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!!

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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Home, politics

My Undumpy White House

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As accustomed to the frequent barrage of BS from the current administration as I’m becoming, I confess to being more than a little taken aback by #45’s critique on Tuesday of his current digs; “That White House is a real dump.” Over the past 196 days, #45 has said and done some doozies, but something about dissing The White House itself, a spectacular home which is paid for by our taxes, just boggles my mind. I picture him leaving his dirty socks all over the West Wing, littering the White House with greasy fast food wrapping, the way he’s been littering our country with trashy hate-filled speech and Twitter tweets.

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The comment kept coming to mind the past couple days, until it occurred to me to consider my own concept of “home”. And I realized with a start that MY home is my body – where I live, the physical manifestation of my being – and that in the past I have been treating MY White House as “a real dump” – every time I don’t take care of it. Every time I overindulge in food or decide to stay up too late or make myself jittery with too much coffee. Every time I blow off exercise and fritter away hours window-shoppping and doing stupid puzzles online. I’m offended at #45’s lack of respect for his home because I’ve been disrespecting my own home.

I’m actually grateful for the wake-up call. I can only hope that #45 will tune in and hear himself as clearly as I am hearing him now. Because where we live is NOT a dump, unless we make it so. You don’t have to be a billionaire to figure that one out!

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Embracing Limbo

No… not THAT kind of Limbo!?!  🙂

Jeff Foster was nice enough to send me the following in today’s email:

“Whatever it is, stop trying to figure it out now.
Let it remain unresolved a little while.
Stop trying to fast-forward to the ‘answer’ scene in the movie of your life;
trust the present scene of ‘no answer yet’.
Allow the question itself space to breathe and be fertilised.
Relax into the mysterious ground of Now.”


I’ve been in limbo professionally for quite some time; while I still think of myself as a songwriter and musician, I haven’t composed any new songs for many-a-moon and my piano-playing gigs have dried up substantially from earlier years. At times I’ve despaired that I might not have anything more to say, musically at least.

But I’m learning to trust myself because every time I’ve tried to force the issue, the results have been disappointing. Call me lazy if you like, but for the time being, I’m letting it be what it is, which is: Limbo (an intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place).


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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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:


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:


“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 –



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:


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


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!

learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Starting Over

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The past week I’ve been working on some lyrics for a dear friend who wants to perform an Ivan Lins song but doesn’t like the English “translation” provided by the Bergmans.  It’s been a wonderful project for me, since I’m stretching and working muscles I haven’t worked seriously for almost 4 years – finding JUST the right words to convey the mixed emotions of beginning anew without resorting to clichéd old images. It’s a challenge and extremely gratifying to find the most elegant turn of phrase that also fits well with the music.

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Reworking material has never been my strong suit; I watched my dad endlessly reworking his plays and was made to read this version and then that version – as if my opinion actually mattered. I don’t have a lot of patience with the process of rewrites, even if I can perceive the improvements. (It is a bit more gratifying when you’re in the driver’s seat and making those changes on your own work, however!)

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Rewriting your own life is another matter. I came across this blog post today:

Learning From Failure In the Classroom

and was struck with the author’s willingness to really look at what wasn’t working and how he might remedy that.

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Being open to revision is a skill set I’m still working on, and it takes a great deal of patience and humility to fully grok where I’m falling down on the job and take steps to amend my path. It’s worth it, though. The best stories are those of eventual triumph over unimaginable odds:

My Big Fat Finished Marathon

to which I can only say, “Yeah!!!”  🙂

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