growing up, learning, music biz

Believe Them The First Time

I can forgive myself for wanting people to be better than they are – to make good on their promises, show up on time and behave honestly – despite many experiences to the contrary. I’ve certainly let myself down, so why shouldn’t other people? But there have been a few instances that stand out.

I’ve learned major lessons from each CD we’ve released; the first one (in 1993) taught me that expenses will run over – there will be tracks that need to be “fixed” and some that will need major reworking, so count on needing more time and money than you’d originally planned. The second one (in 2004) taught me that radio promotion is not enough – you’ll need publicity to make any kind of a splash, no matter how awesome you know your recording to be. The third CD (in 2006) taught me “Caveat Emptor” – in bold relief. And that Maya Angelou was a very wise woman.

We’d been shopping for a publicist for a while, asking our jazz friends about their experiences. No one we knew would recommend anyone (which may tell you something about the nature of the publicity industry!?)  So when a collaborator began to sing the praises of one couple he was working with to promote his jazz career, we were excited to meet them!

When she said, “I don’t know what we can do for you”, that should have been the first clue to heed, since:Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AMBut we were impressed with their big fancy house in a fashionable part of town and their list of successful clients in all media and we were tired and time was growing short for our release date and we desperately wanted to work with someone (anyone???) who was connected in the biz, to get the word out about the new CD!!  And yet:Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AM

And then there were their adorable dogs, and the photos on the walls of their past triumphs and we could see how wonderful it was going to be when they promoted our wonderful CD and got us reviews in all the trades and even a mention in People magazine andwe joined those triumphant success stories on the wall, and… and… and…
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Even though she had told us that she didn’t know what she could do for us (and she was right – she did not know and wound up doing virtually nothing!!), she was more than happy to take our sizable check. And great was our ultimate disappointment.

If only we’d believed her the first time.

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music biz

Old Dog, New Tricks

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Out of nowhere right before New Year’s, I was invited to play with the Tucson Symphony for a couple of Byron Stripling concerts.  He’s a very talented trumpeter who also sings and was doing a Louis Armstrong/New Orleans type of thing with the TSO in conjunction with the Tucson Jazz Festival. I was a bit hesitant because I’d never played with an orchestra, had no idea who had recommended me for the gig and I thought it might be too much work for not enough money (a trend these days!?) But then I thought, “heck, this is Tucson. How many other piano players could do it better than I could, if I put my mind to it?” and I couldn’t think of too many, so I said yes.

I picked up the music at the orchestra office and felt a bit daunted – LOTS of notes! – I’d have to actually read, and not just chord symbols! LOTS of complicated rhythmic figures and changing tempos and time signatures, due to the medley-nature of the charts. LOTS of empty bars of rests to count! (Being a pianist who usually plays club dates and private parties, I haven’t had to count bars of rests very much in my professional life – I usually just play wall-to-wall! I’m here to tell you, it’s mighty nerve-wracking to count measures of rest if you’re not used to it.)

I researched as much as I could online on Mr. Stripling – looking for YouTube videos so I could hear his patter, how some of the pieces should sound, his bio, etc. And I practiced a couple hours every day for 2 weeks with a metronome!!  Sometimes right before bed, but always at least once through the show, because some of the tunes were burners, and I was afraid I’d mess up if I didn’t have them under my fingers – (these days I don’t usually play anything that fast!!)

I felt pretty well prepared by the time of the rehearsal. That night’s concert went well, and the following day’s matinee went well, too. A couple weeks later the paycheck came in the mail. I feel pretty good that I took on something that was a bit out of my comfort zone, devoted the necessary time to learning it, and then performed pretty well! I even found out who had referred me for the gig – a percussionist I’d hired for a church gig many years ago!? (you never know, do you!?)

Guess you can teach an old dog new tricks, if you’re patient and keep calm, eh?  🙂

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learning, self-acceptance

Worth Defending

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The oncologist had given my father a 3-4 month prognosis, and even without treatment, he lasted for almost 10. Mark and I had just bought our first house in L.A. and he was commuting to Chicago, spending half the time away from home, working feverishly and the other half recovering from travel and having overextended himself.  I called my dad every other day and traveled to NYC to see him and be with family whenever I could but basically had to stay home with our 4 dogs most of the time.

My 3 sisters and mother all lived in or near Manhattan and they met for weekly powwows to discuss my father’s condition, their emotional fallout and to comfort one another. After 6 months of this, in spite of visits, letters and phone calls, I began to feel a bit left out and in need of support for myself, so I began weekly therapy sessions at a hospice group in Pasadena. While I didn’t feel exactly excluded from my family, I did feel alone, especially as my dad lingered on well past his projected expiration date and my sisters and mom became more exhausted by the stresses of caring for him and their own emotions. 2,500 miles away, what could I do? Not much as it turned out. We were all doing the best we could but it was increasingly difficult. At a certain point my therapist suggested I take self-defense classes, to literally protect the boundaries I needed to feel safe.

At first I signed up for a Learning Annex class: Self-Defense for Women. There were 30 of us in the first class, and we got to punch and kick bags and it was even kinda fun! By the 3rd class, though, more than half the students had dropped out, and it was increasingly clear that I was not going to get the empowerment I had come for – not from this instructor! Fortunately a friend shared her experiences with Model Mugging.

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I had to do some research to find them, but it was well worth the effort. In one weekend of intensive instruction, I learned several basic strategies for self-defense, and, most importantly, the attitude that I was worth defending! (as we all are!!)  Knowing that I literally “had it in me” to fight back against physical attack empowered me to defend myself from psychic and emotional attacks; to actually experience how it felt in my body to connect blows, to yell, “NO!” and protect myself. All of the Model Mugging students got what we’d come for – the will to survive and the confidence that we could and would fight back against an aggressor.  It may get a bit complicated when that aggressor is your own flesh and blood, but I think it’s even more essential to maintain boundaries with our loved ones under stressful circumstances – just because you love them and they’re in pain doesn’t give them the right to abuse you!

The final exam at the Learning Annex happened a week after my Model Mugging training, and of the 8 remaining students, I was the only one who was able to successfully escape from the instructor. Even though I was the most out-of-shape, unathletic and oldest student, I was the only one who breathed deeply and verbalized “NO!” as I was striking back, and the only one who actually hurt the instructor enough to make him stop coming after me! (and was he surprised!!?!)

I’ve been very fortunate to have lived in relatively safe neighborhoods most of my life – the only actual physical attack I’ve had to fend off was an unleashed Doberman who wanted a bite of my knee while I was out jogging – and super-loud “NO!” was enough to stop him long enough for me to escape unscathed.

Women are taught to be submissive in our culture – to avoid defending ourselves, which leads to many of us feeling disempowered on more than just the physical front.  I needed reminding on a visceral level that I was worth saving – and to learn that I could muster the power to defend myself.

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Home

Buying The Shoes

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“Happy Talk, keep talkin’ Happy Talk!  If you don’t have a dream…”

At 25, Bill was still living at home. This might not be a big deal nowadays, but back in the mid-1970s, it meant something for a young man who’d finished his schooling; he was “an artist”, a musician, a dreamer without enough money to afford his own place. (He sure liked the looks of mine – in fact, I wondered sometimes whether he liked my apartment more than he liked me!)

While I was brought up to respect, nay, revere  the arts, the importance of being financially responsible and paying one’s own way as an adult was also drilled into me from a young age. So I raised more than an eyebrow when Bill came over one day with a motorcycle helmet he’d just purchased for $80.00.  “Isn’t it GREAT??” No motorcycle, mind you – but he’s got a helmet!!!

Meanwhile I’m thinking about who’s buying the groceries (me), who’s worried about having enough money for the rent (also me), and whose quarters will be fueling the washing machine in the basement (mine). I let Bill move into my apartment when I had a 6-week gig at a gay bar in San Juan PR, but I made him move right back out when he told me his next gig was 2 months away and he didn’t have any money coming in until then.

Forty years later I checked him out on FaceBook and while he hasn’t yet been invited to play with his beloved Berliner Philharmoniker, he DOES apparently ride a BMW motorcycle.

Guess you’ve gotta buy the shoes, after all.

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music biz

What You See Is What You Get

A blog platform I subscribe to recently changed its logo and got me thinking about the impact of images and slogans. Medium tried on a number of different hats before settling on their present one,

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while I actually prefer one they rejected:

M&M

which communicates the inclusive attributes towards which the site strives, a bit like a Celtic knot:

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Now, not every slogan or logo belongs in the

Advertising Slogan Hall of Fame

though some do – they’ve stood the test of time. But it can take a bit of time and effort to arrive at the logo or catchphrase that truly reflects your intentions. Like many new businesses, we copied our predecessors when starting out; Mark and I had met while working at Com/track in Chicago –

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so even though our first company logo was a bit “lawyerish”-looking, it was what we were comfortable with at the time:

orig.H:W

“just the facts, ma’am….”

The next year Mark had an idea: we had searched for a fresher identity and settled on the slogan, “The New American Jingle Classic” coupled with Grant Woods’ American Gothic –

H:WCard

HWPoster

to convey that while our company was new to the advertising community, we did have (midwestern) history and were experienced, (with good ol’ fashioned production values they could trust!  Just like these fellas here!!)

When we moved, we incorporated the American Gothic image into our new letterhead and business cards for a while:

A.G.HouseLogo

the typeface still says “lawyer” but there’s this HOUSE above it, see….

but it wasn’t very exciting to us, so when we moved back to Chicago in 1987, we looked for a new image

1987H:Wlogo

this one was okay, UNTIL….

H:W in jail

we saw what it looked like without color…. Gee! The treble clef is in JAIL!!!  Wonder what it was guilty of???

finally settling on our current one:

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UPBEAT!! On the RISE!!  (and no treble clefs were imprisoned or harmed in the creation of this logo!)

 

Contrary to Marshall McLuhan’s assertion, while the medium may be PART of the message, it doesn’t tell the whole story, IMHO. It can help create an identity, however. My cap is off to graphic artists everywhere!

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growing up, Home

The Japanese Garden

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One of the advantages my generation enjoyed was being trusted when we were kids, to go out in the world by ourselves. Of course, with instructions to “never take candy from strangers” and “don’t get in anyone’s car that you didn’t know” – but mostly we were encouraged to explore the world of our neighborhood and trusted to know when to ask for help, who to turn to (“the policeman is your friend!”) – to look out for your friends, family, fellow classmates and neighbors.

Tonight while walking the dogs around the block before bed, we saw a SUV with its lift gate left open. We tried to pull it down to shut it but backed away when the hinge made a screeching noise, thinking aloud, “don’t want somebody to come out here and point a gun in our face!”  That kind of litigious thing was unheard of in the 1950s and 60s. But back then, families left their cars unlocked, with the windows open overnight during the summer – I remember having to run out to crank them closed when a sudden rainstorm would hit.

For years I’ve had dreams about walking to a Japanese garden when I was 10-or-so years old. But I couldn’t recall exactly where or when this was. I knew it was within walking distance, because my older sister and I had to share one bike between us, but I couldn’t recall exactly where it was.

She remembered – and it’s still there! Even expanded over the years! It’s probably covered in snow right now, but in my mind it will always be a cool respite from the overly warm summer of 1962, when we could buy a Coke at the corner store and escape from the chaos and noise of younger sisters and our forlorn mother, stuck sweltering at home. My father used to refer to East Hartford, CT as “the armpit of the world” – but he didn’t hang out much in the Japanese Garden of Wickham Park!

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growing up, learning

My Best Blogpost EVER!!!

 

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How did we get to this point, where everything is absolutes and superlatives? “The Best Trumpeter/Guacamole/Fill-In-The-Blank”??  “The Worst Comedian/TV Show/Things-In-The-World“??  Hype has gotten way out of hand, and while I’d like to blame certain über-judgemental politicians, I know that this trend to compare, pick apart and find fault with everyone else predates “The Donald”.  (Like for 50 years now!!)

Admittedly, it’s human nature to notice differences in quality, but was it always so vicious? We grew up with Montgomery Ward’s and  Sear’s Good – Better – Best!  – and I kinda miss it, that tolerance for “pretty good” – you sorta knew where you stood and what to expect when UPS dropped off the package. When did it become okay to trash everyone else’s efforts in order to establish one’s own superiority? How can Kobe Bryant be “arguably the best player of his generation” while Michael Jordan is “the greatest basketball player of all time” ?  Couldn’t we just enjoy watching magnificent athletes make amazing shots without the constant chatter of pundits announcing THIS one is so much better than THAT one?

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It took me many years and a lot of soul-searching to feel alright about being a black-thumbed gardener, a lousy bowler, a mediocre pool player and a less-than-stellar cook – to get to the point where I could perform those functions and actually enjoy doing so. (Why? Maybe because my parents didn’t believe in the “learning curve” – at least not so I could tell; we were taught that you either “got it!” and were brilliant right out of the box, or you should hang it up, like the old one-liner: “if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you!”)

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Or maybe because the deck’s been stacked – the media has decided to turn us against ourselves and one another because there’s profit to be made. Never mind how unhappy it makes most of us; it’s in somebody’s intere$t to turn everything from singing and dancing to driving a big rig thru the snowy tundra to getting married to surviving on a desert island into a competition. They’re using manufactured dissatisfaction to get us to buy whatever it is they’re selling but don’t have enough confidence to offer it without the hoopla of hyperbole.

Which means, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not worth buying.

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No, thanks! Not for me!

 

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