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!?
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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?

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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.

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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!!!)
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Entertainment, excellence, music

An Open ❤️ Letter to Artie Butler, Ron Dante & Barry Manilow

Dear Artie, Ron & Barry:

I’ve loved your records since they were released in the 1970s, and I never stopped. As a singer-songwriter-pianist myself, I could appreciate everything you three brought to the party – and my husband and I have made a habit of bringing your music along on road trips, to sing along with on the drive.

Unfortunately, with the pandemic, there haven’t been as many of those outings over the past couple years. And I personally didn’t feel much like singing lately – which turned into a case of “use it or lose it” downward spiral; I didn’t enjoy singing because I no longer had the vocal chops I used to have, which led to not singing much at all.

But this past week as we drove to L.A. on business, we got to Palm Springs and Barry Wanted to Sing https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/barry-wants-to-sing/ – so sing we did! Full-throated, for almost an hour, until we had to stop because we were getting hoarse!

And we kept listening, in awe-filled appreciation, to those gorgeous sonorities, arrangements and production! Together the three of you created enduring musical magic that brings joy to so many! Last week you helped me find my voice again! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

http://artiebutler.com * http://www.rondante.com * https://barrymanilow.com

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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.

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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! ♫♬

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excellence, music, music biz, religion, self-acceptance

Silk & Scientology

I’d never played a gig like this before; my friend Mara Purl had invited me to join Teji Ito’s band to provide music for a fashion show. I was to add keyboards to the group which featured Mara on koto, Dan Erkkila on flutes, Genji Ito, Cherel Winett Ito and Guillermo on percussion and shakuhachi. Say WHA???

There was no sheet music; we were all just supposed to listen to each other and extemporize, adding whatever might fit with what everyone else was playing. I was sure the resulting cacophony would be terrible – but somehow it began to gel during the rehearsal (otherwise known as my audition!?) – and then… the gig!

The venue was an art gallery and the models were all dancers from the NYC Ballet. Their gorgeous silk attire was breathtakingly beautiful, and they seemed to float on air as they danced to our spontaneous music – it was a “happening” in the best sense of the word!

We played for about an hour and then it was over. Mara and I returned the Fender Rhodes I’d borrowed back to the friend who’d lent it to us, then brought her koto back to her Park Avenue apartment. As it was a lovely spring afternoon, I decided to walk home to my place in Chelsea.

As I passed a storefront on West 34th Street, an attractive young man popped out and invited me to “take a free personality test ”  I was so surprised and in such a good mood, I (uncharacteristically for me!) agreed.  It took a lot longer than I’d thought but I was sure that I was “ace-ing” it!  Turns out – like everyone else who gets suckered into taking this test – not-so-much! The results were graded and it turned out that I was an amazingly defective excuse for a human being – desperately in need of the help that only Scientology could afford me.

All I could do was laugh! I’d just come from the headiest musical experience I’d ever had to that point, making music with Teiji and his group just a couple hours earlier! I’d been paid handsomely and felt on top of the world! Buoyed by that experience, I continued home in the twilight, still high from the gig.  While I might have been susceptible on some other day when my self-esteem may have been shaky… “not today, L. Ron Hubbard! Not today!”

WhatIfNothingWrongWYou

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excellence, Jingles, music, music biz

Leadership

MarkConducts1

We’d done hundreds of recording sessions together and we’d been married for over 4 years before I discovered what a wonderful conductor Mark Wolfram is. Somehow I’d missed seeing him wave a baton in front of an ensemble before that.

Initially, Mark was introduced to me as another arranger at the Chicago jingle company where we both worked. His charts were always professional, sometimes brilliant – and he seemed to know his way around the recording studio. He picked up his trombone and played my charts beautifully.  A consummate producer, he was detail-oriented, but always got the big picture, especially when it came to the mix. His ears were impeccable; he could always tell when a singer or musician was sharp or flat, ahead or behind the beat.  He was also a skillful, safe driver behind the wheel – I trusted him and felt confident that he knew where he was going, what steps to take and how to get there – on the road and in his career.  I should have known.

MarkConducts3

But I honestly had no idea how well he could conduct before I saw him in action and noticed how attentively the musicians were following him – performing for him in a way I could never get them to play for me.

MarkConducts2

Having been a “solo act” for much of my professional life, and having not played or sung in very many ensembles, my knowledge of conducting was rudimentary and my confidence as a leader was sorely lacking. Sure, I’d taken the requisite conducting course in college, but I’d always felt uneasy and embarrassed in front of a group – like a fraud – and the results I got were disappointing. I just didn’t have the “it” factor to gain and keep the attention of the ensemble, whereas Mark has a natural ease on the podium, allowing the musicians to relax, knowing that they’re in good hands with him at the helm!

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Experts say there are basic qualities that the best leaders possess: communication skills, awareness, integrity, courage, vision… that great leaders guide and encourage other people to reach their goals, with the same attributes shared by great teachers – and the best music conductors. Ultimately – and ironically – strong effective leadership comes from being of service to those being led, to the project at hand, to the greater good.

I really wish more modern politicians were a fraction as imbued with these leadership qualities as my Maestro Mark.

Qualities

 

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excellence, music

My Mother’s Grandson

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She didn’t make a big deal about it, and I know she enjoyed all of her “granddogs” and “grandcats”, but I think my mother would have really loved it if her children had given her human grandchildren. And after seeing Ben Platt perform IT TAKES TWO for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th Birthday, I’m pretty sure that he would have more than surpassed her expectations for a grandson.

Ben first got my attention in DEAR EVAN HANSEN and a couple years later he blew my mind as THE POLITICIAN.  And now, I’m totally convinced – my mother would have adopted him in a heartbeat. For starters, INTO THE WOODS was my mother’s favorite show; for while she adored A FUNNY THING HAPPEN ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, she was crazy about fairy tales her whole life, and INTO THE WOODS is the only musical she bought copies of for ALL of us.

My mom’s been gone for quite a few years, so Ben has nothing to worry about – but, oh, such a handsome young man – and such a brilliant talent! She would have delighted in and spoiled him rotten!

Instead, she delighted in and spoiled our first boy, Dunkel.  Fortunately, he loved his Grandma Betty right back! 🐾

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