music biz

I Love A Piano!

Screen Shot 2019-05-30 at 2.45.11 AMI’ve felt drawn to the piano from the very beginning – there’s just something about it that always made me want to touch it!

The first piano I recall was my Grandma Helen’s – a magical (to me!) baby grand.  When she’d play Chopin, I’d spin around dancing in the living room, collapsing in a dizzy toddler-heap – until she’d start playing again!  I began saving my allowance when I was 5 so that I could afford to buy my own piano; a turn-of-the-century painted-gray upright that had been in someone’s cellar for so long that it was impossible to bring the tuning up to concert pitch. With $20 for the piano, $20 to move it and $10 for the tuning, it wiped out my savings but was mine at age 10.

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Picture Me painted medium gray

My mother gave it away when I moved to NYC after college and I played the pianos down the street at Manhattan School of Music practice rooms until I could afford to buy another upright; a circa-1940s walnut-stained Söhmer for $285, moving and tuning included.

This stood me in good stead for about 5 years until I became accustomed to the sound of grand pianos in NYC’s recording studios – and then I felt the need to upgrade to a baby grand. While accompanying a friend who was shopping for a Yamaha studio upright, a beautiful August Förster caught my fancy… WAY out-of-my-league financially, but SUCH a gorgeous thing it was…

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I wound up borrowing from my mother to purchase a circa-1950s Harrington which set me back $1650, after $200 trade-in for my upright.  It recorded well and had a really nice sound for a small grand;  I loved it dearly until financial troubles in the late 1980s necessitated selling it, and I was piano-less for a few years. (Thank heavens for electronic keyboards, which got me over the hump!)

Harrington

We began piano shopping in 1994 and found a 1976 Steinway CB we fell in love with. (A “CB” designates that the piano was deemed by Steinway to be superior “concert-artist” quality).  I loved playing it for a few months, while knowing that it would need rebuilding to remove the Teflon bushings  (more on this issue  here) – and we could hear those tell-tale “clicks” begin to happen more frequently every day. So we handed it over to the absolutely finest technician who ever lived, Richard Davenport.  For 5 long months he labored, while I returned to my no-longer appreciated synthesizer, and only a photo of a Steinway B tacked to the wall where our Steinway had stood.

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David Anderson on Richard Davenport: life-changing!

Finally Richard returned it to us, sounding better than ever, and over the past 25 years it has proven to be a simply wonderful instrument in every way.  We’ve recorded over a dozen CDs on it. Technicians love tuning it and compliment its sound and action. It is truly worthy of love.

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I know that Billy Joel has expressed his affection for the piano in song, but I prefer the older song – performed here by two dear and extremely talented friends: Linda November & Artie Schroeck  – who ALSO “love a piano”!

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music biz

Leaving Los Angeles

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We just finished binge-re-watching EPISODES on Netflix and I enjoyed it even more than the first time. While we were never heavy hitters in the “big time” of television, movies or the music biz, enough of the glitter rubbed off from our years striving to get projects, and we met enough other people / wannabes, that every scenario was somehow familiar. Many of our friends had encountered these types of disappointments and we’d experienced enough sucker-punches ourselves to know that, by and large, THIS STUFF IS TRUE!  It actually happens!

One true story for us involved submitting music thru an industry list for a terrific-sounding film project called PRE-K. The script was smart and tight, with well-drawn characters; parents all vying to get their kid into a prestigious exclusive preschool. We were so excited at the prospect of becoming involved in this project that we not only composed and produced demos of the theme song, we wrote a school anthem in 4-part choral harmony! I felt in my bones that we had NAILED the essence of the film and would be a shoo-in as composers for the film!

Alas, a week after we’d sent in our submission, we drove by the offices of the production company and found it completely empty, with no hint that PRE-K had ever existed! We wondered whether this had been a “long con”  ala THE GRIFTERS (1990) , or a “sting” set up by the FBI to catch conmen who were defrauding film investors!? We never did find out!

There are heartwarming as well as heartbreaking stories about the mad grab for the brass ring of fame and fortune in show biz – and I DO miss some of the people I met and worked with in LaLa Land – the fact that many of them have also abandoned Hollywood has not escaped my notice. There were good reasons we went there, besides the generally agreeable weather…. AND there were good reasons why we left!

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learning, music biz

Show Biz is a Team Sport

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 5.38.28 PMI’ve known so many gifted people – musicians, singers, writers, painters, actors  – whose talents I’ve seen only marginally rewarded, or hardly recognized at all. The unfairness of this vexes me and I’ve sought to explain it to myself somehow. Some people shy away from the spotlight, and that’s okay; most of my own career has been “behind the scenes” as a support person. But we need more art and creative insight for life to make sense, and talent needs to be championed and cultivated for how it enriches and gives meaning to our lives.Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 5.37.38 PMI’ve noticed among those of my friends who enjoy enduring career success that somewhere along the way, they’ve been blessed by a support team; whether early on, in the form of a nuclear family that made sacrifices, or professionals in the field who were hired and/or inspired to train and encourage the protegé. The “self-made” man or woman is pretty much a Hollywood conceit; in real life, artists need as much or more coaching as athletes.

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With my first CD of original songs, I ran out of money and tried in vain to do all the promotion and marketing by myself…. but that’s not the truth, either – because without the invaluable talents and ceaseless help of my partner Mark Wolfram, I doubt I’d have ever finished that or any other release! A few years later when I got a chance to work with Windham Hill Records, I got a taste of how the music biz “machine” functioned to package, present and market music – and it was impressive! From the publicist to the video lighting guy to the makeup artist, they all had the concept down cold, and to a relative outsider like me, it was slick and overwhelmingly professional!  I kinda felt like  Queen For A Day.  (See my similar deer-in-the-headlights look HERE as well? When you’re used to taking your own bath, it’s startling to suddenly be waited on hand-&-foot!)

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Art directors, engineers, producers and stylists put these things together, and the smart artist accepts their help with gratitude. THIS trio is obviously confident enough to appreciate what each other brings to the party, as well as all the behind-the-scenes people responsible for showing them all off to best effect:

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Bing, Sinatra & Dean – Together Wherever We Go

(It’s no wonder agents, managers, publicists and producers are frequently the first people to be thanked when a celebrity wins an award!)  No matter how “rugged self-starting individualist” an artist may appear to be, designing, manufacturing and wearing ALL the hats of Performer-Creator-Manager-Stylist-BookingAgent-etc.-etc.-etc. is exhausting…  we’ve each only got one head and there IS such a thing as too much millinery!

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As usual, Sondheim got it right:  “someone is on your side….No One Is Alone”

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music biz

Right! Here! No Regrets.

 

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Last year I read a piece in The New Yorker about Orange City, IA, and how the town has prospered, unlike so many small towns in America, because much of the population has stayed put, instead of moving on to a larger life in a big city.  It made me think of the various moves I’ve made over the years, and how inconceivable it was for me to have done otherwise.

My family moved around a bit while I was growing up – from Syracuse to Cicero to Albany, NY – and then to East Hartford and Hartford, CT when my dad got a new job. Cicero and East Hartford were the only real suburbs, and my parents hated them both – my dad referred to East Hartford as “the armpit of the world”, even tho I don’t recall it being so bad. Sure, there was baseball in middle school, which I totally sucked at – but I bought my first piano when we lived there – how bad could that be? Still, my folks breathed a huge sigh of relief when we moved back to “civilization” where we could walk or take the bus to pretty much wherever we wanted to go.

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New York City was mecca for my parents, so of course that was where I envisioned myself settling after school; I could have no sooner stayed in Hartford after graduation than I could have sprouted wings. It was terrifying but also essential for me to go – New York had been calling me my entire life! And when other opportunities beckoned, I moved to Chicago and Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. Since Arizona isn’t exactly a music biz hotbed, I’ve puzzled at times how and why I wound up here.

But looking back, I can see how each location we called “home” turned out to be the right place, ultimately – even if it may not have appeared that way at the time. For example, I’d been cowed by the incredible musical skills of Los Angeles musicians, to the degree that I didn’t feel adequate to pursue recording sessions as a piano player because, literally around the corner from us lived Ralph Grierson, a pianist who was expert at ALL styles of music. Plus, with so many musicians ready and willing to work for “exposure” (AKA extremely low pay), the competition felt overwhelming! Most of my experiences playing live gigs at clubs and parties left a lot to be desired. But since moving to the Tucson area, I’ve been recommended for a lot of gigs that I wouldn’t have been called for in L.A.  and I got to experience some “steady” work, playing church gigs and musical theater, as well as ongoing work in jazz trios, which increased my confidence substantially.

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My life has hardly embodied the adage to “bloom where you’re planted”, but my current perspective is that I went where I went, when I went, to the right place at the right time. If it should have been different, it would have been different.

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♫ ♩Home again, ♫ ♩home again, ♫ ♩ ♩jiggety jig!!

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#jazzcongress, music biz

Proud To Be A Marilyn

Jazz Congress Confidential – Part Five

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The Stagecraft Masterclass turned out to be the highlight of Jazz Congress, at least for THIS delegate!  In spite of having checked her out online beforehand, I wasn’t prepared for the glory that is Marilyn Maye,  and everything from her musical chops and good humor to her playful flirtation with Paquito D’Rivera utterly charmed me! When they began to make music together with pianist extraordinaire Tedd Firth,  I literally couldn’t stop smiling! THIS is how jazz is supposed to be, folks; joyful and spontaneously combusting to beat the band!

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Ms Maye’s advice to performers is straight-ahead:

  • take the stage with energy and make eye contact
  • sing TO the audience, not FOR them!
  • acknowledge and appreciate the audience, no matter their size
  • start with happy songs about the audience (sensing a trend yet?)
  • grab ’em at the beginning and don’t let go
  • THEN follow with your ballads and stories
  • Be considerate about who’s on after your appearance
  • It should be a party!
  • use tools to connect with who shares the stage; soft respect and intense listening
  • reveal the context, i.e. describe how and why you’re performing this song now
  • make your patter have a payoff
  • use rubato judiciously
  • if you’re “a woman of a certain age”, wear sleeves and cover your knees!

She made me proud to be a Marilyn!

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Bringin’ It All Back Home!

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#jazzcongress, music biz

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Jazz Congress Confidential – Part Four

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All the Jazz That’s Fit To Tote!

I attended my first Jukebox Jury 13 years ago at the JazzWeek Summit in Syracuse, and it was a trip; seeing radio programmers responding to new releases was edifying, to say the least. When they all got super-excited about the newly-found recording of Monk & Trane, my heart sank; so much for those of us still living, writing NEW songs!? After I expressed my dismay to Mark Winkler, we got a new song out of our angst, They’re Gonna Love Me (when I’m dead).

Fortunately this most recent incarnation of the Jury at the Jazz Congress didn’t include any new releases by dead people, so that was encouraging! The list of 20 new releases was well-received by the panel of radio programmers ( Mark Ruffin, Gary Vercelli, Eric Jackson and Arturo Gómez), and the comments they and moderator Brad Stone made were nuanced and helpful in understanding WHY certain tracks would “make the grade” at their stations. While some recordings were criticized rather harshly, (watch out, vocalists!! especially those of you with “tribute” projects!!), mallets players are in luck, as the vibraphone and marimba appear to have made a comeback, with enthusiastic reception from everyone on the panel. And apparently radio promoters are more essential than ever for getting your music on the air, as music directors are inundated with more and more product than ever before…. especially from those pesky singers!

The Jazz Radio Roundtable session later that afternoon continued to reveal radio programmers’ secrets – I was grateful for JazzWeek’s sponsorship of both of these events and really missed seeing Ed Trefzger,  who was unable to attend the Congress. I’m continually struck by how avidly jazz fans pursue the music – one would never guess how marginalized and practically invisible it is to the music biz overall.

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#jazzcongress, music biz

Hail, Jazzer, Well Met!!

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Jazz Congress Confidential – Part Three

One of the most appealing aspects of industry confabs like the Jazz Congress  is the opportunity to make new jazz friends and reconnect with old friends. I went to this latest event with a bit of an agenda, having researched the Attendees List that was thoughtfully posted online. Armed with 80 CDs of my music, I targeted singers and their agents, who I wanted to make aware of my songs, and radio music directors, who I wanted to be sure had recordings of mine that might work with their stations’ programming. I had my work cut out for me, as multiple panels filled the busy 2-day schedule.

The first evening reception proved more cumbersome than I’d hoped; live music, while adding to the party atmosphere, made it difficult to hold a conversation, and the room was very full indeed. I spied people I knew, like vocalist Judy Wexler and pianist/composer Deanna Witkowski , then turned around and they had disappeared in the crowd. I was able to touch base briefly with radio promoters Josh Ellman & Mark Rini,  Jim Eigo, and Michael Carson,  and radio programmers Dr. Brad Stone, Ken Irwin, Arturo Gomez, Derrick LucasMary Foster Conklin, and Neil Tesser,   Even though they weren’t on the list of attendees, I’d hoped to run into David Berger,  Kit McClure, Gene Seymour, Howard Johnson, Kate SmithJudi Silvano and Bob Dorough. A tall order for a 90-minute schmoozefest! But I’m a bit greedy that way. And I DID manage to distribute almost all of the CDs I had brought!

One of the best parts of this trip turned out to be spending time with my songwriting collaborator Carol Heffler,  who I hadn’t seen in a long while – she’s one of those friends where you can pick up where you left off and never miss a beat. After I got home I realized that 4 days is too short for me to visit NYC – there are too many people I love there, who I just didn’t have time to see. It was still great to hang out with the jazzers, tho!

MJH-BradStone

 

 

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