Howard Fishman

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:

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

Radegast Does The Right Thing

Radegast Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is not a music venue, per se.  It's a beer garden and restaurant that also happens to feature live music two or three times a week.  There is no cover charge for the music, and the place is most certainly not a concert setting; the house does not own a sound system and -- despite the cavernous environs -- there isn't really much room to actually sit and watch a band there, unless you're lucky enough to snag one of the dozen or so stools at the bar (there is, however, some room for dancing, which is not only allowed, but encouraged).   The music is not the featured attraction for patrons; it's there to provide atmosphere while you sit and drink artisinal beer and eat delicious food (more on that in a moment).

Given the above, it may come as a surprise that not only do I perform here once a month, but it has actually become one of my favorite gigs in town.

I've been playing here with some aggregation of my Biting Fish band, under the radar, for the last year or so -- usually on a Wednesday or a Thursday night. We do three sets, with short breaks, from 9pm until midnight.  Recently, these practically anonymous neighborhood hits in this unassuming neighborhood spot have been a forum for some of the most exciting, adventurous music I've been privileged to be a part of in a good long time.  In fact, a few weeks ago, on a night when the band included Skye Steele on violin, Scott Barkan on guitar, Kenny Bentley on tuba and Dave Berger on drums, the music reached such heights of expression and bravery that, at times,  I was nearly moved to tears.  It happened again just the other nightwith the same band, minus Skye and plus Andrae Murchison on trombone. 

I've been ruminating a bit about why this is, and I think I can safely identify at least one key reason.  I think, like most things, it starts at the top.  I've known Ivan Kohut, the kindly owner, for over a decade now, since the days when he worked the Arts Nights at Europa Club in Greenpoint, presented by the sadly now-defunct New York Arts and Innovations, a terrific organization headed by Marian Zak and his family.  Ivan still likes to remind me of the time that Mr. Zak honored my quartet by having us play a party for the then-President of Poland. 

Ivan is a man of great integrity and good business sense.  He treats the musicians who play at Radegast with respect, it contributes to the quality of the music. Ivan could probably get some schlubs to come in and play for tips if he wanted to.  He could opt not to feed the musicians and/or make them pay for their drinks.  After all, he's running an eating and drinking establishment, not a music venue.

Ivan could also dumb down his food menu.  Have you ever eaten at Radegast?  "A beer hall??", you may aslk.  Let me tell you something -- the food at Radegast is outrageously good, way better than it needs to be.  The menu changes regularly, the chefs in the kitchen use fresh, delicious ingredients creatively (right now they have a winter squash gnocchi that matches anything I've eaten at much spendier, foodie-obsessive joints in the city, and a vegetarian hot borscht that is equally out of this world).

So, yes, could Ivan be forgiven if he chose to lavish less care and attention on the food being offered to people who -- let's face it -- are going to his place to drink beer?  Sure he could.  Could he be forgiven for not paying much mind to the quality of entertainment he's providing for free to the same beer-drinking crew who -- let's face it -- aren't even really there to hear music in the first place? Of course he could.  But he doesn't, and that's what makes him special as a venue owner, and what makes Radegast the delightful, exceptional surprise that it is.

There are beloved music venues in NYC that do not treat their musicians half as well as Ivan treats the people who perform at Radegast.  Those venues shall remain nameless, but Radegast deserves to be named.  If you're local, I urge you to come out and support what's going on here. As of now, I'm there once a month, but I'm starting to wish it were even more often than that. My next Radegast "show" is on Thursday, February 16. Come on over -- you'l be glad you did!

 Photos by Rod Bachar


As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I get excited by food.

I spend at least as much time thinking about it -- ethically, nutritionally, aesthetically, culturally -- as I do eating it.  So, why not write about it?  I've been writing here about other non-musical passions for years now (film, theater, books, comics), so indulge me if you may -- I'm going to try writing about food.  I have absolutely no qualifications for same, other than the fact that I love it, I eat out at least once a day in one of the greatest food cities in the world, and I travel a lot for work (which offers even more opportunities for amazing and unusual food experiences than I have here in NYC).  So, let's start with...



 I've wandered past VANDAAG any number of times since it opened last summer, admired what I could see through the large plate glass windows, thought about the day's menu, with its uncomfortable (for me) mix of creativity and delicious-sounding combinations of fresh, local ingredients combined with a puzzling preponderance of dead animals in almost every dish.  I've always passed by.  Sam Sifton's review in The Times last fall did nothing to change my mind. (Truth be told, although he constantly evoked my ire with his constant near-fetishization of said dead animal flesh, I tried never to miss one of Mr. Sifton's columns and miss his food writing dearly).

Last month, I walked by once again, but something was different. It was daytime, just about noon on a Saturday. The sun was flowing into the restaurant's welcoming interior, and the menu featured brunch, with a number of appetizing, unusual, and vegetarian-friendly items.  Even though I was en route to Momofuku Noodle Bar, my at the time go-to food destination in the East Village (that's since changed, more on that another time), something made me deicde to give Vandaag a shot.

I was immediately glad I did.  While I don't have much of a vocabulary when it comes to interior design (see Sifton's review, linked above, for a good description), suffice it to say that the place certainly has an elegant, Scandanavian feeling to it -- clean, austere, simple, airy, a lot of light and wood.  It reminded me of many of the restaurants I ate in when I was lucky enough to visited Stockholm a few years back.  There's nothing fussy here, nothing cute, nothing smacking of anything remotely like the "speakeasy" vibe that's currently played-out everywhere (it seems) in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Neatly laid out on the bar were the sections of the day's New York Times (including the Sunday supplements).  What a fabulous, underrated service that is to customers who, like me, enjoy the ritual of dining alone on a regular basis as a kind of public solitude.  I eagerly borrowed a couple of sections for my table, and sat down with the menu.


I ordered and ate two things, both astoundingly well-prepared and delicious.  The smoked mackerel scramble was, essentially, what it sounds like, with a few beautiful touches -- accompanying the fluffy scrambled eggs (at least three, I would guess) and the tasty bits of smoked fish were a couple of dollops of yogurt, onions, green peppercorns and fresh dill. This was all served in its own skillet, with a giant piece of the house's hot, toasted, buttered, "Red Ale Bread" -- perhaps the best piece of toast I've ever had, outside of the garlic toast at Tequila Bar in Uzhgorod, Ukraine.

I also ordered the Hete Bliksem, or "Hot Lightning," just because it looked so extraordinary on the menu.  While I am a 99% of the time pescatarian -- and even then, only if the fish is wild, and only once in a while, so let's call it a 75% of the time vegetarian -- I will make exceptions every once in a while if the dead animal being served is an essential part of a dish that I want to try, and if said dead animal is local and free range.  VANDAAG's "Hot Lightning" is described as crisp fingerling potatoes with bacon, apple and stroop syrup.  A dash of hot pepper makes it hot, and the syrup makes it sweet.  It sounded like something fantastic that I had to try on this Saturday early afternoon to accompany my smoked mackerel, and I wanted to honor the chef by ordering it as envisioned which, in this case, meant eating a little bit of bacon. I went for it, and I have to say that the dish is indeed extraordinary and worth getting, but next time I will not feel the slightest compunction about asking them to hold the bacon; while the intensity of the hot pepper and sweet syrup complement the crisp potatoes in an exotic, unexpected way, they completely overwhelm the flavor of the pork, rendering it into little tasteless bits of chewy flesh added for -- what, exactly?  Texture? I don't think so.  More likely to appease the foodie masses who happen to be in love with all things pork at this moment (see: bacon vodka, bacon chocolate, bacon ice cream, ad nauseum indeed).


* * *

I've been back to VANDAAG several times since, and have continued to sample the menu (it changes daily), including the excellent seasonal pickle pot; the outlandishly good roasted chestnut soup (my friend and musical cohort Russell Farhang correctly compared the taste of it to fallen leaves on a chilly, sunny autumn afternoon); the decadent French Toast with pine, cranberry and stroop syrup; and the roasted sunchoke omelet (the only near-miss for me, but that may be simply because I'm neither an omelet guy or an artichoke guy; so why did I order it? I don't know).  I couldn't help but feel that the Stroop Wafel, a small, thin caramel-filled treat, would be even better served warm.

The service is always excellent, and the experience being there in the daytime is just delightful.  I do wish that they'd opt for better music, but I'm aware that this is a disease most eating establishments have -- they simply don't know how to leave a patron's ears alone.  If I'm with someone, I want to talk quietly between bites.  If I'm alone, I want to read.  Either way, I do not need nor want any thumping music, thank you.

I have yet to dine at VANDAAG in the evening, but it's absolutely become one of my favorite daytime places to eat in the East Village. If you're in the neighborhood, stop in. I might just see you there!



Heading West with Nellie McKay

I've been asked to come and play guitar in Nellie McKay's band for her upcoming dates at Yoshi's in San Francisco (Oct. 16-18) and at Jazz Alley in Seattle (Oct. 20-21).  This will be my first time performing in San Francisco, and Seattle is one of my very favorite cities, so I'm really looking forward to this!

Here's a clip of Nellie and me singing together at Joe's Pub last year on the Hoagy Carmichael standard "Two Sleepy People"...enjoy!

10th Anniversary Shows

Photo by Brennan Cavannaugh

This month (December 2008), I'm doing something a little wild to celebrate the tenth anniversary of my musical debut.

Beginning on Tuesday, Dec.9th, I'll be performing 10 consecutive shows, with 10 different bands, in (almost) 10 venues (one venue has two different bands over two nights).

It's going to be a little nuts, but I'm excited...not least because I'm bringing back a number of players that have been with me over the years AND bringing back some projects that mean a lot to me.  There will be a brand new showing of a revamped "we are destroyed" at galapagos , a return to the Algonquin where it all began, with my quartet (featuring my erstwhile bandmates Russell Farhang, Jon Flaugher, and special guest Orange Kellin), a new outing for the "Basement Tapes" Project, a Monkey Farm rock show at PIANOS, and a chance to play my newest material (with a string section!) at Joe's Pub.

Hope to see you at a few of them!

Back Out With Nellie

The lovely Ms. McKay has invited me to join her on her shows this week in Cleveland at a great little jazz club called Nighttown.  Apparently, we're picking up a rhythm section from out there, so the shows (this Monday and Tuesday) should be nice and spontaneous. 

Here are clips of the two of us duetting on Hoagy Carmichael's "Two Sleepy People," and Nellie singing my song "When It Rains," --  enjoy!

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

"we are destroyed" and Thursdays @ Pete's Candy

April is going to be a whole lot of fun in NY. 

"we are destroyed" (which we're now calling an opera, btw -- why not?) is about to go into rehearsals for its next showing, the first time that the piece has had a multi-night run and the first time that there will be movement, staged with elaborate brilliance by Ed Schmidt. You may remember Ed as the host and curator of DUMBOLIO, a very smart and entertaining monthly variety show that, sadly, has been on hiatus for a little while. 

Ed is directing a brand new cast, led by none other than the fabulous Susan Oetgen. "we are destroyed" will be at the ABRONS ARTS CENTER in NYC, on April 24-25 @8pm, and on April 26 @3pm. Tickets are here.

"Donner," by Howard Fishman, oil on canvas

Have a look at a nice piece on the project that just went online. I'm looking a little haggard in it, but the music sounds nice:


The other good news is that since I'll be here all month, I booked myself a residency at none other than PETE'S CANDY STORE, my old neighborhood haunt. I\ll be holding forth every Thursday night @11pm, and bringing in a variety of friends old and new to play with me. Lots of new material.  Week one (4/2) will be a rare outing of the MONKEY FARM, with Jon Flaugher joining me on bass and Dave Berger on drums.

Photo by Sean Gallagher

Meanwhile, work in the studio continues apace.  Stay tuned and thanks for listening.


People often ask when I'm going to put out a new record, and I think I can finally, safely, say "soon."  Maybe more than one. Maybe more than two. 

There's no shortage of new material -- those of you that come to hear me play live know that there are a number of unrecorded songs that I've been playing out with regularity for some time: "Show Me The Way," "A Ghost," "When It Rains," all of the "Romania songs." 

The issue has been a financial one.  Like a lot of musicians who have their own labels, I often wonder what the point is of making a new record in the current landscape where, let's face it, music is now free.

But there is a point, darn it, -- the point is to make art. I've got somewhere between 40 and 60 unrecorded songs, and more where those came from every week it seems. And I like them.

So, I'm gonna record them, and I'm going to pay as I go -- a few songs here, a few songs there, some with one group of musicians, some with others. I started a couple of weeks ago with some sessions up in Harlem with my brass band, and we got a bunch of really good things down.  The next batch will probably be with a different band.  When there's enough material to make a cohesive album, I'll put one out. But I'm going to keep recording where and when I can. Maybe by the end of the year there will be two or three new CDs of mine.

I recently posted a live version of one of the "Romania songs" on my Facebook page -- it's called "The Pensione Owner's Song," and the recording is from a show at JOE'S PUB in NYC this past December.

There's also an interesting discussion happening on that page about my music and what it sounds like to different people. I'd love to hear from you if you have any thoughts to contribute!

Thanks for listening.





This is when we're going to pop the corks and have a party. Joe's Pub has been my musical headquarters for almost all of the last decade, and it's only fitting that the big throwdown will be here. The best sound, the best lights, the best place to see a show in NYC, period.

Tonight will feature my original music, and a number of my "Romania" songs will get the full string quartet treatment. For those of you who missed the one and only previous outing of these songs in their final form at the Settlement House back in October, now's your chance!

Performing with me tonight will be:

Mazz Swift, Violin, Viola

Roland Barber, Trombone

Skye Steele, Violin

Bill Malchow, Piano, Accordion

Marika Hughes, Cello

Jon Flaugher, Upright Bass

...and maybe a special guest or two.

See you there!




DUMBO, Brooklyn


"we are destroyed" by Howard Fishman

A newly-revised version of my music theater project, this time directed by Ed Schmidt and featuring actors Robert Boardman, Susan Oetgen, Justin Nestor and Nicole Pacent. Also featuring a version of my quartet including Mazz Swift (violin), Jon Flaugher (bass), Ben Holmes (trumpet) and yours truly on guitar and piano.







Confirmed special guests include:

JOHN WESLEY HARDING (Gangsta Folk Musician)




Not to mention the band...

HF: Guitar, vocals

Mazz Swift: Violin

Ian Riggs: Bass

Mark McLean: Drums

Roland Barber: Trombone



This one is gonna be pretty special...back to the place where it all started ten years ago, the Algonquin Oak Room. 

Joining me to celebrate will be my original partner in crime, the mysterious Russell Farhang on violin.

On bass is none other than Jon Flaugher:

Rounding out the quartet for the evening is legendary clarinetist Orange Kellin, a man known as one of the foremost New Orleans clarinet players alive.

Hope to see you there!


Photo by Mark McLean





Aside from being the name of my label, MONKEY FARM is also the name I use to designate a show as being somewhat grittier and louder than normal. This usually involves my big red electric guitar.

Joining me for this show will be some good old pals who will help me.  On electric guitar will is Michael Daves, the man you hear shredding on my BASEMENT TAPES record and also on LOOK AT ALL THIS!

On drums, Dave Berger will be kickin' it. Dave and I have yet to record together, but he's played on my gigs since 2000. Dave has a nasty groove.

On bass, the baddest of the bad, will be none other than Jon Flaugher, the guy you hear on I LIKE YOU A LOT and DO WHAT I WANT. JFlag is on the road most of the time these days, playing with the likes of Ryan Adams, Josh Radin and Colin Hay, but I'm happy to have him on a bunch of these anniversary shows with me. It's been some time since the big guy and I have played electric together -- we'll be taking names.

This should be a very fun night, and cheap -- only $8!  Hope to see you there.