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Packing & Woodshedding

Only a few days left before the shipping company comes for us to sort through belongings–27 years in this house–and decide what goes with us to Germany. Musical instruments and equipment will fill a good percentage of the shipping container. I need two sets of almost everything if I continue playing in the U.S. in the summers, so I made a nightmare trip to Guitar Center, unfortunately the only place within reach that had the keyboard I needed (Korg SV-1, pictured above) in stock. I will leave my accordion here–can't I get a good accordion cheap in Germany? Maybe, but word is you can't get good hot sauce or Mexican food, so gotta throw in some sauce. And as a New Englander I am always shocked at the price of maple syrup elsewhere, so a couple of quarts o' that...

I should be packing or practicing right now. Yes, practicing, like never before. I have been putting several hours a day into both piano and voice. I am headed into the studio with my trio in a few days to record an album of original material, and I am determined to be as prepared as I can be.

Donna Jewell

After a hiatus of many years, I have been studying voice again now for several months with Donna Jewell, my mentor from when we both lived in New York. Born and raised near Lexington, Kentucky, Donna gives much credit to her first voice teacher, Vernon Ishmael at Shackleton’s music store in Lexington. She also played violin in the youth orchestra. Then, in an era when few women even attended the school, she received the Downbeat scholarship to Berklee in 1961, and she left Kentucky for good.

She later lived in the Washington, DC area, where her performing career took off. One Step Down, Anna Marie’s, Eden Roc, Bohemian Caverns, and the Cellar Door are just a few places she played. It was around this time that she became close to Jimmy Garrison and met, heard, and spent time with John Coltrane, which changed her musical direction permanently. Though she continued to sing jazz, New Music became her focus. If it weren’t for her spiritual master, Kirpal Singh, she says John Coltrane would have been her guru.

Donna eventually moved to the East Village, where she stayed until moving here in New Hampshire in 2006. She has played at the Village Gate, Knitting Factory, PS 122, 7A, Storyville, and the Alchemical Space (where I once sat in with her!) and many others. She also had an avant-garde theater company at one point. Voice students from her Village years included Paige Hamilton of Helmet and Angela Gallambardo of Raw Youth and others that she won't divulge.

Donna has never craved name and fame, and after a childhood that experienced severe trauma, she is prone to deep and sometimes long-lasting periods of depression that would make it hard for anyone to work predictably, and Donna is, I think I can fairly say, a true Bohemian to begin with. But such a disciplined, fantastic teacher. I want to shout from the New Hampshire rooftops what a national treasure we have hidden in plain sight!

All right, back to the piano. Oh, the piano... My Steinway is very hard to leave behind. I waited so long for a good piano... all the more reason to play it now.

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