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The JazzWest Blogs: Kim Nalley
About the Author

Named one of the "Ten Most Influential African Americans in the Bay Area," Kim Nalley is hailed as one of world's best jazz & blues singers. Visit Kim online at kimnalley.com.

Recent Posts

Posted on January 20, 2015:

In A Digital World, An Old-Fashioned Postcard Can Be A Joy!

Posted on January 12, 2015:

It's Who I Am, Not Just What I Do

Posted on December 25, 2014:

The Ghosts of Corporate Christmas Party Gigs Past

Posted on December 10, 2014:

Mariah & Me: The Art (and the Craft) of Singing Live

  Browse all posts...

Posted on September 2, 2013:

On Singers "Sitting In" and the Importance of Female Mentorship in Jazz

Posted on July 29, 2013:

Florida Goddam... Thoughts on Race, Music and Trayvon Martin

Posted on July 15, 2013:

The Secrets of a Successful Singer: The Art (and Craft) of 'Woodshedding'

Posted on July 1, 2013:

Raising Voices in Support of San Francisco City College

Posted on April 1, 2013:

Music To Birth Babies By... One Mom's List

Posted on February 1, 2013:

The Joys of Singing Gershwin

Posted on November 8, 2012:

Illegal, Immoral, Insensitive... or Just A Matter of Technology?

Posted on May 27, 2012:

"I Can't Get Started"... My Early Days as an Aspiring Singer

Posted on January 23, 2012:

True Confessions of a Pregnant Jazz Singer

Posted on January 3, 2012:

Need to Sharpen Your Vocal Skills? There's an App for That...

Posted on February 28, 2011:

My Last Gig with Jazz Legend Allen Smith

Posted on January 31, 2011:

An Old-Fashioned, Bona Fide Rent Party

Posted on November 1, 2010:

Life is Short and Difficult... Carpe Diem!

Posted on October 11, 2010:

Books, Best Friends, and an Impromptu Café Concert

Posted on August 16, 2010:

25 Things I Wish Somebody Told Me When I Was 18

Posted on July 28, 2010:

Packing 101: Tips from a Time-Tested Traveler

Posted on July 6, 2010:

33 Early Jazz Influences (because 25 is SO FaceBook)

Posted on March 23, 2010:

Music from the Streets

Posted on February 1, 2010:

Chick Webb: The Forgotten Little Giant

Posted on December 28, 2009:

A Christmas Quandary for the Bay Area Jazz Vocalist

Posted on December 4, 2009:

When Is a Friend Not Really a Friend?

Posted on November 6, 2009:

Q&A with Jazz Singer & Ex-Pat Daline Jones

Posted on September 8, 2009:

The Great American Music Hall Saga, Part II

Posted on August 27, 2009:

Tough Times for Jazz Festivals

Posted on August 19, 2009:

Blue Mondays

Posted on July 31, 2009:

Google Alerts, Birthday Wishes and a Few Pulled Strings

Posted on July 13, 2009:

Jazz That Makes You Wanna Get Up & Dance

Posted on July 1, 2009:

Gigantism in Jazz: Is Bigger Always Better?

Posted on June 25, 2009:

The Jazz Pantheon & the Cult of Celebrity

Posted on June 4, 2009:

Getting Recognized in Public: "You Look So Normal..."

Posted on May 27, 2009:

When is a Monitor NOT a Monitor?

Posted on May 14, 2009:

Bittersweet Memories of Mothers Day 2001

Posted on May 12, 2009:

When is a Jazz Singer NOT a Jazz Singer?

Posted on May 5, 2009:

A Mystery Resolved: Why Jazz Singers Do So Many Covers

Posted on April 29, 2009:

True Confessions of a Jazz Singer's Husband

Posted on April 29, 2009:

True Confessions of a Jazz Singer's Husband

Posted on April 10, 2009:

Denise Perrier's Fine Form the "Second Time Around"

Posted on March 23, 2009:

The Blessings of a Struggling Artist

Posted on March 10, 2009:

A Star Is Born, Part II: The Autograph Mafia

Posted on March 8, 2009:

A Star Is Born, Part I: Signing Autographs

Posted on March 2, 2009:

I'm Beginning to See the Light...

Posted on February 25, 2009:

BJ Papa & Friends in the Early 1980s

Posted on February 25, 2009:

BJ Papa (1936-2008): A Musician Remembered

Posted on February 23, 2009:

Valentine's Day for the Working Jazz Singer

Posted on February 16, 2009:

Memorial Services for Publicist Ave Montague

Posted on February 12, 2009:

New Vince Guaraldi Documentaries in the Works

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 1:10 pm

In A Digital World, An Old-Fashioned Postcard Can Be A Joy!

I am still mailing out holiday cards, and it is already past the middle of January! At least they are getting out.

This is the first year since my daughter was born that I have mailed holiday cards. I had photo cards made with the best of intentions but between the duties of being a new parent, at least a solid week's worth of shows between Christmas and New Year's Day plus a stack of finals to grade, my holiday cards — and my best intentions — fell to the wayside.

As I finally started addressing and stamping my holiday cards I suddenly had a flashback to when I did this every month for my mailing list. Back before the World Wide Web and before America Online discs cluttered mailboxes, I started my mailing list. During set breaks I would dutifully go around the crowd with a little book and ask people if they wanted to be on my mailing list. I would hand them book and they would write down their snail-mail address: sometimes illegibly, sometimes with rude sexual comments, sometimes with doodles, and sometimes with praise. I would then hand-transfer them to mailing labels, photocopy them, stick the labels on my postcards, stamp them, and then mail them out every month.

Every time the Feds raised the rate of stamps I had heart palpitations. Many of my gigs were in the $40-$75 range and the stamps alone cost $100 a month. In the early days of desktop publishing I could find someone to design them for $35, then I had to get a halftone of a photo which cost $25-$40 and then I would take the whole thing down to Kinko's to be copied and cut. Some people thought I was crazy spending so much money on "throw-aways," but in those days there was no other alternative for building a mailing list.

I would add the names to the mailing labels by hand in the order they were received, so I still remember the first people on my mailing list: Lynn Goodman and Jeff Hirano. They were regulars at the Club Deluxe in San Francisco's Haight district, and that was one of my first regular gigs. I played there every Friday night with guitarist Mimi Fox until the Rodney King riots caused the owner to cancel the music and darken the doors for a few days. My next serious gig was at the Café Du Nord on Market Street. The owner of the club, John Varnadoe, used to work at the Deluxe and I got my first taste of politics when I was not allowed to leave my flyers out because both clubs were advertised on them!

Early on, I made a bunch of silly greenhorn mistakes such as putting my phone number on my flyers. I got a bunch of sexually harassing phone calls and then had to change my phone number. I also became wary of handing out my business card for the same reason. I was just starting out so I didn't have a booking agent, and I can't say how many gigs I missed out on because people didn't have my phone number. That is just one of the many hidden costs of gender discrimination.

Gradually, email addresses started cropping up in my mailing list book and eventually, the price of sending postcards became so unwieldy that I switched to email only. Email was quick, easy and a lot less time-consuming. But eventually, as everything went digital, I discovered that people really wanted something tangible. There is nothing like a postcard to hand people when they want to know where you are playing. It is almost as if I am not a real singer unless I have a flyer or postcard with me to hand out any time I am in public.

I started offering postcards as a mailing-list option again and I must say it is wonderful. People's in-boxes are so cluttered with email these days that getting a simple printed postcard in the mail is a joy. They can give it to a friend. Or the compliment of all compliments: they put it on their refrigerator.

There is nothing on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram that compares. Some people tell me that they have flyers of me from wa-a-a-y back that are still on the refrigerator to this day. Sometimes my flyer is still on the fridge because it was particularly beautiful or sometimes because it was a great show or a show that ended up becoming an anniversary for somebody, somewhere (I have been told that a Kim Nalley concert is a great first date). In a digital world, an old-fashioned, snail-mailed postcard is worth 100 emailed newsletters. The people who opt for postcards are the people who come to my shows most often.

I no longer send the postcards by hand. Most of the time I end up physically touching the postcard for the first time at the same time as everyone else. So addressing and stamping a stack of cards really brings me back to the olden days when I first started my mailing list. It also reminded me that I used to be more grateful for my musical career.

I used to send Christmas cards to all the clubs that hired me. Of course I was not as busy back then and in general I had more space to reflect on the year and recall the faces and names of the people who helped me along the way that year. In many ways, for me, holiday cards have been more of a combined Thanksgiving card and a New Year's card than a Christmas card. I could send an electronic card — and I have in the past — but somehow it isn't the same. There is something about knowing someone's hand touched a piece of paper, wrote it, licked a stamp, carefully placed it on the back of the card and then ran it down to a mailbox.

I must make time to keep sending out cards. Maybe they wont get out till January (the typical slow period for musicians), but at least they will get there.

Monday, January 12, 2015 at 6:48 pm

It’s Who I Am, Not Just What I Do

"Music. It's who I am, not just what I do."

It is a funny saying but a lot of musicians feel this way. Especially if you are someone who plays music full-time and have never had another career, music seems inseparable from your identity.

When I was younger I described my off-stage life as simply a commercial in between the moments when I am singing and can finally live again. So losing my voice is not simply a medical illness like a cold or the flu; it is a serious identity crisis. One that causes me to ponder, "If I can't sing again, who am I?"

I was definitely not cool until I started singing professionally. Musical skill is a great substitution for social adroitness. I cannot image my life without being able to make music.

I have not lost my voice in a long time, but a few weeks before Christmas, my voice got hoarse and went completely out when I caught a bad chest cold. The loud hacking cough burnt both my speaking voice and singing voice to a crisp, but I didn't flip out. I had my PhD qualifying exams in a few weeks so I didn’t have a lot of gigs lined that I needed to cancel. Between going back to school and becoming a mother, my identity is not quite so tied up with music. Or so I thought.

Tucking my daughter into bed requires at two songs. "Hush Little Baby (Mockingbird)" and "Rock-a-bye Baby." When faced with the prospect of a slightly tone deaf Daddy singing her to bed, my daughter replied firmly, "No! Mama sing! Mama sing baby song!"

With many explanations that Mama can't sing right now, she contented herself with Daddy telling her a story. But the next day and all week long I was suddenly confronted with the fact that I sing to her all day long, constantly, in some shape or form. When we play the flying game, I have to sing Joe Raposo's "Flying so High" from a vintage "Sesame Street" episode, or else she is not happy; the song is inseparable from the game. If we play flying broomstick, she absolutely needs "Soaring" from Hayao Miyazaki's 1989 Japanese animated fantasy film, "Kiki's Delivery Service." Playing horse-y? "The William Tell Overture," of course! If I want her to clean up, I have to sing the "Clean Up" song. In the car. she wants me to sing Judy Garland songs from the Arlen & Harburg animated musical "Gay Purr-ee." She will sometimes settle for the "ABC" song, but she requires that I swing it, modulate up each chorus and double up the bars for a big ending. Even stories such as "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" require different low, medium and high voices for each of the bears!

Besides formal songs and stories, I realized I apparently vocalize a sort of soundtrack to everyday activities. If she accomplishes something like climbing a ladder, it is not enough to say, "You did it!" I need to sing, "Ta-na-na!" like trumpet regalia.

But this time, Mama was not delivering the goods.

A few days later, I finally managed to croak out her two lullabies very poorly while coughing in between verses. They didn't sound very soothing to me at all but they seemed to suffice, and she went to bed without a whimper. I guess singing is a part of my daughter's job description for Mama, but unlike public audiences (and fortunate for me), singing badly is OK. As long as it comes from Mama, it is all right.

"Mother. It's who I am, not just what I do."


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