excellence, music, music biz

As Good As It Gets?

Is Carly Simon right?

My original plan had been to head directly to NYC where I would make music for a living. But Hartford High wouldn’t give me a diploma, even though I’d accumulated the required 16 credits. And I couldn’t stand the idea of spending another year there, and I didn’t have the nerve to begin my career as a high school dropout. So I applied to the only college that was still accepting applications in March, and wound up living at home and attending classes at the Hartford branch of UConn my freshman year. Which was a blessing in disguise, as I was about as ready to live by myself in Greenwich Village at age 16 as I was to fly to the moon.

Long before UConn became a basketball powerhouse, it was an agricultural school https://uconn.edu/about-us/history/ – and when I attended, virtually all music majors studied to become teachers. Serious students with professional aspirations opted for conservatories like Oberlin, Eastman & Juilliard, though there were a few exceptions; Marco & Ernie Calouri were gifted French horn players at UConn during my tenure, and they both joined the US military bands upon graduation. There were probably a few others who pursued something other than a Music Ed. degree at that time, but I don’t recall who, or where they ended up.

My first winter in NYC, the Calouri brothers asked me to help them get tickets to the NY Brass Conference for Scholarships, a weekend hosted by music publisher Charles Colin. The following year Dr. Colin hired me to extract parts to some compositions that had been commissioned for several large brass ensembles, and I got a real idea of the calibre of musicianship in the NYC freelance scene. Of course, there were legendary performers, teachers & honorees like Clark Terry, William Vacchiano, Manny Klein, Don Butterfield and Art Farmer – as well as headlining celebrities like Bill Watrous, Doc Severinson and Marvin Stamm – but there were also so many incredible rank & file players whose skills were astonishing! To hear a group of 20 to 30 of these guys all sightreading a new piece was mindblowing to me – I’d sure never seen anything like that at UConn!

Chuck Colin was a charmer! He got me to squat down so that I wouldn’t tower over him in this photo!

After the conference was over, I got to attend some “rehearsal” bands that got together to play for the love of it, and to keep their chops up. Wayne Andre along with Alan Raph led an octet of trombonists whose sound was pure heaven! Much like the Los Angeles counterpart, Hoyt’s Garage https://alankaplan.hearnow.com/secrets-of-hoyts-garage – which shaped and encouraged musical excellence among Hollywood session players.

It can be difficult to find such ensemble perfection these days – and not just because of these past two years of the pandemic. I think my generation was spoiled by our culture; by a public education system that valued music enough to make it a required part of the curriculum from kindergarten through high school. By commercial radio stations that programmed all types of music simultaneously, to appeal to listeners of all ages, so that Louis Armstrong’s HELLO DOLLY was on the top of the Billboard popular charts the same week as folk, rock, surfer songs, Motown and The Beatles! By TV variety shows that featured all genres of music, from classical to dance to pop and beyond. And by respect for the amount of individual effort that went into continually refining and raising the standards of professional musicianship.

Billboard magazine 5/9/1964

I remember when I finally got to live my heart’s desire and work in the recording studios. And how older musicians would tell me how I’d “missed it”, because for them it had been SO good in the 1950s and 1960s; everyone had been working all the time, everybody was busy with records and jingles and film scores, and I’d just been born too late! I’d MISSED the heyday of the music business!

But I hadn’t. I’d seen and heard and been there when it was glorious; when music was rapturous and took my breath away; when superbly skilled musicians worked miracles, outdoing one another with inventive ideas and exquisite performances. To me, that was as good as it gets.

to a dog, maybe bacon IS as good as it gets!?
Standard
growing up, learning, music, music biz, politics, self-acceptance

A Curmudgienne’s Gratitude List

Not to go all-Pollyanna on ya, but here we go!

I’m grateful to have been born an American, and to still “thrill to see Old Glory paint the breeze”.

I’m grateful to have dear friends and family in my life, who listen to my concerns and respond with honesty, reason and loving support.

I’m grateful to have most of my original body parts, and not to miss the ones that aren’t there anymore.

I’m grateful to have my own row to hoe and not be held responsible for the dreadful state of rest of the farm.

I’m grateful to have experienced breathtakingly beautiful music. ❤️🎶🎵🎶🎵🎶❤️ And to have created and recorded some of my own that I’m still proud of.

I’m grateful I can still laugh when I hear blatant lies. Sometimes. Other times, I’m grateful I can still cry.

I’m grateful to have eluded COVID so far, to still be able to smell horse manure and to still have the agility to DUCK when it’s comin’ at me!

There! That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Standard
music, music biz, politics

Nothing Personal – It’s Just Business!

The older I get, the more I understand THE GODFATHER. I first watched the film by myself after moving to NYC in 1972 and still shudder recalling my visceral reaction to certain scenes. The Corleones had no compunction about imposing their brutal “justice” on anyone or anything that stood in their way.

Since then I’ve noticed as life became less “friendly”, with fewer instances of kindness and compassion, especially in the corporate world. As technology progresses, people feel more connected while in reality living at more of a distance. This somehow seems to make previously unsociable behavior more accepted among many.

A couple months ago I got a notice from google that a website in Russia was illegally hosting almost 50 of my recordings online, without permission or payment – available for free to anyone and everyone to stream or download. When I went there to check it out, I noticed that the quality of the recordings was substandard (i.e. worse than most mp3s), but I know there are many people who literally can’t hear the difference, and to whom it wouldn’t matter even if they did; the most important thing to them is that the music is FREE!? I did some more snooping around the site and found that a couple dozen of my musical colleagues had much of their recorded catalog similarly posted for free on this website as well.

Initially I felt panic – and then anger! Who are these Russian thieves to steal our music and then give it away for free to people all over the world? This practice breaks international copyright law, for starters; at the very least it’s bad karma! And with the political situation being what it is now, it isn’t as if our government is going to jump to aid creators, as was done with napster 20 years ago! No one is going to dare threaten Russia to defend our rights at the moment!? They’re too busy trying to avoid World War III these days!

I don’t know the solution to this conundrum; I’m frustrated at the injustice inherent in the situation but don’t want to work myself up into a lather over a problem that has no apparent solution. After much consideration, I’ve decided to allow this to remain unresolved, to acknowledge that it exists; it’s an unpleasant fact of life. And it’s not “just business” – to me, it’s also personal.

Standard
music, music biz

WHUZZAT? It’s Bob Dorough!

Sometime in the mid-1970s I was in discussions for a record deal; Ray Passman had heard my demo tapes and played them for his neighbor Irv Kratka, who owned InnerCity Records (altho he was much better known for having originated the MusicMinusOne label). When Mr. Kratka insisted on owning the copyrights to my songs, I said no. Even though I had been promised that Bob Dorough would produce my album.

Sad to say, up to that point I had never heard of Bob Dorough. No one played any of his music for me, and I was too distracted to research and find him myself. Until, decades later, when I did! Then… wowie-zowie! What songs!!

I introduced myself after one of his gigs at The Jazz Bakery in L.A., and asked him to write the liner notes to my upcoming jazz CD release. Then I called him until he agreed to do so. Bob’s liner notes to FUTURE STREET are, like him, cooler-than-cool! I can’t imagine anything better; this guy Dorough really GETS me!!

Marilyn Harris is, in my opinion, on a fast express track to Future Street, where it’s at, to a beat so sweet and bittersweet, you’ll want to go there too. Here she gives us a varietal songbook that covers every aspect of life and love, surrounding herself with a pack of talented cats that bounce us along on a breezy ride to satisfaction and completion. Ms. Harris has been around the block and now, as a singing songwriter, and driving a mean piano, she zooms through your neighborhood, sweeping out the care, the blues, and other debris and leaving you with a feeling of – WHUZZAT? Besides the listed players, she has the inestimable company of arranger/producer/engineer Mark Wolfram, who also does a zippy vocal duet with Marilyn. She also has, as guest vocalist, the great Mark Winkler, an already arrived Future Street cat, who co-wrote five of the songs with her. Ah, the songs! Aside from one brilliant “standard,” she wrote them all (there is one other collaboration in the set.) So, drop the needle, as we used to say, on this baby: sit back and relax – fasten your seatbelts. Play it in the car! Play it in the bar! Play it anywhere.  We’re gonna take you there…to Future Street!

There it is. Play it agin! – Bob Dorough, on the cusp of the new year – 2004…

When it came time to record the next album, Bob agreed to singing a duet with me, much to eternal my delight! And NOW “I’ve Got Everything I Need” !!! (his most perfect song, IMO!)

Isn’t this wonderful?? (and TRUE!!!)
Standard
music biz, politics

The Cruelest Month

My mother always maintained that February was the cruelest month – even tho both hers and my dad’s birthdays occurred then. (Double-cake! YUM!)

Artist Kim Dingle apparently feels the same way I do re. CAKE!

And weather this month CAN be problematic, especially in the midwest and back east, where our family comes from. This year life seems especially harsh, what with the pandemic virus, China cheating at the Olympics, ongoing political shenanigans, rising prices at the grocery store, along with supply chain shortages, etc.

It’s been cold in southern AZ; every night when we take Schultz 🐾 for a walk before bedtime, we see a lone bird perched in the corner of our loggia, shivering on the window sill. He’s there from sundown to dawn.

And I’ve felt blue lately; having identified some troubling realities about myself, the music biz, the world at large – things I have been in denial about for most of my life, in some instances. It’s been challenging to find GOOD stuff to feel happy about – sometimes very elusive, no matter how much I seek out these things.

But then today this bird made such a racket in the backyard, I had to acknowledge him and his song. He went on endlessly, and kept returning even after Schultz chased him away. The whole world may be going to hell, our American democracy may be under attack and, like Chicken Little cried, “the sky is falling”. But this bird ain’t buyin’! He’s on Match-dot-com-for-birds! CLICK HERE to hear him!

Standard
excellence, learning, music biz

All In The Game

I had a realization tonight – an insight that had eluded me for as long as I can remember, which is that my career has been stymied by my own resistance to playing the game.

I’ve gone to extremes to learn the rules of the game, to get to know the players and their strategies. And then I’ve turned my back on this knowledge, insisting that “it shouldn’t be that way – it’s not fair! – that’s not how the game should be played!”

Flavortown!! Ever been there?? Funny how I got hip to Guy’s Grocery Games after watching a few episodes (well, okay – MORE than a few!) I saw that no matter how delicious any given dish was, (created from the insanely limited food list allowed), no matter how many nummy-sounds the judges made, if the chef hadn’t incorporated the prescribed ingredients according to the rules of the game, that chef would go home empty-handed. The Winner, while perhaps not as accomplished or skillful at creating wonderful FOOD as other contestants, would have ACED the game requirements, thereby prevailing and sweeping up the prize.

There are always excuses that can be made to explain failure, and sometimes I’ve hidden in the comfort they provide. But I think the truth in many instances is that I wasn’t willing to play the game, to kiss the Pope’s ring, to do whatever it took to succeed. I’m still not sure exactly why I made those choices, but tonight while listening to a recording of THEY’RE GONNA LOVE ME, I heard the bitterness and anger in my voice, my refusal to worship the dead gods of jazz at the expense of the living mortals. And I understood.

The good news is that there’s actually more to life than Winning The Game. And there are always other games to play.

Standard
music, music biz

Gil Evans’ Copyist

One March afternoon in 1974 I got a call from Gil Evans (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gil_Evans); could I come over to his loft-apartment in Westbeth (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westbeth_Artists_Community) to fix up some parts before his band’s gig that night at the Village Vanguard? I was then living in a basement apartment at 7th Ave. and 21st St., so I grabbed my supplies (pen, ink, manuscript paper and lick-&-stick staff strips) and headed downtown to meet with Gil.

Saxophonist Trevor Kohler was Gil’s copyist at that point, and I was surprised to see that many of the parts he’d copied were in turquoise ink (not exactly “standard”!) I’d also never seen as compressed sketch scores as what Gil handed me; talk about economy! Many of the sections had been erased and revoiced more than once. He was going to get his money’s worth out of that paper, by gum!

Thus began our relationship; most Monday afternoons I’d be on-call to patch up whatever section of an arrangement Gil was reworking, and then I’d spend my evening enjoying the band’s music at the club. The music itself was much looser than I was accustomed to, and week to week, I could rarely tell the “new” sections from the “old”, but my cover was waived and everyone seemed to be having a great time, so… what the heck!

David Sanborn had recently joined the group – behind him here are French hornist John Clark and multi-instrumentalist Tom Malone (on tuba). Howard Johnson must have had another gig or been playing bari sax that night.

Gil was a very laid-back guy, as was his wife Anita. It never occurred to me that their relaxed attitude may have been augmented by chemical enhancement. I’d get my assignment and be left alone unsupervised in their apartment for hours. Once when the phone rang, I answered and had to tell Miles Davis that Gil was asleep in the bath tub and unavailable to talk. I didn’t know about Miles’ raspy damaged vocal cords, so I took a message for Gil to return his call and then advised Miles that vitamin C might help, but maybe he should see a doctor for that horrible cold!

A few months after I began my tenure as Gil’s copyist, the band went on tour to Europe; I recently came across this YouTube: https://youtu.be/ihDjcW9u6y4 – they all look and sound just as I remember them; young and full-of-beans.

After a long delay, Gil was VERY excited to finally be recording the Jimi Hendrix album that first summer – and after having worked exclusively from sketch scores for months, I was shocked that Gil was actually capable of writing a full score, complete with individual staves, properly transposed for each instrument! Consequently the sessions at RCA were less last-minute and hectic, tho I missed the spontaneous backgrounds that the horn players would invent behind their cohort’s solos at their regular gigs. (Gil generally surrounded himself with younger people and encouraged them to take liberties with what he’d written).

Gil was particular about personnel, but understanding and relaxed when someone had to sub out, because there was never a dearth of fine players eager to play with the band. To my recollection, certain stalwarts were always there; Lew Soloff and Howard Johnson made Gil a top priority. I did, too – until more lucrative work came in. (https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/getting-out-of-the-jingle-business/) (https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2019/09/27/a-dime-a-dozen/)

Though I’ve looked back and wondered why I didn’t parlay more business connections from my copying clients, I never had the ambition to “go to school” on Gil, like Maria Schneider, who copied for him in the mid-80s. Sure, I admired Gil’s work. But to my ear, his orchestrations were too similar one to the next, and I was usually more interested in the original tunes themselves. (and distracted by the musicians, to be totally honest!)

I kept copies of some of his sketch scores, though – and after unearthing them from my file cabinet, recently decided to share them with the Library of Congress. Now anyone who’s interested can see first-hand how Gil was writing back then.

Standard
family, growing up, learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Human Doings

“So what have you done lately?” It used to really bug me when my dearly departed dad would ask this question; while I’d be eager to show him my newest song, I sincerely doubted his interest, as I rarely felt he actually liked any of my work.

And I felt challenged, as if what he was REALLY asking was, “what have you got to say for yourself? Give an accounting of what you’ve accomplished to justify your existence!” It almost felt like an attack, although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his conscious intention.

‘Tis the season for Christmas letters, and as one might expect, we didn’t receive as many as we have in earlier years; 2020 was a year of delays, postponements and cancellations, so many of us didn’t have as much to report. (Maybe it’s enough that we survived!?)

Which reminds me of the first attempt we made in 1984, to include a Christmas letter in with the greeting cards we mailed to family and friends; we’d moved precipitously from Chicago to Los Angeles (on a wing & a prayer, AKA hope & credit cards!?), and had recently purchased our first computer. The word processing program had a

We didn’t have much actual NEWS to share, and were frankly floundering, trying to get our bearings in a new market. But after 6 months on the west coast, we still felt hopeful we could break into the Hollywood music biz, and we included all of the new people we’d met since our move on our mailing list, many of whom we hadn’t followed up on after our initial meetings. We hoped the holiday letter could be a way to reconnect and perhaps build relationships.

We got one response that took our breath away; an anonymous recipient of our holiday greetings had gone to the trouble to write a very snarky letter back, using the same format. Since we didn’t really know many of the folks we’d mailed to, we puzzled for weeks over who we had offended so grievously! And we haven’t written many Christmas letters since then!

Since the advent of social media, bragging rights aren’t limited to Christmas letters or websites, or even blogs. And I’ve posted on this subject before: https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2020/09/30/enough-to-be/ and https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2019/11/14/getting-off-the-hamster-wheel/ So it’s pretty obvious that it’s something I’m still chewing on. But I’m pretty sure that eventually I’ll find my freedom – I can almost taste it!

Standard
music, music biz

True Enough

I’ve been encouraging a couple of friends to write and publish their memoirs; we get on the phone and I LOVE hearing about their career adventures – stories I think would interest every reader, not just those “in the biz”. Some of the most amazing tales are so vivid they make me gasp! Do I believe every word? I admit that sometimes it’s a stretch, because it seems incredible that so much could have happened to one person in one lifetime. But then I remember some of my own peccadillos and wonder how many people might have a hard time believing they actually happened. (I was there – they did!)

Marie was recalling her years playing piano at the mall in front of Nordstrom’s, and it brought back some of my favorite memories of performing in hotel lobbies and having random strangers start to dance as they passed – or begin to sing along! Jamie tells me about growing up in the mixed bag that was America in the 50s & 60s and it reminds me of the compromises my own family made to stay together. These stories need to be shared no matter how they might have become slightly embellished over time. If there’s enough truth, it validates the emotions and lessons to be learned.

We rewatched FARGO the other night, which purports to tell the true story of what happened in MN and ND in 1987. IMO, the film holds up VERY well 24 years after its release, while the additional material on the DVD reveals that the story was entirely the creation of Ethan and Joel Cohen and never actually occurred. But there’s enough truth in the characters, accents and attitudes that we go along for the ride, with “the willing suspension of disbelief”… and it winds up being True Enough.

I recently came across a memoir by a songwriter I’d met in the mid-1970s and perused the pages offered on the LOOK INSIDE by amazon; it certainly sounded like the Paul Vance I knew; dynamic, uncouth, and SUPER-self confident. Were all of his stories accurate? Does it matter? He’s honestly present in this book, telling it “how it is” – or at least how he remembers it! It’s authentic and for me it’s true enough.

Dr. Bertice Berry has been posting daily stories online during the pandemic; http://www.berticeberrynow.com. She frequently dissolves into tears during these videos. Are all of her stories based on absolute facts? I don’t care – I believe her because they’re true enough!

Remember Elvis’ TEDDY BEAR? ♫♬ https://youtu.be/jf9Wg2OkSbE Remember these lyrics? I don’t wanna be your cheetah, ’cause cheetahs run too fast! I don’t wanna be your panther, ’cause panthers don’t know how to make love last!  I don’t wanna be your leopard, ’cause they’re too hard to spot! I don’t wanna be your cougar, your lynx or any kind of ocelot!  I just wanna be… your Teddy Bear! ♫ ♬

Were all these wildcats in the mix before Bernie Low & Kal Mann settled on “tigers (that) play too rough” and “lions ain’t the kind you love enough”? (Can you prove they weren’t?) It amuses me, and it’s true enough! ♫♬

Standard
growing up, music biz, politics

A More Perfect Union

I grew up surrounded by unions; union-made clothing, union-employed family members, unionized teachers, union awareness… I vividly remember the grape boycott in the 1960s due to the farm workers’ strike. https://www.history.com/news/delano-grape-strike-united-farm-workers-filipinos My first paychecks had union dues deducted from the net – the woman who trained us to be cashiers at E.J.Korvette was a die-hard union gal! There were jingles on the radio; “Look For The Union Label” and films like NORMA RAE and THE PAJAMA GAME presented unions in a supportive light.

I joined Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians in 1973 and worked “on the card” as much as possible. While I never got a gig from hanging out at Roseland, I went through reams of manuscript in my years as a music copyist and joined AFTRA & SAG when I began singing on recording sessions. When I moved to Chicago, I joined 10-208 – when we moved to Los Angeles, I joined Local 47.

With my own favorable experiences working in unions, I was distressed when Ronald Reagan (a former SAG union president himself!) took aim at the air controllers union in the early 1980s. Workers’ unions have always been under attack, but especially so over the past 40 years, as politicians and corporations have tried to divide us by vilifying the very idea of workers pulling together to demand safe work conditions and fair wages. (the nerve! how DARE we?)

There have been as many changes to unions over the years as there have been to the world at large, and some of them are not positive; more than once we’ve brought a problem to the union and not had our concerns taken seriously, or taken at ALL! (I’m remembering a New Year’s Eve gig where I had a signed contract with a club and got stiffed… and then there was the time the union didn’t follow up on thousands of dollars in residuals that were due to us and the singers we’d hired! A Dime A Dozen). Graft and corruption have seeped into the handling of pension plans, for example, and, as in many other business dealings, there’s always been the tendency for contractors to hire others on the basis of friendship (or kickback!) rather than merit.

But most musicians I know have only fantasized about enacting some of the behavior in ON THE WATERFRONT. In a more perfect world, unions would be more perfect, but in the world we actually HAVE, they are plenty good enough.

AND should be done under safe conditions, with fair wages!
Standard