A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to D.C. to sing “Mumbles” during the Thelonious Monk Institute Vocal Competition. The audience seemed to enjoy what I did because they were smiling and applauding. When I laughed, they were laughing, too. I had a ball! That standing ovation brought tears to my eyes.
The whole evening was wonderful. The judges were outstanding – Al Jarreau, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Kurt Elling and Patti Austin, Gladys Knight performed too! It was a blast to hang out with them backstage. People took lots of pictures of us. The ones below were taken by Gwen. When somebody snapped one of me with Gladys Knight, I said, “I feel like one of the Pips!”
It was good to see a lot of my old buddies like Jimmy and Mona Heath, Terence Blanchard and Wayne Shorter. I hung out with my friends who run the Institute – Thelonious, Jr., Gayle Monk, Tom and Sherry Carter, Michelle Day and J.B. Dyas, Kris and Janet Colley and so many others.
The parties were hip and the food was incredible. I remember those big juicy Portabello mushrooms, real creamy mashed potatoes and tasty roast beef. I even cheated a little off my diet and had some Red Velvet cake and Key Lime pie. Yummmm.
It was also nice to have many interruptions during my meal from people who came up and told me how they enjoyed my performance.
After the festivities were over, some surprise guests came by the hotel to say hello. Esperanza Spalding and her pianist, Leo, hung out with me, Terri Lyne Carrington and Lois Gilbert. Lois took these shots of me you see below. I hadn’t met Esperanza before, but Gwen had played some of her videos on YouTube for me. Esperanza is a very talented young musician. We had talked on the phone, so I was so happy to meet her in DC.
All and all, it was a perfect trip. Even the flights were fabulous coming and going. United Airlines rolled out the red carpet, and I really had a good time.
The Institute invited me to come back next year to celebrate their 25th anniversary. I can’t believe that it was twenty-five years ago when we all got together to get things going – Thelonious, Jr. Marie Fisher, Jimmy Heath, Tom Carter, Bill Cosby and a few others. I’m really proud of the way it has grown.
I feel very blessed to continue doing what I’ve always enjoyed doing, as I approach my 90th birthday on December 14th. The “Old Man Upstairs” is mighty good to let me stay involved in jazz!
Keep on keepin’ on