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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politics

Vacationing In SorkinWorld

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I didn’t watch Sports Night when it first ran on ABC from 1998-2000 – having never been a fan of sports, I figured it just wasn’t for me. But I’d enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s writing in A Few Good Men and The American President, and then experienced the buffering relief that The West Wing brought to the Dubya Years; watching smart people doing admirable things for the best reasons was a balm for my soul. So eventually I got around to appreciating Sports Night, to the extent that we purchased the DVD set, to be able to revisit the characters again whenever we wanted.

And lately, we have wanted… in a big way.  The nonstop insanity of current events has made it imperative to once again spend time with the fast-talking smartypants-es at CSC, reveling in their rapid-fire banter, good humor and mutual admiration. I can overlook Sorkin’s inability to create multi-dimensional female characters who, though bright and beautiful, can never manage to handle their love lives with any degree of aplomb. And I don’t have any trouble with his personal drug struggles, as I’ve been battling a few addictive tendencies of my own this lifetime. The show reminds me of happier times when I, too, was employed in an office filled with creative types who were passionate about their work; when choices were at least sometimes made on the basis of meritocracy, and not totally on nepotism, greed and self-interest.

I know we can’t turn back time, but I like that I can at least visit, 22-minutes at a pop.

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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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#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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Home

Once a New Yorker, Always a New Yorker

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Although NYC was Mecca for my family, I moved away permanently almost 35 years ago. Still, some things about living in the city have stayed with me; my visceral reaction to the energy on the streets of “the city that never sleeps”, the memory of the sounds and smells, the incredible amounts of noise and traffic, and, like a true New Yorker, my inherent distrust of strangers when it comes to handling my purchases, bags, etc.

One of the things besides classical music that made 2017 survivable was that throughout this past year I received The New Yorker magazine in the mail. Frankly, I was puzzled, because I had only signed up for a brief 6-issue special subscription, and yet… it kept arriving! I knew that I hadn’t paid for it, and I was slightly tempted to bring this apparent snafu to their attention – but I was enjoying the writing so much that I really didn’t want it to stop coming! While I’d always enjoyed the cartoons, I experienced a deep satisfaction from the stories and articles about life in general as well as commentary on our current political climate. With all the sensationalism of these events, compassion and insight have been absent in much of the media reportage lately, and it’s comforting to read about how people are coping in these tumultuous times.

My benefactor was revealed today; a dear friend who also had moved away from New York in the 80s – and I thanked him profusely for the generous gift. Even though neither one of us was originally born within the city limits, once you’ve claimed NYC as your home, at heart you are ALWAYS a Native New Yorker , with all the privileges such sophisticated status bestows! Screen Shot 2018-01-07 at 12.54.02 AM

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romantic

My Disco Date with Frank

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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

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.

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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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