Photo by Julietta Cervantes


By Howard Fishman

April 26, 2018

I loved “St. Elsewhere” when I was a kid growing up in West Hartford, CT. Every Wednesday night, without fail, I would tune in to Channel 30 at 10pm, and watch the show. “Elsewhere” had a true ensemble cast that worked together to draw subtleties of humor, sensitivity and depth out of their finely-drawn characters and from the smart scripts that stretched plotlines out over entire seasons (rare in those days). Like its stylistic cousin “Hill Street Blues,” “Elsewhere” was a moody, downbeat soap opera; death and heartbreak were ever-present. There was something meta about it too, before that word came into common parlance and practice; as far as ratings went, it was a failing show, always in danger of being cancelled, set in a failing hospital, always in danger of being shut down. A melancholy air infused the show, an underdog sensibility that made one root for both the characters and the series itself. Every time it was renewed for another season my early-adolescent soul rejoiced. When the show finally did reach its end, after six seasons, I was broken up about it. It had only been five years since the finale of “M*A*S*H” and here I was saying goodbye to what felt to me like another surrogate family (interestingly enough, another bunch of doctors).

The cast was a mix of veterans (led by Ed Flanders, Norman Lloyd, Christina Pickles, David Birney, and William Daniels) and young then-unknowns (Ed Begley, Jr., Mark Harmon, Howie Mandel, David Morse, and Denzel Washington). Their characters seemed to really communicate with one another, to truly inhabit the make-believe world they’d been cast in. I was unexpectedly reminded of this when the curtain came down on the current revival of “The Iceman Cometh” (now at the Jacobs Theater on Broadway) and I looked at my program for the first time to learn that the actor who had so uncomfortably and unconvincingly portrayed Denzel Washington’s foil in the show had been none other than his erstwhile “Elsewhere” cast member, David Morse.

How could this be? These two fine actors had established a rapport over six long seasons of that show, more than three decades ago. They shared a rich, nuanced history. “Elsewhere” may have finally lost its terminal battle against a popular mandate for more light-hearted entertainment, but it had been a noble fight, fought with gusto and lost with dignity. These guys had spent years giving something they cared about all that they had. Of course, Washington’s career had burst forth after “Elsewhere” in glittering Hollywood style, while Morse’s has been less visible, mostly spent playing character roles like his sad-eyed, quiet George Washington in “John Adams,” but this bit of casting for “Iceman” would seem to have been, on paper, an inspired choice: the former cast-mates reunited once again in another ensemble piece with no less than life and death as its subject, this time pitted against one another as Larry Slade and Theodore (“Hickey”) Hickman, two old friends meeting up again for the last time.

Before delving into the particulars of Morse’s performance, it should be noted that playing Larry Slade is no easy assignment for any performer. Even seasoned O’Neill actor Brian Dennehy seemed to struggle with the role in Robert Falls’ majestic revival at BAM, three seasons ago. While it’s a fact that whomever is cast as Hickey has always received top billing (owing, perhaps, to Jason Robards’s early, career-making turn in Jose Quintero’s landmark 1956 mounting at Circle in The Square -- a production that effectively gave the Off-Broadway movement its first teeth), the case can and has been made that Larry Slade is the more demanding of the two roles, and that it is he, and not Hickey, who is really the protagonist of the piece. Larry is simultaneously the audience’s guide and the playwright’s mouthpiece. He is the one who espouses O’Neill’s most philosophical views, asks his most existential questions, states (and restates) his main themes. Larry is concertmaster here, first chair violin. He has, by far, the most dialogue of any of the eighteen main characters. Aside from Rocky (the bartender whose job it is to oversee the establishment in which the play takes place), and the somnolent Hugo (a drunk who spends much of the play in a barely-conscious stupor), Larry is the only character who remains present for the play’s action throughout. He is the only character who is witness to the entirety of the proceedings, which -- even in this trimmed version -- still clocks in just shy of four hours.

Hickey, the “star” of the show, does not even enter until nearly an hour into the performance, at the very end of the first act. He arrives on a mission to relieve his old friends of their illusions, their “pipe dreams” about tomorrow that they individually cling to (i.e. tomorrow I’ll quit drinking; tomorrow I’ll go looking for a new job; tomorrow I’ll reclaim my former glory). Because of a self-imposed time constraint, Hickey moves quickly and appears sporadically, coming and going, until he finally delivers his epic, confessional monologue in Act Four. But it is Larry who watches the whole unfold; it is through Larry’s eyes that reality begins to twist and fragment in Acts Three and Four as O’Neill’s theatrical language somehow manages to seamlessly transition from easy naturalism to outright expressionism; it is Larry whose character undergoes the only real transformation when the play is through. As he says in his final speech “I’m the only real convert... Hickey made here!”  As the final, awful moments of “Iceman” play out, the teeming ensemble of bums and drunks snap back into place, reclaiming the exact, pathetic identities they’d inhabited at the top of the play. Despite the moral reckoning prompted by Hickey’s visit, by the end it is as if nothing whatever had happened to them (making one of Hickey’s final lines “It was a waste of time, my coming here” really hurt; it’s a shame that Washington threw that line away in the performance I saw).

Larry is O’Neill’s beloved “Old Foolosopher:” the cynical barfly who says he just wants to be left alone but who privately gets great pleasure out of being surrounded by his fellow bums -- a collection of eccentric characters referred to by one of their own lot as a “who’s who of dipsomania.” In turn, Larry is the object of affection to all. The bartenders love him, the hookers dote on him, his fellow bums admire him and his sage words of drunken wisdom. If Harry Hope’s seedy saloon was transported to 1970’s Los Angeles, Larry would be Charles Bukowski.

So, if this is Larry Slade’s play, and I think I’ve just talked myself into being willing to defend that position, what can be made of David Morse’s portrayal? In the performance I saw, Morse’s Larry starts and ends the play, bizarrely, as an outsider.  It is impossible to believe that his Larry is a part of this crew, much less the soulful center of it. In dress, appearance, and bearing, Morse seems to be channeling the late Robert Ryan’s take on the character as seen in John Frankenheimer’s magnificent 1973 film adaptation. Ryan was seriously ill with cancer during shooting, adding an extra layer of pathos to a deeply felt, superb performance that would turn out to be his final role (Frederick March is equally stellar in the film, as is everyone else in the ensemble, with the glaring exception of a grotesquely miscast Lee Marvin as Hickey). Ryan owned the role. But though Morse may possess a passing physical likeness to him in this production, the similarities stop there. Instead, Morse seems uncomfortable from the get-go, his hands constantly shoved deep into his pockets as though mechanically feeling around for a lost set of keys. He seems to take no joy in ribbing his fellow inmates at the bar; in fact, it seems as though he is acting in a different play altogether. His Larry seems to be nothing so much as an older version of Albee’s Peter at the zoo.. He seems disengaged, flat, strangely affected, and -- sad to say -- lacking in either warmth or charisma.

I don’t want to beat up on David Morse, who has proved himself again and again  in other roles. Perhaps the odd choices for Larry’s personality and bearing were not made by him. Morse’s cause is certainly not helped by the fact that he is often stationed at the extreme left or right of the action, most likely to emphasize his self-stated position of being “in the grandstand,” watching the proceedings from a objective standpoint. But the effect is confusing, and seems ultimately wrong-headed, as does the production’s curious sound design. Early in Act One--as Larry introduces his sleeping friends to the young interloper Parrot, taking care to flesh out the backstory for each-- the strains of an old Gilded Age parlor song are heard being ponderously plunked out on a piano. But where is the music coming from? There is an upright piano onstage, but no one is playing it. Oh, it’s underscoring -- the cinematic kind, awash in the sort of ghostly reverb used to cue an audience to understand that we’re in flashback mode. But while the drama is indeed set in the distant past (1912, to be precise), “The Iceman Cometh” is decidedly not a memory play. Larry Slade is not Tom Wingfield, wistfully gazing back at people and events that once shaped his consciousness. Inarguably, the exposition O’Neill gives to Larry in the early going of the piece can be rough sledding for both actor and audience, but the decision to try to lift the proceedings with this kind of musical sentimentality feels like an act of desperation, as though the production somehow does not trust O’Neill’s iron-clad dramaturgy to hold its own.

Good things can be said about the production: it certainly moves briskly, and director George C. Wolfe has a deft touch with regard to bringing out O’Neill’s comedy. This may come as a surprise to those less familiar with the play, but there is a lot in “Iceman” that is very funny, and this production makes the most of it. In fact, if one were to judge the play purely on the basis of the audience’s reaction during the performance I saw, one might well think it a silly comedy -- more “Cheers” than “The Lower Depths.”  Much of the rest of the cast acquit themselves well, especially Bill Irwin’s Mosher and Michael Potts’ Joe Mott, the latter receiving a well-deserved ovation for his speech that calls out the underlying racist atmosphere in Harry Hope’s saloon -- an issue that, happily, does not seem at all confused by the casting of Washington as Hickey.

And what of Washington, the reason that this production exists in the first place, and the reason that most will see it? He is excellent, probably the most likeable, charming Hickey ever seen (and that includes Robards, who brought more than a touch of menace and darkness to a the role that will always be his). Even when Hickey is at his most gratingly self-righteous, Washington is impossible to dislike. He is simply a delight to watch, and when he finally delivers his confession in the final act, he does so seated downstage center, breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to us, spinning his tale with bravura storytelling technique, casting us under his spell. The audience eats it up. This is what they came for.

Sadly, the promise and potential to be mined in the reuniting of the former “Elsewhere” stars for this production bears no fruit. When Washington leaves the room for the last time, he takes with him all of the air in this production.The play’s real punch that is the remainder of the action -- and indeed, O’Neill’s very thesis, his scathing indictment of latter-day humanity-- lands not as the knockout blow of a heavyweight champ, but rather as the harmless swat of a featherweight, a neat little ribbon to tie up an otherwise pleasantly diverting evening at the theater. The end of “The Iceman Cometh” should send us careening down into O’Neill’s bottomless, spiritual void, what should be an exhilarating, harrowing, plunge. Instead, we’re left safely peering in from the outside, safe, satisfied, unscathed.

ASHBME on tour


"A Star Has Burnt My Eye" went on tour at the end of 2017, with performances presented by  Skidmore College, The Vermont Arts Exchange, and Castleton University.

Photo by Dante Haughton

At Skidmore, we worked with the college's theater students and staff on a brand new iteration of the project, what we unofficially called "The Lecture Version" -- a performance that stripped away the fictional elements of the BAM version that premiered in 2016, and intensified the show's primary focus on the music and life of Connie Converse.

photo by Dante Houghton

Two new cast members , Osei Essed and Dina Maccabee, joined myself joined myself and original cast member Charlotte Mundy for this tour, adding new musical elements and textures on viola, upright bass, mandolin, banjo, and electric guitar.

Photo by Dante Houghton

Skidmore's theater department ran a nice blog post about the experience, interviewing some of the students who worked with us on the show. You can read it here.

Photo by Dante Houghton

We took a break from preparations for the show to perform a multimedia evening at the Tang Museum, where we interacted with photographs from their collection.


After the successful run in Saratoga Springs, the show traveled to Bennington, VT for a one-night only showing presented by the Vermont Arts Exchange -- the most intimate show of the tour, and one that featured no theatrical lights or amplified sound. It was a magical evening.


From there, we moved up to Castleton University, where we kicked off our brief stay with an assembly for local grammar schools kids who were bussed in to spend some time with us talking about music.

Photo by Martin Van Buren III

Our last show of the tour was also our biggest, performing at the university's 500-seat proscenium-style Casella Theater.  Here's the exhausted and relieved company after the final performance, with our trusty production stage/tour manager Mr. Nic Adams:

post show.JPG

For more photos from the tour, here's a gallery:

Simple Gifts

With (L to R) Ron Caswell, Mazz Swift, Kevin Louis at The Vermont Arts Exchange. Photo by Matthew Perry

With (L to R) Ron Caswell, Mazz Swift, Kevin Louis at The Vermont Arts Exchange. Photo by Matthew Perry

It’s a snowy day in mid-March and I’m thinking about my friends in the Bennington, VT area, and the annual pilgrimage I made up there for the better part of this century, almost always around this time of year.

It all started with an email I received in early 2004, from one Matthew Perry, head of an upstart arts center called The Vermont Arts Exchange. Matthew and his then-wife had just returned from attending a concert I’d given with my band at Mass MoCA in the Berkshires, and he wanted to know whether there was any way I might be convinced to bring them north, to help kick off the first season of what they were calling The Basement Music Series, at their home in The Sage Street Mill in North Bennington.

“You won’t get rich here, ” Matthew wrote. “We don’t have the sort of budget that Mass MoCA does.” While he could only offer a modest fee, he could promise a large experience, including a home-cooked meal, a cozy stay at the local B&B, and an audience that would be deeply engaged with what we did. Matthew was an artist himself, he explained. For him, it was about forging relationships, creating community, and supporting art that was outside of the mainstream. He also mentioned that, if we liked, he’d take us for a hike in the woods the next day.

Our show at the VAE was a blast, and I came back again and again, for ten consecutive years. The shows were always magical, the audiences eager, excited, and ready to embrace (and match) whatever enthusiasm I brought them. I presented new material, pulled together new ensembles, showcased work in progress. A level of trust was established that allowed for this sort of openness, year in and year out. I always felt that I was among friends, able to relax and dig in, which -- for me -- is the most conducive environment for performing there is. It felt like a home away from home.

Here's a clip of the cacophonous opening of one show there, complete with swinging lightbulb. Joining me here were Mazz Swift (violin), Kevin Louis (trumpet), Mark McLean (drums), and Ian Riggs (upright bass):

Sometimes, spring would arrive early, and I would hang out with Matthew's chickens in the backyard (the source of the eggs that he and his family served us for breakfast).

One year, our tuba player Ron Caswell payed a visit to their coop:

Those chickens would figure into another memory a few years later, on a day when were doing a matinee show for kids, following our evening performance from the night before. An adventurous 4-year old named Leah arrived early with her Mom, and went out to look at the birds. She chased one chicken and caught it, hoisting it up into her arms. An explosion of squawks and feathers ensued.  

At the show, Leah was brave enough to join us onstage, helping us out with “Take Me Out To The Ballgame:”

A few weeks later, Leah’s Mother sent me blown-up photos, which have been on my wall ever since:

On the back is the letter Leah dictated to her Mom:

“Dear Howard Fishman,

I liked being up on stage with you. I liked playing with the chickens. I hope you play again soon somewhere else near us. What is your favorite song? I paint on my Buddha Board. Do you like to paint or make art? What is your favorite color? Who is your best friend?

OXOX Leah”


Speaking of making art, one visit to the VAE featured an event at which the cost of admission included a pre-concert dinner, served in the homemade bowl of one’s choosing. Dozens of colorful ceramic bowls had been created and donated by VAE art students. I picked this beautiful blue one, and have used it for my breakfast just about every morning since then:


Natural, delicious, farm-fresh food has always been something I associate with my visits to Vermont. Dr. Bob Hemmer, VAE’s longstanding volunteer A/V set-up man, go-to-guy, and all around provider of good vibes, has been growing and harvesting vegetables at his home in neighboring Shaftsbury for years. On one occasion, Bob mentioned his varieties of heirloom garlic, and he saw my eyes light up. A few weeks later, a package arrived for me in Brooklyn -- a large paper satchel bursting with bulbs from four or five of his different strains, a gift that he would repeat in years to come.

Dr. Bob's garlic

Dr. Bob's garlic

Bob’s two daughters, Rachel and Katelyn (you can see them playing their recorders with us on stage in the photo with little Leah), presented me with these drawings when they were still quite young -- they hang on my wall too:

Mathew Perry always tried to make our visits special, and he really outdid himself one year when he made this hand-colored, poster-sized, original woodcut to promote the appearance of my brass band project, the Biting Fish. It now hangs on my wall, a priceless, one-of-a-kind gift he offered to me, another reminder of the depth and richness of my relationship to him and his audience at VAE:

Matthew has also sent me various artistic renderings over the years, which also adorn my walls in Brooklyn. Here’s a cartoon he send me one winter:

And a coaster he made in the VAE clay studio that sits on my coffeetable:


I’ve chosen to represent myself for most of my career. Not having an agent to serve as a buffer has engendered its fair share of challenges, but the freedom to entertain offers like the one Matthew Perry made to me way back in 2004 is something I cherish. A traditional music industry agent or manager might have passed on Matthew’s overtures. I accepted. I had a good feeling about him. Trusting my gut led me to connections and memories that continue to enrich my life to this day.

Here’s one last drawing of Matthew’s that accompanied a check for my appearance one season. That money is long gone, but this drawing I see every day -- along with the woodcut, photos, and letters from children on my wall, the coaster on my table, the bowl I use for my oatmeal, and Dr. Bob’s latest crop of garlic (which I just used this afternoon for my lunch). Matthew Perry was wrong. I did get rich performing at the Vermont Arts Exchange. It’s just a different sort of wealth -- one that can never be spent, can never be taken away, and that brings thoughts of joy and warmth that will never end.

Drawings by Matthew Perry

Drawings by Matthew Perry

Here's a little slideshow from my annual trips up to the VAE:

Radio Archive: Wolrd Cafe with David Dye

Photo by Anders Goldfarb

Photo by Anders Goldfarb

Way back in 2003, David Dye invited Howard and the band to perform live on his WORLD CAFE program.  Joined by Russell Farhang on violin, Jon Flaugher on bass, Erik Jekabson on trumpet, and Rob Perkins on drums, HFQ's set included new takes on "Don't Wait," "Mary Ann" and "Hey Little Girl."  Have a listen here.

About Those Uncollected Stories

My albums have thirteen songs on them.  This was a coincidence at first -- I didn’t realize that the first couple were sequenced that way until it was pointed out to me -- but it long ago became apparent in other, unrelated ways, that the number thirteen had some mysterious significance in my life. So, when it came time to sequence my third record, I didn’t mess around --  it got thirteen songs, just like its predecessors, and just like every recording I’ve made since.  I happen to like continuity and I just might be superstitious.

This current collection only exists because I’ve stuck with the thirteen track formula. If, for example, I record  twenty songs for a new album, and maybe fifteen of them warrant release, two of those fifteen end up getting cut, as a matter of course. An unexpected bonus about continuing to put out albums this way is that there are now more than enough of these lonely orphans lying around to make up an album of their very own.

Here are thirteen of them. Annotated session information and liner notes below.

1. Luck (outtake from Look At All This!)

2. Letter One (outtake from Do What I Want)

3. I’ll Fly Away (outtake from Better Get Right)

4. When It Rains (Recorded live in Portland, ME)

5. Soon (outtake from I Like You A Lot)

6. Time Will Destroy (outtake from unreleased album, 2003)

7. The Zoo (outtake from No Further Instructions)

8. Fields of Meat (outtake from Look At All This!)

9. Home (Mountain Road) (outtake from Look At All This!)

10. Baseball (outtake from The World Will Be Different)

11. Soul of A Man (outtake from Better Get Right)

12. The Prisoner’s Song (outtake from Look At All This!)

13. One For The Road (Recorded live in Durham, NC)

An Annotated Guide:

Recording "Look At All This!," Photo by David Sykes

Track One: LUCK

One of several outtakes from the Look At All This! sessions. Whereas my first three albums all featured a band that had already played countless gigs together, the group was assembled for the purposes of making this album was playing together for the first time as the tapes were rolling.

Photo by David Sykes

Mazz Swift and Ian Riggs had both been part of my live band for a year or so, but Jordan (Guy) Perlson and Michael Daves had each just moved to town, and were brand new to the fold. It didn’t take long for the new group to find its groove -- this track is one of the very first things we laid down.

Michael Daves and Jordan Perlson, Photo by David SykesPersonnel:

Michael Daves: Electric Guitar

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Ian Riggs: Upright Bass

Mazz Swift: Violin

Recorded at: 23 E.10th Street, NYC, December 2004

Engineer: David Sykes


Photo by Anders Goldfarb

A song from “we are destroyed,”  and a melody that reappears throughout the narrative, each time with a new set of lyrics -- a device that allows the character of Eliza to keep a sort of diary of her emotional state as she travels west with The Donner Party. It’s a conceit; though she’s ostensibly writing letters home to a lover who has spurned her, the audience knows that she’s in uncharted wilderness, and that the letters will never reach their recipient.

CD Release show for DO WHAT I WANT, April 2002

This track is an outtake from Do What I Want, an album we recorded in downtown Manhattan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, smoke and stench still wafting through the air.  We used the same studio we’d recorded I Like You A Lot in the year before, and we were the same band, but whereas that album had been essentially a live-to-tape, all-acoustic affair, we were now exploring a new sonic palette and when it came to choosing songs for the final album sequence, this track felt like it didn’t belong -- it somehow seemed like a leftover from the band’s previous incarnation.


Russell Farhang: Violin

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Jonathan Flaugher: Upright Bass

Erik Jekabson: Trumpet

Recorded at Sorcerer Sound, NYC, October 2001

Engineer: Tim Conklin

Track Three: I’LL FLY AWAY


Photo by Kaity Volpe

This was always a strong contender for inclusion on Better Get Right, but at the time it somehow felt redundant at the time to have it appear along with "Down By The Riverside." Don't ask me why.

Essentially a “live” track in the studio, this recording features an exceptionally soulful, greasy solo from Roland “King” Barber during the breakdown section.

Photo by Ed Bobrow


Roland Barber: Second trombone solo, vocals

Etienne Charles: Trumpet,  first ensemble solo, vocals

Jose Davila: Sousaphone

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Andrae Murchison: Trombone, first ensemble solo, vocals

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Engineer: Dana Leong

Recorded at Life After Dark Studios, Harlem, NYC, December 2008

Track Four: WHEN IT RAINS (Live)

Photo by Jason Woodruff

A song that I’ve been performing in concert for some years now,, but one that has somehow never made it onto an album.  A couple of different studio outtakes exist from The World Will Be Different sessions, but there was something about the insouciance of this live version from Portland, Maine that trumped them.

We were joined this night by the great Allen Lowe on tenor, whose fat, swinging tone perfectly fits the old-fashioned feel of the song.

Songwriters will sometimes say of a tune that it simply wrote itself. This was one of those songs for me.


Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Allen Lowe: Tenor Saxophone

Nathan Peck: Upright Bass

Mazz Swift: Violin

Recorded live in concert at One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME., December 4, 2010

Track Five: SOON

(Ira Gershwin/George Gershwin)

Photo by Pierre Jelenc

The only song recorded for I Like You A Lot that was not included on the album, this was a one-off, recorded very late in the evening -- a song we’d played a few times together in concert, but never with piano, and never with this sort of feel. It had been a while since we'd done it, and I wasn't so sharp on the lyric, singing the beginning of second verse at the top instead of the proper one ("Soon/My dear you'll never be lonely/Soon/ You'll find I live for you only").

Photo by Nicolas Hill

This has always been one of my favorite standards. Once, when I was a teenager, my grandmother Minna Bromberg and I were watching a documentary about the Gershwins, and someone played a rendition of “Soon.” In the second measure of the song, when “blue” notes tug at the melody and harmony (“the lonely nights will be ended”) I remember her saying “that’s a Jewish melody.”


Russell Farhang: Violin

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Piano

Jonathan Flaugher: Upright Bass

Erik Jekabson: Trumpet

Engineer: Tim Conklin

Recorded at Sorcerer Sound, NYC, September 12, 2000


In the late summer of 2003, what we were still calling The Howard Fishman Quartet decamped to Telefunken Studios on Talcott Mountain in Connecticut to record what was supposed to be the follow up to Do What I Want.  It was a strange and confusing time. Erik had left the group to move to California, and though Russell and Jon were still on hand, within just a few months both of them would be gone as well.

Photo by Anders GoldfarbAfter touring and promoting the previous two records, playing hundreds of shows together up and down the East Coast, we’d hit a bit of burnout. As usual, I brought a batch of new songs to the sessions, but this time something was different. For one thing, the studio set-up proved to be a challenge; for the first time, we were unable to make eye contact with one another while tracking. Worse, the arrangements of the songs, rather than taking shape organically, felt formulaic and flat. There was creative dissension. There were bad vibes. The magic was gone.

Although some nice things from those sessions survive (including a late night set of standards with just Jon and me on upright bass and guitar), the album was shelved and most of the songs were rewritten and re-recorded the following year with an entirely different band for the record that would become Look At All This!

“Time Will Destroy,” a scrap, seems a fitting representation of where the band was at the time.

The silver lining that seemed impossible to imagine back then is that Russell, Jon, Erik and I would reunite years later, and have continued to perform and record together whenever the stars align.


Russell Farhang: Violin

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Jonathan Flaugher: Upright Bass

Engineer: Chip Karpells

Recorded at Telefunken Studios, Simsbury, CT, August 2003

Track Seven: THE ZOO

Photo by Jim McLaughlin

This recording comes from an all-night session with Jon and Jordan -- a marathon that began in the early evening, concluded after sunrise, and featured numerous takes of something like two dozen different songs (none of which these guys had ever heard before).  I think we recorded almost all of the basic tracks for The World Will Be Different that night, several from No Further Instructions, and a handful of oddities that simply didn’t or wouldn’t fit on either of those albums.  This is one of those latter, sort of a companion piece to “Garbage” from NFI, before it became apparent that most of the songs on that album seemed to be about Romania. 


Jim Campilongo: Lead Electric Guitar

Howard Fishman: Electric Guitar

Jon Flaugher: Electric Bass

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Engineer: Alan Camlet

Recorded at Hoboken Recorders, NJ, 2009


Photo by David SykesThe meat seeds for this song were planted on a long car ride with Ian Riggs, as we made our way from Brooklyn to a tour stop in Camden, Maine.  Ian has a keen appreciation for the random and the absurd, one of the reasons we’ve always gotten along so well.  

We were talking about the idea of “meat” as something that gets bought and sold -- an abstract word that many people take for granted but is in fact a polite way of describing the flesh of a murdered animal that has been prepared for human consumption.  How soon, we wondered, will humanity be giving polite names to every living thing on earth, as it all gets repurposed for our use and disposal?  

Ironically, the lyric that would give the album Look At All This! its name comes from a song that doesn’t even formally appear on the album. “Fields of Meat” wound up being a hidden track, neither sequenced nor credited, and appearing after a few minutes of silence following the end of the album’s final song, “Pictures.”

I fought for this track to be on the album proper, but this was the first time I’d used an outside producer for one of my records, and I lost the fight.

I always thought that this song deserved to have a track of its own, not least because without a credit in the hidden track, some listeners over the years have told me that they hear me saying "Fields of Me" ("Mountains of me, etc.) -- interesting, but incorrect.


Michael Daves: Electric Guitar

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Piano

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Ian Riggs: Upright Bass

Recorded at: 23 E.10th Street, NYC, December 2004

Engineer: David Sykes


"Night Hills," oil on canvas, HF 2008While composing songs for the ill-fated travelers in “we are destroyed,” I imagined instances in which they must have keenly felt the effects of their self-imposed geographical dislocation, and felt a yearning for the familiarity of home (and all the feelings that can be conjured by that word).

Although this song’s lyrics would later be rewritten and retitled as “Where Do We Go From Here?,” the version here has the original words, inspired by memories of being in my childhood home on a cool summer evening -- an electric fan in the window, crickets chirping outside, the occasional soft whoosh of a vehicle passing by, but otherwise all darkness and safety, the excitement and promise of tomorrow just on the other side of cozy, restful sleep.


Michael Daves: Lap Steel Guitar

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Ian Riggs: Upright Bass

Recorded at: 23 E.10th Street, NYC, December 2004

Engineer: David Sykes


"Resonate," by Sean Patrick Gallagher

A song that is sometimes much longer in performance. A number of lyrics were expurgated for this recording (including some thoughts about Andy Petitte and Alex Rodriguez).  

People that don’t know me well often tell me that I’m quiet, and sometimes ask what I’m thinking about. This is what I’m thinking about.


Howard Fishman: Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, Fender Rhodes

Bill Malchow: Accordion

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Engineer: Alan Camlet

Recorded at Hoboken Recorders, NJ, 2009

Track Eleven: SOUL OF A MAN


The Biting Fish live at Dizzy's, Jazz@Lincoln Center, 2008, photo by Kathleen Scully

A song originally recorded in 1930 by the great Blind Willie Johnson, this is another essentially live track -- another one-off,  from the end of the very first day of tracking for what would become the album Better Get Right.  The band had never heard the song before the tape was rolling, but that didn’t matter.  I just asked them to listen, and to play what they felt. This is what happened.


Roland Barber: Second trombone solo

Etienne Charles: Trumpet

Jose Davila: Sousaphone

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Andrae Murchison: . Trombone, first trombone solo

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Engineer: Dana Leong

Recorded at Life After Dark Studios, Harlem, NYC, December 2008



Another “palate cleanser,” recorded between takes of other things we were working on for the Look at All This! album.  I’ve always loved Vernon Dalhart’s 1924 recording of this song, which I first heard in New Orleans, at Butch Trivette’s house,  when I lived there in the early 90’s.  Michael Daves was noodling around on a banjo, and used it for this one and only take -- according to him, his first recording ever on the instrument.


Michael Daves: Banjo

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Ian Riggs: Upright Bass

Recorded at: 23 E.10th Street, NYC, December 2004

Engineer: David Sykes


(B. Dylan)

Photo by Anders Goldfarb

Choosing just thirteen songs for my live “Basement Tapes” album, culled from our three-night stand at Joe’s Pub in New York City wasn’t easy, given the dozens and dozens of songs we tackled of the complete, peculiar, underground (and now, finally available) recordings made by Bob Dylan and The Band in 1967. This rendition of “One For The Road” actually comes from a different three-night stand of this music, at Duke Performances in North Carolina.

Spontaneity, surprise and irreverence are such a part of this music for me -- I like to think this performance captures a little of all of those things.


Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Ian Riggs: Electric Bass, vocals

S. Stephen Stevenson: Trumpet, vocals

Roland Satterwhite: Violin, vocals

Recorded live at Duke University, Durham, NC, 2008

Heroic Odets


En route to The Theatre at St. Clements on West 46th Street in Manhattan last night, I mentioned to a friend that I wasn't sure I'd ever seen a truly great production of a Clifford Odets play, and that I'd never seen a revival of the relatively obscure one we were about to see -- Rocket To The Moon. I'm happy to report that both facts changed immediately as the lights came up on Harry Feiner's inspired set, and The Peccadillo Theater Company began its soulful, stirring staging of this neglected 1938 piece.

So often, in remounts of Odets, it can seem like the performers are acting in different plays; this actor thinks he’s in a 1930’s gangster movie, that actress thinks she’s Mae West on the vaudeville circuit, etc. More often than not, the proceedings are a total disaster, the performers and the material seemingly at odds with one another and both falling flat on their faces, hard. The result, in my experience, is never pretty, and often much worse than that.

Such is not the case here. The Peccadillo’s production is a delicately masterful ensemble endeavor. While there are stellar individual performances throughtout (as well as a couple of curious casting choices), it would be unfair to single out any one actor. The entire cast gives absolutely everything they have to the whole, and because of this, the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Every actor is fully invested in the material, and the material pays back in dividends.  This is Odets the way Odets was meant to be.

A sort of ugly-duckling relative to O’Neill, Williams and Miller, Odets sits uncomfortably in the pantheon of great American playwrights, and praise for him (when it's even given) generally comes saddled with qualifications like “problematic,” “early promise,” “unrealized potential,” and “Hollywood sellout.” His language and his characters can be extreme; it could never be said of a single page of Odets dialogue that the words are dull or lifeless. If anything, they can seem to have too much life. They bubble over --  with enthusiasm, with slang, with aphorisms, with jokes, with philosophy, with nerve, with joie de vivre. Play it too hard, the whole thing explodes in wince-worthy cliches. Play it too soft, and it falls apart -- the actors simply get crushed under the weight of exposed plot and dated speech.

Somehow, The Peccadillo company and director Dan Wackerman have achieved a perfect balance. The pace feels musical, which makes sense and is something of a revelation. It is fortissimo and furious when called for, soft and legate at others (given this rare and welcome sensitivity, it’s a bit surprising that the sound design by David Thomas includes a jarringly anachronistic between-scenes soundtrack; this is a minor quibble).  

The cast finds the ridiculous, and they make it natural.  They find the outsized emotions, and run straight into them --  the way we all can do when faced with crisis.  The people in the plays of Odets are almost always people in crisis. This doesn’t make them lunatics, or buffoons, as they are so often (wrongly) portrayed. Sure, they’re a little neurotic; so are we.  Sure, words come out of their mouths that they immediately regret; they come out of our mouths too.  Yes, they can be grandiose, obnoxious, sentimental, irrational. So can we. These are not characters peopling a museum devoted to a clumsy, bygone era. They’re us -- imperfect, striving for understanding, desperate for love, dissatisfied, trying to make sense of the world, alive.

Wackerman and his actors do not condescend to Odets.  There are no tongues in cheeks here.  The company believes in the material, and so we do too.  They jump into the fire, and we follow them.  The approach here is one of humility, dignity, and respect, and it's moving and effective to watch.  The play is given the treatment it asks for, and we are all enriched for it -- audience, company, and playwright.

Bravo to The Peccadillo.  This is a production that deserves a much longer and more prominent run than the limited engagement it’s just begun. See it while you can.


Mr. Roland Barber


Photo by R. Barber/ J.Wiggan


Roland Barber is not only one of the most accomplished musicians I know of on his chosen instrument(s), but he's also one of the more exceptional human beings that I've had the honor to work with over the years -- a gentleman and a scholar, a listener, a thoughtful, soulful, deeply spiritual individual.

Like a good number of musicians I have met in NYC and come to work with in my band, I was led to Roland by that great connector Kevin Louis, who suggested I give Roland a try on a little New England tour we had coming up.  When it comes to matching me up with musicians who fit well with my music, Kevin has never once suggested anyone who's been less than stellar, and Roland was that -- stellar, from the very first gig we did together at the now-defunct Church House Concert Series in Haddam, CT. 

Although we were performing as a full-on brass band, with trumpet (Mr. Louis himself), trombone, tuba and drums, on the bandstand that night I quickly sensed something about Roland's playing -- a subtlety and a sensitivity -- that I was eager to shine a ight on.  Putting him on the spot a bit, I told our audience that Roland and I were going to play a duet or two on a couple of old standards, and spontaneously launched into renditions of two chestnuts that I've been performing for about as long as I've been performing -- When I Grow Too Old To Dream, and I'm Confessin' in an attempt to feature Roland's skills. My gamble was rewarded, and if you follow those two links, they'll take you to recordings I've just posted of that very performances, the beginning of what would be a long musical partnership with Roland -- a special moment caught for posterity.


Photo by Kathleen Scully

Since that time, Roland has played hundreds of concerts with me. He can blow the roof off the joint anytime he wants, and then play so quietly that you can literally hear the audience holding its collective breath. Sometimes he will pull out his trusty conch shell, and take a solo on that, as he did in this performance at Joe's Pub in NYC with me a few years ago in a concert that also featured Skye Steele on violin, Jon Flaugher on bass and Mark McLean on drums:

I was also thrilled to play a small role in the emergence of Roland Barber the vocalist, his voice yet another powerful asset in what seems to be his virtually limitless range of talents. On brass band gigs, I was sometimes able to coax him out of his modesty and shyness into singing an old traditional like "Comin' Round The Mountain," but it wasn't until he honored me with a version of my song "Want You To Be Mine" (at yet another outing at Joe's Pub in NYC) that I feel like Roland the singer really blossomed. This clip also features Mazz Swift on violin, Marika Hughes on cello, Mark McLean on drums, and Nathan Peck on bass. Have a look:


In addition to performing on my albums Better Get Right and No Further Instructions, Roland played an invaluable role behind the scenes in the mixing of those two records, offering penetrating and thoughtful insight as a particpant in that process, weighing in on what was working and what wasn't until we arrived at  results that I'd like to think we're both pretty proud of. Roland's attention to detail, and his keen understanding of the things that make music work are deep, and spring from a finely-developed ear for hearing truth in music rather than just a series of notes.

Roland is also a natural born teacher. Time and again, he's provided me (and, doubtless, countless others) with guidance, insight and wisdom that belie his years.  He's caused me to question fundamental elemets of what I do and why I do it, and -- like any great mentor -- has inspired me to do better, to always try to reach beyond my limitations.

* * *

Although Roland has since relocated his native Tennessee, he still tours with me when he's available to do so (here's a video of him performing with me in Estonia last summer), and I was lucky enough to be able to see and perform with him in his hometown of Nashville a few weeks ago when we were invited to do a showcase set at this year's Americana Music Association Festival. While the audience turnout for our show was pretty dismal (see page 2 of Craig Havighurst's roundup review here), the trip for me was salvaged by the opportunity to spend some quality time hanging out with Roland, and to meet his wonderful family. 

After our performance, Roland's Dad came up and offered his hand to me, telling me how much he admired my music and how he felt that Roland's rendition of "Want You To Be Mine" was faithful to the original even as he thought Roland put his own stamp on it (I agreed).  He couldn't have been kinder.  Roland's Mother was similarly effusive, and wouldn't let me leave the venue without giving me a big hug. "My Mother would never forgive me," she said, "if I didn't give you a proper Nashville greeting." 

I got to meet and spend time with Roland's girlfriend Micah, and the three of us spent the better part of an afternoon at their favorite gelato spot unpacking what this term "Americana Music" might be all about, how my music might fit into it, and the Nashville music scene in general -- a revealing conversation for me, as this was really my first exposure to this town.

The highlight may have been the brief visit we made to Roland's grandmother, Mrs. Zephyr Selby, who'd just celebrated her 91st birthday. Although she hadn't physically been feeling well of late, her mind, heart and spirit were as open and present as a young girl's.  I got the same sense from her that I did from Roalnd's parents, and it was plain to see where Roland gets the qualities that make him such a special person: presence, humility, generosity, warmth, spirituality, humor, and grace.

It is my pleasure and my honor to have Mr. Roland Barber as a collabortaor, a teacher, and a friend. You can check out some of his own music right here.

Photo by Ed Bobrow

Skye Steele

Photo by Jim McLaughlin

Skye Steele is a marvel of a musician and one of my favorite human beings.

Skye first started performing with me in 2003, when the second iteration of my quartet disbanded and I was basically holding a series of live auditions for new band members at low-key gigs around town.  I remember Skye's first show with me, during a short-lived residency at The Slipper Room on the Lower East Side in NYC.  I think i probably handed him a copy of what was then my most current release -- DO WHAT I WANT -- a day or two before the gig. Or maybe even that same morning.  He came to the gig having done his homework, knowing all the violin lines and arranagments and bringing his own, unique stylings and energy to each of them. 

I was also introduced that day to one of my favorite things about Skye -- his candor.  I don't remember the exact words he used, but he said something to me along these lines: "You know, I have to tell you that I get asked to learn a lot of music and I play with a lot of bands, and most of the time I listen to the CD or demo or whatever and I think 'this is total garbage.'  So, I was really surprised when I listenied to your album and thought 'wow, I actually like this.'"

Among the scores of musicians I've had the pleasure of working with over the years, Skye may have one of the most unique musical voices that I know.  In his improvisations, he attacks (or caresses) a song sideways, often in unexpected and destabilizing ways.  And yet, his motivation is never to draw attention to himself, to detract from the integrity of the tune. Rather, he works with the band to turn things inside out, often opening the song up to new possibilities, or exposing previously unknown qualities or elements inherent within it.

Listen to the studio recording of "Maramures" from NO FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.  The song begins plaintively, gently lilting, seeking to evoke the pastoral beauty of the Northern province of Romania.  Then, at just under a minute and a half into the tune, just as the track is dangerously close to crossing over into easy-listening land, Skye's violin comes in, twisting the landscape in exactly the right way, giving the song teeth, cutting right into its heart in a way that's beautiful and breathtaking.  It's almost as though the camera, which had been doing a sweeping overview shot of the landscape, suddenly pans way in to a close up of the smallest detail -- a fly buzzing around a cow's face; a child jumping for joy in a river strewn with garbage; a farmer's face at the end of a long day in the fields. 

Skye's playing gives us all of this, no small feat.  Few musicians care enough about the music they're playing to engage in this way.  I don't know many players more creative than Skye Steele. 

In addition to his many skills as a performer, Skye is an exceptional human, bringing care and consciousness to how he leads his life.  He's a vegetarian.  He's a politcal activist.  He's passionate about being environmentally conscious, and about helping others.  It's an honor not only to have him as an associate and a collabortaor, but also as a friend.

Skye does a lot more than just make music with me and other bandleaders.  He's a composer and songwriter in his own right, and is getting ready to release a new album.  Read more about it, and him, right here.

Hotchkiss Thoughts

I had the wonderful good fortune to be invited to spend a week at The Hotchkiss School as their guest Artist in Residence this semester, and -- let me tell you -- it was an experience I will not soon forget.

My time there was profoundly meaningful, primarily because of how immersive it was.  I was engaged on so many different levels of interaction, in mind, body and spirit. 

On an intellectual level, I got to share my passion for the plays of Eugene O'Neill, as I worked with students looking at both his lesser-known early experimental work, and his late, last plays. 

In an American Literature class, we read through the Prologue of the great god brown, that fascinating, unhinged yowl of an angry young man from O'Neill's early prime.  We talked about the use of masks on stage, about hyper realism and expressionism, and about the power of the imagination -- how some plays can, perhaps, really only be performed on a stage (as opposed to being adapted to film, for example, which we would look at in a subsequent Film Studies class in which we read a scene from Long Day's Journey Into Night, followed by a screening from the classic film adaptation by Sidney Lumet).

In a double session with two combined Humanities classes, students and I used Greil Marcus's text The Old, Weird America as a launching pad for a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the subjects of violence in American music and culture (using recordings of songs by the banjo player/singer Dock Boggs and Bob Dylan as two examples); the changing role that music has played in our society in modern times; the merits (or otherwise) of contemporary recording techniques like Auto-tune; the value of authenticity;  and the similarities and discrepancies between old American murder ballads and contemporary Hip Hop and Gangsta Rap.

* * *

A hands-on workshop with students who are writing original music and/or honing their instrumental skills in the music department found us working on a full-band arrangement for one student's original song (utilizing piano, electric and acoustic guitars, upright bass, drums, saxophone and backup vocals), and then backing up another student singer as she led us through a soulful, jazzy arrangement of "Georgia on My Mind," complete with improvised solos from members of the student band. 

  * * *

 In several theater classes, and in another Humanities class that was engaged in making "Monument Projects," I talked with students about my Donner Party project "we are destroyed," discussing and showing examples of ways to interpret history, atypical ways to incorporate music and poetry into theater, and getting into the philosophy and idealism/hubris behind Westward Expansion in America.  Some of the kids read portions of my oratorio out loud in class (a thrill for me), and I played them some of the songs I wrote for the piece, like "Do What I Want" and "In Another Life."

I also had the opportunity to visit an acting class, where I talked about some of the craft and understanding of performance I've been able to glean as a working artist over the last decade and a half.

In two Musical Theater classes, students and I had lively discussions debating the merits of the contemporary musical theater form itself.  We had fun playing around with some of the songs that they knew or were working on as singers, as I accompanied them on guitar while they sang standards like "Fever" and "Crazy" -- some of them experimenting with vocal improvisation and tempo for the first time.

* * *

In a Documentary Film class, I shared my experience of what has gone into creating a documentary theater project about Connie Converse.  Here we talked about what elements are important in telling a nonfiction story, delved into what makes for a powerful narrative, and looked at similarities between Connie's mysterious story and Rodriguez from Searching For Sugar Man.

The poet and teacher Susan Kinsolving brought me in to her Creative Writing class to talk about the creative process, and what it means to be a working creative artist.  One of the students wanted to know whether my song Mary Ann was based on a real person, which led to a discussion about the power of imagination and how we can transmute specific real-life experiences into (hopefully) more universal art.

And I was fortunate enough to be able to be a fly on the wall for Mike Musillami's "Right Brain Logic" rehearsal, a massive ensemble of student instrumentalists working on one of Mike's original composition that employed changing meters and keys, and elements of conduction (conducted improvisation) that was really something to behold.  These are some advanced kids (and teachers)!

Finally, to cap it all off, my band came up from the city at the end of the week, and we gave a concert in Hotchkiss's beautiful Elfers Hall, for students, faculty and the general public. 

Photo by David Thompson

The show was a benefit for a local no-kill animal shelter, The Little Guild of St. Francis. Hearing my friend and sousaphone player Kenny Bentley in that hall hold forth on a song like "Pretty Polly" was quite an experience.

Photo by Carole Cohen

* * *

And if all this weren't enough, in between classes I got to play tennis matches with several of the varsity and junior varsity team members (in an ongoing game called "Crush The Artist in Residence"), took a hike out to the Hotchkiss Farm with faculty and students (where I was given an opportunity to swing an axe on the wood chopping block), and took my meals daily in the Hotchkiss Dining Hall, where much of the food is locally-sourced and organic, where there are vegetarian options a-plenty, and where compost is collected from finished plates and trays. This is a very hip institution, as far as sustainability and eco-awareness goes.

In fact, this is a very hip institution, period.  The community I felt there, and the warm embrace I was given by students, faculty and their families, made it difficult to leave.  The academics and creativity invigorated my mind.  The beautiful grounds, athletic facilities and sports engaged my body.  The sense of connection and mindfulness on display everywhere lifted my spirit.

Thank you, Hotchkiss. I'm deeply grateful for the experience.

A Valentine for Connie Converse

Have you ever just wanted to quit? Have you ever been so worn down by the unkind and the uncaring people in your particular sphere of work that you just decided that it wasn’t worth it any longer?  Have you ever reached a saturation point of disappointment and smashed hopes and dreams and fantasized about just giving up on the thing or things you’re most passionate about because you just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pay the price required to keep those dreams alive any longer? Have you ever just had enough?


Connie Converse (1924-?) decided she’d had enough.  After spending the best years of her life trying to make it as a songwriter and composer in New York City, she quit.  She turned her back on the music managers and agents and record producers who rejected her, over and over and over again, over the course of her fifteen sum odd years living in Manhattan.  And she turned her back on her music -- the beautiful, haunting, ingenious, intensely personal music that she finally became convinced no one wanted to hear.


Connie spent the next portion of her life in Ann Arbor, Michigan working in academia, a time sadly devoid of almost any personal creative output. She made a mark for herself in the academic world, but she also sank into depression, alcoholism and mental illness.  In 1974, she left again, this time for good.  One day she simply drove away, leaving notes behind to friends and family that she needed to go and make a fresh start somewhere else. She’s never been heard from again.


Connie Converse’s music has since been discovered and embraced by legions of fans around the world. Recordings that she made while living in New York in her prime were released a few years ago on an album called “How Sad, How Lovely.” And now, an entirely different corpus of piano art songs have come to light, and have been recorded by the young artists Charlotte Mundy and Christopher Goddard. A new album --“Connie’s Piano Songs” -- will be released on Valentine’s Day, with a CD release show to follow on Feb. 17 in NYC.


The music industry people who told Connie Converse that no one would be interested in her songs are gone.  The record industry people who told her that her music wasn’t commercial enough are gone.  The producers and agents who condescended to her, the experts, they’re all gone. No one remembers them. No one cares who they were. They are forgotten.


Connie Converse’s music lives on, inspiring a new generation of listeners, revealing more and deeper shades of beauty and meaning as the years go by.  Her music will continue to live on, as long as there are people with open ears, open minds, and open hearts.


Come hear Connie’s Piano Songs live and breathe for the first time ever on February 17th at Le Poisson Rouge.  Come and celebrate the genius of this singular woman.


Tickets are here.


Connie's Piano Songs


On Febrauary 14, 2014 the world will finally get to hear Connie Converse's art songs for voice and piano for the first time, a half-century after their completion.  The songs were left behind in manuscript form at the time of her disappearance in 1974, and never recorded until now.

Connie's Piano Songs features the recording debuts of soprano Charlotte Mundy and pianist Christopher Goddard. The world premiere concert/CD release show will take place on February 17, 2014 at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC. Tickets are on sale now.

Those of you who have followed the progress of "A Star Has Burnt My Eye," my music-theater-documentatry piece about Connie Converse, may be especially interested in learning more about this music.  I wrote a fairly extensive essay about her for the album's liner notes -- you can read it here.

It feels appropriate to release this new CD on Valentine's Day. Producing it was a labor of love for me. I hope you'll join me in celebrating, at long last, the release of this beautiful music.


A New Year

I didn't think about it unitl I thought about it, but 2013 was an extraordinary year for me and my music, if only for the number of different projects I had the opportunity to work on and present. 

Some highlights:

* My Biting Fish Brass Band toured Europe for the first time, playing to big crowds in Estonia and Finland. Here's a clip of our headlining gig on the Mainstage at Augustibluus Fest in Happsalu.

Onstage in Estonia * No Further Instructions was programmed at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, and at the Jewish Museum in NYC. Both concerts featured my 11-piece "Romanian Orchestra," and Mike Benanav reading from his book and showing his photos from our trip abroad.


The Orchestra after the Jewish Museum show

* "A Star Has Burnt My Eye," my music-theater-documentary piece about Connie Converse, continued its development, with workshop performances at the Rattlestick Theater and Joe's Pub in NYC. Director Sarah Hughes (Elevator Repair Service) has joined the team as Director of the project.


At Joe's Pub

* My Basement Tapes Project hit the road again this fall, presented by Mercyhurst Institute in Erie, PA.

Mazz, Bean, Me, Scott and Nathan, backstage in Erie

* I produced Connie's Piano Songs, the first-ever recordings of Connie Converse's art songs, featuring the recording debuts of soprano Charlotte Mundy and pianist Christopher Goddard (Release date: 2/14/14).

Connie Converse

* Peculiar Works Project in NYC commissioned me to compose a score for their multimedia theater piece MANNA-HATA, most of it performed in the show entirely acapella by the large cast in the gigantic, mostly-abandoned spaces inside the Penn Station Post Office.

* Howard Fishman Quartet was a recurring feature in Cynthia Von Buhler's Speakeasy Dollhouse in NYC.


* And non project-specific, regular old Howard Fishman tour dates in 2013 included stops in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Upstate NY, New Orleans, Estonia, Latvia and, of course, NYC and Brooklyn.



I'm generally not one for gazing into the rearview mirror, but sometimes it can be useful to track progress and, more importantly, to express gratitude -- to the presenters who made these things happen; to my unbelievable circle of collaborators/musicians who help make my ideas manifest so beautifully; to you for showing up and showing interest in the various things I do; and to the universe for continuing to allow me opportunities to pursue and explore my various interests and passions.

Thank you. Looking forward to seeing you in 2014.

Photo by Carole Cohen

Mazz Swift

Playing a festival in Bowling Green, Ohio. Photo by Bianca Garza

Violinist and vocalist Mazz Swift is one of the most dynamic, fearless, and fun musicians I've ever performed with.  We first met ten years ago, at the now-defunct MAKOR in NYC. In a story she frequently likes to tell, Mazz was already a fan of my music, having picked up a copy of my first album at the als-defunct bookstore cafe THE READ in Williamsburg. She came to my MAKOR show to hear the quartet, and introduced herself to me after the show, dropping a mention that she played violin. Little did she know that Russell Farhang had left the band fairly recently, and I was scrambling to try to fill his shoes with a series of fiddling fill-ins.  I asked Mazz for her number, and suggested we get together and play sometime.

It was a fortuitous meeting.  I subsequently went to hear her perform with her then-musical partner Brad Hammonds at a little Irish bar in Murray Hill, and was impressed by the energy and focus of her improvisations, and the clean, vibrant tone she coaxed from her instrument.  At a subsequent get-togther at her apartment in Hell's Kitchen, it took me all of five minutes to know that I could make music with this person.  Some people just feel music the same way, ot at least in individual ways that complement and bolster the other, and that was the case with Mazz and me.  I hired her for a gig, and we haven't looked back since. Here she is in a nice live clip of the band from a few years ago playing in Brooklyn:

Mazz is featured on a number of my albums, including LOOK AT ALL THIS! (where her backup vocals raise the roofbeams on "Best Is Yet To Come"), PERFORMS BOB DYLAN & THE BAND'S "BASEMENT TAPES" (which includes her gorgeous lead vocal on "I Shall Be Released"), THE WORLD WILL BE DIFFERENT (that's her furious, impassioned violin solo on "A Ghost"), and NO FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS (where she outdoes herself on second vocals on "Set Me Free" and leads the string quartet for almost all of the album).

Performing at BAM in Brooklyn, photo by Carole Cohen

Like most of the musicians who I'm lucky enough to have perform with me, Mazz is much more than a sideperson. She fronts a project of her own called MazzMuse, and is currently in the process of recording two new albums. You can read more about it here.

It's a thrill to make music with Mazz. I look forward to every gig that we do together, and I'm always inspired by the musical dialogue we engage in onstage. I love Mazz's passion, her humor, and her absolute presence when we're making music. Recently we played some duo shows together in New Orleans, which opened up some entirely new sonic possibilities and landscapes for us.  It's a pleasure and an honor to call Mazz a part of my musical family. Here's one more look at her incredible talent, from her performance at Joe's Pub in NYC performing my song "Good Times" better than I ever could:


Stephanie Griffin

Sometimes when I'm trying to do too many things at once, I forget what day it is. And sometimes, I can even forget what week it is.

Not long ago I received an email blast about one of Stephanie Griffin's upcoming concerts, a duo recital with pianist Cheryl Seltzer at the Kaufman Music Center (where I performed my original score for Buster Keaton's The Frozen North as part of the New York Guitar Festival). 

Because I'd never heard Stephanie perform in duo format, and because the program looked musically adventurous (including the World Premiere of Ukrainian composer Valentin Bibik's "Sonata No. 3 for Viola and Piano"), I marked it on my calendar just in case I ended up having a window of time that night.

Last Wednesday, I made my way to the recital hall at Kaufman, getting there just a few minutes past the start time of the program because of a stalled subway train. I ran in, breathless, only to find...the music in progress, and exactly one other person in the audience! Well dang!, I thought to myself, it's just getting harder and harder to get people out to attend concerts, isn't it?

I'm glad I was wrong. As it turned out, I'd arrived exactly one week early. This was the duo's rehearsal session with their musical director, and I was not only gifted with an invitation to stay, but alos encouraged to engage in dialogue with the artists between pieces, a wonderfully intimate and unexpectedly provocative way to engage with the stunning music being made that night.


And stunning it was -- all of it -- though I have to say that the Bibik sonata was the most astonishing of all for me. I've recently had the honor of having Stephanie perform with me as part of my No Further Instructions ensemble, and I've heard her play with her terrific Momenta Quartet here in the city, but hearing her and Cheryl tear into the mad passion of Bibik's startling piece was a hair-raising revelation.

The good news is, if you live in or near the city, you have a chance to catch this recital on the RIGHT date, this Wednesday, May 8 at Kaufman. All the info is here.

 Photo by Jim McLaughlin

PS  I'll be performing No Further Instructions again this November, at The Jewish Museum in NYC (the photo above is from the recent show at Skidmore college-- more photos of that one here). With any luck, Stephanie's performance schedule will allow here to join me again.  But if you're around and available this Wednesday, do go and hear her and Cheryl at Kaufman. You'll be happy that you did!

Marika Hughes

MARIKA HUGHES is a phenomenal cellist, singer, composer, and all-around singular human being. Whether I'm out hearing her perform, having the honor of her sharing the stage with me, or just bumping into her somewhere all of a sudden, she never fails to bring a smile to my face. Marika is bursting with good energy and is such positive spirit -- qualities that can't help but shine through in her musical performances.



I've had the good fortune to have Marika's playing grace three of my recordings: NO FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS (that's her beautiful solo on "Your Voice"), THE WORLD WILL BE DIFFERENT (occupying the cello chair in the string quartet that's featured on most of this album) and BETTER GET RIGHT (where she sings and blows another gorgeous solo on "We Shall Not Be Moved").

Marika is currently in residency on Tuesday nights at BARBES in Brooklyn, playing with her fine, fine band BOTTOM HEAVY (a group that includes another excellent, too-infrequent collabortaor of mine, drummer Tony Mason).  I had the pleasure of hearing them againthere  a couple of weeks ago, and boy was it good. Tasty and grooving and full of joie de vivre. This is as good a time as you can have anywhere in New York on a Tuesday night.

Go see Marika and her band. Go tonight, if you can. You won't be disappointed.