December 2016 Baltimore and New York

Last year I wrote an early January blogpost and I thought I would do another one this year that has turned into an early February post. Last year I wrote about Jeni & Billy, tea, my high school best friend, Cotton and some of my instruments.

Quickly I’ll mention that I did some solo touring to start the year off in Florida at venues that usually host Jeni & Billy. I performed songs from the last J & B CD, Heart of the Mountain, some songs that I wrote or co-wrote before I knew Jeni that are folky, country, bluesy, a few instrumentals on banjo and guitar and a few earlier J & B hits.  A big thanks to all of the presenters for supporting live music and hosting the concerts for me solo this year. Here are a few links to some Youtube posts that my friend Chuck Levy recorded when I performed at his house concert. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vaz_hZtXH4     The Four Word Letter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDIcMb0fiwc&t=35s     Janesville

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cq2PbI_hJAk     The Heart of the Mountain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vj2qjOyevA    Goldie’s Chase

Tea is always in the mix and this year I can mention a new tea that I am drinking compliments of Jeni’s Mom, Marcy. She sent me a one pound bag of a loose leaf tea called Guayusa from a company called Runa. http://runa.org/guayusa/  Check it out. It is a good tea to start your day off with. The company name, Runa, means fully alive. This is a caffeinated tea that Amazonian folks drink to get their day going. And no jitters like you can get from coffee. And it has anti-oxidants.

The stories I want to share this January have to do with my trip to New York and Baltimore in December.

My trip north began on Friday, December 9th. I left Nashville early in the morning, around 6 am and drove straight through to Baltimore stopping only for fuel. I had packed plenty of food and had a thermos of the above mentioned tea, Guayusa. That trip makes for great radio listening with WDVX in Knoxville and WETS in Johnson City. I also had a mix CD that my good friend in Scarborough/London/UK, Peter Knipe, had put together for me. It was a second volume of Forty-One Songs that Peter likes to do. Thank you Peter, the J & B number one fan in the UK.

Arriving in Baltimore in the early evening I went straight to my sister’s home in Catonsville on the west side of the city. Jeanne is an artist and a teacher and she is always fun to be around. She has plenty of stories, most of them hilarious, and with big doses of exaggeration and loads of memory distortion which make for lots of laughs. Thank you Jeanne for making me smile during my one night stay before heading to NYC the next morning.

On Saturday morning I left Jeanne’s to go to Jersey City, New Jersey to stay with my Nashville songwriting friend, John Manion, who I was close with in the eighties during my first stint in Nashville. John and I have written a few songs together and he writes songs in a genre he calls folk/broadway. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/manion On his Fireworks In The Rain CD I co-wrote the title track with John. A big thank you to John for hosting me while visiting points north.

John’s neighborhood was super nice and he lives in a studio apartment in the basement of a brownstone. After getting settled in we did a song swap and reminisced about the earlier Nashville days when Amy Kurland had just opened the Bluebird Cafe. I sometimes would play or host the writer’s nights on Sunday.

billy-at-the-bluebird

That evening John took me to his local pub, Pint http://www.pintbar.com/, which served local craft beers and we went to a Christmas party at the historic Barrow House, http://www.barrowmansion.org/index.html The mansion built in the nineteenth century still has the original two lane bowling alley that was built in the basement. The Christmas party featured a local Choral group that was singing Christmas carols that transported me into the holiday spirit that reminded me of the Christmas stories that Washington Irving wrote about  http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/25/opinion/nyregionopinions/how-christmas-became-merry.html?_r=0  since we were not terrible far from Manhattan, just across the river. At the party I even met someone from the UK that used to frequent the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire where I have played with Jeni & Billy for the last six years. 

Sunday I had an appointment to meet with Denis Petrov, a software designer, musician and analog tape recorder repair person, who had repaired my Tascam 238 Analog recorder in years past. Denis and his wife Vijaya had invited me and John to lunch at their apartment on the upper east side. We decided to drive into the city since it was Sunday so I wouldn’t have to carry the recorder on the subway. We found parking a few blocks away and made our way to their apartment. Denis had a small workshop set-up for his repair work and he immediately went to work on the recorder while Vijaya prepared the lunch. Vijaya’s niece was visiting who was a student at college in Philadelphia. I watched Denis work on the Tascam while John watched the lunch preparations. Denis was intimately acquainted with the problem the recorder was having and was able to do the repair in less than an hour. Then we sat down to the best Indian meal that I’ve ever had. And then we found out that Denis is also an instrument builder, a luthier, and had built an instrument called a Veena for Vijaya, which is a multi-stringed lute like instrument that is played sitting down with the fingerboard horizontal across your lap. Vijaya seemed a master of her music and instrument and she played several pieces of classical Indian music that were articulate and passionate. Her performance was captivating. I noticed a nylon stringed guitar also in the music room and I asked if I could play some music with her. Before each piece we played she would show me the scale and then we would play, with me improvising and accompanying her music. It was great fun for me. And then Denis and I spoke about the blues scale, Vijaya was interested in learning that scale, and we played a Willie Dixon song, A Good Understanding. Vijaya had great fun and Denis joined in on his electric guitar. It was a wonderful afternoon of conversation and music. A big thanks to Denis and Vijaya for their hospitality and friendship.

Monday, December 12 was a day without much of a schedule. I practiced most of the day, had a bagel, got produce at the grocery, moved the car three times because of a two hour parking limit. Dinner was with John at Ibby’s, a mediterranean restaurant in John’s neighborhood.

Tuesday, December 13 I took the Path train into the city with John. He was going to do some Christmas shopping and I was going to MOMA to meet a friend from Yorkshire, England. One of my favorite exhibits was one called Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter. It was an exploration of the ways architecture and design have addressed notions of shelter in light of global refugee emergencies. One image that struck me was a collection of art supplies for the refugees to use to make things. The collection was in open boxes where you would see the usual art things, paper and pencils. But there was also a smaller box that had tubes of paste and erasers called Magic Rub. I thought about how that is exactly what many refugees need to hold their lives together, their families together and the idea of erasing things they have had to endure. Here are a couple of links: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1653  https://medium.com/insecurities

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Another exhibit I liked was the Kai Althoff: and then leave me to the common swifts. I wanted to see his exhibit because he was also a musician. I enjoyed the design of the presentation. Many items laid out on the floor made you feel like you were on the street. Mostly muted stuff, prints, textiles and paintings. My favs were two sculptures, a yellow vintage car and a blue & red vintage cash register. The exhibit was accompanied by a soundtrack of the artist’s design. It was minimal, round drones or pads mostly, digital and very low sounds. Here’s a link: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1655

One more exhibit to mention was called How Should We Live? Propositions for the Modern Interior. It featured over two hundred works in drawings, prints, paintings, sculpture, film and photography. It explored the materials and processes that have shaped modern interiors. One artist that struck me was Eileen Gray an architect. For some of her work she would study the environment for two years before building would occur. She sometimes would put the kitchen separate from the rest of the house because of smells- combining indoor and outdoor possibilities. Here’s a link: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/2714

After seeing some of the exhibit I met with my friend Jade Montserrat. As mentioned previously, Jade’s digs are in the U.K. and she was in New York for a performance of her Shadowing Josephine at the Panoply Lab. http://www.panoplylab.org/pplspace/events/shadowing-josephine-jade-montserrat Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see her show as I had to be in Baltimore for a recording session the night of her performance. We did get to spend some time at MOMA and then dinner at Chez Josephine. The dinner was fun and the piano player even played one of my favorite Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer songs, Skylark. Thank you Jade for sharing your story about Josephine Baker.

On Wednesday I drove back to Baltimore to visit with family for the holidays and to do some recording and performing with my friend Troy Hanna. My next blog will continue the stories that happened in Baltimore.

Thanks for visiting and Much Happiness to you!

Billy