Thursday, April 1, 2010


grandpa will go to bed with those stories

in his whistling earlobes

stretched, long, squishy.

grandpa will not share the load

no matter how fiercely we beg

he will go to bed and so will the ships

their cracking wooden floorboards.

the ships and the trolleys, the coal

and the wooden crates. really there are three

only three stories he gives us

wrapped delicately, humorously in cheese cloth--

the wooden crates, the cherry tomatoes,

the stutters. the rest are under

grandpa's tongue, the edge peeking out

only when, open-mouthed in his recliner,

head tilted back, he snores.

so grandpa's snores are the farms

of East New York, a violent crash

to the depths of ocean water,

grandpa's snores are churning windmill,

a whole pizza pie across from the office,

manicured lawns, empty lots,

hat factories, angry wooden spoons,

suicidal sons, the pouches under a wife's eyelids,

gun in the dresser drawer, side of the freeway,

nachos with canned mushrooms. 

sha, shtill--

grandpa, grandpa what will you give me?

how much is in your open palm

the softness of aged fingers

and if your hand is empty

but it is still a hand, is it enough?

Friday, March 5, 2010

new year

when the covers are tucked

under the bed frame

so tight ankles stiffen

toes only point

to the end

cannot sleep like this

chunks of something

at the back of my throat

to start a new decade

friends, their bodies

weigh down the covers

on either side

of my body

hold me when it shakes

bring liquids

speak what they truly want

across my hairline

put me to sleep

when i am with child

there is only a moment

for my body

its shaking and


no privacy with her

calling my name

beyond the door

my own hand and head

against porcelain

only for a moment

if i was a child

someone would always

touch me

when things hurt

lay hands on forehead

and chest, cheek on belly

stay with me

until deep breaths

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

women with cars

i could have driven her somewhere

from the corner of my block 

car stopped for a moment

red light, radio blaring the news

she pounds on my window

begging, words i barely hear

only his reassurance, to me

but i'm her husband

her husband- yes

that's what i was afraid of

Ariana told me- in the women's group

most if them have jumped

from moving cars

some on the highway

to escape men

i could have driven her somewhere

the sick dance happened so fast

two bodies circling my car

my own arms, reaching and retracting

to pull up the lock, find my cellphone

neither motions i could commit to 

Tracy's voice haunted me as a child-

won't do no good to call

the police

always come late

if they come at all

and when they arrive...

i could have driven her somewhere

to a sister or a cousin

across a state border

yes of course i will help you

yes we are both women

Audre begins Zami with dedications

i read only yesterday

one for a small white girl

screaming for help on a dark street

and when the car door opens to her

girl runs, terrified by her rescuer's color

back towards that man, white

his boots rounding the corner

she, Audre says, will die stupid

i could have driven her somewhere

but if anyone in the bus stop crowd

judged me, i do not know

they stood, silent greek chorus

as if this is what happens

every time we wait for the B11,

a red light

Zach says they could be con-artists

trying to get in my car

i did the right thing

yes, i say but i don't think so

and to him, to all the boys 

that is the end

but i am bent over

in the guise of touching my toes

to cry, unseen, steady this shaking

this churning stomach

i could have driven her somewhere

circled back around the block

picked her up out of sight

away from the man, the bus stop

but don't think of it

until i'm fifteen blocks too late

too late- it happened too fast

drive on, try to clear my vision

see the road behind my wheel

and later, i lie in bed

window open a crack

(radiator too high) and the cars

on the BQE are a part-time waterfall

my own car parked underneath

sheltered from snow and

i can drive anywhere, anytime 

my day, fades behind me

the disturbing way these things become

stories we tell later

Sunday, September 13, 2009

rock star! a rambling musical manifesto to wrap up summer


when i was a kid i absolutely idolized the 60s and 70s, including rock-n-roll from the time (mostly Janis Joplin.)  and when i was 10 or so i bought my first CDs-- nirvana and tracy bonham.  i also remember having nine inch nails on cassette tape and a kurt cobain poster on my wall in 5th grade!  but my attention to rock as a genre was relatively short-lived.  and when, at 16 or so, i started to consider the idea of myself as a real musician, it was because of the jazz albums that spoke to me: ella fitzgerald, thelonious monk, oscar peterson, coleman hawkins...  it has been mostly jazz musicians that i've continued to turn to in shaping my identity as a musician, and in seeking out musical communities.  

now i'm not into genres and categories, and by no means do i only listen to jazz.  i recognize that jazz and rock have similar roots, and continue to influence each other. but up until recently, "rock" scenes have felt personally uninviting.  what i want to write about here is my participation in some self-identifying "rock" spaces this summer.  in particular my summer involved 3 sexy things: willie mae rock camp for girls, afro-punk, and the black rock coalition.  each of these could easily be a post in itself, so you should check out those links to learn more.  rather than explain in great detail what each organization is all about, i want to write about my experience of the work they do, and what it's making me think about performance in general, and my own identity as a performer.

willie mae rock camp for girls

this is my 3rd year working with the 8-18 year-old girls at rock camp, alongside the other fabulous women and trans folks who volunteer.  rock camp was the first place where i played with other women instrumentalists!  i've found that gender alone is not an indicator of musical compatibility, but it's certainly an interesting experience to play with other women and to share stories of our experiences.  i now play in a jazz trio with two women i met at rock camp.  so certainly, rock camp has been important for me as a source of networking with other women.

but maybe more importantly, rock camp has pushed me up against notions of skill mastery.  i come from a world of formalized music study.  in this world, to play well, you have to know your scales and shit!  rock camp, on the other hand, emerges from the riot grrrl movement.  teaching at rock camp means telling the girls that every sound they make is great.  if they are happy with it, we are happy with it.  some of the campers may have never played an instrument before the week of camp, and yet we call them "rock stars" and place them on a real stage at the end of a week.  and we are thrilled with the music they make- even if some of them are only going to strum the open strings of a guitar.  i love this.  what spaces exist where we truly feel like our every creative endeavor is worthy of being heard?  how much do we, as artists (and especially women artists), censor and judge our own work?   i love the idea that whatever the girls do is enough.  this is something i struggle with-- i never feel like what i'm doing is enough.  

sometimes, however, rock camp can suffer from a fairly rigid asthetic among volunteer tastes.  i don't love the riot grrrl music.  i respect what the movement represents but i think the music is boring.  it might be shocking to say this out loud at camp!  in fact, i had a private conversation with 2 other volunteers and we were so relieved to find, in private, that we all agreed on this point!  i think the fact that the riot grrrl music sounds boring has something to do with the lack of skill that it requires.  i don't want to come off as a music snob and, again, i can learn a lot from the DIY attitude.  but i know it is not sufficient, for me to see women holding instruments and making noise.  i think our presence and our message can only be more powerful if we have some fierce chops with which to deliver it.  i do not want to hand young women the pressure that that statement can hold (and that i often experience as debilitating,) but the excitement of the power and opportunity for self-expression that comes with skill.  in bass classes, i do teach the more experienced students how to play their scales and other more technical skills.  but we'll only work on it if they're into it.  (and some of them are really into it.)  rock camp works best when it pushes the girls to honor all the sounds they attempt, but to also push themselves to take music seriously as a skill that can be developed.

the other gift that rock camp gives me is being reminded over and over again that music theory is not simply something you study in school.  it's natural-- in our ears without us knowing it.  for example, i watched this scenario: a 15 year-old girl who never played keyboard before.  she has only been shown how to play a C major triad.  in band practice at camp, she and her band write a song together, and there is a part in it where she plays the chord, repeatedly.  but one day in practice, she moves to F and G triads, and then back to C (the IV and the V chord, back to the I chord!)  no one has shown her this and she could never explain what she has done.  but she has, totally instinctually, played the blues.  the other band coach and i are stunned.  we did not need to teach this girl the blues-- she went right for it; it was in her instincts, her ears and fingertips!

and speaking of the blues... one the most thrilling moments of camp this summer was a lunch-time performance by Beverly "Guitar" Watkins.  this lady is the fiercest of the fierce.  check out her story, watch her do her thing below, but you will only get a glimmer of what it was like to see her perform and to watch the campers take her in.  they were already really into it, and then partway through the show this 69-year-old blues lady bent down on one knee, put the guitar up behind her head, and took a killer solo.  say what!?  the girls freaked out-- screaming and cheering.  yes, yes!  the blues is the roots.  the kids dug it so much, i could only say, "the blues is alive and well!" Beverly may have been the least classifiably "rock" of the two weeks worth of performers, but if she's not a rock star, who is?


"Afro-punk is a platform for the other Black experience, the one we don't see in our media. D.I.Y (Do It Yourself) is the foundation."  (from  i went to a bunch of concerts at the afro punk music festival held in a parking lot outside of BAM.  the lot is transformed-- a stage, a bmx ramp, space to skate, and walls for spray paint.  the whole event is amazing, but i'll just mention a few things here. 

first of all: Tamar Kali.  i've heard her stuff before, and seen her videos, but i had never seen her live.  her voice, her presence, the way she moves...  at one point she asked the audience how our vaginas were doing!  and i had to admit, i wished i'd brought a change of underwear!  for real though.  i don't want to over-analyze her brilliance (as i am wont to do) but definitely check her out yourself.  

i also saw Saul Williams tear it up.  this piece in particular stayed with me:

at the game rebellion show, the band facilitated some crowd surfing.  the lead singer/ rapper was asking people to pack tightly up front and at first, only some people moved.  but it was when he asked us to move up in the name of community organizing that myself, and many more folks followed suit!  and it truly did feel like a community.  all kinds of folks jumped off the stage and into the crowd-- big muscly men, women in tube tops that miraculously stayed on, small children.  we reached our hands up high to hold them, passing them along, gracefully panicked under their weight.  there was also a mosh pit that was beautiful to watch.  two firsts for me.

black rock coalition

the BRC is "A collective of artists, writers, producers, publicists, activists and music fans assembled to maximize exposure and provide resources for Black artists who defy convention."  (from  the BRC helps make rock camp happen and also runs other fabulous events.  i attended 2 this summer.

the first event was a tribute to abbey lincoln, eartha kitt, miriam makeba, and odetta, held outdoors at lincoln center.  i learned that tamar kali is not only a hardcore goddess;  at this event, tamar was among the incredible singers showcased and she sang "c'est si bon," making the strength and versatility of her voice that much clearer.  i love that groups like afro punk and the BRC are not concerned with genres.  the 4 women they paid tribute to have got to be some of the biggest rock stars, even if folks wouldn't usually call them that!  i was particularly pleased because they did one of my all time favorite miriam makeba songs.  here is makeba herself doing "amampondo."  i pretty much fainted the first time i saw this video.

the second BRC event i went to was a concert at a club in manhattan.  out of character for me on several fronts- i went to a rock show at a rock venue, and i went by myself.  i was having a kind of rough time personally which made me nervous about going out alone and to a place that is not usually my scene.  but i had this instinct, even though i didn't know any of the bands, that somehow it would be exactly the right thing to do.  and i waited for the last band because i knew, somehow, that she would give me just what i needed.  i was so right.  sophia ramos has an insanely powerful voice and performance.  she has janis-esque control and grit and madness.  i stood up front and danced like crazy.  she sang originals and even a blues, at which point she walked through the audience.  her set ended and i left immediately.  my two trains came right away even though it was late at night.  i got home feeling so fed by time with myself, some nyc luck, apt instincts, and the music i wanted so bad.

can i be a rock star?  reflection and desire beyond genre

i'm making this confession: i want to be a rock star.  maybe most musicians do?  i don't mean that we want to be famous or make music that gets filed in record stores under "rock."  what i'm learning is this: truly being a rock star means making music and performance that can be unapologetically loud, flashy, sexy, danceable, current, personal, messy and angry.  in my fantasies, my music is all of these things, (though not necessarily all at once!)  why is it a fantasy?  why do these descriptors feel intimidating?  in general, they have certainly not felt accessible to me in the communities where i make music.  why not? 

sometimes, when i am a bandleader i am afraid.  as a bass player so often i stand on the side of the band, hold up the bottom, play the supporting role.  i love this.  but in certain bands i also sing, write the music, and stand in front.  i am not a shy person but the idea of taking up so much space sometimes feels overwhelming.  here i am:  a woman, with short hair, hairy armpits, a huge and amplified instrument resting against my belly and breasts, a microphone in front of my face, and now there is an audience watching me.  sometimes it feels almost like too much.  

i usually have anxiety getting dressed before these gigs where i am up in front.  i am no fashionista, but sometimes i enjoy getting creative with clothes.  yet usually for these gigs i try on several outfits and opt for the least flashy of the bunch-- something not too bright, not too revealing, not to feminine.  in the preparation for these gigs i am hyper aware of how my body may be perceived and it feels stifling.  (once i play, of course, i pretty much forget all this.)

i am writing this here so i can let it go.  i want to take a page from my rock star sisters.  it doesn't mean i necessarily need to whip out my tits like sophia ramos (did you watch that video?!) but i want to be real about the ways that my whole self, body included, are a part of my performance.  i can never control the way others perceive me- they can make it about my body whether it's hidden or exposed.  but i want to decide, on my own terms, what my presentation means to me.  this means- what does my music sound like?  what does it say?  who is in my band?  how do we sound and how do we look?  how are we presenting our bodies and our image?  how do we interact (or not) with the audience?  

i am a constant a defender of jazz.  i believe in the inspiration of much of its history.  i believe in the power of improvisation- hallelujah!  and i know that folks who play "jazz" reinvent, cross-pollinate and push the genre in many directions today.  jazz is so much more than what many folks think of with that word.  but there are ways, i think, it has not served me to identify as a jazz musician as i've shaped my musical identity thus far; ways that it limits my access to some of the power of music-making.  i think this is because some of the crucial questions i list in the previous paragraph are often unasked in the jazz community at large.

ultimately, it's a question of what does it mean to be a performer.  and this is something that jazz these days seems to either have a very limited perception of (ie. young lions style, read: wear suits and honor a revisionist history;) or does not concern itself with at all (ie. dress like you would at home, barely address the audience, and do not worry if your music is only accessible to musicians and music students.)  this second model has been most prominent in my life and it is based on an ideal of making an academic music that is just about the music, that only concerns itself with the sounds.  it is true, rock's lights and costumes and such can be all gimmick and no substance, a cover for music that means nothing.  but this other extreme- music as purely intellectual practice- is compartmentalizing in a way that only privilege allows.  

ultimately, this has little to do with jazz versus rock-n-roll.  i'm realizing this as i write.  i hope i have not framed the argument that way.  the three organizations i talked about are not typical of rock.  they exist because of the lack of space for women and people of color in music.  they are on the margins which is why they provide satisfying spaces for me and other rock spaces do not.  i can be most critical of jazz because it is what i know most about and because it is so much of what i love.  but there isn't any genre (that i know of) which exists outside of the systems of oppression in society as a whole.  these same systems that limit our ease to live as we desire, limit or challenge our ease to fully express our whole selves creatively.  

for me, performing can never just be about sound.  there are moments when i am more or less conscious of it, but all aspects of my identity are fully present when i present my music.  jazz these days (especially the creative/ improvised music scene i know and love in nyc) is dominated by straight white men.  and in this culture, white men have the privilege of being neutral.  and so, for better or worse, they often only concern themselves with their sounds and leave their selves out of the ways they think through performance.  i cannot, will not do this.

i am sick of many things.  i am sick of spaces where taking in music is a silent, sit-down endeavor of musicians and college-educated folks who judge based on asthetics, references other music "we" have as common experience, and skillful manipulation of learned structures and theories.  

i am also excited about many things.  i am excited about music that creates diverse and accessible community of participants who are whole people (and not just extensions of their instruments,) who have things to say, see technical skill primarily as a vehicle for self expression, and honor a vast history of musical ancestors.  

i cannot leave myself, my story, my body, identity out of my music.  sometimes this feels like a curse.  sometimes this is why i can't bring myself to practice or compose.  i can't be with my instrument and i can't be with myself.  but sometimes this is what pushes me.  this is the place where ideas come from, where melodies and concepts and projects begin.  

my first ever blog post was a rambling manifesto about my frustrations, hopes and experiences as a female musician.  i think, in a way, this is the echo, almost 2 years later, of that first post.  i am having lots of fantasies these days.  what if i took a page (so to speak) from the DIY culture and made a zine about some of these thoughts to sell at shows?  what if there was a jazz camp for girls?  or a retreat for female jazz musicians?  what if i wear something outrageous to my next big show?  what if i wrote a series of compositions devoted to different body parts?  if you are reading, maybe you have your own ideas or want to help with any of these.  maybe some of these things already exist and i just don't know about them.  if so, please tell me!  even if no one's reading, it feels like a huge first step just to put my scheming out there, new and undeveloped.  

i leave you with this: a humble solo performance by me.  a tiny rock star moment?  this particular video is appropriate for this post because it's my take on the tracy bonham song "the real" (from that first cd i bought way back in my short-lived rock stage in the late '90s!)  my recent explorations of solo performance feel like just the kind of self-indulgence that i need to nurture in myself to truly be a rock star!  

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

in the third generation the daughters are free

i have a cd out.  since March in fact, and i'm not sure why i haven't posted about it until now.  maybe a strange desire to still separate out parts of my life- which is this anti-thesis of this blog, right?  so here are the facts:

you can buy my cd, in the third generation the daughters are free on itunes.

the album is, essentially, about family history.  and you can read my published artist statement in the literary magazine Shaking Like a Mountain.

there is a press release/ review on all about jazz's website.

there is a lovely review in chronogram magazine.

and below is a video of part of the cd release concert- the whole thing, in fact, is on youtube.

this is what has happened.  now- how to keep moving?

prompt: masturbation

there is a game

i play with myself

look with eyes not implanted in this body

darkened window, mirror, lid of the piano-

any reflective surface. then move away

strap in and sit in 

the cold with no covers

i am hot in the core, just taken

from the boiling pot

summon the image- not a rippling

view from above the neck, but straight ahead-

just as before.  then unbuckle, inspect

i do not know for how long

get-give no relief, shifting my weight

adjusting my very atoms

imagine the little old lady 

sleeping beside the kitchen wall

i would carry on that way but for her

she must be a light sleeper

tossing, out of time with Sidney Bechet

who's strangely, fittingly begun to play 

muskrat blues.  please, don't pull out, keep me

tangled in elastic netting, fingers dangling

limp in the gaps of flexible cloth-

almost a holding on.  in the last moments

there was no old lady, no 1930s

you were a thermal wave in the sky

a firm gelatinous tendril curled in on itself

she came in and out of being, but

i was always there.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

in the presence of Adrienne Rich

i heard Adrienne Rich read tonight at the Grand Army Plaza Brooklyn Public Library.  she was frail, fierce, and fiery (ha!  taught my 2nd graders about alliteration today, guess it wore off on me.)  i was tired but i dragged myself out because how could i turn down the opportunity to be in the presence of such a powerful woman?  and let me say, she was not perfect.  it may be sacrilege, but i did not love the new work she read.  the new poems were less urgent, less sensual than her older work that i am familiar with.  but in a way, it does not matter.  it's hard to see that heroines are not infallible super-heroines.  but it's also incredibly relieving.  and i was in no way disappointed-- her presence, her history was huge and tangible.  wow.

i bought a new book of her's to read, but in the meantime, below are two classic and favorite Adrienne Rich poems.  the first one, i have read many times and yet reading it just now i feel an ache in my core, my eyes get watery.  lines from this poem echo in my head and resurface at times.  and the second one, well you can hear the author read part of here.

The Burning of Paper Instead of Children

by Adrienne Rich

I was in danger of verbalizing my moral impulses out of existence. --Daniel Berrigan, on trial in Baltimore

1. My neighbor, a scientist and art-collector, telephones me in a state of violent emotion. He tells me that my son and his, aged eleven and twelve, have on the last day of school burned a mathematics textbook in the backyard. He has forbidden my son to come to his house for a week, and has forbidden his own son to leave the house during that time. "The burning of a book," he says, "arouses terrible sensations in me, memories of Hitler; there are few things that upset me so much as the idea of burning a book."

Back there: the library, walled
with green Britannicas
Looking again
in Durer's Complete Works
for MELANCOLIA, the baffled woman

the crocodiles in Herodotus
the Book of the Dead
the Trial of Jeanne d'Arc, so blue
I think, It is her color

and they take the book away
because I dream of her too often
love and fear in a house
knowledge of the oppressor
I know it hurts to burn

2. To imagine a time of silence
or few words
a time of chemistry and music

the hollows above your buttocks
traced by my hand
or, hair is like flesh, you said

an age of long silence


from this tongue this slab of limestone
or reinforced concrete
fanatics and traders
dumped on this coast wildgreen clayred
that breathed once
in signals of smoke
sweep of the wind

knowledge of the oppressor
this is the oppressor's language

yet I need it to talk to you

3. People suffer highly in poverty and it takes dignity and intelligence to overcome this suffering. Some of the suffering are: a child did not had dinner last night: a child steal because he did not have money to buy it: to hear a mother say she do not have money to buy food for her children and to see a child without cloth it will make tears in your eyes.

(the fracture of order
the repair of speech
to overcome this suffering)

4. We lie under the sheet
after making love, speaking
of loneliness
relieved in a book
relived in a book
so on that page
the clot and fissure
of it appears
words of a man
in pain
a naked word
entering the clot
a hand grasping
through bars:


What happens between us
has happened for centuries
we know it from literature

still it happens

sexual jealousy
outflung hand
beating bed

dryness of mouth
after panting

there are books that describe all this
and they are useless

You walk into the woods behind a house
there in that country
you find a temple
built eighteen hundred years ago
you enter without knowing
what it is you enter

so it is with us

no one knows what may happen
though the books tell everything

burn the texts said Artaud

5. I am composing on the typewriter late at night, thinking of today. How well we all spoke. A language is a map of our failures. Frederick Douglass wrote an English purer than Milton's. People suffer highly in poverty. There are methods but we do not use them. Joan, who could not read, spoke some peasant form of French. Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor's language.

21 Love Poems                     by Adrienne Rich


The Dream of A Common Language


Whenever in this city, screens flicker

with pornography, with science-fiction vampires,

victimized hirelings bending to the lash,

we also have to walk...if simply as we walk

through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties

of our own neighborhoods.

We need to grasp our lives inseparable

from those rancid dreams, that blurt of metal, those disgraces,

and the red begonia perilously flashing

from a tenement still six stories high,

or the long-legged young girls playing ball

in the junior highschool playground.

No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,

sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,

dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,

our animal passion rooted in the city.  




I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.

Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,

You've been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:

our friend the poet comes into my room

where I've been writing for days,

drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,

and I want to show her one poem

which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,

and wake. You've kissed my hair

to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,

I say, a poem I wanted to show someone...

and I laugh and fall dreaming again

of the desire to show you to everyone I love,

to move openly together

in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,

which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.