The Stem Rises

First let me start off by saying…as you may have read in my last entry about, oh I don’t know……6 months ago, I only wanted to write about my journey with the correct intentions behind them. This is why I haven’t written anything in about 6 months. 6 months ago exactly I made a promise to share my journey in my own time with all these readers but the truth was that my journey wasn’t over. There was another destination and more lessons ahead to share.

So the big question remains, why suddenly begin again today? Today, on July 28th at 8 pm, right this very minute as I am writing this entry is the exact very minute that I stepped on that plane to go to Vietnam and watch my very life force blossom into something I couldn’t ever imagine.

 

(entry from day 2)

“So here I am finally on the plane getting ready to take off and yet another delay. 2 hours on the runway luckily there was good TV to keep my mind off of how anxious I was. Everyone told me that once I got on the plane I would be excited. True, I was but really I was more nervous. I kept thinking “god why has it been so hard for me to get on this plane and leave NY? Am I doing the right thing”? As I started to feel the engine roar and gravity kick in for take off. Tears just came streaming down my face with only one image in my mind, the view from my street in NJ the last day I lived there with the empire state building gleaming in the sunshine against the bright blue sky spearing majestically into fluffy marshmallow clouds. Then I thought of my last two weeks and all the incredible music I had heard by many of the people I am privileged to call friends and smiled. Just then Bryant’s face came to me and I could almost feel my kitty cat on my shoulder rubbing his face against mine, in his own way telling me he loves me and he will see me when I get back.”

One thing that was present in every part of my journey was the lotus flower. Its seemed to follow me to each country and pop up in different forms.  The lotus is a very ancient, sacred, and powerful plant. It grows in very harsh and seemingly inhabitable surroundings working its way up through the muck where it springs to the surface and reaches for blue skies. It’s leaves create a gentle canopy, providing  shade for the bright colorful blossoms that unfold layer after layer. The most beautiful thing is after a blossom is washed away by the rains a new one comes into bloom a few days later. This is a perfect metaphor for how I discovered myself. Rising out of the muck, strong in my roots, blossoming over and over again, and unfolding petal after beautiful petal of all the gifts the universe has for me. I hope you, whoever you are, will enjoy this journey as much as I enjoyed living it.

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If you want to read the beginning entries go from the bottom up to read in order. Starting with Introduction, then day 1 , etc….THANKS FOR READING!

WEEK 1
Friday, August 2nd
It is the morning after my debut and the sun is beaming streaks of white light into my room, not that it is a disturbance to me as it is 7am and I have already been awake for at least 3 hours. The debut at the jazz club was a smashing success and the old singer was on her way to the airport so at this point I was officially solo in Hanoi. I tried and tried to force myself to sleep but knew it was a battle I could never win. Besides, I feel so guilty sleeping in, missing the day and all the world holds for me. Not like back home where, god… if only I could get another hour! I sometimes slept until 1 or 2pm without even a care because I knew all that lay ahead of me was more and more struggle. Here it was a different light that came with the dawn. A light with a million possibilities. So I threw on my clothes and headed down to breakfast.

Groggy and dreary eyed I dragged myself across the courtyard into the old wing of the hotel, where I was once again greeted with “Bonjour! Good morning Diva!” I know i am already awake but it is still hard to believe, as i am seated in the most beautiful restaurant sipping coffee, eating fresh croissants ( the real ones like you would get in Paris), while serenaded by french music. A thought went through my head……”I am not sure i am in the right place. A few weeks ago I was serving these patrons drinks, while being reminded how incompetent I was….I hope nobody finds out”

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On this day one of the waitresses suggested I try my first Vietnamese iced coffee. This is a coffee lovers wet dream! Imagine a thick, almost muddy, concoction with a bottom layer of sweet condensed milk, and a frothy top that never seems to melt. I have become a bit of a coffee snob from my old days working at Starbucks but this carried me to a different dimension….I LOVE IT!!! Then after the coffee and croissants comes my favorite thing…..lunch food for breakfast! Ever since I was a little girl I have had a particular dislike for breakfast food. I know cardinal sin as an American….I don’t really like pancakes so much, I HATE SAUSAGE and BACON, and I have always found eggs to be….well…just “mehhh”. My favorite breakfasts growing up was leftover, usually cold, Chinese food or pizza. So you can imagine my delight when I was told that it is normal to eat soup, rice, and noodles for breakfast.

After breakfast on this particular day something just clicked. Who knows if it is the new caffeine fix or if is just me coming alive again, but as I walked past the potted lotus flowers in the garden after breakfast I had a new-found sense of purpose. I headed up to my room and changed into my workout clothes. It was a really beautiful sunny day and perfect for venturing out however……I wasn’t quite ready for it yet. After all I am in a foreign country…..no…a foreign continent! I don’t speak the language and, come on, my hotel is the most magical place I have ever seen so was going to soak this up!

After my many health issues in 2012 it is certain that I must make a change, not for my career, but to save my life. I was so stressed and I stopped taking care of myself. So I decided to start making working out a priority while I had a free gym to use and all the time in the world. It was only about 5 minutes on the machine when I realized “Oh Lord” I am winded and beat. I had to keep repeating to myself: “You are doing this to help your knees, you are doing this to help your feet, you are doing this to reduce your reflux, you are doing this to make you stronger and improve your energy level!” I did only 30 minutes……yikes I am out of shape. I know there are those people who live for this but for me…. the truth is I would rather spend another hour or two in bed or laying by the pool. It took only 20 minutes of catching my breath back up in my room before…uh oh….here comes the jet lag crash, and I was down fr the count until work time.

Saturday, August 3
Well today I found out what Typhoon season is! I woke up at the ungodly hour of 7am, after getting to bed at about 4am,  to gloomy grey skies and furious rainstorm that was burying the palms and banana leaves outside my window. However, despite the whether I had no choice but to venture into the unknown. My mission: find a clinic and get my second round of shots for Japanese Encephalitis. This is actually a very serious disease. It is usually transmitted by mosquitoes to humans and is highly prevalent in South East Asia. It causes neurological issues like brain damage and can eventually lead to a coma and death…….so I decided I like my brain and I kind of like being alive. I won’t take any chances. When it comes to mosquitoes, my body is like one of those huge feed troghs you see on a farm. Mosquitoes LOVE ME and the line up to take a bite! I also tend to have a slight allergic reaction to them, complete with swelling, intense pain, and other disgusting and uncomfortable side effects. Lets just put it this way, I look like the elephant man and a Lepper at the same time. So….BRING ON THE DEET!

I was lucky enough to get some references from people about a medical clinic for ex-pats that is safe, clean, and less expensive than the S.O.S. hospitals. So I got in my first Hanoi cab, handed the taxi driver the address written in Vietnamese, and headed off to my appointment in the pouring rain.

As we began to crawl onto the side streets I realized that this was my first real glimpse of the city outside my palace walls. The cute boutiques, TV/Electronic stores, and about a million coffee shops and cafes. Then I started to see some familiar things like Apple Stores, that weren’t really Apple, and a little shack with an H&M logo.

KMart CVS

KMart CVS

Then suddenly, we came to a busy intersection and panic hit! Man I thought I couldn’t watch taxi drivers in New York. It is a whole different ball game here. The amazing thing is everyone seems to get where they are going but the is no actual strategy as to how to get from point A to point B. Red lights, turn signals, one way streets, lanes, driving the same direction of traffic (meaning i had one driver go in reverse for 4 blocks!) are meaning less here. Some of the taxis replace the rear mirror with TVs so they don’t miss their favorite shows while on the job.  The goal is honestly….just get there alive. In New York it is the same but instead of heading to your doom at 90 miles per hour, you are going to the same fate at 15-20 miles per hour. Want to make a New Yorker crawl out of their skin? Drive slow with nobody in front of you. It’s quite an adjustment to come from a city where everyone is in a hurry and be in a place where the concept of “running late” doesn’t exist. It certainly doesn’t translate. However, after thinking logically I realized that taxi drivers have to drive slow, with the millions of motor bikes cutting and zooming around from every angle, old ladies who walk right into busy highways, and mothers with their little ones playing right in the streets. As absurd as it may sound to Americans, all of this is perfectly normal and universally accepted here. It is the textbook definition of orderly chaos.

Somehow, after dodging death and almost floating in lakes of water, we arrived at the doctor’s office. I was so nervous to have a shot done here. When you think of doctor’s offices in developing countries or, using the dirty word to all capitalist westerners, communist countries, you picture a shack somewhere with medical waste on the floor old rusted instruments and reused needles. Come on….admit it…..that is what most of us picture who have not traveled enough. I didn’t really know what to expect and so many people had warned me “Don’t get sick there” or “Don’t go see a doctor there”. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when I walked in and found a normal waiting room, very clean surroundings, and friendly English-speaking staff. Astonishing as it may be I found that this visit was no different from some of the clinics and doctors offices in New York City.

For those of you who don’t know…here is how health care usually works in New York and most of the USA (and this is from the perspective of someone with insurance). There are thousands of doctors in NYC, but there are actually very few good doctors and the ones that are good are pretty much impossible to get in and see. You have to have the right connections to become a new patient of one of these doctors because they have so many patients lined up they don’t have to take you. So then you get the fun of taking your chances with one of the rest of them. Also when you are really sick and need to see someone right away FORGET IT! You are going to have to go to one of the urgent care clinics that are conveniently located all over the wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods. Even if you are lucky enough to get in with one of the “good doctors” they can’t fit you in until the end of the week and the ones who can see you are usually the quacks. One time I went to see this doctor who I thought was legit. She had an office on Central Park West and a very posh waiting room. Only when I started to look around did I realized the reason she had that address is because she is 101! The exam room literally had a bed with the old metal stirrups, you know back in the days when a family doctor also delivered babies, and furniture from maybe the 1940’s and 1950’s. They didn’t even have a computer! The doctor took all her notes on a note card then the receptionist would copy it onto paper by hand and they would file it away in an old file cabinet.  So who are we to really say what is better right?

I was only at the clinic for a shot but like any doctors office , at least like the ones in NY and the states, I expected a hefty wait. I took out my book on tape ready to sink in for a while. As soon as I pulled out my headphones my name was called and 20 minutes later I was at the cash register ready to check out and pay. I almost fainted……a consultation and booster was only $75! TOTAL! The same shot in the US was $300! But I had to admit I was so relieved I didn’t have any money anyways as my security deposit for my old apartment STILL hadn’t come yet. So on this rainy day with no money….there is nothing left to do but go back to the hotel and write.

Sunday, August 3: LAURA THE EXPLORER……
So after my underwater expedition the day before, on this sunny day, I finally have mustered up the courage to go out and explore. So armed the little handy map that they give out at the front desk of the immediate area, my camera, and a little determination to be brave, I stepped out to discover the lake and the nearby old quarter.

So the first thing that hits you in mid august when you step outside in early August is 70% the humidity which is then only multiplied by the smog and heat radiating off of so many motor bikes. I manuever my way around the hotel grounds and over to the fountain where a young bride and groom are shooting their wedding photos.

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Bride and groom taking their wedding photos

I am immediately amazed at the architecture this strange cross between terracotta winger rooftops and the iron work and large pillared buildings of Paris. I come across a town square with a giant statue and I am just blown away at the beauty of this place. Every inch of the city is made to be beautiful. Even the railings on the staircases have intricate carvings of dragons and beautiful wave designs.

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In this square there are little clicks of teenagers just doing what teenagers do……So I walk through them curiously taking in the scene of young boys trying to talk to the girls and ask them out and the group of girls that are trying to learn the latest dance routine from their favorite music video.

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Girls practicing a dance routine

I feel a great sense of peace in witnessing this innocence in teenagers which is not something you see so much with teens anymore in the Western world. You might think that this is a good representation of kids everywhere but I remember being that age and what we were doing. Most everyone that I knew was started getting heavy into drugs, sex, and alcohol. Some people i used to hang out with in middle school didn’t make it to 18 or didn’t finish school.  A sad truth about the white privileged suburban upbringing in the united states. They don’t have any physical suffering most of them feel just alone and borred so they create chaos just to feel some excitement. But this really warmed my heart to see that such earnest living still exists.

I made my way over to the lake and suddenly I am drunk on the beauty I am witnessing. A tower with the typical flared Asian rooftop and a bright red wooden bridge leading to a temple i rests majestically in the middle of the lake. Around its outer edges are giant willow trees gently blanketing families sitting quietly and staring into the gentle ripples in the water.

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Just a few feet away, springing out of the water, are shoots of  bamboo and lotus flowers full with brilliant pink blooms. Art installations grace the sidewalks around the lake reflecting different aspects of the district’s tradition . As I walk around I watch the large crowds that are gathered here I start to feel a little uneasy….yeah, they are all watching me. Children stop and stare at me with a confused and fearful face. Some of the women point and start laughing while them men are fixed on me as if I have a magnet in me and they can’t pull away from. Then with one mans gaze I suddenly realize why they are staring and the women are laughing. I am suddenly very aware that I have breasts. Let’s just say the are not used to breasts and women who wear form-fitting clothes and don’t feel bad showing them, so needless to say this man’s leer was not eye level. After putting on my sweater in maybe 90 degree heat I stumble upon what looks like a temple of some kind on the other side of the lake and escape into it for refuge.

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It is beautiful and surprisingly secluded amongst the roar of motorbikes weaving through each other on the outside. I am the only person there. I walk past the giant Bonsai trees and drink in the smell of the insense sticking out of the pot in the garden.

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Every inch of this place is covered in beauty and no detail was spared. Every tile, plant, shingle has been hand carved and carefully selected to transport the visitor into some realm of paradise. What I am finding interesting is…. all the writing is in Chinese????? Isn’t this Vietnam?

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What I didn’t know is the modern Vietnamese written language was developed in the late 19th century not far from the beginning of French occupation. The older written language was in fact Chinese, as Vietnam was once part of the greater Indochina Empire. This goes to show how well the American education system is working. History was the only class I ever liked and the only thing we know about Vietnam, and its rich history, spans about 20 years from 1954-1975. In fact we still think of it like it was in the 60’s and 70’s… the Viet cong crawling out of sewers and bombed out buildings in dusty run down street corners with no power and no modern toilet. To the average American, Vietnam is still an inferno of Napalm with nothing but disease and wild jungle. So, needless to say when I told everyone I was going to Vietnam the response was usually a wince followed by…”Ooo….Really?” So you can imagine how foolish they might feel if they were to actually visit and see how much this country has to offer.

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I make my way up the staircase that is made out of a stone dragon enter the pagoda interior. I have never seen so much gold in all my life. It is almost blinding and no matter what you are wearing you feel almost disrespectful in how plainly you are presenting yourself to the supreme Buddha statue sitting on his throne and surveying you lowly serfs that have come for an audience.

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I feel unworthy. So I back away out to the veranda covered in lotus lanterns to look at my map and find my way to the old quarter.

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This is where a seemingly magical first day out takes a different turn. Now listen, I am used to busy bustling cities. Constantly being shoved, shouting, sirens, horns honking, the homeless guy who just spit on you. Hey I lived in New York I can handle anything right? Wrong! This was a whole different kind of in your face. Mistake No. 1..well I don’t know if I should say mistake but merely a naïve decisions:

1) I decided I didn’t want to look like a tourist so I wanted to just wander without a map. OK folks….let’s be real….you are a big breasted white girl….they know you don’t belong.

2) Also trying to avoid being mistaken for the typical South East Asia backpacker, most of them having a sort of “Hey I just wandered off the commune, now where do I buy weed man?” look, I wore a nice white cotton dress but like I very quickly discovered my top was about 5 inches to low and my skirt about 12 inches to long to be considered a local.

3) I decided also to wander around at 4:30 pm on a Sunday in the busiest, and most narrow, part of town, in a city with about 3-4 million motorbikes!

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Narrow streets of the Hanoi Old Quarter

I am still not sure anything can accurately describe the Old Quarter here in Hanoi. If I had to give you some approximation this is the closest thing I could say is: imagine if Chinatown in New York Had a baby with a mid-evil French town. The streets are narrow and winding giving you no real sense of direction and they are flooded with tourist rickshaws and motor bikes trying to weave around the few taxis that can barely fit between the chains of motorbikes along either side of them. All the bustling of Canal street in New York is mirrored here and amplified by 20! The shops selling cheap crap to tourists who unknowingly are paying 3-5 times the price and the smells of fish, rotted vegetables, and the sulphur smell of the men carving headstones for the recently departed. Mix that with a constant haze of smog and cigarettes. Every eye is watching the few funny looking white people stumbling around lost and stunned. I of course thought I would do my usual exploring thing which is wandering without a map….bad idea here! See usually I am good at remembering street names and can find my way back somewhere as long as I find those streets. However, things don’t work that way here because you could be on the same street that is straight as an arrow and suddenly the street is a different name. So as things got to be too much I was forced to pull out my map and give my tourist self away. All the while I am flustered and trying to find my way back, the rickshaws keep coming by….”Hey!” “Madame!” and the motor taxis “Hey! Motorbike?”.

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Then comes the fun part…CROSSING THE STREET! As I mentioned, there are almost 4 million motorbikes in Hanoi. Most people drive them as opposed to cars because cars are taxed something like 200% so it costs double what we would pay to buy a car.

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I was warned before coming here about the number of deaths every year due to motorbike accidents and was told to be very careful crossing the streets and always walk on the sidewalk. Now that I am here I realize what a joke that is. There is no possible way you can use the side-walk for even an entire block! Every business or café is using it already and most of the time there is no room to walk. If the businesses aren’t using it, there are motorbikes that are packed so tight you can’t find a space to put your foot down. I was upset at this at first then I thought about it….where else would they park them? They don’t have parking lots here. The sidewalk IS the parking lot, complete with a parking attendant in a blue uniform that carefully arranges them. So then I was forced to cross some of the busiest streets in the city on my first day at 4:30pm on a Sunday, thinking I would avoid rush hour…I was wrong! It took me about 15 minutes to work up the courage and cross the street to my hotel. All the while the hotel staff is watching me and slightly giggling at this first timer who doesn’t know how to cross the street. I was so tired and beaten at the end of all this, I went straight up to my room and called my mom like a little girl. “Mom, what am I doing here?” I spent a couple of hours in bed cowering under the covers before going to work.

Prologue: The Intention

Sunset in Dharamsala

Sunset in Dharamsala

What is the intention? That is my new mantra. I have recently learned that intention is absolutely everything! It can effect the the outcome of all human interactions and experience. See it is easily explained like this…..

In the spirit of the upcoming Olympic Winter Games….lets say you are watching figure skating. Up first is a beautiful young skater. She is bright and accomplished, a master of her craft. You see on her face the definition of ambition and concentration. It is immediately clear her goal is perfection…desperate to be the best. Every move is calculated, precise, and purely flawless, yet somehow you are not moved.  You can see every bead of sweat. With every jump and strategic turn you begin to notice unease and tension within your own body. As she finishes you are left with no memory but what hard work that must be. After all, you in the audience,  could physically feel the stress it took to complete that routine.

Then comes the next contestant. She is equally beautiful and accomplished yet you are instantly connected to her. Her face beams a serene light and as she begins to float across the ice, your body seems to relax and almost melt into your seat. Although her moves may not be as precise or technically perfect as the first skater, she has everyone completely captivated. Every effortless move radiates pure joy and love. After seeing the second skater it is clear to everyone that, although the first skater executed her routine to perfection, she will not walk away with the gold. Why? It is a matter of the intention!

You might say that both skaters had the same intention…to be great. That only covers the physical intention. With each action there is an emotional intention that drives the decisions we make. It is what motivates us to take certain actions. It changes our thought process and the very energy of our being. Ever hear the expression “You get what you give”? That is what the emotional intention does. Weather it comes from a negative place or a positive place, either way it is infectious. Whatever signal is sent out by the person doing, will attract like results. The first skaters intention was to be the best. This presents a huge obstacle…EGO! When ego gets involved then the body and the mind is driven by fear and desperation. The second skater just wanted to go out and love what she did, and by doing that she makes others love it too. Someone who’s intentions are pure are more likely to attract more positive results.  I don’t claim to be an expert on this subject nor do I have any answers for others. This is just the best way i can describe what I have learned through my own experience.

Originally I was trying to write this blog about my journey as I was living it. I did start out at the beginning, writing everyday but I quickly found out three things:

1) I was sitting inside my room all day trying to write about what was happening instead of actually living it.

2) There was so much that was happening all at once. I was constantly being unraveled layer by layer and shown a piece of myself I didn’t know existed. This was too difficult to process all at once as I was experiencing it. I needed some time to decompress and reflect.

3) I promised all of you my readers that I would be completely honest…no bullshit! The truth is, I wasn’t ready to do that (as you will find out why in my future entries). I was too afraid to face the people who might read some of the unsavory things I did or stupid and sometimes hurtful decisions I made. Moreover, I was too afraid to face the ugly parts of myself. After all nobody wants to admit they aren’t perfect, especially in the music industry. We live in a constant fear of rejection. Being honest in our industry means that we have to admit to our flaws and faults. We have to put them out in the open and as the great Billie Holiday put it “Money you’ve got lots of friends crowded round the door. When you’re gone and spending ends….They don’t come no more”. (Translation for all you regular folk…when you are on top, everyone wants you. When you got troubles, no one seems to be around). That fear, sorry to say my fellow comrads, only breeds pure bullshit!

My need to decompress, reflect, and face myself is why I decided to start writing about my journey after I returned to the United States. I needed to let go of all ego and heal my wounds, mostly self inflicted, from the last 29 years. I have lived my whole life with fear and desperation and I knew…it was now or never.Make a change, or sink into the grave I had already started digging for myself.

I thought this whole writing thing would be simple. Just a charming story of a struggling New York musician traveling to Asia to experience the world and make her career. In the beginning, I had written to you all that this was a way to have my family, friends, and fans get to know me on the personal level. Truth be told, I would never have been able to do that! I didn’t even know myself. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. However, I can now freely admit that my intentions where not entirely pure. Really….sorry to say….the intention behind this blog was driven from pure fear and terror. Fear that everything I worked so hard to build for myself in New York would disappear. The fear of the expectations of my peers and colleaugues who couldn’t understand why in gods name I would leave playing the hottest jazz clubs in New York to work in hotels in Asia. Then comes the desperation of “making it” and terror of starting over….after all being a female singer you have a shelf life and I am already 29!

So my plan was simple. I planned to build up my online presence and post a new video everyday so that I can keep my fans engaged and build a new international audience. I really thought this blog would be the key to my internet success. This trip would be my ticket, my savior, or as most musicians know it as “my big break”. I thought I would be coming back to New York with my international publicity, my beautiful treasures, some big money and new-found fame. As it turned out that didn’t happen….well…to an extent all those things happened, but not with the same force as I thought they would. I looked a this trip mostly from the angle of professional gain. This was to be the thing that was gonna have me explode onto the international circuit…..See! Pure desperation.

Now looking back on the whole experience I realize how wrong I was. This trip and this blog cannot be about professional gain. It cannot be driven from a place of ego and desperation.  This was about discovering me and experiencing the divinity that I posses. We put ourselves through so much pain and suffering as human beings that sometimes it is hard to know the power we posses. We can’t see how beautiful we really are. So, this is the start of my growth to know and love myself. To see god in me and others. To give and receive love. It was not meant for my fans, my family, my friends. It was meant for only me.

I am here now with my arms open and pure intentions, spreading all the love I have been lucky enough to experience to you. My wish for all of you is that reading this brings you joy! Nothing else is required.

If you are just joining us and want to start from the very first couple entries go to the bottom of this page and read the entries from the bottom up. I thank you very much for taking your time and interest in this one person’s life. I hope that it helps someone else see life’s possibilities.

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These beautiful girls asked me for a “quick snap” with them. She told me how pretty I am and I was just in awe of how beautiful they all are! Agra, India

Day 5 August 1 My Debut

Another night of not sleeping and I am up at 7 AM, 8 PM New York time, and it is down to breakfast again. I go to my usual place for breakfast and it is finally a beautiful sunny day here but honestly……I am not quite ready to venture outside. This place is completely different from anywhere I have ever been and it seems a little overwhelming. So breakfast, more writing, Lunch with Diane, then rehearsal, sound check, and making sure all charts are printed and in the proper order.  I started to crash again around 5pm however today was too busy to have time for a nap. Tonight was to be my big debut party in the jazz club. That is right folks…….a launch party! I was introduced to many of the important locals including some representatives from the international embassies here in Hanoi. They gave a lovely speech and presented me with a beautiful bouquet of roses. Diane sang a few tunes and then the mic was handed over tome for the rest of the night. I was so unbelievably tired but somehow I was able to pull out all the stops and knock it out of the park. Must have been first show adrenaline.

The roses given to me at my Debut

The roses given to me at my Debut

It is still strange to me to have such a star treatment. I feel almost uncomfortable because I am so not used to it. Sometimes I think that I am in the wrong place. I look over my shoulder to see if the special treatment was meant for someone behind me. In my mind the whole time I am thinking “Wow! If they only knew that  just a few months ago I was the one serving the drinks to the rich clientel. If they only knew I was the waitress they snapped their fingers at for another round.”

A greeting upon my arrival

A greeting upon my arrival

I have made friends with some of the staff here and they are shocked to find out that a “Jazz Diva” such as myself has ever been a waitress or had any job other than singing. It seems unheard of. They have no idea that most of us, especially singers who can’t get sideman work, have a regular job at one point or another just to get by. In fact some of the most talented people I know all have some form of a day job, and I mean friends who sell out clubs in New York and do national tours. They have to in the States, that is, unless you have family already in the biz or large inheritance you can support your career with.

It has become sort of an excepted thing in the United States that there are two levels of being a performer: FAMOUS and NOT FAMOUS. Those who are not famous, or not yet famous, are lumped into the widely known category: THE STARVING ARTIST! It is almost a universally accepted myth that those who are not famous are nobodies, so they should be happy with what they get. We should be happy with playing their event or club for free (while they rake in thousands of dollars) because it is “EXPOSURE” for us. I HATE THIS WORD! You might as well say what it means, it means YOU WORK FOR FREE WHILE I MAKE MONEY. They don’t recognize the years of hard work I have put into my business and yes, that is what I am. I am my own business. I am the president, book-keeper, human resources rep, secretary, and the product. This isn’t a hobby it is our livelihood, but when you are not famous people always ask…….”I don’t know who this person is so why should I pay for it”?

My country men/women…….you know you are all guilty of this, but I am here to tell you….. it’s not your fault. You were fed this bullshit from birth. Even the performers are taught this from their very first venture into their craft. In our celebrity obsessed culture, which has now spread the world over, you are nobody unless enough people say you are somebody. So then for us it becomes this huge scramble to make yourself as visible as possible. It can even lead some people to completely abandon their morals and do despicable things. Both men and women do it. However the music biz, especially the jazz scene, has been and still is a male dominated industry. If I could tell you how many times I had been propositioned by a guy claiming he could help my career if I would give him a little something in return. Yes this still exists and probably always will in my field. Women’s lib did not get to us. You want to know why……because there are women who will do this! I have seen it. I know plenty of them. They will do anything to get ahead: sleep with a club owner, flirt and hang all over a famous musician (who most of the time is already married), or steal from/destroy the career of another in order to help themselves. It is pretty appalling but I hate to admit……it usually works. Really, when it comes down to it, you have to ask yourself two questions:

1. What kind of person do I want to be

2. Can I live with myself if I do this

This doesn’t really matter to some people who are chasing stardom. Don’t believe me? Spend some time on Youtube and watch some of the stupid shit people put up, hoping it will go viral and they can be the next Justin Bieber.

Talent actually came out on top at the 2011 Grammy Award as my old roomie Esperanza Spalding beat Justin Biener for Best New Artist. It was a huge scandal!!!

Talent actually came out on top at the 2011 Grammy Award as my old roomie Esperanza Spalding beat Justin Biener for Best New Artist. It was a huge scandal!!!

Its funny, having a very close connection to the American political machine, I have come to find that artists and politicians are really one in the same. So many of them I know spout these societal ideals and are opposition to injustices that they never actually do anything about it. Everything is just a ploy for power! That is really what it is all about and unfortunately in both fields it is hard to get to the top with out selling your soul. It isn’t impossible, but it is pretty tough. This is one thing that I had struggled with over the past year or so because I know I am not willing to do that. So does that mean I will never make it past where I already am? And when did the music or the talent stop meaning something? Isn’t that what it is about?

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So many have lost their way out of pure desperation for what they call….. making it. But really what is making it? Time and time again when I go back to my hometown I get asked: “So when are you going to audition for American Idol……America’s Got Talent…..The Voice…..X Factor….blah, blah, blah, blah….” My close family has been pretty good about not doing this, but I say to the rest of the world, if you have a singer in the family, STOP IT! After being pressured by numerous people to audition I stood in line two years ago in the cold for 4 hours to audition for The Voice. Can I just tell you…..I hated ever single minute of it. Every fiber in my being was telling me…”What are you doing here, you don’t belong here, you are already a working professional!” I sang better than I had ever sang in my life for this audition, only to have a 22-year-old producer, who knows nothing about music tell me…I am too jazzy (even though I sang pop) and I have a long way to go to be ready for this show. Yes people, remember it is TV if they think you aren’t interesting enough for ratings you won’t get on. I don’t have a sob story and some kind of gimmick I am simply……a damn good, hard-working musician. That isn’t a story they are gonna think is worth putting on TV. Every time I am faced with that bold print of “making it” or “the big break” I think back to a clinic that John Mayer gave at my alma mater, Berklee College of Music,  just before I graduated. He had some of the best advice: “There is no making it. There is no big break. I know our parents want to believe that, but the truth is you just keep working. Some days you have a ton of stuff and your playing to huge crowds and then the next day you have nothing. The point is to keep moving and keep working”. That is really the truth.

When you come from nothing in the entertainment biz, you struggle pretty hard. So of course it is only natural for me to feel a little uneasy with the wonderful treatment I have gotten here. I have recently realized though, the universe has blessed me with wonderful teachers to show me the way to accepting and receiving all the amazing gifts that are meant for me. I have had wonderful friends by my side showing me the way to a life of music that I can actually enjoy. No one fits this description more than my other best friend Andromeda Turre, who helped me make this trip possible.

The ultimate DIVA, Andromeda

The ultimate DIVA, Andromeda

She is one of the most amazing people I know. She is what we call a “triple threat” (actor, singer, dancer) or more like a “quadruple threat” cause…yeah…she is a model too. She lives a fabulous lifestyle with travel, amazing parties, and she always does it looking flawless. She is the kind of girl you want to hate but you can’t because she is such a loving and wonderful person. You want to be her, but you could never be her. NOW, don’t get confused THIS GIRL WORKS HER ASS OFF! She knows her stuff and she earns every little bit of what she has. However, the difference is…..she doesn’t settle for anything less than what she wants. It has been her example that has shown me that life doesn’t always have to be this struggle and you can have what you want. She has been trying to tell me for ages but I just haven’t been able to see it. I do deserve this star treatment. I have worked really hard for it. Now I get to sit back and enjoy it.

Only thing I can leave you with today is don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t possible. You can reach it if you never doubt that it is already there waiting for you. I send this with all my love to you and hope someone gets something out of this. Now I am going for a facial and message. THANKS FOR READING!

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Check out my girl Andromeda’s latest pop release:

DREAM GIRL now on ITunes

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/dream-girl/id666424037

This is how fab she is:

Day 4 July 31 First Day Of Jet Lag

So the previous night was my first go of trying to adjust to the 11 hour time difference. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been worn out the day before or my bed was a typical hotel bed (it is actually quite luxurious). Hanoi is 11 hour ahead of New York, so trying to go to bed even at 1am local time is like trying to go to sleep for 7-8 hours at 2pm. This is something I am rarely ever able to do. Honestly after landing in Europe then losing a day in transit to Vietnam, my body wasn’t really quite sure what to do anymore. I had to leave it up to pure exhaustion to tell me when it was time. Unfortunately that was about 4:30 am local time (which is 5:30pm back home). I maybe got about a good 2.5 hours and then I was up! So after laying in bed for about another hour and a half tossing and turning there was no use. So, might as well try breakfast.

Breakfast here has become my favorite meal of the day! When I was younger I hated breakfast because I was forced to eat breakfast food. Yes, I might be the only person in America that doesn’t really like bacon or sausage. I have to be in a mood to even eat pancakes. So I used to have stuff like Chinese left overs or lunch food. No not the healthiest thing in the world but that was just what I liked. Here, they actually serve pho for breakfast!!!!

Pho

This is one of my favorite foods in the world! It is a rice noodle soup with a broth, that honestly I am not sure what it is in it but it is sooooooo amazing! There are usually garnishes of bamboo shoots, lime wedges, chillies, and sometimes they use a spicy sauce, mint, or extra cilantro. They serve 3 different kinds of  Pho Ga, Pho Ba, Pho Tai (Chicken, Beef, or Rare Beef). I have seen many variations of this soup in the US but I can’t tell you what it is like to have the real thing.  I can’t believe it isn’t strange to eat this in the morning ,but its great! I fit right in. Umm…. also if you don’t know me……I am a coffee snob! Because of the French influence in this country there are a lot of french traditions that survive here from the old colonial days. My favorite……french press coffee. If you haven’t tried this, I feel very sorry for you! This is the best way to enjoy your coffee with the fullest flavor, however if you do it at home it is kind of a pain to clean the french press but so worth it.

Vietnam has had its share of foreign invaders over its long and ancient history. It was originally a part of Imperial China before it gained its independence in 938 AD. As you walk around here you can still see much of the Chinese influence in the art and architecture.

Chinese lanterns at entrance to a temple in Hanoi

Chinese lanterns at entrance to a temple in Hanoi

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Door to a temple

Door to a temple

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In the mid 18th century the french colonized the country and remained there until World War II when the Japanese invaded and exploited the country’s resources to fuel their military campaign. This caused a great famine killing up to 2 million people. By the way….I love that when The United States or to Europe invade a country, deplete its resources, and exploit the native population, we use a word like “colonialism” to try to neutralize what is usually an illegal occupation.  Colonialism has done more harm then, really any good in many parts world (especially Africa) however what remains here is a charming mesh of traditional and European customs. The presence of French cuisine happens to be my favorite! Another is the beautiful architecture and stone or iron balconies (somewhat reminding me of the French Quarter in New Orleans).

French architecture in Hanoi

French architecture in Hanoi

The fountain near the hotel

The fountain near the hotel

When I walk through my hotel I am always greeted with “Bonjour madame”. I love it! I am actually getting a chance to practice my French which has been LONG neglected. Most of the general population do not speak French anymore, considering that Vietnam was liberated in 1954, its only the older generation that speaks it. Perhaps the most lovely integration of culture is shown in the overall presentation of things here. True I haven’t explored much outside my accommodations and workplace yet, but there is such a happy marriage between the French commitment to excellence and attention to detail, and the warmth, pride, and tradition of the Vietnamese people. Every thing presented beautifully, arranged beautifully, and executed….beautifully. Just gentle quiet beauty all around me.

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Lunch complete with special Vietnamese iced tea. It is very sweet and tastes more like pure lemon juice

Lunch complete with special Vietnamese iced tea. It is very sweet and tastes more like pure lemon juice

After a day of blogging and probably the best welcome I could get, an amazing lunch with my new bosses,  I just crashed at about 6pm local time. I mean falling asleep while standing up! My body was definitely still on NY time as it was about 7am to me and at that point I had been up all night on only 2.5 hours of sleep, so yeah…….I made myself wake up at 9pm and headed back to the jazz club that evening to catch outgoing singer, Diane’s, last show. I really did try to stick it out but sometimes your body just says “NO, Hell no”. Bedtime more to come…..

Thanks for reading 🙂

Day 3 July 29/30 Arrival In Hanoi, Vietnam

The first flight was from New York to Frankfort, Germany.  I actually slept almost the whole way! It was a miracle! I woke up upon landing in Frankfort, Germany, pulled myself together and stumbled off the plane.

Arrival in Frankfort

Arrival in Frankfort

It has been a while since I have traveled to an international airport. At least 5 or 6 years. Usually when I travel to foreign places I am the best tourist ever, meaning I am not the idiot wandering around without a clue of what they are doing. I always like to figure out where I need to go and how to get there before leaving the house, hotel, etc. Not this time however. Even though the signs were in English it was as if I never had traveled before in my life. I couldn’t find anything or figure anything out. I started to have a new-found sense out what it must be like for all those foreign tourists in New York. I am usually the one that is annoyed that they can’t figure it out and they are holding up my bus or train and now I am in their country on the other side of it. So I might have more patience when I return.  What was funny was every time I showed my passport to someone they started speaking German to me. Maybe they didn’t notice mypassport said USA but my name is a very common German name. BRUNNER and how refreshing it was to hear it pronounced correctly. Americans: the name is not Brunner (like runner with a B) it is pronounced BROO-NER. I have often thought about changing my last name for the stage. I think it makes me sound like a lawyer or accountant but I think my grandparents would disown me for abandoning our Swiss heritage.

My grandpa Ken Brunner

My grandpa Ken Brunner

The flight with Vietnam Airline was the longest flight I have ever been on. Hell, it is the longest amount of time I have ever been on a plane! And that includes flights with delays. It is amazing to see the difference in service provided to economy on international airlines in comparison with airlines from the US. Big difference. They are much more comfortable. I sat next to a woman who had a little one with her the whole time. She surprisingly spoke very good English. The little girl, about 8 or 9 years old, didn’t speak very much English but very excitedly wanted to know where I was from (probably because I was about 1 of 4 non-Asian passengers on the whole flight). I told her I am from New York and she clapped her hands and said “I want go to New York”. I told her she could come and visit anytime. She then asked if I could come to her house to play. She was such a cutie pie with all this bubbling energy with a certain innocence that I haven’t seen in a child in a long time. Just carefree. When she got tired she laid down on the seat with her feet on her mom’s lap, very carefully trying not to bump me. I could see she wasn’t comfortable so I told her she could lay her head on my lap. Even though I am alone on this stretch of the trip made me feel good to know how warm and welcoming the society I am going to be living in is. All three of us fell asleep after that with the little girl stretched across the me and her mom and we didn’t wake up until breakfast.

Upon our decent into Hanoi I knew Toto and I were not in Kansas anymore. I looked out the window and all I could see were lush green rice fields and the contrast of burnt sienna from the clay rooftops below. When I got of the plane and into the non-airconditioned airport I started to drip with sweat. It isn’t so much hot here, but humid. I mean wet. The air is almost as if you are breathing in a vaporizer. After I got my bags I kept looking around at all these guys holding up signs trying to find my name. I got all the way to the front door and didn’t see any sign with my name. OK now I was worried. Just then someone in a beautiful old style bell hop uniform came up to me. “Madame Brunner?” He took my bags and brought me to my limo….yep that’s right….you heard me….limo! I got in, and there was fresh coffee and croissants waiting for me. The driver, a very sweet middle-aged man, told me it would take about 45 minutes to the hotel and I should sit back and relax. Ahhhhh…..okay….twist my arm why don’t you?

As we drove through the outskirts of Hanoi heading into the center of Vietnam’s capital city, instantly everything was magical. I wasn’t just landing in another country it seemed like another planet! I had always seen pictures of people walking by the side of the road wearing conical hats, or as they are called here nón lá (leaf hat), and carrying  those double baskets that look like a giant scale. Sometimes you see pictures of things like that and you think that can’t actually exist in real life. It does! It is what you see all over the place

images-1The streets are full of hard-working people carrying heavy loads and baskets.

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Most people here ride scooters even in the rain. I got a kick out of seeing all these scooters zip by us ,most people wearing face masks for protection from pollution and ponchos to keep them dry from unexpected rain. I loved seeing this 20 something girl whip by us on her cream-colored Vespe in her fancy jewelry, designer dress, and stilettos.  Also a quick note, there are no traffic laws here! Well if there are they are NEVER enforced. There are lanes painted but I am not sure why. Most cars end up driving in two lanes the whole time, that is when they are not making a zig zag around the other drivers totally ignoring any signals. Cars and scooters run straight through red lights and pedestrians walk straight into heavy traffic while cars and scooters whip around them. They have to. The cars don’t stop for signals anyway.

As we headed down a main stretch of road I talked with the driver about western music. He was telling me how much he loves The Rolling Stones and it was a treat, a few years back, when they came to Vietnam and he got to be Mic Jagger’s driver. I looked out the window at this time to see the shops with beautiful hand carved furniture with almost Chinese like designs (note that in northern Vietnam there is more Chinese influence present in the art work and architecture. They are right next to China after all). What instantly caught my eye were the shops with the rainbows of brightly colored hand embroidered traditional dress called áo dài (pronounced OW DYE). I might have to get my hands on one of those before I leave.

an example of ao doai

an example of ao doai

We pulled up to the hotel where they had my information package and a personal greater waiting for me. I wasn’t even allowed to touch my own bags. They were brought directly to my room. When I went up to my room I almost fainted! It is the most beautiful hotel room I have ever seen. Beautiful hardwood floors and huge comfy bed and my own big beautiful bathroom complete with a tub and bath salts for some nice long soak time. I looked in the closet to find a white silk kimono, just for me. I quickly stripped of my clothes put it on and leaped onto the bed as I screamed “YES!”

my new home

my new home

I didn’t really have the first day to rest at all. First of all when I get somewhere I have to unpack right away! I hate having to dig for my stuff. That took a while and by the time I was done with that it was lunchtime. After lunch I decided to walk around the hotel. When I say hotel understand it is more like a compound. there are two buildings surrounded by high-end shopping (and when I say high-end I mean Versace, Cartier, Hermes) with a beautiful courtyard and pool in the middle, complete with a cabana bar. All over the courtyard are majestic palms and huge vases topped with blossoming lotus flowers. I still cant believe this. I have never even actually seen a real lotus flower and now they are everywhere.

Lotus Flower

Lotus Flower

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There is a certain quiet elegance here that I have never experienced before. Everything is beautiful and every aspect of the presentation is perfectly arranged and manicured. It is quite foreign to me coming from a society that values getting thing done fast and as cheaply possible. Here there is such pride in the quality of everything they do. Not sure how I will adjust back to the standard in the US after this.

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After walking around a bit I had to go grab my charts because it was time for the first rehearsal with the band. No time for sleep today! I met all the guys including the subs and we went through some material. Not gonna lie it was tough. There is only one person in the bad that speaks English but it is amazing how music can transcend language. For the most part I was able to give directions using gestures and laying out grooves for them by just singing or beat boxing. They understood pretty well the question now was……can they execute it? As musicians who get to play this music all the time and living in the most musically competitive city in the world, we forget how lucky we are in having that.

Early this year I got into a rather lengthy debate on Facebook with some musicians from Boston. They were arguing that New York is a bullshit scene that does nothing but bleed the rest of the market dry and it isn’t worth moving there to be a musician. Now I would like to use my present experience to further back up my counter to that statement. Being in an over saturated market does have its drawbacks yes. You have more people doing the same exact thing, and you will always have someone who will be willing to do it cheaper. On a personal note……let me add…..MUSICIANS! STOP TAKING $50 OR LESS GIGS! ITS BULLSHIT MONEY! UNLESS IT IS A CREATIVE CLUB GIG DON’T DO IT! EVEN THEN THEY SHOULD DO BETTER BY US! UNTIL WE START BANDING TOGETHER ON THIS WE WILL NEVER GET THE PAY WE DESERVE. When you think about it, let’s say you do a 4 hour restaurant gig and they give you $50 each plus dinner. Fifty bucks divided by 4 hours is $12.5 an hour then you gotta subtract around 3-5 dollars for tipping the server who took care of you. Guys that is about what the hostess makes who had to have no training what so ever to do his or her job (Not putting the people down who do that. I say this because I was a hostess for a few years and I know). Think about how many hours you have put into practicing, how many years of training, and how many thousands of dollars you or your folks spent on lessons and equipment. You have a special skill. We used to get flack from the other crew members on ships for being paid so much and doing so little work. Our answer to that: You get sick I can step in and do your job. You can’t step in and do mine!

Anyway, back to my main point……Being in a city like New York, as over saturated as it may be, means you are always going to have musicians that are better than you who can kick your ass. You need this to get better! This is a big reason I moved there I wanted to grow and be the best I could possibly be. The other good thing is because it is so saturated, jobs are hard to get. You need to have your shit together if you want to work. You can’t be lazy and you can’t just expect it to be handed to you because it isn’t going to be. You gotta do the work. When you are in an environment like I presently am, there are so few musicians. The great thing is there is no competition so if you can sort of play you will have a steady gig forever. The downside comes in for any young person trying to come up and learn or any outsider like myself trying to come in and create something different. When there is no competition, there is no reason to learn anything new and become better. Your skills will be very limited and anyone playing with you will have very limited choices. However, these guy have become very fast friends. They are perhaps the sweetest people you will ever meet. So hanging out with them every night won’t be bad at all. Just wish I could speak Vietnamese but I am sure I’ll get there.

By the time I finished rehearsal it was 5pm here which means it is about 6am New York time. I had basically been up all night according to my body’s clock. I had to crash. I woke up at about 8pm and decided to try the french restaurant here. No, I am not one of those Americans who won’t try new things. I did do the traditional Vietnamese lunch after all and I LOVE IT! For dinner I ordered  a braised lamb with a sweet potato puree infused with vanilla bean, covered in a red wine reduction. BEST THING I EVER TASTED! I was hoping they had some smelling salts in the back because with each bite I was positive I was going to faint. I finished my meal and celebratory glass of red wine and it was off to the jazz club to hear the outgoing singer and the band. The singer, Diane Witherspoon, is a hard workin’ madam of jazz, originally from Miineapolis and a long time living in California, with a style reminiscent of Nancy Wilson and Dina Washington. She knows her stuff and she works damn hard. She has got a great sassy and warm persona on stage and off.

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The staff at the club absolutely loved her and it was hard for them to say goodbye. She, right off the bat, was very gracious to me. When I told her it was my first time in Asia she went out of her way t tell me certain things to look out for. Honestly, I just loved having another American to talk with and joke about Family Guy with. All those things you take for granted when you are in your own country. It is something that will be a little bit of a challenge to get used to while I am here alone. After the last note of the night faded away it was time to head back to bed and TRY to sleep. Yeah……try……

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THANKS AGAIN FOR READING!!!

July 28/29 Day 2

So yes I am still playing catch up with these but I am getting closer….

So after a night at the JFK Double Tree I headed back to the airport with my fingers crossed and my bags in hand, just hoping Vietnam Airlines would reissue my ticket. Yet still, there were no guarantees that I would get on a flight that day. The poor manager at delta stay an extra 2 hours to try to get through to Vietnam Airlines for confirmation, calling from his personal cell phone. Yep! Isn’t that something? The international terminal at JFK does not have a phone system that can make international calls! So I made an appointment to meet him at 1pm the next day and he would try to get me on the same flight. Luckily, the universe was on my side today. They even let me check my bags 7 hours before my flight. So Bryant, who had been there to say goodbye, and I hopped back on the A train and headed to West 4th. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then he went for a walk while I got a mani pedi, courtesy of my dear friend Faith who got me a Groupon. That is something I never do even though I love it, for two reasons: 1) I play piano so a manicure is kind of wasted on me 2) I HAVE THE WORLD’S UGLIEST FEET! But I am so thankful for the love of my best friend who knows I’ve been having a tough time lately and sent me this little treat. So finally things were looking up!

My beautiful friend Faith

My beautiful friend Faith

It had been a rough week already with a lot of big changes. When I originally got contracted to go over to Asia I never would have thought about giving up my apartment. True I do live in…..”Jersey? Jersey? Oh god!”, as most New Yorkers call it (really the signature saying about NJ is…..”I don’t do Jersey”). However, I have a one bedroom apartment 10 minutes from midtown Manhattan, and virtually every subway, that is rent controlled and still under $1000 a month! In NY we call it “The Golden Handcuffs” the thing that keeps you from making huge life changes because once you find it will be very unlikely that you find it again. So you get stuck!

Bergenline Ave. Union City, NJ

Bergenline Ave. Union City, NJ

I first moved to Union City, NJ after leaving that terrible place in Washington Heights. I found this one bedroom right on Bergenline Ave, the main commercial street, on a post on Craigslist. The first couple years were for the most part pretty tranquil. At least on the weekdays. It is a Latin American neighborhood, traditionally Cuban but now a big mix of all Spanish speaking communities. When we first moved into the neighborhood it was pretty easy-going. It wasn’t quiet  but it was comfortable there. The apartment itself was perfect! Plenty of space, his and her closets, about half the rent I was paying before, and so close to the city. I felt like I captured a  unicorn.

We decided to sublet while we were working for the cruise lines.

The band on the Carnival Fantasy

The band on the Carnival Fantasy

When we came back everything was different! The neighborhood wasn’t just loud on the weekends anymore. Now everyday we were being bombarded to an endless soundtrack of Bachata, and other music varieties, so loud that it shook things on our walls. This was almost every day starting at 10am going sometimes until 2am…like on a Tuesday. Then the new barber shop moved in and installed their huge stereo system right below us and stood outside our window everyday screaming really foul language, constantly smoking, and having the occasional fist fight. Then came the infamous crazy neighbors next door. It would have actually been fun to watch the drama unfold if we didn’t have to hear it everyday. They would blast music all day long and when I say blast I mean a picture actually fell off my wall! Not sure if they were hitting   I think it was more likely she was hitting him. She was absolutely nuts. One of those girls who causes rediculous drama just to get attention. I think my favorite was the night she tried to jump off the fire escape…….from the second floor. See this is just funny because it is so close to the ground she probably wouldn’t even break anything. it was a constant cycle at least 2 times a week, usually around 2 or 3 in the morning, she would accuse him of cheating and he would go off about her not working and spending his money. A few times we came home to find his stuff in the hall or at the foot of the stairs.

Crazy neighbors LOL!

Crazy neighbors LOL!

It was entertaining but it got annoying real fast. I had to save the police department’s number in my speed dial and i wasn’t the only person in the building who did that. One night they found out it was me who called the cops so they had their dog leave a little present outside my door.

Folks, there is a huge difference between being poor and being, what us young folks call, ghetto. Being poor doesn’t mean that you have to live in a constant state of tragedy. However, some people are brought up to believe that is what it means to be poor and that having money makes things easy. Life is all about drama and hardship. They create it and attract it and the sad thing is most of them don’t know they are doing it. They don’t know you don’t have to live that way.

Something else started to happen which was probably the worst indicator of the change on my block. I didn’t feel safe anymore. Being brought up as an American woman I have been made to believe that I have just as many rights as a man. We can do what we want, say what we want, and dress as we want. It is true we are still judged by all this but we are entitled to a certain amount of respect. Now sure, I have gotten the occasional whistle, or “hey beautiful, how you doing”? Or my favorite, the signature Dominican hiss and kissing sounds. I got that a lot in The Heights. This was different. I just wanted to walk down the street for some coffee or to pick up dinner and I couldn’t do it without being pawed at. It seemed that if I wasn’t walking with a man or a baby in my hands, or if I even looked in the slightest direction of a man, that was a sexual invitation. They seemed to think they have the right to make lude gestures or try to grab me as I walked by. One time walking home from the bus stop after almost a 10 hour day,  a guy tried to grab my waist saying “Girl I’d like to get in that……” well you can figure out what the last word was. I promptly pulled out my mace and hit him hard with my 20 pound bag!  That was my breaking point! All I wanted to do was get home from a long day of work. I didn’t leave Washington Heights to deal with it all over again.

Brunch at Diwine

Brunch at Diwine

Around this time I had started to play at a brunch place every Saturday and Sunday with a guitarist friend of mine in Astoria, Queens. This was start of a blossoming romance with Astoria, for which I am now head over heals. This is one of many great things about New York. Millions of people from all varieties, and plethora  of neighborhoods that suit any of these neurotic personalities.  Everyone has one part of the city where they can feel most at home and they belong. This is perhaps the most important thing to retain sanity while living in an overcrowded place and pursuing one of the hardest professions to make a living at. For me that place is Astoria!

Astoria in springtime

Astoria in springtime

This quaint little oasis has some of the best food in the city, with quiet tree-lined streets, and a bustling shopping district. This area was traditionally Greek and still has a strong Greek community, but is now smorgasbord of different nationalities. You can walk down the street and hear about 30 different language. There is no room for prejudice based on your race or nationality when you are living on top of each other like that. Here I was no longer “La Blanca” I was just Laura. I kept trying to find a way that me and my boyfriend could afford moving there but we couldn’t find a financial solution that had us there together. He wasn’t really sold on the neighborhood anyways. He is after all a Brooklyn boy at heart. I love Brooklyn but living there doesn’t really appeal to me. I just don’t feel it.

Over the last year or so I have been trying to make a bunch of changes in my life to better my situation but somehow I have just gotten stuck. The apartment situation is only one example.  I have also been trying to record my album for oh….. I don’t know….. 5 years! At the end of 2011 I did a fan fundraising campaign and came out of it with about $2,300 which is great but wasn’t even enough for my recording budget! So it has been sitting in the bank in a special savings account for the last 2 years, waiting on me. Fall of 2011 and early 2012 was pretty good for me money wise so I started building up my savings in my regular account, putting %25 away of every dollar I made. Then came the sickness wave that I mentioned in the previous entry and I had to eat up everything I had personally saved. I notice that with all of this struggle I was starting to think very negatively and whether you believe it or not: NEGATIVE THOUGHT ONLY YIELDS NEGATIVE RESULTS. I started to only see the limitations in my life. Everything that I wanted was only present to me with the reasons of why I can’t have it. I decided I don’t want to live my life that way. Take a look next time you are in a MacDonalds or the counter at Duane Reade Pharmacy and you see that person at the register who never really smiles and is constantly checking their phone and who is clearly leading a miserable existence. Not that I am condemning all those employees, but we have all met people like this. They have been through the ringer and just can’t see the positive anymore. Life no longer has possibilities it has just has obstacles they must overcome. I started to become one of them.

It was hard to tell people I was leaving. First off I couldn’t say anything for a few months because I was in negotiations for a while with my contract. That means nothing was legally signed. Musicians this is a tricky balance. You want to give your employers notice out of respect however you also need to protect yourself! Until something is signed and you have a plane ticket you are not going! You have to treat it that way. Contracts fall through all the time and people get screwed. My mistake was telling people I am going without everything being finalized and then not mentioning anything to my employers until it was finalized. Some of them of course found out and we not happy they didn’t know first. However, it was my mistake and all I can do is own up to it and learn from it.

The big thing was that I had several families I was teaching that had grown very attached to me. I so wish I could have handled this better because of my love for these kids, but I was really left with no choice. I did tell them as soon as things were finalized but not all of my lessons were perfectly in place before I left. Some of them I had to refund because with summer vacation we ran out of time to get all of them in. I also had the most hellacious last week in NY. Moving out of the apartment took everything out of me. It monopolized all my time and I had to cancel things left and right. I didn’t get to do even 5% of what I wanted or spend time with people I was going to miss because of the work I had to put into cleaning it up. On Friday, the day before I left, Bryant and I spent almost 9 hours throwing out last of our stuff and cleaning it from top to bottom (so the landlord would give us the security deposit back).

The empty apartment

The empty apartment

I had called the landlord to make an appointment for him to come by and he said he could come by anytime. Of course, in true slum lord fashion, he didn’t pick up his phone all day. I was pissed by this time. The guy who moved out the same day I moved in didn’t fix or clean anything and got his deposit back on the spot. So, I just kept calling. By this time I was supposed to be in the city in 40 minutes for a lesson. However, if I didn’t get the security deposit then I would be leaving the country with only $100 for the next month! So by the time I finally got the landlord on the phone it was 10 minutes before my lesson. I had to cancel with pretty much no notice and this was a rescheduled lesson from Wednesday which I had to move because the Indian visa center still had my passport and there was no other day I could go to pick it up. The parents were of course very unhappy with how I left this and rightfully so, but there really wasn’t any solution here. This upsets me because I would never run my business this way but sometimes life just gets the better of you. There is no way I could possibly make them understand what was happening with me. Oh and by the way………we still don’t have our security deposit. All I can say is thank you god for my wonderful sister, brother-in-law, and my mother for helping me out.

This move was also particularly hard because after seven and a half years together my boyfriend and I no longer live together. I won’t really touch on this subject out of fairness to him and also because it is none of your damn business. What happens between two people is between them. All I can say is that we are doing our own things right now and taking this 6 months. It was the hardest thing to watch him take out the last of his stuff when we moved our furniture last Wednesday. I didn’t know when I would see him again and I just couldn’t keep it together. I am so thankful for my boys Paul and Matt, who helped me move that day and did a lot more than they signed up for, including letting me completely fall apart after he drove away. The one fortunate thing about this flight delay is we did get some good quality time together to talk and such. I was actually very glad he was there to see me off when I finally got on the plane. It was weird too. We hugged and said our goodbye’s and as we both walked toward the restrooms I looked back and then he was gone as if he was never even there. I realized at that moment that, without him, I barely know who I am anymore and I need to discover that again if I want to make any relationship last.

Bryant and me 2012

Bryant and me 2012

So here I am finally on the plane getting ready to take off and yet another delay. 2 hours on the runway luckily there was good TV to keep my mind off of how anxious I was. Everyone told me that once I got on the plane I would be excited. True, I was but really I was more nervous. I kept thinking “god why has it been so hard for me to get on this plane and leave NY? Am I doing the right thing”? As I started to feel the engine roar and gravity kick in for take off. Tears just came streaming down my face with only one image in my mind, the view from my street in NJ the last day  I lived there with the empire state building gleaming in the sunshine against the bright blue sky spearing majestically into fluffy marshmallow clouds. Then I thought of my last two weeks and all the incredible music I had heard by many of the people I am privileged to call friends and smiled. Just then Bryant’s face came to me and I could almost feel my kitty cat on my shoulder rubbing his face against mine, in his own way telling me he loves me and he will see me when I get back.

Coltrane

Coltrane

VIDEO FOR TODAY: Brunch at Diwine in Astoria, Queens

PS on a personal note to all you readers I am going to post a few pictures of my amazing friends who all happen to  be some of the best Jazz Vocalists around today and just all around badasses. LOOK THEM UP!

Emily Braden. This girl has more soul in her little finger then most people ever have!

Emily Braden. This girl has more soul in her little finger then most people ever have!

Bianna Thomas. Perhaps the best straight ahead jazz diva there is today!

Bianna Thomas. Perhaps the best straight ahead jazz diva there is today!

Nancy Harms, Emily Braden, Charenee Wade, Charles Turner

Nancy Harms, Emily Braden, Charenee Wade, Charles Turner

the fabulous Andromeda Turre

the fabulous Andromeda Turre

July 27 DAY 1….sort of…

So I am recording 2 days late. Why you may ask…..Ok well let me just say….Delta Airlines and jet lag. That is it. My name was printed on the ticket as such:

Jane Brunner Laura

So because my ticket didn’t match my passport Delta told me that they couldn’t let me on the flight. 4 different people told me that they couldn’t change my ticket because my connecting flight and reservations were booked with Vietnam Airlines and they need to do the name change. Oh did I mention that the office for Vietnam Airlines is closed on the weekend? So after calling my new employers multiple times, with no international calling plan on my phone, and 4 hours at the airport, I came across a senior manager who, long story short, fixed it in 5 minutes! Then it took another three hours just to try to rebook the flight with Vietnam Airlines. I left the airport at midnight, exhausted, with still no guarantee that I would fly out the next day.

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This is a good representation of what life has been like in New York. Don’t get me wrong I have done very well for someone who has only been there a few years . I have been privileged to play with many great musicians and in some of the best clubs but in terms of living…….I was just barely living. I love so much about New York City but everything is a struggle and for me it was some how 10 times what most of my peers were going through. I guess you could call it the paying my dues part (however I don’t know if that applies to my music experience but more to just living). But let me explain from the beginning and I’ll TRY to make it brief.

Berklee 1140 Bolyston St.

Berklee 1140 Bolyston St.

I graduated from Berklee College Of Music in Boston in 2006. I stayed in Boston for another year to accomplish some career goals before moving to the big city. However, I ran out of money to move so I moved back home to Ohio and then on January 1st 2008 I packed up a small car and my kitty and moved to New York City! My first place was in Jersey City, NJ. I was living with my old school mate of mine who, in the last 3 years, has blown up in the music world. I was in a temp sublet in a 3 bedroom house with Grammy Awarded Best New Artist Esperanza Spalding.

Esperanza and me after her show at Town Hall

Esperanza and me after her show at Town Hall

I must admit, though we shared the house she was rarely ever there, which was perfect for writing and practicing. I found a day job right away and booked my first gig within three weeks of being there. Everything seemed to be great! That was until I had to move out and find a new place. This place was only a temporary thing until the next room-mate got there.

I thought I would try living in uptown Manhattan since I already knew a lot of musicians living up there. Everyone had been talking about Washington Heights as the new up and coming neighborhood so I found a place on 173rd St. Between Amsterdam and Audubon.

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511 West 173rd St. Washington Heights

WOW! Boy was I naive! OK FOLKS! HERE ARE THE NY APARTMENT HUNTING RULES:

1. Go see the area at night as well as the daytime

2. Winter is always more calm than what summer will be like

3. Know that some blocks can be completely different from others

4. If yellow cabs are never in sight or never pick people up there, that is bad!

5. Room mate situations that are put together by the landlord or management company don’t work, ever!

6. Always make sure your landlord lives in or near NYC

7. Make sure the landlord is present at the lease signing and you get a copy right away

8. Do not get an apartment that you hope you can afford. BUDGET! Get what you can afford at that time!

These are from experience! TRUST ME! After moving to this block everything changed. I didn’t realize that there was a different Washington Heights then the one people were talking about but I found myself living in it. East of Broadway and below 181st St….all I can say is YIKES! Nightly drug busts across the street with full swat teams! Gypsy cab drivers trying to follow me home, the usual neighborhood crackhead prostitute, and yes….gun fights! I was walking to the train one night when gunshots broke out and as I ran I saw a bullet spark on the tall fence right behind me. I was very lucky that night.

Not only was this a terrible part of the city to live in but I also wasn’t welcome. Being seen as a “privileged white girl” who doesn’t speak Spanish, the Dominican community was not very fond of me and they let me know it.

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On top of that was the room-mate and money situation. The broker put me and the two room mates together. I was the last to move into the apartment. Stupidly I took a big room thinking that I could find a way to afford it. Yeah…..STUPID is the operative word! On top of that they hadn’t set up any utilities! One room-mate was a dancer from Taiwan and didn’t feel comfortable with her English yet, and this I understood. We got along just fine actually. It was the other room-mate. A young “professional” from DC who was still being taken care of by mommy and daddy. He was there for I think at least 2-3 weeks before me and just hadn’t bothered setting them up cause “I don’t know how”. REALLY? Anyways, I did the adult thing and set everything up and all the utilities ended up in my name! The really fun part was the electric bill…….

Because the building was newly renovated no one had lived there for a few years prior to us. So when I called Con Edison to set up our billing they informed me that they had an agent in the field to shut our electricity off THAT DAY!!! They said there has been no payment on that address for the last 2 years! Yes folks, you know what that means…it means the landlord didn’t even take ownership of it the whole time he owned the building and because he lived in California and wasn’t present at our lease signing, the lease was in California awaiting his signature. So because we had no way of proving we just moved in we had to agree to installment payments of about $200 a month, in addition to any new charges, until we sent the lease to Con Ed. I moved in February and we got the lease in JUNE! Meanwhile both the room mates left the whole thing up to me to deal with. I did everything and little bitch boy, who could have helped, didn’t lift a finger and had the balls to yell at me about it not being taken care of. He also tried to move out without telling us that summer. I woke one morning, after he had been gone for a week, to find him quietly shoving all his stuff into trash bags. Long story short……he skipped out on all the bills and because they were in my name I could do nothing legally. In the spring the building went into foreclosure and the bank tried to kick us out. Once again I came to the rescue as my boyfriend’s father was a licensed attorney in NY and was able to help us out.

As winter came again I decided I would look for a place in Jersey again. I had enough with Manhattan. I started looking for a place to live for me and my boyfriend while he was away working on cruise ships. In the meantime the landlord and super had basically abandoned the building, Roaches started popping up everywhere and when a big cold front hit the heat stopped working and the pipes froze and then burst. There was ice-cold water rising all the way to the top of the basement stairs. A few weeks later, after reporting them, I got out of there.

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Kitty sleeping on piano in Union City, NJ

Things went okay for a while after moving into the new place. I was just having to work all the time. I mean 7 days a week and 5 out of those 7 days were usually 12-14 hour days, which left very little time for music. I was in a rut and couldn’t find a way out. No matter what I did the bills just kept coming. I also had a musical friendship fall apart with another singer whom I was working with for a while. She had been in NY longer then me and was doing quite well. Then things started to get weird as we worked together more. I think she was worried i was trying to steal her spotlight. Folks I don’t believe in that. As singers we are so lucky in that we have an instrument that is unique to only us! We will never sound like another person so comparing two singers is utterly ridiculous, therefore being in competition with one another is pointless. I have always seen it that way. What comes out of me is who I am and that can’t be imitated or faked. That goes for any true artist I think.

So long story short she got mad at me for standing up to her and on a deal she went bad on with me. Then I find out from an a club owner in NYC that she had been bad mouthing me all over town. I had even stopped getting calls for some work because of that. I later went to work cruise ships with my boyfriend to get me out of this cycle, and as her fame grew I found out later that she was using some of my signature songs on her world tours. Not songs that I have written, no, but obscure stuff that I had pulled from my rare archives that haven’t been sung in about 60 years or more. Now you might say “if you didn’t write them, what is the big deal”. Well there is a kind of unwritten rule with singers that you don’t take someone’s rare signature song or their signature arrangement. YOU JUST DON’T DO IT! Also, the thing to know about me is that if you are gonna rip off my stuff, you better do your homework! I like to change songs and make them my own. I change melody and even lyrics so it is pretty clear when someone is ripping me off.

Even after all this I had some great musical successes after returning from ships. I got into the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center in DC and made some great connections and learned A LOT.

After my final performance at the Kennedy Center

After my final performance at the Kennedy Center

Then I made my way back to NY. Although I was without a paycheck for almost 4 months, I started to make my way and get enough gigs to get me going and buy the occasional package of hot dogs and mac and cheese. I also began to get gigs at some of NY’s best jazz clubs and be noticed in the scene. However, I was killing myself to do it. At one point I was working 3 teaching jobs, had 8 private students of my own, bi-weekly gigs in NYC,  a swing band in Boston, doing my own club gigs, recording and writing with DKode ( a music production team), and catering for extra money. I consider this a great triumph. It is very hard for musicians to get that kind of work, especially in New York and I did it in about a year and a half, even harder. On top of that I have had all the responsibilities of my household lumped onto me. I don’t want to discuss that much, but all I can say is it was way too much.

In 2012 my health started to fail. I was constantly getting these infections I couldn’t fight off. I got sick on my birthday that year (April 10th) and stayed sick until May 8th. I mean SICK! The antibiotics stopped working at that point and even after I got well again I was fatigued for about another month. I got sick at least 6 times that year, about every 2 months and every time I had to cancel gigs and teaching work, not to mention the continuous doctor bills,  which put my finances in ruins. If I had to add up the time I was down in bed and out of work it would add up to about 4 months total!

Smalls Jazz Club NYC

Smalls Jazz Club NYC

Zinc Bar NYC

Zinc Bar NYC

The bar Next Door NYC

The bar Next Door NYC

2013 has been an awesome year to be honest. Although I have lived rather hard the last couple of years, my career has been steadily climbing and this year has reached a whole new level. My musicianship has too. I am able to do things I never thought possible. I am so grateful to all the wonderful people I have worked with that taught me so much and helped me grow. However, there is something about turning 28, 29, 30….you take a look around and see where you are and where you want to be are not the same. I call it “The Grown Up Switch” or “GUS”. Most people flip their GUS at this age. It is the time when the status quo is no longer good enough you want a better future, hell you start THINKING about the future.  So it is GO TIME. Now or never! I looked at everything I was doing/putting up with and went “What the hell am I doing”? Life is short! I have to get the things I want while I can and I am sick of waiting. So…. another reason why I am here doing this. Time to put my vision board up and watch these things come into reality!

So yes…. I rambled today a bit but now you all know the whole story. There are great things to come I can feel it! Hope to see you all tomorrow. Comments are welcome……if anyone is reading…..THANKS 🙂 OH!!! Gonna try to give you a video at the end of every post! ENJOY!

 !!!!CLICK HERE!!!!! “Someday” performed by Laura Brunner

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