If I had needed a GPS to find Joe’s Pub this week, I could easily have received directions from the very woman I was going to see. Karen Jacobsen was launching her seventh CD at the Pub on Tuesday night, and while fans would know of her music, most people would recognise her voice as the ‘Australian’ option on digital devices. She answers your questions on iPhone’s SIRI and tells you where to go via GPS with an accent born out of Mackay in Queensland. Karen jokes this was the tropical paradise she traded in for NYC. Nine out of ten of the most poisonous snakes in the world were in Mackay, but New York offered a perfect score!
Karen’s performance was a collection of songs entitled ‘Take a Little Drive’, inspired by the tragic events of Sandy Hook in Connecticut last year. She talked a lot about how she, and many of us, need to ‘recalculate route’, a GPS term that also serves life when unexpected things happen. So there were some tears and some tales, accompanied by the grand piano and cellist Stephanie Winters.
Joe’s Pub is not really a pub at all. It is an extension of the Public Theatre and with that comes the status of the man who established the venue along with the free ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ program in Central Park. Joseph Papp was a theatrical producer who believed in the accessibility of entertainment, and his ‘pub’ – more like a nightclub, hosts about 800 international artists a year performing across genres, from cabaret to jazz.
Karen has a powerful singing voice which serves her just as well in a football stadium as it did on stage. She has sung the Star Spangled Banner for the Boston Red Sox and for the New York Jets, and she has sung Advance Australia Fair for the ANZAC ceremony atop the Rockefeller Center. But when Karen asked everyone to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of her show, I was caught out by my own patriotism. I have never been in a situation where I found myself standing for the (American) National Anthem and the lack of hands on hearts in the audience showed there were other Australians in similar stance. It makes me wonder if I will ever be able to take the route calculated by Rupert Murdock for duel citizenship. That’s global positioning with a whole new tone…
Only an Australian could bring Stonehenge to the Rockefeller Plaza. Nicholas Baume, the chief curator from the Public Art Fund who brought us the aerial living room around the statue of Christopher Columbus last year, now brings us the contemplative standing stones of Ugo Rondinone in one of the busiest crossroads of the city. You can’t help but be astonished at the size and magnetism of these colossal structures and the strange otherworldly sensation of seeing them standing tall in front of NBC studios. It’s as though they have been beamed in from another time, and in some ways, they have. The family of the artist once lived in ancient rock-cut dwellings called Sassi di Matera in the south of Italy. Now a tourist attraction and a World Heritage Site, the Sassi caves have existed for centuries. Ugo does not just work in stone, he is a multi media artist who has been exhibited all over the world – including the Art Gallery of NSW. But he does wear a stone around his neck which has been passed through his family from father to son. It may just be a romantic notion to connect this with Ugo’s forbears and a culture past. But having stood with thousands of other people at Rockefeller Plaza on that amazing night when Obama first won the presidency, this is a space where standing stones belong. There’s nothing like a reminder that magic can happen, especially when we want it to…
For mothers and daughters and sisters and maternal ones, this is your day. No matter where you are, celebrate, you are much loved….
B.B.King is a classic name in blues music, both for the man himself ( he still performs at 87) and for his namesake on 42nd street. His club is home to the Harlem Gospel Choir on Sundays as well as a constant line up of Soul, R&B, and Groove. Manhattan Transfer, David Cassidy and The Animals headline in tandem with Buckwheat Zydeco and Swing Out Sister. The performance we scored tickets for this week was not quite so iconic, although Coco Montoya used to play with John Mayall and had a real following in the crowd. The blues guitarist opened with a slow ballad that worked as a distraction to the flickering of torchlight as waiters checked for empty glasses, but then he hit his stride with a blues number that had the crowd moving. Unfortunately the mood didn’t last so Sean and I headed out into the energy of a perfect Spring night.
One of the great joys of living in this city is the unexpected things that happen. You’re never quite sure what you’ll find and often the best moments are those you stumble upon. On that night we wound through the tourists spilling out from Times Square, the street artists creating art with spray paint and chisels, police loitering on horseback and vendors roasting nuts – with other nuts doing their New York thing. We stopped to take a photo of an installation that particularly appealed to me of heart shaped planes that ‘reference the love found in contemporary relationships that often requires people to be separated from their families or loved ones’. At that same moment Cuba Gooding Jr suddenly appeared behind us - he had just emerged from his performance in ‘A Trip to Beautiful’ and there we were at the stage door of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. He signed some autographs, pulled up his hoodie, and in the company of a minder, melted into the crowd. There was no time to cry out ‘show me the money’ so we carried on past the ping pong players in Bryant Park to home.
Music on the street can be as extraordinary as any you will find in a concert hall. With so many talented artists in NYC looking for a break or just wanting an audience, the performances you find in transit will stop you in your tracks. I saw this happen with an opera singer in the subway under Grand Central Station last week – one young woman turned the madness of peak hour into a transfixing emotional moment. Similarly yesterday I encountered the Ebony Hillbillies bringing southern magic to the subway. That’s the second time I’ve seen them – it must be a regular Wednesday gig – and the second time I’ve been late this past week. Music under New York is in many ways as amazing as concerts in Carnegie Hall or the lincoln Center. You probably won’t see B.B.King there now, but you may have once…
It was a day of superlatives in Central park. Spectacular weather, glorious sunshine and joyous smiles on happy faces. After wonky Spring weather started, stopped and waylaid the blooming schedule of thousands of plants around the city, it was pure luck that everything came together yesterday for that one perfect day before delicate rainbow colours give way to lush summer greens.
Everyone talks on a day like this, even the horses had something to say when we rode in. The Park Rangers were plodding along on what looked like Clydesdales, but in fact they were Percherons, an old European breed known for their gentleness and strength. Hundreds of years ago they were the preferred horse of Knights, the idea of which, added to the magic of Bach lilting through the air, created romantic visions of Richard Gere and Sean Connery sallying forth to save the day. Gwendolin was nowhere in sight, but the inspiration was flowing and (under my bicycle helmet) I could feel the wind billowing in my hair as we cruised up the newly planted rhododendron drive to the Conservatory Gardens.
The gardens are on the upper east side of the park and showcase thousands and thousands of tulips and daffodils in the midst of cherry blossoms, lilacs and a magnificent towering wisteria sculpture. People wander in amazement, taking photographs where their eye can’t believe a deep red and white tulip with a blue and yellow core. Or the smell of those lilacs, or the pink blossoms falling like confetti with a passing breeze, or the colour of the petals as the sun rolls around and lights them up. It is all you can do to be there and infuse the beauty. For Nothing is as beautiful as Spring…. a strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning, in Eden garden…..
There has been a lot of ( official ) screaming around NYC in the past few months. The inspiration may have come from the sale at Sotheby’s last year of Edvard Munch’s The Scream for $120M, which made it the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction. This version of the iconic piece has been on view at the MOMA over the winter, but if you missed it, there is another interesting exhibition at Scandinavia House on Park Avenue. Munch and Warhol are sharing the limelight in The Multiple Image, where you can see four pieces of Munch’s work ( The Scream, Madonna, The Brooch. Eva Mudocci, Self Portrait ) and Warhol’s interpretation of it. Both men were printmakers and both were self promoting – gaining more than just 15 minutes of fame. But presenting them together in a conversation about ‘art’ perhaps needs another Norwegian voice to balance the picture. Arvid Andreassen has created a collection of parodies of Munch’s Scream as a very entertaining tribute to the original artist on his 150th birthday. I’m not sure what Munch would think, but I am sure he will get the last laugh…
The Pierre Hotel was an appropriately grand venue for the American Scandinavian Foundation Spring Ball on Friday night. The hotel was once home to Elizabeth Taylor, Al Pacino danced the tango in the Cotillion Room during filming of ’The Scent of a Woman’, and the largest, most successful hotel robbery in history happened at the Pierre in 1972 (apparently the robbers tipped the hotel staff before they departed, clearly not wanting to break all the rules…). So when I was invited by the Foundation to be part of the PR team for the Ball, it was with great anticipation of just who might walk through the door.
My initial post was on the 5th Avenue entrance where the unmistakable parade of gala goers could ascend to the party either with high heeled relief in the elevator, or through the magnificent painted environs of the stairwell. Glasses of bubbles anticipated the arrival of the Queen of Norway, as did the protocol approved photographers. My iphone was not on the list, but I did capture a quick word with Bill Cunningham, who was being enthusiastically welcomed by reporters when I suggested to him that he might upstage the Queen. At 84 and forever on the move from one fabulous social event to the next, he retorted ‘Never let anyone make a film about you! It becomes impossible to work! ‘. Clearly a photograph with him was out of the question, especially as Queen Sonya, resplendent in red, was making her entrance. It was time for dinner.
Scandinavian hospitality overflowed from the ballroom to the bar where a space was quickly set up for we unofficial diners. Without the distraction of speeches and song, reporters, musicians and the team that made it all happen were able to celebrate. I shared stories with two Danish reporters visiting NYC with our Mary and Crown Prince Frederik. We talked about the royal regard for Green Roofs, and the famous Noma restaurant in Copenhagen ( make your reservation before you book your flights… ) We talked about the windswept beaches of western Denmark and kangaroos on the lawns of The Lodge. And we talked about the prospect of dual Danish/Australian citizenship. Go Mary!
The whole evening was a huge success, epitomized for me by the artful relaxation of a special guest while he sat out a Norske number – perhaps he was remembering an evening with Liz…