Apologies for the delay in updating you. New York was pretty insane, that combined with jet lag and a serious iPhone back up/update issue has meant no new post until now. But here it is! It's a long one, so time for that coffee break.
Now, where to start? Well, the trip couldn't have gone better. I met Pia Furtado (the theatre director with whom Abram and I were working earlier this year) last Monday and we packed as much into our week as possible. There was very little sleep to be had and many wonderful, as well as slightly crazy moments.
We began our first day in an adorable little cafe in Harlem, which basically became our pit stop on the way to the Schomburg Center for the rest of the week. It was the first of many conversations about the project where we discussed what we felt we needed to do to make it happen and how we were going to move forwards without Abram. As we were talking an elderly gentleman came and sat down next to us and instantly recognised the image on the book I'd placed beside me. The book was Composition in Black and White by Katherine Talalay and the inspiration behind the whole Philippa project. I can not recommend it highly enough, it's a fascinating read.
He said "Mmmmm...Philippa Schulyer...what you ladies doing reading about her?". It was first-hand evidence of the impact that Philippa had had on the community of Harlem well beyond her life-time. Many young African-Americans today don't know who she was, yet back then she was held up as a role model for the black community across the country, particularly for African-American women. The older generation still remember her 45 years after she died.
Our days consisted of research in the Schomburg Center, split between three departments. The first was the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books division with the amazingly helpful Diana Lachatanere and Miranda Mims. It was here we got to go through a lot of Philippa's scores, her novels, letters, and random notes and thoughts. Then there was the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division where we were helped out by Alison Quammie and listened to Philippa's performances, interviews and talks as well as an interview with her parents after her death, who spoke about having established the Philippa Schuyler Memorial Foundation. And finally, there was the Photographs and Prints Division run by the lovely Mary Yearwood where we looked at hundreds of images of Philippa from a baby upwards.
During our time at the Schomburg Center Diana Lachatanere got in touch with the author of Composition in Black and White, Katherine Talalay. She had said that she'd like to meet us and Diana gave us a number to call (see photo of me on the phone calling Katherine). We managed to arrange a meeting that afternoon. I was pretty overwhelmed at the thought of finally coming face to face with the woman who had unknowingly been the catalyst for Abram's project and the reason we were in New York.
Kathy unsurprisingly turned out to be a truly remarkable and extremely interesting person. The two hours we spent with her flew by and I knew that if Abram had been with us he would have loved every minute of it. He had always wanted to meet Katherine and I told her later that if he had been there they would have probably spent the whole night talking, Abram would have just had so many questions.
Our evenings consisted of a lot of Harlem soul food, music, theatre and even a bit of movie magic. Pia and I checked out a jazz-theatre piece at a respected off-Broadway theatre, which we didn't particularly like but felt encouraged that an attempt had been made to combine the two genres, had achieved good reviews and was in the middle of a pretty successful one month run. We watched the Beasts of the Southern Wild, which you should all go and see immediately as it's the most beautiful film ever. And then there was the jazz. There was jazz at Dizzy's where the very helpful Michael Mwenso ushered us in as his guests and gave us tips on other gigs we should see, Small's, 'The Dive', the Rubin Museum of Art and my personal favourite, Sista's Place in Brooklyn.
Highlights included the exceptional Jonathan Batiste and the extraordinary Keith Loftis. The latter was a key member of Abram's band when he lived in New York and a close friend. Getting to know Keith and watching his quartet perform a tribute to John Coltrane was one of the most inspiring and profound nights of my life. In between all this we met the equally warm hearted and talented saxophonist, Myron Walden who knew Abram from playing in Roy Hargrove's big band with Keith. Both Pia and I were delighted to spend some time with him during our last few days in New York and we were very touched by his generous spirit.
And our final day? Well, a girl can't go to New York and not get a mani-pedi, so that's exactly what we did. After an extremely hectic but incredibly moving week, we felt like we deserved it.
Our days in New York were not without their moments of sadness and we thought about Abram the whole time we were there. It was his trip and I wish he could have made it. However, we both felt very strongly that he was there in spirit, helping us to keep going and finding ways of letting us know we were on the right path.
If I had to sum up the whole New York experience in one word it would be...epic.
Thank you for your support, it's because of you that this incredible, life changing jouney took place.