I’m on the bus now to Gary, Indiana for our next gig. We’re passing dry, yellowed cornfields and windmills. It’s very flat. Everyone is quiet and resting.

Last night was something I’ll treasure and savor forever. The band was truly magical, the audience supportive and blown away by what we had to offer: everything from the mellowest, classiest jazz to sizzling mambo to outright rock n roll with all of us jumping up and down!

I had taken a long run (6 miles) in the midday (my morning, on Pacific time). The town of Carmel is straight out of that movie The Truman Show: pristine, and eerily empty. Is it because I’m a Californian that I’m used to seeing people around every corner? And trash? And homelessness? Well, none of those were to be found in the manicured velvet lawns and colonial brick buildings, all looking brand-new yet classical. The theater apparently cost $120 million to build, with Italianate Renaissance styling. It was truly a venue to outshine all others.

After my run I dressed, made up and practiced vocal exercises and my parts to the show. I made the bus call, and we drove to the venue, where a costumer was waiting for us with a steamer for the suits and my gown. We had already soundchecked for 5 hours the previous day, and were hoping that the kinks would be worked out. They were, and so I got a chance to do my bolero, which we hadn’t run the day before because we ran out of time. Halfway through sound check, a group of high school students from and students of Wayne Wallace and Michael Spiro, Bay Area greats (and my former producer and percussionist, respectively) who now teach at the Latin Music Center at the University of Indiana.

Willie Torres, showman that he is, immediately welcomed the visitors and performed for them. When it came time for my bolero, I gave my spiel after Christian introduced me. I had a lot riding on getting this right, as the arrangement has changed from the original, plus we’ve added a 16-bar scat section for me after Pete Cornell’s sax solo. I wrote a vocalese for that and have been stressing about how to sound hip and Kurt Elling/Eddie Jefferson-like on that part, writing out several solos with runs and tricky leaps, never happy with how it sounded. After a gig a few weeks ago at Cocomo, I cornered Aaron Lington, composer of the tune, in the green room and asked him how best to do a bebop solo and “sound hip.” He said scales and arpeggios always sound best, and to land on the third of the new chord. And that it was always better to have fun than sound hip, but at the same time you had to make music that pleased yourself first.

Anyway, this was my final chance to get it right. In the rehearsal in San Francisco, just as I started my solo, Tony Peebles, such a burning sax player, cocked his head at me in a kind jazz listening gesture that only served to make me immediately blank on what I was going to sing. Plus, we’ve slowed the tempo, which changes the phrasing and the speed of the arpeggios. I faked it but wasn’t happy at all.

So all that is a lot of technical stuff, but the point is that when it was my turn to sing at sound check, I felt pressure to get it right, and was hit by nerves as well. I was shaking a little, which does happen to me occasionally (without forewarning, usually). But I felt the emotion of the song and nailed it. Christian and I were trading nicely, which was a point I’d noted with him, that we needed to work out piano and vocal phrasing better so that his shimmering piano runs didn’t compete with the vocal, but rather filled in the spaces, which were now longer thanks to the new tempo. Afterwards, he said it gave him chills.

Several songs later, we wrapped up the rehearsal – essentially, an entire show’s worth. We were exhausted, but the students came and asked questions so various musicians gave impromptu clinics. A guy from the Latin Music Center wanted to know all about my in-ears and monitor mix.

We ate dinner at the venue, relaxed and pampered. I had chicken and mashed potatoes and veggies and salad and coconut water and apple pie and wondered if I’d fit in my dress (I did). The costumer even gave me some new tricks for taping my in-ears or pinning them to my hair.

Then it was show-time. Lucas, our tour manager, had a headset on just like a football coach. Everything was thought of in advance, yet calm and easy. We all felt nervous walking out on to that vast stage and facing the concert hall, but the audience was eager and the house was well-filled, with people scattered in the various balconies all around us too. Once the first tune started, I couldn’t help saying thank you to God for letting me live this dream. I’ve been quite conversational with God these past few days, just saying thank you, thanks, I really appreciate it, amen.

We slowly cranked up the energy, peaking with Tito Puente Jr.’s three songs in the middle of the set. Then came my bolero. I could hear myself perfectly. I remembered what Christian said about how the emotion, not the technique, had given him goosebumps in rehearsal, so I felt it. When I sang “Picture us, glorious, on the silver screen, we were meant to be grand,” I looked straight into the spotlights and imagined a movie screen there. My solo section went off easily, with emotion too. It just was glorious. After the whole, very long show (I believe we did two hours, and this after they’d cut my second number after rehearsal), everyone said the bolero was perfect, sitting right after Christian’s rock-n-roll antics with the keytar and Tito’s crowd-pleasers.

I figure no one will read this (or at least this far) so this is a note to self: After I was in one of the dressing rooms with the guys, and Christian came in, and told me “The bolero was great. You were great. You are a star. You are a star. It’s just a matter of when you know it.” I hugged him and said “Te adoro Christian.” Now, I’m no spring chicken, I’ve heard accolades and criticisms and predictions of greatness before (I still remember one from 7 years ago hahaha!). But I felt it, and I loved what he said: When I believe it. Last night, with this band that I adore, these musicians I so respect and admire and emulate, this brotherhood (familyhood) of musicians I am so privileged to be touring with, I am a star. We are stars. ROCK STARS!!!