August is here and the sweet torpor of summertime has taken hold: strolling through late afternoons (drippy ice cream cone in hand, natch) has supplanted the planes-trains-automobiles frenzy of July. The three Duchesses have a clear calendar until the fall, so we thought now would be the perfect time to catch you up on our European adventures last month. We hope you’re reading this in a sun-dappled park, nursing a cool drink, with no particular place to go until dinnertime.
First and foremost: the gigs! We kicked things off in Copenhagen on the Roots & Jazz stage at Balders Plads, a leafy square filled-to-overflowing with high spirited Danes. Joined by a couple of our New York stalwarts (Michael Cabe on piano and Ike Sturm on bass), as well as L.A.-based drummer Matt Witek, we sang a late-night set for a rowdy, big-hearted crowd. One highlight: Danish singer/songwriter/saxophonist Mads Mathias taking the stage for a guest turn on “Just a Gigolo” and “Hallelujah, I Love Him So.”
From Copenhagen, we flew to Edinburgh after an ABSURDLY LONG delay (NOT-SO-EASY-JET, amirite?), where we performed a set at the adorable Piccolo tent with a relentlessly swinging Scottish trio: Euan Stephenson (piano), Andrew Robb (bass), and Tom Gordon (drums). The next night, we put on our finest 1940s-inspired attire and took the stage at the majestic Assembly Hall with Dave Batchelor and the Scottish Swing Orchestra in a celebration of the great ladies of swing.
One 4:00am (!) lobby call and a quick flight later, we arrived in London, where we boarded a train to Eastleigh. After a disco nap and a sound check, we were back onstage, this time at the Concorde Club with the Pete Cater trio: Pete Cater (drums), Robin Aspland (piano), and Andrew Robb (bass). We were very touched and gratified by the warm reception we received from the audience there.
Our penultimate show of the tour was in Swansea, Wales, a seaside college town. After an impromptu guerrilla jazz performance at the adorable Mumbles Coffee (MELISSA’S IDEA, in case you were wondering), we performed our real show at the Taliesin concert hall, joined once again by Pete Cater and Andrew Robb, as well as Paul Sawtell on piano. Hilary MAY have dedicated a song to the New York Yankees onstage, and—huzzah!—there was a Welsh Yankees fan in the audience!
Our final show, at Toulouse Lautrec in London, was the perfect capper to our run of gigs: the place was filled with fans who had been following Duchess from afar (including our respective solo careers!), as well as friends from Brooklyn and even Italy.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois famously said, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” If memory serves, she wasn’t a touring jazz musician, but her statement sums up life on the road pretty well. The difference between a wonderful tour and a miserable tour depends greatly on the human beings involved. After all, travel delays and snafus are inevitable (STILL LOOKING AT YOU, EASY JET); tech riders may or may not be followed; audiences may be much larger and more raucous (or sparser and less enthusiastic) than imagined; but if the people onstage and behind the scenes are bringing good vibes, almost any situation becomes bearable—even fun.
We are always thankful for what we call the “jazz angels:” the folks who volunteer at jazz festivals, driving musicians hither and yon; the fans who show up even when the showtime is late or the weather is dreary; the bandmates who take the time to really shed the material; the sound engineers who don’t flinch when we tell them we’ve brought kazoos; and all the new friends we meet along the way.
In Copenhagen, we were thrilled to spend time with beloved musician friends from New York and to meet Matt and Mads. After our show, we were delighted to cross paths with musicians and fans we knew from social media, and our Airbnb host even attended our show (and gave us a late checkout time, for which we remain very thankful!). A special highlight came on our last day in Denmark, when Ike’s friends Per and Lu invited us to their gorgeous apartment for smørrebrød and akvavit before we headed to the airport. Their hospitality—and the home-cooked meal—provided the perfect coda to our sunny sojourn in Copenhagen.
In Edinburgh, Dave Batchelor and his crew of boisterous Scottish musicians had us in stitches from the start, and we loved meeting the charming Scottish-by-way-of-Greece vocalist Irini Arabatzi, who nailed Ella Fitzgerald’s “How High the Moon” at our Queens of Swing concert.
Eastleigh’s Concorde Club has presented countless legendary jazz artists over the course of the last four or five decades, and we greatly enjoyed meeting and spending time with the owner, Cole—and his adorable dog, Louis Armstrong. Hilary did a foreign exchange in Italy many (MANY) years ago, and her Italian host sister, who now lives in England, came to the Concorde for our show, which made for a wonderful reunion. And, last but not least in Eastleigh, a very special shoutout goes to Robert Masters, who booked much of our U.K. tour. He went out on a limb for Duchess, booking us sight unseen, and were thrilled to spend time with him after our show at the Concorde.
Another jazz angel greeted us in Swansea, Wales: David Griffiths, forever a Duchess HoneyBun. Back in February, David spied Hilary’s gig listing in the New Yorker, prompting him to peruse the web in search of her music. One thing led to another, and David sent an email suggesting that Duchess come to Wales to perform. He put us in touch with the aforementioned Robert Masters, and the rest is history! We were privileged to spend some great quality time with David, and he introduced us to a host of new Welsh friends, including Swansea-based singer Amy Sinha and fellow foodie Donna, who gifted us some homemade jams and honey.
London brought a number of happy meetings: another dear Italian friend of Hilary’s surprised her by showing up for our show, and a couple of NYC-based friends who happened to be in London stopped by, too, including vocalist Kelley Suttenfield.
The Sights! The Food!
It can be hard to eat well on the road; some days sustenance comes solely in the form of potato chips and chocolate. Duchess wasn’t immune to the perils of in-transit snacking, but, intrepid food lovers that we are, we also enjoyed some amazing sit-down meals. And we did a little bit of touristing, when our schedule (and energy levels) permitted—check out our food and sightseeing photos, below!
All in all, we had an amazing time on our first European tour and are already laying the groundwork for a return visit. Thank you for following along with our European adventures, and happy summer from Duchess!