On controlling one’s blood sugar levels in the presence of Belgian waffles

I can’t resist the Belgian waffles at the Mandarin Oriental’s breakfast buffet; but it’s already sort of cheating just to have the waffle even without adding maple syrup. Fortunately for me, among the spreads and toppings they keep available are nice warm spreadable cinnamon butter, and also honey.

So now I know pretty much exactly what sopapillas would be like if they had been invented in Belgium.

Liveblogging Melissa Tham’s farewell performance at the Axis Lounge

I didn’t intend to liveblog but after updating my Facebook status three times in the first five or so minutes I realized that’s what I was doing — and that’s not what Facebook statuses are for. So I switched over to the iPhone “Notes” application; and here’s Melissa’s farewell gig from where I was sitting. The first three paragraphs are the original Facebook status updates. The rest is either what I typed on the spot, or what I later added from my memory based on my notes.

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Enjoying one last evening at the Axis listening to Melissa Tham, Joshua Wan and Hiro Mayakawa. My heavens they’re good at what they do.

Mercy me that woman can sing a love song — her voice goes just the right kind of rich in the lower registers, and Joshua knows exactly how to set her up with the accompaniment. Just a fun thing to watch at close range.

Now one of my favorite Ella love songs, “How Deep Is the Ocean?” Used to sing this over the phone to Helen during all those months when the US government wouldn’t let my wife come join me in Texas. The Noir version much swingier and less sappy than mine was though…hmmm I seem to be live blogging so should switch to the blog

[Shortly thereafter Joshua — who was in the middle of a set playing piano — managed to comment “Thanks ken” so after that I REALLY didn’t want to update Facebook statuses as I didn’t want to distract them. So I switched to iPhone notes.]

Joshua already feeling his oats and we aren’t even out of the first set…he starts having fun with a song and just can’t bear to stop.

The Axis filling up, and tonight people are actually listening. Good to see on Melissa’s last night.

“East of the Sun, West of the Moon” is such a good fit for Melissa’s voice, and they leave it at a nice moderato. The Singapore nighttime skyline is the perfect backdrop for this song in this arrangement in Melissa’s voice. Odd, though, to hear them do it early in the set — this is one of the numbers they normally use to close a set.

Joshua is in fine fettle on “One True Love” (suddenly blank on actual name of the song which is most embarrassing) and Melissa’s in the spirit as well, Hiro jamming with eyes closed, energy has gone WAY up and I’m sort of dancing in my seat — I need my wife and a dance floor because this song in this take is wasted if nobody’s swinging to it. Melissa’s actually going full scat instead of her customary half-scat/half-lyrics technique. Oh they be feelin’ it now…

And now here comes “In the Wee Small Hours” and I have to record it for my dad who loves the Noir version…

Next up, “On the Street Where You Live.” I like the slightly less manic version they’re doing now better than the frenetic take on the CD…and hey, they actually take a shot at the unison vocal/instrumental part. Gutsy move to try live, well done.

“Beautiful Love,” when sung in that 2:00 a.m. smoke-filled-room vaguely French feel is so much in their wheelhouse you’d almost think they’d be bored. They make it seem just as easy as breaathing.

[break between sets]

I missed “Berkeley Square” because I finally managed to get a call through to Helen, who takes precedence even over J and M. Came back in for the last half of “No Greater Love” — which was enlivined when the sound system suddenly turned itself into a wannabe fire alarm. I genuinely thought there might be a fire in the hotel; but it was just the sound system freaking out. The trio had to stop in the middle of the song and go get the sound system to be quiet, and then to bring the mike back up for Melissa. They looked at each other as if to say, “Well, do we start over or what?” Then Melissa shrugged, finger-snapped a countoff — and they picked up right back where they had stopped. That drew an ovation on the spot.

On to “That’s All,” their version of which I really really like. Very relaxed and cheerful, like strolling down a country road in the springtime with your wife while your six-year-old runs around left and right and ahead and behind the way practically all those six-year-old perpetual motion machines do. Just a happy song in a happy mood.

Then, per my request, they sing “Do I Love You,” which I video with the iPhone (the visual is completely useless because of the low lighting). To my mind that song, as they perform it, is as nice a love song as there is, end of story.

Now they’re starting “Bye Bye Blackbird,” which means end of set. 11:30 and the place is still packed; delighted to see that for Melissa’s last night.

…Actually fooled me, that was NOT the last song of the set; they are going to go Cole Porter with “At Long Last Love,” which to me is forever the Return to Me song. For Noir, letting the first verse be a simple string bass line under Melissa’s vocal while the piano tacet works very nicely here.

Why “the Return to Me song”? Well, because that song is used to capture the spirit of one my favorite scenes from what may be my all-time favorite movie, sweet and romantic and funny and well-written and well-acted and well-directed. It’s a movie that makes wonderful use of the Great American Songbook in general and “At Long Last Love” in particular. In fact let’s watch that scene right now and then we’ll come back to Melissa and Josh. Start at about the 2:35 mark and go until the end of the Sinatra number at about 7:40.

OK, getting back to the liveblogging as promised…

This is by far the best audience they’ve had when I’ve caught them here at the Axis, perfect for Melissa’s last night. Full house – seriously, no empty tables with line of sight – all intent on the music including people who had to sit at the table in the next room of the lounge and watching more or less through the passageway, real ovations after every song – FINALLY the audience they’ve deserved all along. Couldn’t be happier for them.

…And of course literally as soon as I finish typing the previous line, three different tables ask for their checks and leave. :-P (It is, after all, 11:30.)

Last set starts with “Days of Wine and Roses,” which I think must be one of Melissa’s favorites because she never fails to get to that one at some point in the evening. And I’m happy to see that a young couple has come in to fill back up one of the tables whose patrons left before this last set.

Wow. Something unexpected here.

The next bit I’m filling in later from memory of my thoughts, as I stopped typing at the time out of respect for the moment and for Melissa’s emotion:

Melissa stops to make a short and moving speech looking back four years to when she and Joshua got their first gig at the Axis, with a young bass player whose name was Joel. She doesn’t tell us what happened, only that he passed away at the age of twenty-five, and that in his memory (and in the hopes that, wherever he is, he will hear it), they are going to sing “We’ll Be Together Again.”

Oh, this is hard on Melissa. Usually she sways back and forth during the instrumental stretches where Joshua is having fun. But for this piece, almost preternaturally still, cheeks wet, eyes red, obviously keeping her composure by sheer will power. Yet as she comes back in to finish the song out, her voice never wavers. Keep it together, sweetheart, I’m thinking, I even send up a couple of quick prayers on her behalf…and she does. What a moving number that was; what a touching and clearly deeply loving tribute. Last note dying away and the silence hanging in the air heavy and soft as January snow on bare oak branches. I don’t know whether to clap or let the silence deepen; finally I guess that Joel probably liked ovations and, if he’s where he can hear it, would probably like to see his friends get one more; so I clap slowly and quietly and (if such a thing is possible) reverently. One other person joins me; everybody else prefers the silence so probably I made the wrong choice. Melissa lowers the mike and lowers her head, turns her back to us and just stands there. Joshua stands up from his piano bench, reaches out tentatively to touch her shoulder. A minute or so goes by, maybe even two. A sympathetic and respectful silence prevails throughout the jazz lounge; most of us I think have had a memory of a loved one hit us fresh long after we thought the grief was done and it’s like he just died all over again; and so we will honor her with all the time she needs. Another awkward, uncertain gesture from Joshua, taking her shoulder once more. First her head rises slightly, and you see in his eyes that they have made eye contact; then it’s her shoulders’ turn to rise as she takes a deep breath. Finally she turns back to us and smiles tremulously.

That moment will stick with me a long time. He must have been worth knowing, this Joel. Lydia Salnikova’s lyrics run through my head…

And mine is one of the many lives
That are better for knowing you
So you must have done something right
And you must have done someone good…

Almost in self-defense, you can see Melissa make a deliberate effort to shake off the grief by changing the musical mood, and her fingers start snapping a bouncy countoff beat. I finally feel like I can pick up the iPhone again…but then I hear the tune she’s humming to guide the countoff and realize that she’s chosen just about the happiest song in the Noir repertoire and one of my very favorites because it so perfectly describes how I feel about Helen. So the iPhone goes back down and I close my eyes and Helen is sitting beside me and my right hand quietly reaches out and takes hers, and I soundlessly sing along to Helen and squeeze her hand tight as Melissa’s voice smiles its way through “Time After Time”…

Time after time
I tell myself that I’m
So lucky to be loving you
So lucky to be
The one you run to see
In the evening when the day is through
I only know what I know
The passing years will show
You’ve kept my love so young, so new
And time after time
You hear me say that I’m
So lucky to be loving you

And then, finally, as the young couple who came in during “Days of Wine and Roses” have a rousing jazz “Happy Birthday” sung to them complete with enjoyable cheesy accompaniment from Joshua, I can pick up the iPhone again.

“No more depressing songs tonight, only happy songs.” Then Melissa realizes that while the bossa nova “Girl from Ipanima” sounds happy if you just listen to the music, the lyrics are actually about hopelessly unrequited love – but she decides that, since she likes to sing it at least half in Portuguese, “you won’t understand it so it doesn’t matter anyway.”

It’s 12:20 and we’re in the home stretch. Probably the last song: “Let’s Get Lost.” Joshua is having a high old time. He’s playing glissandi with his palms, he plays an emphatic bass note with the side of his hand as if he were trying to karate-chop the piano in two like a board, at one point he does a run down the keyboard that I swear looks like he just puts his left hand in his lap, lifts his right hand a foot or so off the keyboard and then slaps the keyboard once in each of the eight octaves from high to low. If he starts playing with his elbows I won’t be surprised…how in the name of all that’s holy is he still hitting the right notes???? Give ‘em the big finish, Josh and Hiro! Kill it, Mel! Ta-da! Big ovation, well done, what a run, what a fine set of jazz musicians.

Whoops, whoops, I was too early. They’re gonna do one more, end it slow. They pick “But Beautiful,” which I’ve never heard them do. Perfect selection. Melissa’s artistic choice is to go hard down the acting route more than the singing route – it’s not Rex Harrison but you feel like you’re hearing one of his distant relatives. For once Melissa is cheesier than Joshua and it’s PERFECT. What a perfect, perfect way to end what was surely a great four-year run.

And the era ends. I feel blessed to have gotten in on it, just a little bit there right at the end.

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There’s a postscript to the above. While I was pulling together these notes, Facebook beeped at me. Melissa Tham, it informed me, had a new post. And so, since many of you can’t see Melissa’s wall, here is what Melissa herself was feeling once it was all over:

Life is truly beautiful. About three and a half years ago, the Mandarin Oriental offered me a regular gig of three nights at their Axis Bar & Lounge. And so it began. Joshua, Joel and myself together with various fantastic musicians, we would turn up and play four sets a night.

It didn’t matter if there was absolutely nobody or packed full. We enjoyed every night that we were there. I would like to believe we played for the love of it.

Tonight was no different, if not better. My last night at Axis, and so many people showed up to render their support. I have fallen in love with music all over again. Tonight, I sang my heart out. Hiro and Josh gave their all. Every song we did tonight holds so many special memories. And the most wonderful reward is to know that when you listen to us, you can feel, understand what we are saying.

Looking back, I don’t regret choosing this line of work. Do you know how it feels like to be in love with this music that we do? It is the most wonderful thing. It is most amazing. It is indescribable. I can hardly be still. At the risk of being long-winded or dramatic, I’m fueled with such passion I feel I need to share it with everyone.

Right now, I’m ready to face the world, a new chapter in my life. Thank you Joshua Wan , Joel Tan and all the wonderful musicians who were with us these short three and a half years. And thank YOU! You amazing friends who came out to support us, not just tonight, but for all the other times when you were there. I hope we touched your hearts the way you have touched ours. What would we be without you, the listeners, the lovers of this amazing gift called Music.

Life is truly, truly beautiful. I couldn’t ask for more.

I suspect that, somewhere, a bass player named Joel is very proud of his friend Melissa.

Helen’s new car

Helen hates green cars, so naturally since marrying her I have bought not one, but TWO green minivans. She really likes red and every so often reminds me that sooner or later I’m supposed to get her a fun red car, and with this new job I got enough of a signing bonus to get her a surprise. Shhhhhhhhh! — nobody tell her about it in advance and spoil it. Craigslist is a wonderful thing, eh?

red car for Helen

Of course, my kids are reading this and feeling a sense of terror at the thought that I might have actually found this thing — because they know perfectly well that I would get a huge kick out of driving it around in public. Like, to pick them up after school, for example.