M y origins are lost in the martini mists of time, but I have very specific musical memories.

The tango has run through my veins all my life. I was seduced by its passion through Piazzolla via a Swiss ensemble, I Salonisti. I danced to Piazzolla in Berlin at the Philharmonic. I loved his grand gestures and ability to combine heart-wrenching passages and violence in pieces like Contrabajissimo. The works of Kurt Weill followed with the politics of Brecht’s texts, then Eisler.

Meow Meow

Nina Simone was a revelation. She could take Pirate Jenny out of Weimar Berlin and transform it into a vengeful civil rights song. Her rage and pain was spine-tingling. Nina’s reevaluation of text was profound and often uncomfortable to witness. When I watch her performance of Feelings at the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival, I feel both privileged and conflicted to be privy to her genius and distress.  

There’s a difficult kind of listening I enjoy. When I dance to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, I want...