music biz, music

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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learning, self-acceptance

ThredUp/ParedDown

Well, it’s Spring… so that means Spring Cleaning, eh? This recent New Yorker article made me smile with self-recognition AND weep (at the end) with the same: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/03/08/how-to-practice

So much of what I personally need to let go of is “aspirational” – a word I feel applies to physical possessions as well as beliefs, strategies, ambitions and ideals. If things actually DO hold energy, sending silent messages, as author/minimalist-extraordinaire Fumio Sasaki claims, then decluttering is more than just making room for different stuff; it’s creating space for new ways of thinking and feeling, being and identity.

Sometimes the silent messages are amplified by human intervention!

For women in our society, appearances are deemed extremely important, and though one would never guess by the baggy knits I’ve worn over this past pandemic year, my wardrobe includes quite a few aspirational pieces I’ve retained for a while – decades, even. It isn’t too far of a stretch to imagine that these clothes are whispering from the back of my closet: do you still love me? will you EVER wear me again?

I came across an online consignment shop a couple months ago and scored some bargains – the opposite of downsizing, I know! The Rescue Box of scarves (over 2 dozen for $16) REALLY blew my skirt up!! – https://www.thredup.com

A few days ago, after rigorous self-query, I was able to release a couple of boxes of otherwise-lovely items that no longer fit my psyche, coloring, age or figure. In Marie-Kondo-speak, they don’t “spark joy”. I hope they will soon for someone else.

Part of growth is realizing how we’re always changing. This isn’t my first go-’round with decluttering; https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2019/02/15/baby-with-the-bathwater/ – and I’m sure it won’t be my last. 💚💜💛❤️

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Uncategorized

Appreciated

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls” – Aesop

When I got my “dream job” as an arranger at a jingle company in Chicago in 1979, I was mostly thrilled to be using my musical skills and in the studio practically every day. But I was also chagrined that after every recording session, there was rarely any feedback for the charts I’d written. I didn’t feel it was out-of-line to expect some small verbal acknowledgement that I’d done a good job, especially under pressure and last minute, so after the first few weeks of determining that the clients were genuinely happy, I privately asked the boss about it.

He looked at me like I was out of my mind, and as much as said to me, “what are you? a baby? you’re getting a paycheck – that should be acknowledgement enough!”

I felt shamed for having asked, but still a little defensive, and thought to myself, “what does it cost to let someone know that they’ve done a good job?”

Too often we humans take ourselves and one another for granted, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Four decades later, I’m still chewing on this, and sometimes when I can’t sleep, I silently reassure myself that I’m good – I deserve to breathe and live and exist. Because whether the boss will acknowledge it or not, I know that it’s true, and sometimes I just need to hear it. We all do.

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family, Home

Thanksgiving Smiles

I’ve posted before about a long-ago Thanksgiving… https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/thanksgiving-1972/ and there have been other memorable celebrations, such as the holiday feasts at Kevin & John’s house, where 30+ people crowded around one table – a VERY lively group indeed!

Host John & Chef Kevin!

One year we stopped by our friend’s 2-flat in Wrigleyville (after having endured a glum church dinner); Pete’s friends were theater folk and we had SUCH a great time hanging out with them… and then were sent home with a LOT of leftover pies! YUM!

This year we’re staying pretty much low-carb, so… no pies!! And there won’t be anywhere near as many HUGS as I’d like. But I’ve recently reflected that every day, year ’round, I get plenty of smiles from my loved ones; on FaceBook, in emails, and framed in the living room. I’m grateful to have so much love surrounding me; whether from people still on earth or dearly departed, they warm my heart beyond measure. Until this pandemic passes, I’ll content myself with these and count myself incredibly blessed! 🍁

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music biz, music

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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music biz

Croon-ah In Altoona

 

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It was supposed to be a 2-week engagement playing and singing piano-bar at the big downtown hotel in Altoona. I’d signed a contract stipulating I was to be paid $250/week + room w/breakfast and dinner. I boarded the Greyhound at Port Authority at the ungodly hour of 6:30 AM in order to arrive before my 6PM start, noshing on liverwurst sandwiches as the bus stopped at seemingly EVERY little town in Pennsylvania.

Things were not auspicious when I arrived; my room was NOT ready, so I had to wait in the lobby for 45 minutes until it had been cleaned. Then I found that the air-conditioning in the room didn’t work – something you’d rather not have to face after spending ten and half hot hours riding on the bus, desperately needing to freshen-up before the gig! After I hunted down the manager, he told me the AC would be fixed by the time I turned in, but by then there wasn’t time to get dinner before the downbeat. Oh, well!

The boisterous crowd was celebrating some bigwig’s retirement and mostly ignored me, even when I asked for requests.  I kept getting the stink-eye from the manager, who became more and more inebriated as the evening wore on. He began making snarky comments while blowing smoke in my face during my first set and continued to verbally harass me nonstop during my breaks. This gig was not looking good for an entire fortnight’s duration!

Now, I was raised to be a person of my word, my rent was due soon and I couldn’t afford to bail on this gig, but I knew this abuse would continue for the entire 2 weeks if I didn’t find Plan B.  So, after the 3rd set I made “an executive decision” and called my friend Jamie (collect!), to see if he’d loan me the $500 I’d expected to earn, and was incredibly relieved when he said, “Sure! Don’t put up with that! Come on back home to New York right now!”  At the end of the night, I took the $32 in tips I’d earned, packed up my suitcase and walked over to the Amtrak station for the 1:30 AM train bound for Penn Station. 6 hours later I was back in Manhattan, safe and sound.

There’s an old joke my dad used to enjoy telling with the punchline, “what? and give up show biz?”  The agent who had set up this engagement seemed totally unsurprised when I called later that morning to tell her what had happened, and I suspect I was not the first nor the last singer-pianist to have taken a powder on fame-&-fortune in Altoona!

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

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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music biz, music, Jingles, excellence

Leadership

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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.

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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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learning, self-acceptance

The Company We Keep

One of the benefits of having so much more “downtime” these past five months has been the opportunity to sift through old music cassettes; revisiting songs I haven’t heard or thought of for decades, and reassessing the qualities of the writing, production, performance, etc. It’s been amazing to realize how much my tastes have changed… and in some instances, how little, as I’m just as thrilled to revisit some music as I was when I first listened, so many years earlier!

Along with re-evaluating music, I’ve been gaining fresh perspective on the people in my life; it’s always been helpful to me to see friendships in terms of energy fields, and notice how I seem to come “alive” more while hanging out with this person as opposed to that person.

I’m fortunate to have had a number of *enchanted* friendships, where I was immediately overwhelmed when meeting the person for the first time; we got on like a house a-fire, and it felt like we’d known each other our whole lives, or that we were fated to be friends. When it happens, this initial enthusiasm is so heady and intoxicating, it’s hard to resist! And sometimes it continues for a long time; I’m blessed with friends I met in the early to mid-1970s who become dearer to me with every year!

But not always. Recently I’ve become estranged from a few friends-of-many-years when I’ve realized that, though we still shared a lot of the same enthusiasms in life, they were not behaving in a way that made me feel safe – and so I had to distance myself emotionally – and sometimes entirely – from them.

This always feels weird to me – I’m a pretty retentive personality and don’t like letting go – especially when there was something so GOOD about the relationship. But sometimes it’s essential, and the only way to survive psychically. Being in pandemic lockdown, I’m more aware than ever of the importance of choosing my companions carefully. I’ve made questionable decisions when I was younger and felt better able to fend off negativity than I do now. I also know I’m more sensitive to bad juju than I used to be.

Ultimately it seems to come down to staying conscious and being willing to face reality when it presents itself; being curious and brave enough to actually see and evaluate the evidence before us. My dad had a saying, “watch the feet” – because talk is cheap, and it’s easy to assume that others have your best interests at heart when perhaps that is not the case. Then what we need to do becomes crystal clear.

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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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