romantic

My Disco Date with Frank

DiscoBall

Frank and I had only danced together once before in public – at the final gig our mutual friend Cindy was working as a go-go dancer in a Paterson, NJ bar. The inebriated patrons’ interest in Cindy’s provocative pink costume had waned by the last hour, and Frank and I had consumed maybe a few too many gin and tonics, so we decided to liven things up by joining Cindy atop the bar. After a few songs, Frank and I got sweaty and took off our shirts. As the patrons began to get a bit rowdy, the bartender got nervous and locked the doors (!?!) but we made it out of there alive, laughing all the way back to the Upper West Side on the bus at 3 AM; it was one of those adventures that seems a bit less risky in hindsight.

So I wasn’t prepared for the magical night Frank had planned for just the two of us a year later. Neither one of us was seeing anyone seriously and Frank wouldn’t tell me where we were going or what we were going to do – but since he was paying, I went along with the program.

OMG, we were at Trude Heller’s nightclub in Greenwich Village!!  First there was a delicious dinner – I’m not sure what it WAS (we’re talking 40+ years ago, folks!) but it was scrumptious, as was Frank’s company (as always!). When the floorshow began, I was totally delighted by “the band” – The Manhattan Transfer – a group I’d never heard OF, let alone HEARD! And after their set, the mirrored ball descended and it was Disco Time!  Frank and I hit the floor, along with everyone else in the club. I wasn’t yet familiar with all of the songs; “Rock The Boat”“Rock Your Baby”“Come & Get Your Love”“Love Train”“The Love I Lost”“Never Can Say Goodbye”“Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love”…  but I have never forgotten them since that night.

Probably because there wasn’t any sexual agenda between us, Frank has always been one of my most affectionate, tender and supportive friends – a man I truly treasure. Which is not to say I don’t have romantic feelings for him – how could I not? Frank IS “as charming as a prince could ever be”! And he treated me to “A Lovely Night”

 

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music biz, romantic

Barry Wants to Sing

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Confession: I love Barry Manilow. I love singing along with him on long road trips in the car. I loved when he and his entourage came in to the Carnegie Deli while a friend and I were enjoying a pastrami sandwich. I’ve always wanted to cowrite songs with him or have him cover one of my originals, which he’d be perfect for! (hear that, Barry?)

My mother always was a fan of pop songs – more Jerome Kern and Gershwin than anything that was currently on the radio – but after divorcing my dad, in the 70s she fell in love with a married man and wound up playing the role of The Other Woman – to the hilt. Mr. Wrong had additional “other women” besides her; his then-current wife had been an “other woman” before snagging him from his first wife – so there wasn’t any dewy ignorance going on.

When I read Romy’s blog post today, I recalled how my mother would rise from sitting cross-legged on the floor (she didn’t like furniture) nearly every day for months on end, with the pronouncement, “Barry wants to sing!”  Then we’d all get to hear Weekend In New England at least once – and frequently many more times than that. Barry never sang any other song for my mother – no “Could It Be Magic”, “Mandy” or “Even Now” – only the uber-passionate song where “with you there’s a heaven, so earth ain’t so bad”.

The affair went on for at least 10 years – I remember Christmas breakfasts where her bitter tears salted the blueberry pancakes and New Year’s Eves where she wept into her Asti Spumante, wondering if she and Mr. Wrong would ever be married. (He’d promised!)

At one point there was a grisly face-to-face confrontation in a parking lot with the wronged wife, who took off her shoe and hit my mother, splitting her head open. She was too ashamed to go to the E.R. or see a doctor, even with blood streaming down her face and onto her clothes – instead, she drove herself home and patched herself up the best she could manage.

And Barry continued to sing.

I’m not sure the “strong yearning” ever DID end.

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music biz, romantic

Thanksgiving 1972

Working and living in New York City was thrilling and lonely. While I considered myself a completely grown-up adult, I was still only 20 years old and I’d still been heading back to Connecticut every other weekend to see my parents and sisters – a practice that was at once comforting and also filled with all the old family angst. So when my teacher Hale Smith and his wife Juanita invited me to their home for Thanksgiving, I was excited to take a new adventure.

I’d never been to Penn Station before and was unprepared for the hordes of travelers on the holiday, but I managed to get my ticket and board the train, which rapidly filled to overflowing – so much so that the conductor was unable to move thru the car to collect tickets, which is why I still have this souvenir.

Ticket2Freeport

I don’t recall who picked me up at the Freeport station, but when we got to the house, it was packed with so many people, I was a bit overwhelmed! From their youngest son Eric, (an adorably over-excited 8 year old) to Hale and Juanita’s parents, it was a very mixed and lively group. The food was abundant and delicious and the conversations vibrant – covering everything from politics to sports to art, but always coming back around to music. Everyone in this family had an opinion and no one was shy about expressing themselves.  I was delighted to be there, and very thankful to have been invited.

After the entree, the desserts were plentiful and conviviality continued with music at the piano as more and more neighbors and friends converged on the Smith house throughout the afternoon. Both Hale and Juanita went out of their way to introduce me to everyone as they arrived, and most of the new guests turned out to be luminaries in their various artistic fields – I briefly wondered what I was doing, struggling to live in Manhattan, if Freeport was actually a secret artists retreat!? But I figured out pretty quickly that these were just the types of bright, creative people whom the Smiths attracted.

As the party began to wind down, I started to help clean up by clearing the tables, stacking and scraping dishes, but with a brief word to Juanita, Hale spirited me away. He lit a cigar as we walked down the block from the house to the jazz club where he was a regular (on Babylon Turnpike, maybe?) and the whole place erupted with joy at his arrival! After Hale had introduced me to seemingly everyone as his student, the house pianist got up and turned the bench over to Hale, who proceeded to play his ass off for at least three sets!

The energy that night was palpable – here were musicians in their element, taking chorus after chorus with abandon, seemingly effortlessly!  Needless to say, I was entranced!  Though I’d studied with him for 2 years, I’d never seen my teacher strut his stuff like this – probably because I’d never actually seen him play among his peers before!?  At one point, a singer was invited to sit in, and she was great, receiving such enthusiastic appreciation from the audience, it kinda blew my mind! Other than in the movies, I’d never seen that degree of rapt attention from a jazz audience and I began to reconsider my own career ambitions. Seeing her and the band make music together broke apart my own misgivings about singing as a possible career direction and I started to entertain the idea that I might perform and actually enjoy doing so.

When the club finally closed, I had missed the 1 AM train back to Manhattan. Hale and Juanita wouldn’t hear of me waiting 2 hours for the next train, so they commanded their tall, handsome eldest son (who was studying to be a medical doctor) to drive me home. During our conversation I was smitten and felt as if I was living a dream as we approached NYC at 2 AM. Just as Hale had modeled the possibility of being a professional musician/composer while I was at college, he and his wife had demonstrated that day the possibility of a warm and nurturing family life, complete with sophisticated friends and colleagues. The NYC skyline never sparkled brighter for me than on that night, when I saw it was possible to live the life I’d dreamed of; to be surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, to make music and have so much fun doing so. I was beyond dazzled.

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I’ve already made the case on my website how much of my career I owe to Hale Smith – please take a look if you haven’t already seen it:

A Tribute to Composer Hale Smith

 

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growing up, music biz, romantic, self-acceptance

My Romances

VanCliburn

My initial plan was to become a brilliant concert pianist, marry Van Cliburn and live happily ever after. I figured that since we both had naturally curly hair and loved Chopin, it was a perfect match. But before that, I was going to EXPERIENCE LIFE!  Which meant, being a child of the 60s and 70s, that I would have many lovers and flirt outrageously with Johnny Carson, just like Eva Gabor and all the other glamorous women guests on the Tonight Show.

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It didn’t work out exactly like that. My first boyfriend was the head usher at the Allyn movie theatre in downtown Hartford. Wayne lived in another part of town, went to a different high school and was very cute. We would sneak up to the balcony on breaks for closed-mouth kisses and while it was new and exciting, I wasn’t really interested in HIM.  I knew I liked being liked but that was about it. The one time he dropped by my house on his bike, out of uniform… well, it was a real disappointment.  (it was a VERY snappy uniform!!)  When I was fired from that first job, it was a relief that I wouldn’t have to see him any more.

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The vibes coming from our parents had always been such that, even tho nothing was said overtly, we knew we weren’t encouraged to date.  That may have been due to the troubles brewing in their own relationship, or my mother’s terror of our becoming pregnant (and trapped!) or my dad’s unwillingness to see us grow up, or some combination thereof. My dad warned us that “most men see women as meat – something to be pursued, used and disposed of”- a rather unsavory picture of romance for a teenage girl. Still, sexual freedom was in the air and I felt urge to get GOING already as I had devoured all those magazines and read Helen Gurley Brown’s SEX & THE SINGLE GIRL cover to cover.

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I’d had crushes – all unrequited, of course – on the handsome but somewhat dim boy in German class, the substitute teachers who looked SO much like Freddie of Freddie & The Dreamers, Paul McCartney and let’s not forget Van Cliburn!  And I’d held hands with the accompanist and kissed a singer from the InterHigh Choir on a concert tour to D.C. There was some smooching with a fellow cashier at Korvette’s – but nothing serious – nobody even got to 2nd base. Boys were so FOREIGN and they stayed that way for me through high school.

Freddie

Once I’d moved away to college, there was more freedom to meet with boys but dating per se had somehow disappeared. My girlfriends who came of age in the 70s agree: in the musician/artist crowds we ran with, NOBODY actually went out on dates!  You’d meet someone interesting, flirt, and… sometimes it was almost like shaking hands, it was so casual. From age 18 to 27, I think I may have gone out on no more than a half dozen actual DATES. We didn’t call it a “hookup” or a “booty call”, but for those of us who weren’t in a serious relationship, that’s essentially what it was.

I had always been drawn to musicians – especially those who could really PLAY. It didn’t matter whether they were married or not – in fact, I was more comfortable if they were already spoken for, because I had no intention of letting anything as trivial as sex derail my career ambitions. I wasn’t tuned-in enough to attempt to parlay my affections for career advancement – not that I entertained any idea of “the purity of being in love” – but it just struck me as cheesy. Looking back now, I’m not sure whether I missed some great opportunities or whether it really would have been cheesy!?

Cheese

I bumbled along through the 70s, never committing to anyone. There were many months at a time when I had no gentlemen callers, even though I rarely played hard-to-get. A lot of time I was mighty lonely. Instead of building connections in the music industry while I was Gil Evans’ copyist, I distracted myself by flirting with his band. Mostly I was judicious and paid attention to my own radar, so I didn’t wind up with many head cases, but I still have plenty of memories that make me cringe to this day, when I was shamed by lovers who somehow felt justified to put me down, criticizing the body they had just enjoyed. In my experience, the sexual revolution did very little to remedy the double standard.

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I was confused in many of my relationships – frequently mistaking my interest in men as sexual in nature, when what I really wanted was their friendship and camaraderie.  I loved how they played music, their enthusiasm for life, their creativity, their energy… and in many instances, it would have been a travesty to muddle my admiration and affection for them with sex. And yet I did, all too often. The smart ones talked me out of it and I wasn’t too difficult to dissuade – I don’t want to be around anyone who doesn’t want to be around me.

There were certain mileposts of progress – when I turned down a last-minute visit from a gorgeous, brilliant saxophonist because he called after midnight after months of hearing nothing from him – and when I realized that I could actively choose who I wanted to be with and not wait around to be noticed. It wasn’t exactly liberated, but felt like baby steps towards sexual self-esteem.

Romantic moments that actually made me swoon were few and far between, and generally weren’t sexual so much as warm and affectionate; the composition student who held my hand during a string quartet recital or listening with a friend to jazz piano at a NYC club while drinking one too many gin and tonics.  Being actually SEEN as a person – and knowing that whoever is seeing you is LIKING you!?  To me, that’s the gold.  All the other stuff is posturing.

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