Back in New York

Rising at 2:30am is something no one likes to do, especially when they lack sleep on any given day. But yesterday, I was excited to do just that. I was going to travel from my home in Maryland, along the Northeast Corridor, to the northern suburbs of New York City. Awaiting me was the opportunity to play with some wonderful colleagues from the life I led before signing on Uncle Sam’s dotted line, nearly 13 years ago. I rose, assembled a pan of lasagna for a good NYC friend as promised, then hopped in the shower while it baked. After taking the dog out in the dark, unseasonably warm and gusty final January morning, I gathered my belongings (including the lasagna), and loaded up the vehicle. At 4:10am, I woke my son to remind him to leap out of bed when his school alarm went off in two short hours, hugged and kissed him goodbye, then set off into the darkness.

All was going well as I braved the lonely roads at this God-awful hour. Every once in a while, the vehicle lurched left or right as the wind tossed it playfully, showing that it is still powerful, but not strong enough to stop my propulsion. One exit after another began in my windshield and ended in my rear-view mirror. Then I hit the Delaware state line, and could not keep my eyes open. Wisely, I pulled over at the rest area, set a “just in case” alarm on my phone, then allowed myself to doze off, the invisible sleepiness leaving my body like a spirit rising up from the dead. I woke to my alarm, recharged and ready to continue on my journey. After running inside for coffee and gassing up, I was back heading north, the sun just beginning to chase the darkness back under its daytime rock.

A little more than two hours later, I was stopped just two miles west of the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey and north of the city. Here, I sat…and sat…and sat, along with thousands of others who were not going to my rehearsal, but were indeed trying to get to their respective destinations, loved ones or paychecks. It took more than an hour to travel the two miles to the toll booth that signaled the entrance to the river gateway of the Bronx. Unfortunately, rehearsal was starting at that exact moment. I was going to be late, and considerably so, given the distance I still had yet to travel. My pet peave: tardiness! I absolutely hate it! But it was out of my hands. I could not control this traffic. So I sat back, drove, and concentrated on arriving safely and in one piece.

Arriving at the Town Hall Theater in Irvington, NY at 10:30am, I quickly took my seat in the Westchester Jazz Orchestra. I pulled the metal from the case I was dragging behind me, and jumped right into the rehearsal with no warm up, or the bathroom break I greatly needed after my coffee stop! I shook off the musical and mental cobwebs as I tried very hard just to focus on the unfamiliar music in front of me. “Just one note at a time, Liesl”, I told myself as I slowly came to my musical senses, blood flowing now into the face.

I looked around at the folks with whom I was sharing the stage. Most were friends from before I left the city, the same incredible players, just a little grayer, perhaps heavier even, now, and all sporting the reading glasses that were not even on their radars when I knew them in that previous lifetime. We’re all getting older! A few were new folks to me, and on the break, I shook hands and introduced myself to them. Wonderful camaraderie, all in the name of beautiful art! I sat between Scott Wendholdt and Craig Johnson, and Dave Smith was filling in for Tim Hagans, who was grounded after waking to a nasty bug. An old comfort level came across me at once as I remembered how easy it is to play with New York’s finest. Pitch was not even an issue – how incredibly wonderful?! When the level of pre-existing talent removes so many of the things that could possibly go wrong (i.e., problems involving intonation, time, multimeters, etc.), the concentration is focused on just reading, then making wonderful music together. True musical personalities creating a collective wall of sound.

After rehearsal, I traveled south and into the city to deliver the lasagna and a few other treats to my buddy. I then parked my vehicle, and wandered around, ducking into a shop here and there, sipping coffee, listening to music as I went, and eventually popping into a local establishment for something to eat. I was exhausted, but I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit with my friend who would soon be returning to his apartment after finishing up his day’s activities. He retrieved me from my roost in the local grill, and we went back to his place to chit chat and visit. Although I was yawning, I wanted to hang – It’s not every day I get up to the city, after all. We talked, laughed, nibbled some cheese and sipped a bit of red wine, all while listening and enjoying music together. Such a wonderful treat, to be able to listen to music constructively with a friend. At 10:30pm, I finally rose and got ready to face the cold and the drive back to the place where I would sleep this weekend. After a warm embrace, we said goodnight, and I headed out into the blustery evening, up the Henry Hudson Parkway to Ossining, NY, the home of my dear friend and adopted sister, Ingrid Jensen, and her husband, Jon Wikan.

I arrived absolutely exhausted, but couldn’t go to sleep yet. Ingrid is in Calgary gigging this weekend. But Jon was awake, so we sat and chatted for over an hour. Ingrid did eventually call on FaceTime/Skype, whichever. I talked to her for a very brief moment, then headed up to bed, falling asleep immediately.

This morning, I woke refreshed. I showered and headed out the door for another rehearsal with the Westchester Jazz Orchestra. Arriving an hour early (couldn’t be late two days in a row), I walked across the street to the deli and got a NY bagel with a “schmear”, and the largest coffee the tough guy would serve me from the other side of the counter. Now, I was ready for the day!

Rehearsal was interesting. The fire alarm kept engaging, and we were evacuated not once, but twice, kicked out into the windy 30 degrees day, into the town that sits right on the edge of the Hudson River. The white caps that traveled the water’s surface were a bit angry, but not as irritated as yesterday, when the winds gusted brutally all day and night. We managed to get done what we needed to get done, despite the frequent interruptions. I packed up my gear, loaded the vehicle, and traveled to the west and Middletown, NY. It is there where I sit and type as I await a soundcheck with another dear set of friends, the members of the Diva Jazz Orchestra. We will perform here this evening at SUNY-Orange. It will be a different group of musicians, all women, and completely different music. I love the fact that in merely 24 hours, my world will include so many terrific friends and artists, and that they invited me to share in their music and lives. I will write more as I have more to write. But for now, I will pay for my lunch, pack up the computer, and head out for the next stop of my musical journey this weekend. I am so fortunate in this crazy life I lead!

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