I was born in New York, but growing up in Grapevine, vacationing in Big Bend, and two-stepping at the local steakhouse turned me into a Texan soon enough.
My earliest memory of Grapevine is going two-stepping at the local steakhouse when I was about four, not long after my mom and I moved to Texas from New York. We’d go every Sunday. One week, a woman came with her three sons, who were all about my age and had on cowboy hats and cowboy boots. I was so happy because they wanted to dance. The band was playing good ol’ country music, and we danced all night. I really got into music later. I have great memories of playing alto saxophone in the Grapevine High School marching band—because football was such a big deal, marching band was a huge deal. We went to band camp about a month before school started, and we had to start practice at six in the morning because by noon we’d be dying of heatstroke. We’d be at these competitions with polyester uniforms on and we would drop like flies. I remember our section leader telling us, “If you pass out, pass out on the side, otherwise you’ll get trampled.” There was a protocol for passing out!
After going to Grapevine High School my freshman year, I transferred to Booker T. Washington, the arts magnet school in Dallas. There was no marching band there because there was no football team, but I could take classes like jazz ensemble. After high school I went to the University of North Texas to study jazz, and I didn’t listen to anything but jazz. It wasn’t until I moved to New York the summer after my second year and I got homesick for country music that I realized how deep it was in my bones.
In junior high I didn’t think it was cool to like country music, but truth is, I love it. I love all aspects of it—the music, the lyrics—but what comes through in my music is the drawl. Sometimes my accent gets kind of twangy and my piano playing gets more country than I ever thought it could be—there are all these little grace notes in my playing that I associate with country. After my first record came out and I started playing a lot of shows, I was really into Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, and I found myself trying to play like his sister, Bobbie Nelson, who was on that record. In fact, it was partly because of Willie that I began to realize what being Texan was all about. In high school, I remember thinking, “Since Willie’s from Texas, it must be cool to be from Texas.”
I don’t have any family left in the state, but I’ve got lots of friends, and I make a point to come back and visit. A couple of years ago I went to Big Bend with some girlfriends. I grew up going there every year. It was a cheap vacation and a long drive, but it was great. I have a picture of me in front of the same scenic landmark every year from age seven to twelve. It was amazing to go back. It hasn’t changed at all. It made me realize I need to be in Texas at least once a year.
Even though I was born in New York and may not be the truest Texan there is, I am very much a Texan—I don’t have any hesitation about that.