You could say that PJ Parker's musical path was revealed at age three with her first recording of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song", displaying an early sense of vocal improvisation.
The native New Yorker’s first taste of performing in front of a live audience came a little later, around age five, in several Long Island restaurants. Much to the chagrin of her parents, she would frequently disappear, only to be discovered politely taking requests, her remuneration a fat green or black olive from the relish tray. Her love of olives continues to this day.
From producing neighborhood backyard traveling shows to church and school solo performances as a child and teenager, PJ went on to New York University to major in vocal music, studying the classics in five languages, and went on the road after graduation. Her touring with various show bands took her throughout the U.S and Caribbean.
Performing in concerts, summer stock, regional theater and musical reviews -- favorites including Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris, 110 in the Shade, and Pippin -- PJ has also been the featured vocalist with orchestras and bands from Atlantic City to New York City.
As a jazz vocalist, PJ has performed with such artists as Jerry Bruno, Roy Cumming, Steve Gilmore, Harry Leahy, Keith MacDonald, Gary Mazzaroppi, Geary Moore, Rich Reiter and Radam Schwartz. She has also been the featured vocalist for opening act bands for John Pizzarelli and Harry Connick Jr., and appeared in Philadelphia's Variety Club Telethon. She was also the featured female vocalist in the big band show, "Your Seaside Ballroom," which received rave reviews at the Trump Plaza Theater in Atlantic City.
With her first live CD, "INTIMATE," PJ honors her father, jazz pianist Tom Parker, whose early influence led her to Frank Sinatra, the Hi-Lo's, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Tony Bennett. The "Intimate" collection was culled from months of live recordings at Rosse's, a quiet little restaurant nestled in the Watchung Mountains of New Jersey, accompanied by the creative piano stylings of Vinnie Ruggieri and John Bianculli.
Her second collection, "IT'S CHRISTMAS," features a mix of traditional and contemporary Christmas songs such as "Silent Night," "Deck the Halls," and "A Child is Born," in addition to the debut of her own composition, "NOT BENEATH THE TREE".
PJ's third CD, "DREAMS ARE MEANT FOR TWO," is an
emotional collection of classic standards such as “Black Coffee,” “Moonglow,” “Angel Eyes” and nine others, plus her own “So What Do You Say?", “Love’s A Logistical Thing" and the "Dreams" title track, with music written more than 50 years ago by PJ's late father.
Featured with PJ on ” DREAMS ARE MEANT FOR TWO'' are the stellar musicians Vinnie Ruggieri on piano; Earl Sauls on bass, Tim Horner on percussion, Coleman Mellett on guitars and Joel Frahm on tenor and soprano saxophone.
PJ has won accolades as a songwriter. Her first Christmas song, "Not Beneath the Tree," was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 12th Annual Unisong International Songwriting Contest.
PJ was also a Jazz nominee in the Hollywood Music in Media Awards, earned semi-finalist status in the UK Songwriting Contest, awarded honorable mentions in the International Songwriter Competition, the 17th Annual Billboard Worldwide Song Contest and has had her music featured in prime-time television series "CSI" and "Parenthood."
Jazz fans from around the world continue to embrace Parker: Her artist profile page at www.AllAboutJazz.com - the most popular jazz Web site in the world - reached the 7th most popular among living jazz artists, and 15th among all jazz artists profiled on the site. For an independent artist, this is uncommon territory; rarely are jazz artists raised to such heights without major-label support. Parker's gradually increasing fanbase should garner the interest of large-market jazz radio programmers nationwide.
PJ Parker, Vocals
Vinnie Ruggieri, Piano
Earl Sauls, Bass
Tim Horner, Drums
Joel Frahm, Saxophones
Coleman Mellett, Guitars
INTIMATE -- 2006
IT'S CHRISTMAS -- 2007
DREAMS ARE MEANT FOR TWO -- 2008
Dreams Are Meant For Two
Not Beneath the Tree
Jingle Down the Christmas Tre
I Didn't Plan
Moods and Tenses
Love's A Logistical Thing
So What Do You Say?
Notice of Serious Intent: PJ Parker’s Dreams Are Meant for Two
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Two years ago I had the opportunity to “meet” New York area vocalist PJ Parker through email and rev...Two years ago I had the opportunity to “meet” New York area vocalist PJ Parker through email and review of her debut recording, Intimate. At the time, I noted that “without going outside the sensibilities of a mainstream audience, PJ makes every note and phrase a personal experiment. Her interpretation is defined by nuance rather than by big leaps and twists, which is not to say that she doesn’t reshape notes and phrases along the way. With her delicate but not fragile approach, one senses that PJ has listened extensively to Billie Holiday without any suggestion of imitation. Her tone reminds me a bit of Jane Monheit, not as creamy and more prone to adventure.” About a year later, PJ followed with a set of holiday cheer (It’s Christmas), again a collection of standards and less familiar covers, again offering “intimate” conversation as well as swinging good fun, a bit more adventure.
The adventure continues with the recent release of Dreams Are Meant for Two (PJB Creatives), and now PJ seems more confident, her interpretations taking still-subtle yet more personal directions. In short, Dreams Are Meant for Two is the sort of recording that pushes an already-competent artist into the realm of “talent deserving wide recognition,” and hopefully critics and audiences nation-wide will take notice. Unlike the previous recordings with only piano (Intimate) or piano and bass (It’s Christmas), Dreams finds PJ in front of a larger ensemble. Again she collaborates with pianist Vinnie Ruggieri on the arrangements; bassist Earl Sauls reprises his role on the holiday recording. But this time there’s the additional layers of drums from Tim Horner, guitar from Coleman Mellett, and particularly the bright intensity and melodicism of tenor/soprano saxman Joel Frahm. More voices yield more texture, a richer tapestry on which PJ can weave her magic.
And magic indeed infuses the 15 diverse tracks, covering familiar standards of Irving Mills, Matt Dennis, Harold Arlen, Gershwin and Kern, Hammerstein and Kern; the songbook of Peggy Lee, and PJ herself, with two original tunes and the title track, a newly discovered composition penned by her late father. A pianist/composer/conductor who passed along his love of music, Tom Parker left behind a manuscript that PJ discovered while working on her new recording, a piece without lyrics. Although the tune was undated, PJ “felt a deep sense that this lovely melody had been written to and for my Mom, and more than likely before their marriage.” Adding her own lyrics, “Dreams” became the stunning finale to her most definitive work to date.
“Moonglow” sets the stage for a set that is bright, swinging, often light as a feather but heavy with feeling. The first verse introduces one of New York’s most under-rated reed players, Joel Frahm, in a luscious voice/tenor sax duet. PJ’s light touch on Matt Dennis’ well-covered “Angel Eyes” makes understatement thoroughly sultry, and her phrasing and melodic improvisation signals a more adventurous approach than on the earlier recordings. “Long Ago (And Far Away)” highlights the intricate guitar of Coleman Mellett, and Mellett and Sauls combine to give the track its mildly bossa swing. PJ injects subtle drama, reminiscent of Monheit but more exploratory, particularly as she creates her own horn-like closing verse. The comparison to Monheit seems more on the mark on the sweet “Then I’ll Be Tired of You,” her soprano sure yet delicate, her heart transparent. Mellett offers a perfect solo interlude, a complementary hue on the sonic color wheel, while Ruggieri provides exquisite supporting lines, piano and voice closing in duet.
Gears switch perceptibly but delightfully with an utterly seductive “Black Coffee.” A whiney soprano from Frahm, well-placed percussive accents from Horner, and swampy basslines from Sauls create the context, but PJ’s pacing and phrasing are as wicked and engaging as any interpretation I’ve heard. Frahm conjures the Devil himself with a snakey solo, mirroring PJ’s teasing tone. From the Devil in disguise PJ moves to the beguiling “Old Devil Moon,” swinging and enticing, criss-crossing her range “flying high and wide,” almost “too hot to handle.” Again the undertow is provided by Sauls. A brighter tone permeates “Let’s Fall in Love,” PJ and Joel Frahm in counterpoint, Ruggieri, Sauls and Mellett providing the swing. Frahm and Mellett trade solo riffs before PJ takes a spin with bass alone. One of the shorter tracks, it is also one of the most upbeat.
Lost or crumbling love is the theme of adjacent tracks, the medley of Buffy St. Marie’s “Until It’s Time for You to Go”/Jacques Brel and Rod McKuen’s “If You Go Away” followed by “Love Me or Leave Me.” In particular “If You Go Away” has been covered in a jazz context before, but perhaps never as effectively, in English or French. PJ offers a bilingual interpretation. Sauls opens “Love Me or Leave Me” with a loping solo, PJ joining in with a lilting swing. Love is resurrected on the romping “The Song Is You,” here Sauls skipping along, Frahm trading energetic lines with Horner, and PJ phrasing her lines like a veteran bebopper.
Two lovely tracks follow, “In Passing Years” (Richard Jensen) in simpatico, exquisite duet with Mellett, and the lower pitched lullabye, “In the Wee Small Hours,” highlighting the delicacy and taste not only of PJ Parker but, most magnificently, of Vinnie Ruggieri.
Special mention of the original works which suggest PJ Parker has the potential to be a significant songwriter: “So What Do You Say?” is a gentle ballad in the tradition of the great swing-era songwriters, owing as much of its success to Vinnie Ruggieri’s filigree touch and Earl Saul’s unerring time as to PJ’s endearing lyrics and sweet presentation. “Love’s a Logistical Thing” has the swing and sass of a familiar standard, the lyrics the fit, finish and alliteration of a Cole Porterish hit. Joel Frahm finds plenty to chew on as he sails through on tenor, and the rhythm section (particularly guitarist Mellett) would be welcome on any dance floor.
The grand finale of course is the title track. Writes PJ, “The title haunted me with a vague familiarity as I did write lyrics, and shortly before the studio session I searched for an article I’d saved of my Dad’s, a newspaper story announcing the production of an Army review show co-written by Dad and actor Danny Dayton called ‘Pardon My Brassard,’ which according to my mother, was indeed crafted before their marriage. Listed among the featured songs was ‘Dreams Are Meant for Two,’ a most romantic title amid the predominantly ‘army guy’ tunes...My husband and I extensively researched the possibility of existing lyrics, but none have surfaced. The lyrics I added seemed to write themselves, a simple love song written by a man who had finally found the love of his life.” Recorded at the end of their studio session with just piano and voice, “it was after midnight in the wee small hour of June 17– the anniversary of the wedding of my parents, Thomas and Gloria Parker.” One can not imagine a more fitting anniversary card, presented by two musical voices that fit together like two hearts that share a common dream.
PJ Parker grew up in New York City, surrounded by the arts and music not only through her father’s influence but also via her mother, a dancer and singer. She recalls performing Mel Tormé’s “Christmas Song” at age three, and taking requests from patrons at Long Island restaurants as a five-year old. She studied voice in five languages at New York University, graduating to work in concert halls, dinner theater, summer stock and musical revues, traveling with show bands and singing with orchestras in New York and Atlantic City. Her recording career is more recent, and one hopes that wide distribution and airplay will bring this accomplished singer and songwriter the critical attention her talents demand. With Dreams Are Meant for Two, PJ Parker has issued a definitive statement of intent—to challenge the heart, to unlock memories, to reinvent the familiar, to entertain. And to do so on her own terms, with her own voice.
Dreams Are Meant For Two
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PJ Parker has one voice but several personalities on Dreams Are Meant for Two, and each of them ligh...PJ Parker has one voice but several personalities on Dreams Are Meant for Two, and each of them lights the dynamite which leaves every track on the album shaken and stirred. Parker is no timid jazz vocalist; she tackles each composition with fiery passion and striking self-confidence.
On her version of "Black Coffee," Parker deepens her voice to a bluesy croon, intensifying the song's bad-habit confessions. Joel Frahm's saxophone adds palpable heat, especially when he starts to jam near the song's climax. Parker's darkly seductive singing and Frahm's scorching sax literally elevate the track to an exhilarating rush of steam.
Parker's unrestrained performance on "Black Coffee" epitomizes her approach to the rest of the material on the CD. Whether they're covers of standards or originals, Parker displays remarkable bravado. "Then I'll Be Tired of You" is given a dreamy, star-struck delivery that rejuvenates the often-remade tune. On "Angel Eyes," Parker's sultry, soulful vocals soar above Vinnie Ruggieri's incandescent piano and Earl Sauls' low, throbbing bass. The level of comfort that Parker has with these classic songs is impressive in its depth. She knows them inside and out and is keenly aware of how to make them seem new again.
Sinfully sexy saxophones and pulsating bass lines conjure feelings of magnetic attraction on "Moonglow," and Parker's rich, emotionally fueled voice thickens the romantic mood. On "Let's Fall in Love," Parker finds herself in the throes of Valentine's Day euphoria; her playful, upbeat singing is sweet and utterly charming.
Dreams Are Meant for Two never grows old or tiresome because Parker is always awake at the wheel, always in step with her top-flight backing musicians and respectful to the songwriters and performers she is paying tribute to here. However, perhaps most importantly she isn't afraid to reveal parts of herself in the process.
Aching Interpretations and Sly Delights
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Great name, PJ Parker. It's fun, memorable, and classic all at the same time! And amazingly enough, ...Great name, PJ Parker. It's fun, memorable, and classic all at the same time! And amazingly enough, those words also describe the artist's holiday release, It's Christmas. Framed just by the piano and bass, vocalist PJ Parker presents traditional, minimalist jazz, providing the sort of intimate experience you would count yourself lucky to experience in a swank urban watering hole in late December.
Parker has a sparkle in her eye and smoky intonation in her flexible jazz instrument. The artist brings considerable craft and color to each word and tone, making it a pleasure to absorb the emotional highs and lows. From the sly delights of Jingle Bells and the playful (Everybody's Waitin' for) the Man with the Bag to Parker's aching interpretation of moving gems such as A Child Is Born and I Wonder as I Wander, the album is consistently entertaining. Parker's own Not Beneath the Tree is a well-written ballad about the greatest gifts, which (not surprisingly) cannot be purchased online. It's Christmas nicely combines the sacred and secular, and the overall tone is slightly subdued and richly contemplative.
Those who favor sophisticated jazz stylings will find much to love here. PJ Parker's release is a delectable dish for the holidays, perfect for two to enjoy by candlelight!
An Intimate Embrace from PJ Parker
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Contributed by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor I live in a jazz-rich community that boasts at... Contributed by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor
I live in a jazz-rich community that boasts at least a dozen vocalists whose talents easily equal the best in New York or LA, yet they remain, for various reasons, relatively unknown beyond our outer ring suburbs. I suspect this is true in many other locales where home-grown talent rarely attains national recognition. Even in New York—or perhaps especially in New York—it is likely that dozens of top-notch artists fly below the radar, known and appreciated only by those in their immediate environs.
Each year I receive at least a handful of indie-label and self-produced CDs from musicians who, like the best in my area, have as much to offer a jazz audience as any who top the charts and polls. Intimate (PJB Creatives, 2006), a self-produced recording from native New York vocalist PJ Parker, is an appealing debut from an artist deserving wider recognition.
Singing and performing came naturally to PJ, whose father was a pianist/composer/conductor, and whose mother was a dancer and singer. She recalls performing Mel Tormé’s “Christmas Song” at age three, and taking requests from patrons at Long Island restaurants as a five-year old. Early success through school and church performances led her to study music at New York University, where she studied voice in five languages. After graduation, PJ found plenty of work from concert halls and dinner theater to summer stock and musical revues, traveling with show bands and singing with orchestras in New York and Atlantic City.
Image A long-running gig at Rosse’s—“a lovely little place tucked in the mountains of Martinsville, New Jersey”—featuring just voice and piano provided the live music for Intimate. In dedicating the recording to her father (“a man of deep soul and poetry”), PJ notes that Tom Parker introduced her to the classic repertoire of Frank Sinatra, the Hi-Lo's, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McCrae and Tony Bennett, and “to the simple magic of piano and voice.” That simple magic is indeed pared down to a set of sixteen duets, PJ’s vocals supported only by either Vinnie Ruggieri or John Bianculli on piano. Notes husband/producer Bill Bowman, “There were no written arrangements. PJ simply called out a key and a tempo to the pianist, and off they went. So what you're hearing is the music, as it happened, which really is the essence of jazz, I think.”
The title Intimate refers not only to the small club ambience and interaction between vocalist and pianist, but to the gentle passion that PJ injects into each song, each track a personal statement that ensures a recording that goes far beyond the usual set of familiar standards. While it might be easy to push such fare into the background as pleasant “aural wallpaper,” in doing so the listener would miss the spontaneously crafted arrangements, the clarity of the voice, the unwavering pitch, the essence of the lyrics. Contrary to cabaret or “lounge” singing, Intimate is a perfect example of “jazz” singing—without going outside the sensibilities of a mainstream audience, PJ makes every note and phrase a personal experiment. Her interpretation is defined by nuance rather than by big leaps and twists, which is not to say that she doesn’t reshape notes and phrases along the way. With her delicate but not fragile approach, one senses that PJ has listened extensively to Billie Holiday without any suggestion of imitation. Her tone reminds me a bit of Jane Monheit, not as creamy and more prone to adventure.
Eleven of the sixteen tracks feature Vinnie Ruggieri on piano, with John Bianculli on the rest. Both prove to be elegant foils for Parker, often generating a feel of a larger ensemble, contributing their own ideas that add layers to the journey. Ruggieri in particular creates basslines that had me wondering, frequently, if there really was an acoustic bass player missing from the credits.
While all tracks are familiar—even well-worn—pages from the Great American Songbook, the selections are diverse in sources and moods. Two tunes each come from the pens of the Gershwins, Duke Ellington, and the team of Comden, Green and Styne, with the rest from such heralded composers as Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, McHugh and Fields, and Sammy Cahn. Throughout, the pace is relatively slow, from ballad to mid-tempo, and no track reaches five minutes, with most fulfilling their purpose within three or four. Even within these relatively short takes, there’s a lot of room for voice and piano to explore.
The set opens with a gentle but sparkling “Just in Time,” followed by the sweet passion of “Blame It on My Youth. PJ slows “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” to a near ballad tempo, and Ruggieri’s soloing here is as delightful as her vocals. On “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” PJ adds a touch of sass and more twist to her improvisation on the melody, unable to suppress a giggle at the end. How many singers have done “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face?” PJ brings a fresh longing, offset beautifully by Ruggieri. A change of pace and rhythm follows as PJ and Ruggieri bring a slightly Latin feel to their swinging rendition of “A Foggy Day.” The sparse arrangement gives this a light—maybe foggy—glow, a more gentle reading than the usual. Following a stellar improvisation from the pianist, PJ creates new twists on the melody on the out chorus--her phrasing here should end any side conversations!
Often rendered at a brighter midtempo, PJ slows “How High the Moon” to a stroll without falling into a maudlin pace, while Bianculli seems to mirror her phrasing in his solo interlude. “Summertime” gives Ruggieri a chance to elegantly prove his blues chops, while PJ’s sultry, elongated phrases curve and flow, as if drifting through the Bayou. Shifting to a more sprightly tempo, a short (2 ½ minute) “I’m Beginning to See the Light” finds PJ playing with some risky high notes—and she’s more than up to the challenge. “All of Me” is flirty, even more so as PJ slows it down, breaking up the rhythm and drawing out key words, while Ruggieri’s quirky phrases help push it forward. Here PJ infuses a more pleading quality than the usual presentation of the Marks and Simons classic.
With an upbeat midtempo, PJ flows through the lyrics of “Don’t Blame Me” while Ruggieri keeps a counter rhythm going in his left hand that really mimics an acoustic bass. (Maybe he really has three hands?) On the second chorus, PJ’s phrasing creates a sense of scat without eliminating the lyrics. “Sentimental Journey” is a faster-paced track, yet the lyrics are crystalline and PJ makes every word important. On “Make Someone Happy,” PJ sings over Bianculli’s counter melody, the piano staying behind the vocal just enough to give it a swinging, optimistic lilt.
I’ve been quite partial to “Easy Living” ever since hearing Hugh Ragin’s trumpet rendition. The melody forces leaps that not all vocalists navigate effectively, and PJ succeeds without any brassiness. Again, Ruggieri combines a deft sense of time with elegantly placed phrases and chords. On “Day By Day,” his comping is relatively abstract, and the midtempo swing is largely drawn from PJ’s phrasing. “Am I Blue” ends the set on a sultry, and indeed, blue note.
Intimate may not find its way to the top of the jazz radio charts and PJ Parker may remain relatively anonymous outside of the small clubs of the east coast. That’s the reality for many artists devoting their careers to an art form that is generally underappreciated. Based on her debut recording, however, PJ Parker rises above the sea of promising vocalists as a true jazz singer who warrants serious attention. Even in New York.
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Reviewed by: Larry Taylor In Intimate, vocalist PJ Parker makes her CD debut, singing favorites f...Reviewed by: Larry Taylor
In Intimate, vocalist PJ Parker makes her CD debut, singing favorites from the American Song Book. She sings the ballads with sweetness and delicacy, but strains a bit in the up-tempo numbers. Overall, though, it’s a good record, something relaxing to listen to while, say, driving or lounging in the backyard.
The tracks were made over a period of months at Rosse’s, a restaurant in the Watchtung Mountains of New Jersey. Very capably accompanying her on various tracks are pianists Vinnie Ruggieri and John Bianculli.
Parker says she was Inspired in her youth by the likes of Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughn. Here, though, she sings with a touch of Jane Monheit-like sweetness in the ballads ...
Standing out among the 14 favorites is a slow, languid version of “Surrey With The Fringe On Top.” With Parker, the two lovers described aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere; likewise the journey is pleasant for the listener. In “Don’t Blame Me,” Parker also hits her groove, swinging lightly, prodded most capably by Ruggieri’s piano work.
She is at her best on “Blame It On My Youth.” With Bianculli’s sensitive touch leading her, she brings a breathy sweetness to this contemplative paean to the lover we’ve all lost at one time.
With “All of Me,” she is in command, slowly drawing the listener in with an attitude of majestic surrender. These slow tempos are her forte.
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by Scott Yanow PJ Parker dedicates Intimate to her father who, when she was young, often accompa...by Scott Yanow
PJ Parker dedicates Intimate to her father who, when she was
young, often accompanied her on the piano. The set of vocal-
piano duets, with Vinnie Ruggieri playing piano on 11 selections
and Jon Bianculli on the other five, was recorded live at Rosses,
an establishment in Martinsville, New Jersey that is unfortunately
no longer open. All 16 of the standards are well known but, by
sometimes performing the songs slightly slower, out-of-tempo or
at a faster pace than expected, the warhorses (which include
“Just In Time,” “How High The Moon,” “All Of Me” and “Am I Blue”)
are brought back to life, never sounding tired or overly
predictable. PJ Parker has a sweet and very musical voice and
her singing is full of honest emotions and subtle improvising. This
is a difficult release to resist and is well worth acquiring, available
PJ Parker -- Intimate
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(Translated from the original French) by Michel Bedin "This is an 'exercise without a net,' fr...(Translated from the original French)
by Michel Bedin
"This is an 'exercise without a net,' from which she emerges with much mastery and grace."
"All these songs are brought back to us through this voice, rather soft, tender and assured, that PJ Parker treats us to."
"This CD is a beautiful example of real jazz in the United States, the popular jazz that has never been avoided by people who know the music."
PJ typically performs selections from the Great American Songbook, such as All of Me, Angel Eyes, Then I'll Be Tired Of You, Love Me or Leave Me, Just In Time, Am I Blue, The Song Is You, Easy Living, Don't Blame Me, Summertime, I've Grown Accustomed to His Face, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, Blame It On My Youth, How High the Moon, Love Walked In and many more, as well as original compositions, such as her
Christmas song," NOT BENEATH THE TREE "and the song she wrote to her late father's melody, undiscovered for over 50 years ,"DREAMS ARE MEANT FOR TWO". Sets are usually 45-55 minutes, typically 3-4 sets, depending on the venue.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.