I am getting excited about a performance this week, and it has brought about a flood of memories and thoughts, causing me to take a moment and reflect on where/who I am today.
On Sunday 4/28/13 I will be performing with the Samantha Boshnack Quintet at the inaugural Seattle Women in Jazz Festival. The show takes place at an incredible all ages venue in town - the Vera Project. I’m greatly looking forward to celebrating women in music in performance with one of my very best friends – a woman who inspires me daily to step up to my fullest potential as a human, musician and composer. At the same time, one of my other best friends – the inimitable artist Paris Hurley - is headed out on her 10th European tour with Balkan metal legends, Kultur Shock, comprised of some of my favorite, and most influential people including long-time inspiration Amy Denio.
In April 2009 I got a call from Paris saying that Kultur Shock was headed on tour to Russia in June and that Amy couldn’t make the first handful of dates – the band needed a sub on reeds and voice. First off, there is no substitute for Denio – she’s one of the most original sounds/individuals I’ve ever laid ears on, but having been in love with KS for years, I was eager to step up to the challenge and bring my own shoes to fill the gap. At first it was going to be an audition to see if I was up to the challenge, then I got a call from lead singer Gino Jevdjevic saying in his beautifully thick Serbian accent, “we don’t have time for you to suck, send us your passport.” ……and then it began….I had 5 weeks to learn 20 songs singing and playing clarinet on the hardest, most furious music I’d ever been a part of. I’ve never practiced so hard in my life. At first I wasn’t physically capable of what the work demanded – I didn’t have the core support to alternate playing/singing continuously through a 60min punk/metal set, and so along with learning the music, I had to also get into shape physically. I trained daily and trusted that when the time came, the music would carry me.
We left in June for our first show in Slovenia and in front of 6000 people (the biggest show I had ever played at that point) I stepped into my new role, holding down Gino’s stage left. We continued to our second show – the Creation of Peace Festival in Kazan, Russia – to perform for 200,000 people. For that “hit ‘em fast and hard” set, the band pulled in a song that featured a huge improvised vocal solo in the middle, and I started the mental preparation of how to be present and receive that many people while simultaneously generating sound. (a HUGE special thanks to my friend Trey Gunn who had given me advice about that particular festival – which he had also played – telling me how to get the right monitor mix in the first 30 seconds of the 35 minute set). When the time came to move to center stage and take the mic from Gino, a warmth I’d never felt on stage came over my entire body – I felt like a kid crawling up into my mom’s lap – and in that moment “Crystal Beth” was born. I played the hardest I’d ever delivered, throwing out the biggest energy net I could cast to surround the audience (which I actually couldn’t see the end of), and as soon as we finished I left the stage and puked for 13 hours. We continued the tour and headed into Siberia for what would be my final performance before handing the baton back to Denio.
We were at the festival a day early, and Paris and I started to notice some interesting things about gender dynamics. First, most of the kids we saw were little girls. And we observed that most of the women were taking on one of two roles – subservient to their male partners, or all “sexy character-ed out” throwing themselves at the musicians and other men. When it came time to close the festival with our show, we realized we were the only female instrumentalists featured. Together, we decided that we were internally dedicating this show to the ladies – to the little girls – to the women of the world….to put something on the other side of the scale. For my final KS show – for 40,000 people – I played, I cried, I sang, I danced. When the set finished, Paris and I had a big embrace and headed to the merch tent for photos & autographs….but what we were met with, could have never been anticipated. Instead of the usual “teething wolves” – my term for the men who come drool on you after they’ve seen you on stage, treating you like some meat in existence for their pleasure, something to be consumed – there were hoards of young girls and their moms, lines of women waiting to be photographed with us. They had never seen women playing instruments (clarinet & violin) in a rock band and each one of the girls had identified with one of us, and were lined up to thank us.
One little girl in particular pointed to my pigtails, and then pointed to hers and smiled. She then bent down and took off her shoe – handing me her black skull converse to be autographed. Looking in her eyes, I saw the light of possibility. I saw what it means to have an example, to know that there are others like you, and to see the importance of being open and owning who you are completely. We shared that space together, and it made us giggle with delight.
I came home from Russia, quit one of my huge administrative jobs (handling publicity & advertising for Cornish College) and started a new life – with music in the front seat instead of business. I had been living in a state where I thought my greatest contribution to the world was to help brilliant artists get their word out – but I realized my greatest contribution was to BE MYSELF….was to hurl all 130lbs of vibration I have to offer, with every fiber of my being, every opportunity possible. I got a tattoo of a eagle feather on my left forearm – the feminine, receiving side – a mark to symbolize that I could no longer hide away from others or myself…a mark that it is imperative that we honor EACH BEING’S RIGHT TO BE WHO THEY ARE FULLY.
The only thing that matters in music, is music. It doesn’t matter how many people are listening, what you look like, what you know/don’t know, or where you came from. It’s just music – sound – that powerful powerful force that can change the state of anything. But when you see me on stage, I want you to know I am a woman, because that is who I am truly – I want you to know that this is one way a woman can sound, can look, can be. There is no better than, there is only existence….and existence is made up of a lot of different kinds of people….that’s where the beauty resides: in the combination, the harmony, of all things. The more we honor each other’s right to be who they are, the more we can alleviate great suffering and find solutions for the next generation.
Art is medicine – and it can heal the world.
Sometimes I just have to sit and cry - I can hardly believe how incredible my life is. I get to perform roughly 140 shows a year, plus recordings and rehearsals, making all kinds of music with all kinds of people, from all over the world. And as director of the Frank Agency, I get to support countless other artists doing the exact same thing: manifesting their voice & vision. When I came to Seattle 15 years ago, having never improvised a note, but desperately wanting to play jazz and other types of music, I never imagined how spectacular it would all become.
It is from this place that I am so very honored and excited to perform with the Sam Boshnack Quintet at the Seattle Women in Jazz Festival – I am a woman, this is how I roar.