#jazzcongress, music, music biz, self-acceptance

Getting Off The Hamster Wheel

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Like many of my fervent enthusiasms, it began innocently enough; a new collaborator suggested I record a jazz CD. Of course, this had occurred to me before and we even made a CD a decade prior – but after production and replication, we’d run out of money and had no budget for promotion, so the CD gathered dust in our closet.

But this time would be different! We’d hire press agents and radio promoters to spread the word and garner airplay! We’d book live performances at jazz clubs and visit radio stations around the country! This time we’d get noticed and on the charts and succeed! At least that was the plan. The reality was slightly different; finding a club willing to take a chance on booking an unknown artist was virtually impossible. Getting radio programmers – even the ones we knew personally!? – to spin a cut on their station even once was iffy! Add to the mix my own profound ambivalence about performing… well, it was a longer-than-long shot.

Even so, there were some victories; I was very proud of both of my jazz albums and after the 2004 release of Future Street and the 2006 release of Round Trip, I finally charted on JazzWeek and became friends with some jazz radio programmers. I got to visit friends and family across the country on my tours. And I introduced some original songs to other artists who wound up performing and recording them.

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Alas, it ultimately wasn’t as rewarding as I’d hoped, either financially or emotionally. First I began to turn down gigs that involved schlepping keyboards, PAs and other gear, and after a few more years I found myself dialing back my involvement in the jazz-o-sphere at large. While I’d enjoyed the annual IAJE conferences and JazzConnect/JazzCongress, it became apparent to me that, like Henry Gibson recited on Laugh-In, one was expected to “keep-a-goin’!” despite any setback or frustration – and I’d had some: Believe Them The First Time

Now, this doesn’t seem to stop my initial reaction when I notice that other jazzers are releasing new CDs or getting covers of their original songs; this type of news pops up on FaceBook, YouTube, and my email box all the time, and I find my Fear Of Missing Out kicking into overdrive! …until I remember how much work and financial outlay are involved in producing, promoting, performing, etc. to create even the smallest ripple of attention, let alone acclaim – and how fundamentally uninterested I am in those aspects. I continue to watch with appreciation and rejoice in the business and artistic triumphs of my colleagues, especially because I know what it takes to accomplish – but I honestly don’t miss running on the hamster wheel!

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ummm…. not-so-much, any more!

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Jingles, music, music biz

A Dime A Dozen

We’d been pounding the pavement and hitting the phones hard for the first 7 months of 1981.  As a new jingle company, we rode elevators up to meet with potential advertising clients, along side competing music producers who were established and in many cases, offering cocaine as well as music. Totally sold on the idea of meritocracy, we were sure the creative directors would hear the difference between how OUR music fit the bill so much better than the other guys.  I look back now and wonder how we kept going, with “nobody winkin’ back” for so long, as my dad used to say.

And then my partner Mark took a meeting with Tony O.  Upon hearing our demo, Tony recognized some music that he himself had worked on and soon learned that the disco-esque charts for a soft drink had been written by Mark while in another company’s employ!  Suddenly we had an actual real-live client who liked us!!

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Tony wasted no time in asking for a new jingle for La Yogurt  (click on underlined link to hear it!), a regional brand that had been using a lackluster version of Frére Jacques in radio and TV ads. Given an afternoon, a list of the available flavors and the direction to imagine all the various times and places La Yogurt could be consumed, we created and demoed 4 different jingles for presentation. When one was chosen, we hired “jingle queen” Linda November and hit-singer/songwriter Paul Evans, as well as “the usual suspects” of studio musicians (like the wonderful George Marge on ocarina!) and an East coast market jingle “hit” was born!  The inspiration for the back-&-forwards trading of lines was somewhat inspired by the chemistry of the Polaroid ads featuring James Garner and Mariette Hartley that were running at the time. Our jingle proved versatile, running for a number of years, and we used the musical materials to compose YOGURT VARIATIONS  (click on link to hear excerpts) for the New Britain Symphony the following spring.  Tony invited us to the International Radio Festival of NY and La Yogurt took home the Gold Award for best radio spot in 1982!

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Almost immediately thereafter Tony tapped us to create the new jingle for Lee’s Carpets  (click link to hear!), which the agency and client both loved.There was a disruption in this love-fest when our production invoice hadn’t been paid within 90 days, so we re-sent it, waiting another month to follow up with the billing department at the agency. When we finally were connected, the accountant practically laughed in our faces over the phone, sneering, “You wanna get paid?  Ha!  You guys are a dime a dozen!”  We called Tony and eventually we got a check, but it was creepy – and we did NOT “relax” right away!

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A couple months later, the BIG prize account came up: Kinney Shoes  (click link to hear).  With no direction besides the tag line “Kinney Can”, we worked feverishly to create a winning concept. We wanted to build on the established reputation of the brand for being the family-friendly “Great American Shoe Store” while showing that Kinney had kept up with changing times. Encouraged by Tony, we were so excited about the anthem we created that we sank thousands of dollars of our own money into the production, including various versions  (click to hear NBAs version)  for different shoe lines.  We got the best-of-the-best musicians and singers to bring it to life, including Florence Warner  (click to hear) and her angel-voice! We were SURE this was the “big one” that would put us on the map as a jingle company!

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Alas – we eventually learned that on the day of the big Kinney presentation, Tony had been ill and failed to play our tracks for the client. He hadn’t even shown up to the meeting.  Or at least that’s what we were told. Another version of the story was that our tracks had been presented, but all the folks at Kinney were offended that they hadn’t been invited to the recording sessions, so our music was rejected out of hand.  We felt strongly about our work, so much so that we entered it into the International Radio Festival competition (where it earned an Honorable Mention, even though it had never been bought or aired).  18 months later we sent a 5-page single-spaced letter to Tony, begging him to re-present it to Kinney, as we’d heard through the grapevine they were unhappy with the music they had chosen and were looking for something new.  We got no response.

Tony was a vibrant man with fierce affection for his family and friends, as well as strong appetites for tobacco, liquor and food. His enthusiasms were infectious, so that when he told us he was going to audition for a local production of The Music Man (as Prof. Harold Hill, of course!) and he asked us for help preparing the song “Trouble”, we learned it along with him, and found it the perfect accompaniment for marching crosstown from our west side offices to Madison Avenue appointments.  When his boss was having a “big” birthday, Tony asked us to produce a special birthday song; Jerry, You’re the Bess We Got!  (click to hear excerpt) for the party, which we did happily – gratis. And when Tony’s daughter showed interest in learning to play the flute, I cheerfully lent mine so she could try it out for a semester. Tony wasn’t “just a client” – we considered him a friend. And we were pretty sure he felt the same way about us; we weren’t “just a supplier”. He invited us to dinner at his home in Bernardsville, NJ and we met his whole family; believe me, that wasn’t the case with most clients, no matter how well you got along and enjoyed working together!

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Woolworth/Woolco was set to roll out a new line of Christie Brinkley sportswear, and this time our jingle was chosen!  Juxta-positioning Christie in her casual attire and then crossfading to YOU (aka “normal young American woman!) wearing the identical outfit?  Well, it was a winning idea; there you’d be, Lookin’ Christie!  (click link to hear).  Unfortunately, right before the ads could air, Woolworth pulled the plug on Woolco, all their stores shuttered and that was that – another big break bites the dust!

Our finances faltered, a few of our key clients retired and we decided to try our luck in a different market. But even after we’d moved to Chicago, Tony kept calling us from NYC with work.  And he wasn’t shy about letting his colleagues know about how much he enjoyed working with us!

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The Woolworth company had other retail chains, and we produced jingles for *J.Brannam  (click to listen)  (JUst BRANd NAMes clothes and accessories), Frugal Frank’s (shoe outlet) (click to listen) as well as demos for the flagship Woolworth’s  stores (click link to listen).  One of my favorites was Susie’s Casuals (women’s clothing) (click link to listen), the spirit of which was inspired by the Mary Tyler Moore TV show theme song; “hey, girl, you’re makin’ it!  your chance is here and you’re takin’ it! The world will soon be awakenin’, and when they do, all they’re gonna see is YOU!”

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There were some semi-risqué demos for Palmolive soap (international) – one of which  sold and was played worldwide (click link to listen).  And we took a shot at a jingle demo for special Snorks  kids sneakers for Kinney Shoes (click link to listen), after we moved to L.A.  We even hired Tony at one point, to perform a voiceover for an industrial film we were scoring for a different client – recorded in the friendly confines of his San Francisco hotel room while he was on the west coast for business. Those 3-packs/day gave him an authoritative vocal growl and he knew how to work a mic.  Eventually the lack of proximity became somewhat of an issue and his music work went to other suppliers, but our relationship remained warm.

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The last time we got together, Tony was working from his home in Bernardsville, NJ and we met at the diner where the final shot of THE SOPRANOS was filmed a decade later. Tony looked happy and talked about his newest campaigns with zest.  We always made it a point to look him up to meet when we were back east.  And though he and his family never reciprocated, we sent Christmas cards every year.

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Until a few years ago.  His wife finally sent a note to let us know that Tony had passed on in 1999. We were stunned; we’d been sending holiday greetings to a ghost for 15 years!  Once we looked back, a sense of betrayal overwhelmed us, as we realized how compromised our relationship had actually been. Being treated with contempt by a snarly accountant was the tip of the iceberg; the Lee’s Carpet jingle was actually supposed to be a lucrative account, with over 250 dealer “lifts” being edited with our music – each of which was to have been paid separately.  This should have put us on Easy Street financially, as we were in the vocal group as well as among the musicians on the date. We found out later that the money that had been earmarked for all those residuals had been sidelined to the ad agency’s retirement plan. So even though these spots ran for several years, with many more customized versions, we never saw any of those payments, and neither did the singers and musicians we hired.

We realized that this was the case with almost ALL of the work we’d done for Tony, we hadn’t received residuals for virtually any of the music we’d produced! Though this practice is widespread in the arts, (see previous blog  Things We Do For Love). we’d been in denial of how entrenched the corruption had been at the agency and never dreamed Tony would have let this happen. But he had.

It’s a mixed bag and difficult to reconcile such a relationship; while we were cheated out of the money we’d honestly earned that would have enabled us to stay in NYC, through our work with Tony, we had the opportunity to create some music that we’re still proud of to this day. We got to work in the recording studio (our favorite place!), with the best musicians, singers and engineers (our favorite people!). And, for better or worse, we got to hang out with Tony O.  Click thru on the links peppered thru this blog post to hear the  Tony O. Hit Parade.

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Tony’s Dartmouth fraternity brothers miss him. And so do we. Sometimes.

 

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learning, music, music biz

Things We Do For Lo♥e

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No professional I know in the arts began with the idea “to get rich”.  Indeed, pursuing the arts comes from an irresistible impulse to write, to make music, to act, to paint, to perform, to create something new. As artists, we spend countless hours and prodigious amounts of money to develop our skills.  I began with the piano which drew me like a magnet. It was an inner impetus: I had to take lessons. I had to learn how to play. It was an all-consuming urge that could not be denied. I didn’t start out with the idea of becoming a star, or even of making a living in music – although that goal developed in pretty short order!  When I was learning to hand-copy music manuscripts in college, a teacher gave me an orchestral work that had been composed by a friend of his. I was delighted to spend weeks extracting the parts from the score, just for the practice and experience of learning. I don’t think the tiny check I received covered the price of the paper and ink I used!

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To my mind, the performing arts can be more treacherous than fine arts (painting, sculpture, etc.) in this regard because in most instances performers crave to relate directly with other performers and ultimately to the audience. One has to “keep up their chops” between gigs, so workshops are formed and often participants pay-to-play, as if they were out bowling recreationally, instead of working hard on perfecting their professional skills.

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As the daughter of two people who met on stage, I’ve noticed theater people appear to be more eager than many other performing pros to assume that one will volunteer for unpaid rehearsals, free rewrites, event promotion, set-building, etc. – Just For The Joy Of It.  This delusion persists their entire lives, apparently!?  One of the reasons I found it so onerous to work at The Gaslight Theater was the presumption that my time was worthless and therefore I need not be compensated for it. That idea may have been okay when I was in school, but it didn’t pass muster when I was in my 50s!

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As I see it, the stage is set for such gross exploitation at the outset of one’s creative life, when we’re so eager, we’ll do anything to scratch that itch! (It also doesn’t help that the world refers to what we do as playing music, as if it isn’t actually work!) Granted, there are so many more of us who get bitten by the creative bug than opportunities exist to do our thing, let alone get paid for it; it can become a desperate scene.

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Last week an article ran in The Hollywood Reporter recounting the tale of an actor who suffered terrible abuse at the hands of a powerhouse film director.  My heart was touched by the catch-22 in which he found himself; an ordeal that’s been echoed in my own life experiences all too often, though not as frequently now as in my younger years. Yes, there are still many Things We Do For Love – but increasingly, just as we learn to drive defensively, we may need to lo♥e defensively!

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music, music biz

♫ ♥ Jazz Songwriters ♥ ♫

Driving down the 405 to the annual IAJE convention in Long Beach in January 2002, I had to pull over when this song came on KJazz 88.1

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“I Can’t Be Choosy” –  Bruce Brown

OMG!!  Where did THAT come from?

I am a fool for wonderful songs in general, and thrilled by wonderful jazz songs, such as:

Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 1.47.55 PMCloudburst!  – Jon Hendricks!

Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 1.54.24 PM Zanzibar – Dave Frishberg!

Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 2.09.11 PMDevil May Care – Bob Dorough!

Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 3.02.27 PM“Your Mind Is On Vacation” –  Mose Allison!

Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 3.09.41 PM“In The Name Of Love” –  Kenny Rankin!

Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 3.34.23 PMGinny Carr’s UVJQ – “He Was The Cat”

Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 4.43.42 PMLorraine Feather –   You’re Outa Here

Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 4.51.57 PMDave Tull – “I Just Want To Get Paid”

SueMaskSue Maskaleris – “Unbreakable Heart”

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All of these writers have tons more wonderful songs – go Google ’em!

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music, music biz

Mystique Vs. Music

Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 6.01.32 PMThe cult of celebrity (AKA being famous for being famous) has muddied the waters of music for a long time.  Yet, after a lifetime of loving Beethoven’s music, (and Mozart’s, Schubert’s, Chopin’s, Brahms’,   etc.), I’m still moved by their works, without knowing much of the personal nature of their lives, if you can imagine that! For me, the logical development of the musical material gives meaning beyond the intrinsic beauty of their pieces – the music stands the test of time on its own merits, regardless of how celebrated or unpopular these creators were during the course of their lives.

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I was always a fan of Aaron Copland’s music, though I knew little of his private life and didn’t really care; it was enough to admire the fact he managed to earn a living from his compositions without needing a church gig, like J.S. Bach!  (It probably helped that, unlike Bach, Copland didn’t have 20 children to support!?)

 

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When I first met my teacher Hale Smith 49 years ago, I had never heard any of his works. As a teenager without funds to purchase recordings and in the absence of the internet, I didn’t become acquainted with his music until well after meeting him in person and becoming charmed by his vibrant character, energy and prodigious knowledge. While UConn had many fine faculty members who lived near the campus at Storrs, the music dept. also brought in professionals who made a living in NYC, and who provided an example of how it could be accomplished, for those of us who longed to make our mark in the music biz outside of academia. Hale was the chief shining beacon who inspired and encouraged me to imagine my own future as a professional musician.

But did I know his music? Do I know his music? Ummm…. maybe not-so-much!  Though brilliant, cogent and compelling, Hale’s “formal” music demands the listener truly pay attention to catch the nuances that constitute the integrity of his creations. For example, his Contours For Orchestra is pretty intense and difficult to appreciate on first hearing – at least for this listener!  Three Brevities (Allegro) is also complex, though composed for only a solo flute, and only one minute in duration!  Hale’s “casual” music is more accessible, I think, but still sophisticated and not completely grokked without paying attention.

We live in a society that frequently prizes big-name superstardom above actual accomplishment, and it’s easy to get swept up in the hype of celebrity; we’re certainly encouraged to do so by the media. One might argue that the personality pervades the creative end result and is indistinguishable  – but it seems to me that art falls or stands on its own 2 feet, regardless of the creator’s reputation. It takes effort to focus on more substantial values, in the arts and elsewhere. However, the rewards are worth the effort, IMHO.

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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!)

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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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