Renée Yoxon

Looking Back on Brooklyn

by Renée

Well folks, I’m not even sure where to begin telling you about the last two months of my life. It’s all kind of a blur now. Looking back and making a list of all the things I did, people I saw, and places I went to, I realize now that I actually packed in way more things than I thought I did. While the bulk of my time in Brooklyn was spent alone, practicing in my room, I still went out at least every other night and made tons of new friends. But let’s start at the beginning shall we?

On June 27 I moved into a medium-sized, three-bedroom apartment on Coney Island Avenue, in a neighbourhood called Ditmas Park. It’s a pretty nice place with great coffee, food co-ops, trendy bars, and a train station right nearby. I lived with an actress, a filmmaker, and an incredibly talented German photographer named Maximilian Motel. The space was small for four people but we all got along like a house on fire so it didn’t feel small at all.

One of the first people I met in New York was jazz podcaster, Jason Crane of The Jazz Session (who, subsequently, interviewed me for his show). We met at a lovely vegan restaurant the name of which totally escapes me now (I know, great story, right?) and then we went to see Helen Sung and friends at 55 Bar. The shows I saw in New York varied from the super famous jazzers like Fred Hersch trio and Paul Motion Septet at the Vanguard, and Mark Murphy at Birdland, to pleasant surprises from groups and people I’d never heard of before coming to Brooklyn like Matuto at Sycamore, Fay Victor at 55 Bar, Kate Richards & Ethan Mann at Café Mae Mae, and Freddie Redd at Fat Cat. In between I saw shows featuring friends and friends of friends like Amy Cervini & Jazz Country at 55 Bar, Nicky Shrire at Caffe Vivaldi, and Lonesome Quartet (Petr Cancura’s project) at Cornelia Street Café.

Although I had known Jason Crane on twitter and facebook before we met in person, most of the New Yorkers I became friends with I encountered in the unlikeliest of ways. I met flutist Dominique Gagné while shopping for groceries at the Flatbush Food Co-op. She invited me on a picnic in Central Park where she introduced me to pianist Deanna Witkowski (one day before Deanna headed off on a six-week Japanese ship gig). I met Todd Caldwell, an organ player who tours extensively with Crosby, Stills & Nash, through the person I bought my coffee from every day at Qathra, a coffee spot around the corner from my house. I met pianist William Tatge over drinks at Sycamore at 1:30am. I met guitarist, Matt Davis after he saw me perform at the NAC’s Manhattan on the Rideau masterclass with Peter Eldridge via live satellite link-up. I also got the chance to hook up with some old friends, Donny McAslin and Bria Skonberg. It was such a treat to talk and hang and play with these people. It felt like I had known them all much longer.

I also spent some time getting to know new teachers. When I first arrived, I a took a couple lessons with an incredibly bright and supportive vocalist, Janet Lawson. We worked on improvisation and learning to sing changes. She taught me about “musical lasagne” which is something I explain in the interview with Jason Crane. I also studied with Karen Nimereala, a classical soprano who teaches out of her (gorgeous) 27th story apartment on Central Park Avenue South and at a school in Paris. It was really interesting working with Karen because she pushed me and instructed me to do things with my instrument that I had never considered before. With her I made sounds that were higher and more supported than I had ever heard myself make. Going forward from her lesson I have really dug into her voice exercises and the changes have been remarkable. The last singer I studied with was Peter Eldridge, whom I had studied with briefly at the NAC masterclass I mentioned earlier. We worked a lot on my speaking voice and working on exercises to help me produce the safest speaking tone possible, as well some other helpful hints. He was so fun and nice to hang out with too. I highly recommend all of these voice teachers.

The one teacher I studied with who wasn’t a voice teacher was trumpet player John McNeil. With him I studied key elements of improvisation including vocabulary and voice leading. I met him at his weekly Brooklyn jam session that he cohosts with Mike Fahie (from Ottawa!) at the Tea Lounge in Park Slope, called Tea + Jam. I went to Tea + Jam almost every week I was in town. It was one of three jam sessions I attended.

Of course, there are many, MANY options when it comes to jams in New York. Along with Tea + Jam, I checked out a singer jam at Cleopatra’s Needle and another singer jam at the Metropolitan Room called Metrojam hosted by Jenna Esposito. I went to Metrojam almost every Friday and became good friends with Jenna, her band, and the jammers who participated. Here’s a video of me performing Bye Bye Blackbird at Metrojam on my last Friday night in town.

Another serendipitous thing that happened: The pianist at Metrojam, John DiPinto, invited me to a CircleSing at Kate Richard’s (mind-blowingly awesome) loft apartment in Soho. I had such a wonderful time singing freely with other singers. It was something I had never experienced before and I hope to experience much more of in the future.

Maybe there’s a CircleSing in Ottawa’s future? Something tells me there will be!

If you have any questions about my time spent in Brooklyn or want further explanation about anything, please leave me a comment below.

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