music biz, music

Mystique Vs. Music

Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 6.01.32 PMThe cult of celebrity (AKA being famous for being famous) has muddied the waters of music for a long time.  Yet, after a lifetime of loving Beethoven’s music, (and Mozart’s, Schubert’s, Chopin’s, Brahms’,   etc.), I’m still moved by their works, without knowing much of the personal nature of their lives, if you can imagine that! For me, the logical development of the musical material gives meaning beyond the intrinsic beauty of their pieces – the music stands the test of time on its own merits, regardless of how celebrated or unpopular these creators were during the course of their lives.

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I was always a fan of Aaron Copland’s music, though I knew little of his private life and didn’t really care; it was enough to admire the fact he managed to earn a living from his compositions without needing a church gig, like J.S. Bach!  (It probably helped that, unlike Bach, Copland didn’t have 20 children to support!?)

 

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When I first met my teacher Hale Smith 49 years ago, I had never heard any of his works. As a teenager without funds to purchase recordings and in the absence of the internet, I didn’t become acquainted with his music until well after meeting him in person and becoming charmed by his vibrant character, energy and prodigious knowledge. While UConn had many fine faculty members who lived near the campus at Storrs, the music dept. also brought in professionals who made a living in NYC, and who provided an example of how it could be accomplished, for those of us who longed to make our mark in the music biz outside of academia. Hale was the chief shining beacon who inspired and encouraged me to imagine my own future as a professional musician.

But did I know his music? Do I know his music? Ummm…. maybe not-so-much!  Though brilliant, cogent and compelling, Hale’s “formal” music demands the listener truly pay attention to catch the nuances that constitute the integrity of his creations. For example, his Contours For Orchestra is pretty intense and difficult to appreciate on first hearing – at least for this listener!  Three Brevities (Allegro) is also complex, though composed for only a solo flute, and only one minute in duration!  Hale’s “casual” music is more accessible, I think, but still sophisticated and not completely grokked without paying attention.

We live in a society that frequently prizes big-name superstardom above actual accomplishment, and it’s easy to get swept up in the hype of celebrity; we’re certainly encouraged to do so by the media. One might argue that the personality pervades the creative end result and is indistinguishable  – but it seems to me that art falls or stands on its own 2 feet, regardless of the creator’s reputation. It takes effort to focus on more substantial values, in the arts and elsewhere. However, the rewards are worth the effort, IMHO.

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music biz

I Love A Piano!

Screen Shot 2019-05-30 at 2.45.11 AMI’ve felt drawn to the piano from the very beginning – there’s just something about it that always made me want to touch it!

The first piano I recall was my Grandma Helen’s – a magical (to me!) baby grand.  When she’d play Chopin, I’d spin around dancing in the living room, collapsing in a dizzy toddler-heap – until she’d start playing again!  I began saving my allowance when I was 5 so that I could afford to buy my own piano; a turn-of-the-century painted-gray upright that had been in someone’s cellar for so long that it was impossible to bring the tuning up to concert pitch. With $20 for the piano, $20 to move it and $10 for the tuning, it wiped out my savings but was mine at age 10.

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Picture Me painted medium gray

My mother gave it away when I moved to NYC after college and I played the pianos down the street at Manhattan School of Music practice rooms until I could afford to buy another upright; a circa-1940s walnut-stained Söhmer for $285, moving and tuning included.

This stood me in good stead for about 5 years until I became accustomed to the sound of grand pianos in NYC’s recording studios – and then I felt the need to upgrade to a baby grand. While accompanying a friend who was shopping for a Yamaha studio upright, a beautiful August Förster caught my fancy… WAY out-of-my-league financially, but SUCH a gorgeous thing it was…

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I wound up borrowing from my mother to purchase a circa-1950s Harrington which set me back $1650, after $200 trade-in for my upright.  It recorded well and had a really nice sound for a small grand;  I loved it dearly until financial troubles in the late 1980s necessitated selling it, and I was piano-less for a few years. (Thank heavens for electronic keyboards, which got me over the hump!)

Harrington

We began piano shopping in 1994 and found a 1976 Steinway CB we fell in love with. (A “CB” designates that the piano was deemed by Steinway to be superior “concert-artist” quality).  I loved playing it for a few months, while knowing that it would need rebuilding to remove the Teflon bushings  (more on this issue  here) – and we could hear those tell-tale “clicks” begin to happen more frequently every day. So we handed it over to the absolutely finest technician who ever lived, Richard Davenport.  For 5 long months he labored, while I returned to my no-longer appreciated synthesizer, and only a photo of a Steinway B tacked to the wall where our Steinway had stood.

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David Anderson on Richard Davenport: life-changing!

Finally Richard returned it to us, sounding better than ever, and over the past 25 years it has proven to be a simply wonderful instrument in every way.  We’ve recorded over a dozen CDs on it. Technicians love tuning it and compliment its sound and action. It is truly worthy of love.

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I know that Billy Joel has expressed his affection for the piano in song, but I prefer the older song – performed here by two dear and extremely talented friends: Linda November & Artie Schroeck  – who ALSO “love a piano”!

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Home, self-acceptance

Baby with the Bathwater

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I read both of Marie Kondo’s books when they were first published in English and I’ve noticed her publicist has been working overtime, increasing her visibility since her Netflix TV episodes began airing earlier this year.  While I adopted some of her ideas right away – (folding and storing so that all socks, shirts, etc. are visible just makes sense!) – I find her “throw everything in a pile” approach to be unnecessarily violent and even punitive; there are kinder, gentler ways to sort through and discard clutter without shaming ourselves. I find I need time to process tender feelings, especially dealing with unfinished business and items with sentimental value.

DeCluttering

What we choose to keep says a lot about who we are, and releasing our possessions can be a spiritual as well as physical and emotional journey. Even going through “junk drawers” in the kitchen takes more time than I would’ve thought – what to do with half-dead batteries?  My collection of twist-ties and tired old rubber bands reveals how hard I try to “keep it together” – and my willingness to sort through and discard such detritus tells me I’m ready to release a lot more stuff I don’t need.

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value of the purge

I agree with Gil Hedley (above), who champions the spiritual nature of sorting through, examining and recycling our “stuff” – knowing that while it doesn’t literally define us, it’s still a potent force to be reckoned with – in his words; “psychically and biologically active”.  Dietitians have been saying, “you are what you eat” for decades – perhaps now is a good time to entertain the idea that “you are what you keep!”

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I’ve been noticing how certain items DO seem to carry an energetic charge – and that broken items are somewhat distressing to me; they cause a disconnect of sorts. As I become more aware of how my possessions actually make me FEEL, I’m hoping to release more than STUFF these days – I’d like to think I’m ready to let go of old habits and attitudes that don’t fit and/or don’t work for me any more – maybe they never did!?

Both of my parents were minimalists and left behind very little by way of clutter; they purged their belongings periodically and I wound up inheriting one office-sized storage box for each of them, the contents of which I scanned and shared with my sisters and other relatives. Knowing how my friends have grappled with their own parents’ possessions, I’m grateful my folks left such a small footprint.  My dad’s box contains his plays, reviews and indecipherable diaries, written in his own secret shorthand, along with a beret that stopped smelling like him many years ago, alas. My mom’s box has her drawings, writings, paper pop-up experiments, letters and cards.

The items of theirs that I’ve kept remind me of the REAL treasures they shared – the time they lavished on us, their artistic flair and aspirations, their love for us.  What else is worth cherishing?

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music biz

Leaving Los Angeles

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We just finished binge-re-watching EPISODES on Netflix and I enjoyed it even more than the first time. While we were never heavy hitters in the “big time” of television, movies or the music biz, enough of the glitter rubbed off from our years striving to get projects, and we met enough other people / wannabes, that every scenario was somehow familiar. Many of our friends had encountered these types of disappointments and we’d experienced enough sucker-punches ourselves to know that, by and large, THIS STUFF IS TRUE!  It actually happens!

One true story for us involved submitting music thru an industry list for a terrific-sounding film project called PRE-K. The script was smart and tight, with well-drawn characters; parents all vying to get their kid into a prestigious exclusive preschool. We were so excited at the prospect of becoming involved in this project that we not only composed and produced demos of the theme song, we wrote a school anthem in 4-part choral harmony! I felt in my bones that we had NAILED the essence of the film and would be a shoo-in as composers for the film!

Alas, a week after we’d sent in our submission, we drove by the offices of the production company and found it completely empty, with no hint that PRE-K had ever existed! We wondered whether this had been a “long con”  ala THE GRIFTERS (1990) , or a “sting” set up by the FBI to catch conmen who were defrauding film investors!? We never did find out!

There are heartwarming as well as heartbreaking stories about the mad grab for the brass ring of fame and fortune in show biz – and I DO miss some of the people I met and worked with in LaLa Land – the fact that many of them have also abandoned Hollywood has not escaped my notice. There were good reasons we went there, besides the generally agreeable weather…. AND there were good reasons why we left!

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music biz

Right! Here! No Regrets.

 

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Last year I read a piece in The New Yorker about Orange City, IA, and how the town has prospered, unlike so many small towns in America, because much of the population has stayed put, instead of moving on to a larger life in a big city.  It made me think of the various moves I’ve made over the years, and how inconceivable it was for me to have done otherwise.

My family moved around a bit while I was growing up – from Syracuse to Cicero to Albany, NY – and then to East Hartford and Hartford, CT when my dad got a new job. Cicero and East Hartford were the only real suburbs, and my parents hated them both – my dad referred to East Hartford as “the armpit of the world”, even tho I don’t recall it being so bad. Sure, there was baseball in middle school, which I totally sucked at – but I bought my first piano when we lived there – how bad could that be? Still, my folks breathed a huge sigh of relief when we moved back to “civilization” where we could walk or take the bus to pretty much wherever we wanted to go.

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New York City was mecca for my parents, so of course that was where I envisioned myself settling after school; I could have no sooner stayed in Hartford after graduation than I could have sprouted wings. It was terrifying but also essential for me to go – New York had been calling me my entire life! And when other opportunities beckoned, I moved to Chicago and Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. Since Arizona isn’t exactly a music biz hotbed, I’ve puzzled at times how and why I wound up here.

But looking back, I can see how each location we called “home” turned out to be the right place, ultimately – even if it may not have appeared that way at the time. For example, I’d been cowed by the incredible musical skills of Los Angeles musicians, to the degree that I didn’t feel adequate to pursue recording sessions as a piano player because, literally around the corner from us lived Ralph Grierson, a pianist who was expert at ALL styles of music. Plus, with so many musicians ready and willing to work for “exposure” (AKA extremely low pay), the competition felt overwhelming! Most of my experiences playing live gigs at clubs and parties left a lot to be desired. But since moving to the Tucson area, I’ve been recommended for a lot of gigs that I wouldn’t have been called for in L.A.  and I got to experience some “steady” work, playing church gigs and musical theater, as well as ongoing work in jazz trios, which increased my confidence substantially.

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My life has hardly embodied the adage to “bloom where you’re planted”, but my current perspective is that I went where I went, when I went, to the right place at the right time. If it should have been different, it would have been different.

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♫ ♩Home again, ♫ ♩home again, ♫ ♩ ♩jiggety jig!!

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growing up, self-acceptance

The Way We Weren’t

 

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I’ve noticed how my perceptions of movies have changed over the years; when I saw  GEORGY GIRL  as a teenager, I identified totally with the title character, but upon watching it 30 years later, I felt much more in common with James Mason’s  character.

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Likewise with

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LAST TANGO IN PARIS,  which I saw when I was the same age as the female lead, Maria Schneider.  I was amazed when I watched the film again in the mid-90s, to find that instead of empathizing with her, I felt for Marlon Brando’s  character. The same was true when I revisited NETWORK  after a couple decades.

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Where I had initially seen myself in Faye Dunaway  I was now was all-in with William Holden.  It wasn’t just the wrinkles… something else was also going on.

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Since its release in 1973, I’ve probably watched THE WAY WE WERE  at least a half dozen times, swept away with the “romance” and soaring (and Oscar-winning!) title song/score, and empathizing with Barbra’s  character.  Supposedly the lovers’ “political views and convictions drive them apart”,  but upon my latest viewing, I don’t see it that way any more. What I DO see is how brittle and insufferably humorless our heroine is – and wonder how Redford could abide her for even 10 minutes!? She doesn’t truly love him “the way he is/was” because she keeps trying to change him! Conversely, she doesn’t exist as a real, whole person to him – I don’t believe he even likes, let alone loves her for who she is!?

Okay – it’s only a movie. I get that. But these are the stories we all grew up on at our collective movie-theater-campfire. As unsettling as it may be to see them for what they truly are, isn’t it better to know what we’ve been fed and been feeding ourselves, than to remain ignorant of how these stories inform our lives?

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#jazzcongress, music biz

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Jazz Congress Confidential – Part Four

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All the Jazz That’s Fit To Tote!

I attended my first Jukebox Jury 13 years ago at the JazzWeek Summit in Syracuse, and it was a trip; seeing radio programmers responding to new releases was edifying, to say the least. When they all got super-excited about the newly-found recording of Monk & Trane, my heart sank; so much for those of us still living, writing NEW songs!? After I expressed my dismay to Mark Winkler, we got a new song out of our angst, They’re Gonna Love Me (when I’m dead).

Fortunately this most recent incarnation of the Jury at the Jazz Congress didn’t include any new releases by dead people, so that was encouraging! The list of 20 new releases was well-received by the panel of radio programmers ( Mark Ruffin, Gary Vercelli, Eric Jackson and Arturo Gómez), and the comments they and moderator Brad Stone made were nuanced and helpful in understanding WHY certain tracks would “make the grade” at their stations. While some recordings were criticized rather harshly, (watch out, vocalists!! especially those of you with “tribute” projects!!), mallets players are in luck, as the vibraphone and marimba appear to have made a comeback, with enthusiastic reception from everyone on the panel. And apparently radio promoters are more essential than ever for getting your music on the air, as music directors are inundated with more and more product than ever before…. especially from those pesky singers!

The Jazz Radio Roundtable session later that afternoon continued to reveal radio programmers’ secrets – I was grateful for JazzWeek’s sponsorship of both of these events and really missed seeing Ed Trefzger,  who was unable to attend the Congress. I’m continually struck by how avidly jazz fans pursue the music – one would never guess how marginalized and practically invisible it is to the music biz overall.

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