman in the pub was an erotic dancer, and she greeted me and asked if I was a dancer – she probably couldn’t think why else I would be in that pub alone at that time! I wasn’t dressed the part, but then neither was she just yet!

I returned to the studio through the deserted night-time City streets to re-record the vocal without having my focus diluted by thinking about what the musicians were doing. However, as the hours went by, and the night wore on, tired myself, and the engineer becoming increasingly unstable with tiredness (he obviously had less stamina!), I was not happy with the result, and decided to return to re-record the vocal again, another time, when I was fresher. This I did with a different engineer at the same studio, after spending some time in New York (see earlier blog), and with the benefit of some lessons with the late New York jazz musician, Jackie Paris. Then I went to San Francisco to teach for a while, and never got back to completing the album.

All these years, nothing was done with the tracks – until now. I decided to make the tracks available for sale on CD and as MP3s, individually or as a 3-track album. I dug up a couple of photos of me from that era that seemed to work well with artichoke comets shooting through space, and giant space-borne jars of Waitrose artichoke hearts, for the CD covers.

All proceeds of sales received by me until end May will go to Ride The Night cancer charities. Hopefully I’ll be able to cycle the 100 km since apparently the terrain will be flat! A couple of days ago, I started training by cycling almost 50 km and that was exhausting. But there was a lot of uphill, and I confess, towards the end, I got off my bike and pushed it up much of the uphill stretch in Hampstead.

Anyway, the tracks can be heard, and purchased here:

http://cdbaby.com/cd/marilynherman2

Maybe one day I will still complete the full album – (so many unfinished projects!) Though these days I prefer to sing other people’s songs (folk/jazz), and to play my classical (Flamenco) rather than acoustic guitar, and to have other people sing my songs, which now tend to be classical (but not always), and based on someone else’s words.

 

For those of you who came across this blog while searching for artichoke hearts, I hope this blog doesn’t disappoint, and that you find some great artichoke hearts! I saw in Planet Organic that Biona do jars of organic ones.

Reel

They Came With A Dream – “Doing Jazz” in New York

In 1996/97, I went to Manhattan to “do jazz”. When I got back, still full of the New York energy, I wrote this…….

All the musicians singers actors artists writers go there. Twenties thirties forties – everyone with a dream. (Fifties and sixties – who went there with a dream when New York was different – not all high rise.) Israeli Latin American Southern States Northern States…. from places that are not Manhattan. I sit in an armchair in the Mona Lisa Cafe in West Greenwich Village – every few seconds someone walks past carrying a guitar – Guitar City.

What they do for their art. The conditions they live in….paying out like someone of means to live in dire poverty, hand to mouth, downtown in the Village. As Roommate Finders sent me to see: for no small fee, rooms with no windows, (holes in the wall), rooms with internal windows only, rooms facing directly onto a brick wall two inches in front, rooms curtained off in a loft. (I would have to ask: does the room have an external window, four walls and a door?) For an average rent of $800 per month. For slightly less you can afford a curtained-off space in a living room or a mattress on the floor in the entrance, by the front door.

Roommate Finders – you try calling but everyone has voice mail and the hardest thing is to speak to an actual human being. They have to be able to get back to me so I buy a cell phone which it turns out has not yet gained coverage of much of New York – useless in the entire West Village and Chelsea, for example. Each ad receives one hundred or so calls, so they don’t get back to everyone. The situation is so impossible, with hundreds of dollars spent just on speaking to people’s voice mail.

Well I don’t have to be on the streets – if the worst comes to the worst I have a return ticket to England. “But you came with a dream” say the porters and janitors, without knowing why I’m there. “You came here for a reason – you should give it your best shot.”

The housing situation fills me with despair. I tell myself: I came for a reason – I have to give it my best shot.

Staying in Jersey City with the kind hospitable friend of a cousin – 31st floor, view of the entire skyline of Manhattan. PATH trains to Jersey stop around midnight so I get back in time each night. Don’t realise they also start around midnight. Start waking up each morning thinking – why am I here? Oh yes – I’m here for the jazz – and once I find somewhere to live downtown can go jamming to the early hours.

With my tenant in London three months late with her rent and the denial of New York banks of any affiliation with banks in the UK – the virtual impossibility of accessing my money, the insecurity – and some major error of judgement, decide for now to take something down down down town and East East East of the East Village – East of Chinatown – really East – the Lower East Side. “Don’t go there – you won’t get the right vibe” says Osi – a young Israeli singer. “Are you sure you want to live that far out?” asks Malcolm the drummer. But with my characteristic downfall – an inability to take advice from people with more knowledge and experience – I decide to go there as it’s not too much money or commitment.

The place is much much filthier than I’d noticed, but people remind me I’m lucky it’s not infested. The landlady has an assortment of the strangest friends who are there all hours, day and night, sleeping on the sofas. In particular there’s a horny woman in her middle age – with a young man with the mental age of a child. There is some almost unrestrained violence in him – in the way he talks and moves. I think this is her son and pity her, but it turns out he is her lover.

The taxi driver who takes me and my suitcases is an aged German who does not know the way, does not know English, and can hardly see. He gets furiously lost, stops to ask people the way though his English is barely up to it – he cannot pronounce “Grand Street” – and has tantrums at these various “arseholes” who don’t know what they’re talking about. He asks me to read the street signs as his eyesight is not up to the task. I have all my belongings with me in his taxi, and I think of the African proverb: “Don’t tell the turtle who is carrying you on his back across the water that he stinks” – so I sit there quietly, willing our arrival. Which finally occurs, at which his eyesight is sufficiently restored to look at the area and apartment buildings and ask with incredulity: “You like to live here?”

As my first welcome to the apartment, the landlady’s horny friend tells me with glee of the family on the other side of the wall to my room – the screaming shouting banging yelling – as if this is an added bonus. “You can tell they abuse their children” – the landlady adds for good measure.

I hear shouting and crying from the other side of the wall and assume the worst. My knocks on the wall are instantly answered with heavy thuds. (I am told later that I’m privileged they didn’t also hurl insults at me.) I hear some rhythmic yells, and with alarm, get up to phone the police. The other lodger stops me at the last minute – are you sure it was from there? he asks. He did just have a visitor. I start to take sleeping pills to knock myself out at night. I find myself staying out as late as I can manage in my abhorrence of going home.

All these people who come to Manhattan with a dream…….what they do for their art! Living in squalid dire poverty. Waiting tables. Israeli jazz guitarist Amos – it took such a long time – years – he said, before he was actually performing. The jazz pianist I met at Smalls – it took two years before he stopped being freaked out every day by Manhattan, and a further three years til he actually started to feel at home, and was finally playing for a living. Now he has regular work playing piano in a couple of restaurants.

And then there was Malcolm, house drummer at Arthur’s Tavern. His story begins some ten or or so years previously when he was on tour from his home country Barbados with his calypso band in Canada. The day they were scheduled to fly back home, he lay on his hotel bed staring at the ceiling, and said to the rest of the band: I’m staying here.

A few years later he decided to go to New York and simply turned up with no place to go. He worked as a chef for a couple of years before pursuing his real career as a drummer. As a chef, he broke his leg and had to leave work early one day because his leg was hurting so much, and then got fired. So he couldn’t pay his rent and his landlady wanted to kick him out, but he persuaded her to let him sleep in a storage cupboard with all the stored furniture and odds and ends til his leg healed and he was able to find work. He never looks back, just forward. Never despairs. One day – perhaps jolted by his situation on the edge – the thought came to him…..green card – marriage. He was sitting in a cafe – saw a woman sitting there, and thought: she’s the one.

After a year they married, and eventually got a house in Brooklyn. He worked in different jobs – as a chef, also selling jewellery. He set up a stand in the streets and his wife, a fellow Bajan, started making jewellery to sell and would join him at the stand. In the early days there would be some African Americans (“they’re not African. They’re black Americans!” insisted Malcolm, himself as black as jet) who would spit on him and curse him for doing menial work.

Then the drumming really started taking off and Malcolm found himself working more evenings and nights. Meanwhile his wife’s dream of fashion design had also taken off and she was successful and busy by day and their paths rarely crossed. Neither were willing to sacrifice any part of their dream for their marriage, so the time came to go their separate ways, and Malcolm left his marriage, their house in Brooklyn, their belongings all behind him, focused ahead and moved on.

Arthur’s Tavern – apart from Malcolm on drums, there was Terry…….on voice and piano. An African-American grandmother with a daughter in her forties and other children – she sang for hours and hours into the early hours of the morn, accompanying herself on piano. She sang jazz and blues like it was as natural to her as eating and breathing. The control in her voice, the suppleness, the raunchiness, expressiveness, energy. She lived in a garret in Brooklyn – no piano – just a little keyboard.

Then there were the two old blues singers/pianists in their eighties. Surely you’re not supposed to be able to sing anymore at that age? But did they sing? Did they play? Do I breathe, eat? And their voices! The piano was simple blues – second nature. So these African American Southerners – the real thing – at the top of their careers and at the top of their ability – are playing in Arthur’s just for tips – taking home as little as $10 per night – to a mixed audience: the real jazz and blues lovers including an old gentleman escaping his mean wife, who cried to think about how mean she was and what she’d do when he got home. Some just in Manhattan temporarily, and out for the evening. Some tourists come to “do” the jazz while in NY. Some sleazy men shadowing and stalking any likely or unlikely female – some people, I was told, would even make out in the washrooms downstairs – which seemed quite a feat as there was barely enough room even to take a simple pee.

Smalls is small. You stand in line and eventually when enough people have left there’s room for you to go in. It’s where young-and- up-and-coming jazz musicians have a place to perform, new jazz composers have a place to air new jazz compositions, and where there are hours of opportunity for jamming. A band will start at 10 pm – another at midnight. Finally at two a.m. (though invariably running late) another band will come on to play and open up the jam, which continues until 8a.m., though finishes earlier if there aren’t enough people to play. You get sax players, bass players, turning up with their instruments at three four five in the morning. You get newcomers from the Southern States – drummers, pianists – come to NY for the jazz, just checking the place out. You get jazz lovers regulars couples groups who just want to chill out in the early hours. $10 to get in – then non-alcoholic drinks on the house for an all-night shift. You can bring your own alcohol.

The bands vary from extremely good to extremely mediocre. The jammers play in any key – without charts. They put their name down on a list and are called up – they decide on a song, on a key, and are off.  Particularly innovative and exciting are some of the Israeli musicians and the oriental blend of jazz they introduce. There’s Omer Avital who, curved in deep embrace around his bass, caresses the most unlikely sounds from it such as the strumming of an oud. And his compositions and breathtaking musicians. There’s Amos who plays guitar and real oud. There’s the Israeli bass player who turns his bass into a percussion instrument – and who succeeded in breaking the basses of two other musicians because of the way he played. And where did he have the money to pay for their repair? The expense was left to Mitch – the owner of Smalls – to meet and quickly so the basses were playable and the musicians back on the road. He wasn’t going to invite them back to play, Mitch told me after some nights of these Israeli performances. What they play isn’t jazz. People don’t understand it so they don’t come, so he makes a loss. Yes the Israelis come to listen, but they don’t pay.

But the Israelis continued to play there. And Mitch opened it up for rehearsals throughout the day at no cost. He let me practise and vocalise there in the day although inhibited by comments from musicians such as “Still singing that song?” “Yes she’s been working on that same song for the last ten years”, or intimidated by musicians wanting to join in – play the song in bossa tempo, and finally – once I landed in the Lower East Side – finding the will to sing and my interest in jazz being sapped out of me.

On Saturday early evening at Smalls, six to nine, there’d be a no covers jam – students from the New School who didn’t get paid, and if there was time, it would be followed by musicians who could go up and jam. Singers would be called up sometimes.

Arnie Lawrence, founder of the New School, had a more open definition of jazz – anything is jazz if there’s improvisation. So Middle Eastern music can be jazz. Classical music used to be jazz, in the days of Mozart, Bach. He’s opening up a New School in Jerusalem where he now lives – and his vision involves getting master musicians of all cultures to teach there. He put me in touch with Jackie Paris (who “played with all the cats”)  for some singing lessons.

In Arthur’s Tavern, I met a young poet – she was there on her own from Canada. Every now and then she takes off for NY, stays at the Y, and takes in the nightlife. She showed me a poem she was moved to write at a previous venue by the extent to which “the music sucked”.

I also met there a young Israeli girl of about 21 in a blue feather boa at the bar – one of the army of brave young artistes who hit the university of the nightlife of Manhattan – while taking classes courses waiting tables by day. This was a young aspiring actress who could not afford to go to drama college. She was dismayed that I’d lost my will to sing. She told me of her ex-boyfriend who played the guitar in a way that moves the heart of anyone who listens. But he lost the will to play – every day he picks his guitar up and tries to play for a little while but then gives up. He doesn’t have it in him any more. She hoped so much I would start singing again.

When in NY, I thought, do as the New Yorkers do. So I decided to wait tables. In the Mona Lisa Café, the waitress who was an actress mentioned to the next table who were chatting her up she was leaving for Europe to film in a few days. So I knew there’d be a vacancy. I asked the waiter if the manager was there. The waiter’s English wasn’t sufficient to understand me. I went up to the manager – a sour dour man – and said how much I loved the café (his response was sour and dour) and did he need more staff? He asked if I had a resumé – a national insurance number – and said he didn’t need anyone for the moment, but would keep my number in case he needed someone to fill in. I asked the waiter for the check but his English wasn’t sufficient to understand.

I had a phone message one day from the Mona Lisa manager to turn up at 10 a.m. “for training” which I duly did, having had to cut short my all-night outing the previous night. What did he mean by training? They would teach me the work for a few hours. No I wouldn’t get paid. No, there wouldn’t be work straight afterwards. They’d see if I was good enough first, and then they’d see what shifts were available. But there might not be any. And if there were, they couldn’t guarantee whether they’d be day or night. Which would I prefer? (Day – because I’m in NY for the jazz – at night.) Well they would probably only have night shifts. And no there’s no pay. (Tips only.)

Somehow, at this stage of my life, I didn’t feel willing to submit myself to this exploitation, so I said it wasn’t for me, and left without training.

Feeling rather dejected, I sat and ate a pizza, and the Israeli manager of the pizza place offered to take me up the road to an Italian restaurant owned by a friend of his where they have music. I went there armed with a demo but there was nothing to play it on there. So the restaurant owner asked me to go to the piano and do my thing. I had already ceased to function and lost my will to sing and play. I dragged by fingers to the keyboard and dragged my voice out, but there was no energy, and I tried to hide my intense lack of confidence. It was sounding very mournful so I tried to do something with higher energy and emotion, and managed to get an applause. A couple of customers made requests I couldn’t fulfil, not knowing the songs. Afterwards I got up from the piano and approached the restaurant owner, and he simply asked me if I was interested in waitressing.

Most mornings I woke up asking myself what I was doing there, and by evening I would know the answer: it was for jazz: to listen learn sing participate in the music life of the city that never sleeps. But now – worn down by accommodation searches and freaked out by the Lower East Side – unable to think or to sing, it was clear I could no longer do what I had gone there to do and there really was no longer any reason for me to be there. I had mirages of lush grass, oak trees and evergreens like someone hallucinating water in a desert. It was time to leave.

The commitment of those who come to Manhattan, spend a fortune to live like paupers in appalling conditions, who wait tables for years before they’re doing what they came to do in little restaurants and bars – for virtually no money. These people who hold on to their dream (but let go of love), even while cooking or waiting tables (acting skills used to recite menus……)

Their passion and commitment to their music, their instrument, their dream. My father used to tell me: there are people who eat drink breathe sleep dream music. So this is where they congregate.