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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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

The Bumpy Road to New York

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I left the house while it was still dark, telling my half-asleep mother that I was headed “to the library” when she asked where I was going.  After hoofing it 2 miles to the Hartford train station, I bought a ticket and just… went! At 14, I was too afraid to explore much of anywhere once I got to Grand Central Station, but I DID make it across 42nd Street it to the Library, so I hadn’t been exactly lying.

Train to NYC! New York, New Haven & Hartford

I think my folks understood – they’d always had a yen for New York – the theaters, the museums, the glamour – New York had it all!  There honestly wasn’t any other place to be as far as they were concerned – witness that they both retired to Manhattan in their 50s and breathed their lasts there 20+/- years later.

So as soon as I’d graduated, that’s where I needed to go. I didn’t have a job lined up or money in the bank, so I temped for Kelly Girl that summer and saved my sheckels while calling and sending out resumes and cover letters to every company listed under “Music” in the NY Yellow Pages. At the end of the summer, finally a job offer appeared: librarian at E.B. Marks Music on West 50th Street, a company that published some of my teacher Hale Smith’s compositions. I’m pretty sure he put in a good word for me and I was SO grateful to finally have a MUSIC JOB in NEW YORK!

I got the idea of living in an office from my dad, who had camped out in a friend’s NY office while trying to break in to TV sketch writing a decade earlier. I think he may have lasted 10 days before he threw in the towel and returned to Hartford; he said he’d gotten lonely and missed us too much, but I always suspected that when the Big Apple didn’t greet him with open arms, he became discouraged and felt too old to be couch surfing and taking Marine baths in the sink instead of showering at home.

Dad had always advocated living within walking distance of one’s employment, so when I was offered the job in August of 1972, I figured that the small 2-room office on the 11th floor of the Ed Sullivan Building on 53rd and Broadway would be perfect! It was only $110/month, in a 24-hour building, so I could come and go whenever I wanted. The ladies’ room was across the hall, so I planned to join the YWCA 3 blocks south on 8th Ave and get in a daily swim (so virtuous!) before showering and strolling over to my job, thereby expediting both exercise AND personal hygiene!

And so the family helped move me and my earthly possessions (2 suitcases of clothes and a trunk full of music scores, LPs and stereo equipment) into my new office-home. Some voiced concern over the fact there was no kitchen, bath or furniture, but I had a hotpot, I’d packed a pillow and envisioned no problem sleeping on the carpeted floor, so… no worries!

The first few days were pretty uneventful. So what if the doorman looked at me a little strangely as I exited the building just as everyone else was entering each morning?!  It was Autumn In New York!! I was a bit lonely, I didn’t have a phone and since my salary was only $100/week ($77.50 after taxes!), entertainment and dining options were extremely limited. But I had my hotpot and my stereo and the commute to work was sure easy!

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My good friends Peter and Cathy were getting married on Labor Day, so I dressed and got ready to take the train up to Stratford that morning, only to find that I’d been LOCKED IN! I hadn’t anticipated that this being a national holiday, my 24-hour building was closed and I could not get out!  I panicked until I managed to locate a janitor to unlock the door and fortunately, he was there when I returned late that night. But I began to feel a little less confident in my choice of housing.

After a few days, the daily swims became less frequent – not just because I wasn’t that interested in swimming, but… I began to feel a bit too vulnerable stripping down every day in front of strange women, some of whom seemed a bit overly interested in my body!? –  wouldn’t a Marine bath do for today? (and tomorrow, maybe?  and even the next day?)  So much for my athletic exploits at the Y!

Every day the walls of my office-home moved in a little closer; each weeknight the cleaning lady would unlock and open my office door, waking me in the wee hours to empty the trash — it always surprised us both. And the sideward glances from the doorman were getting more pronounced every morning.

After subsisting on instant cocoa, fruit and sandwiches for a week, I knew I needed to find a real apartment with a real bed, a real bathroom and a real kitchen with a refrigerator and stove – even if that meant dealing with roommates and having to take the subway. I asked around at work and was told about some affordable places in the East Village which turned out to be so rugged on the outside, I never rang the doorbell to even see the inside!  Then I applied to a real estate company that didn’t have any places I could afford but who wound up wanting to sublet my office in the Ed Sullivan Building.

So after 2 weeks of office-living, I moved for a week to a cheap hotel on West 112th Street where I had my first encounter with cockroaches. Then, knowing of my plight, Hale Smith’s wonderful wife Juanita put me in touch with a woman she worked with at the U.N. who needed a roommate for her Riverside Drive apartment at 125th Street. While  I could no longer walk to work, it was SO nice to have an actual BED to sleep in, not just a pillow on the floor!

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Riverside Drive at 125th Street – thank you, Juanita!!  🙂

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