#jazzcongress, music, music biz, self-acceptance

Getting Off The Hamster Wheel

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Like many of my fervent enthusiasms, it began innocently enough; a new collaborator suggested I record a jazz CD. Of course, this had occurred to me before and we even made a CD a decade prior – but after production and replication, we’d run out of money and had no budget for promotion, so the CD gathered dust in our closet.

But this time would be different! We’d hire press agents and radio promoters to spread the word and garner airplay! We’d book live performances at jazz clubs and visit radio stations around the country! This time we’d get noticed and on the charts and succeed! At least that was the plan. The reality was slightly different; finding a club willing to take a chance on booking an unknown artist was virtually impossible. Getting radio programmers – even the ones we knew personally!? – to spin a cut on their station even once was iffy! Add to the mix my own profound ambivalence about performing… well, it was a longer-than-long shot.

Even so, there were some victories; I was very proud of both of my jazz albums and after the 2004 release of Future Street and the 2006 release of Round Trip, I finally charted on JazzWeek and became friends with some jazz radio programmers. I got to visit friends and family across the country on my tours. And I introduced some original songs to other artists who wound up performing and recording them.

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Alas, it ultimately wasn’t as rewarding as I’d hoped, either financially or emotionally. First I began to turn down gigs that involved schlepping keyboards, PAs and other gear, and after a few more years I found myself dialing back my involvement in the jazz-o-sphere at large. While I’d enjoyed the annual IAJE conferences and JazzConnect/JazzCongress, it became apparent to me that, like Henry Gibson recited on Laugh-In, one was expected to “keep-a-goin’!” despite any setback or frustration – and I’d had some: Believe Them The First Time

Now, this doesn’t seem to stop my initial reaction when I notice that other jazzers are releasing new CDs or getting covers of their original songs; this type of news pops up on FaceBook, YouTube, and my email box all the time, and I find my Fear Of Missing Out kicking into overdrive! …until I remember how much work and financial outlay are involved in producing, promoting, performing, etc. to create even the smallest ripple of attention, let alone acclaim – and how fundamentally uninterested I am in those aspects. I continue to watch with appreciation and rejoice in the business and artistic triumphs of my colleagues, especially because I know what it takes to accomplish – but I honestly don’t miss running on the hamster wheel!

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ummm…. not-so-much, any more!

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growing up, self-acceptance

Hippie Dippy Days

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The moment I first heard Jimi Hendrix (who was a warm-up act for The Monkees at Forest Hills Stadium), I knew without a doubt that I was NOT “experienced” – that, at the ripe old age of 15, I had never been “experienced” – but what a concept!!  The teenyboppers and their parents who had gone to the concert to see their dreamboats Micky, Davy, Peter and Mike were aghast, but I was enchanted by both the amazing music AND the multi-colored feathered tie-dyed attire, not to mention the attitude… WOW!!  I ran right out and bought the album the next day!

And I tried. I really tried. “Hippie” was something I desperately wanted to be, but somehow it wasn’t the best fit for me. For one thing, I had curly hair that refused to hang loose and free like the other girls – especially on humid days. For another, I was always too tightly wound to “turn on, tune in & drop out”. Hippie-dom didn’t feel natural to me.

I saw that Janis Joplin had unruly hair and thought, “well, maybe…”  And I sure loved her album cover! Everything R. Crumb, for that matter.

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I tried pot – even though it was totally illegal. And I found that I hated how it made me feel; instead of relaxing, I’d hallucinate scary scenarios, with the Devil trying to take my soul, or to have me committed to a psych ward. There was a dealer on campus whose visage haunts me to this day: he was tall, slim, sexy and intense, with an orange-ochre cowboy hat that matched his full beard. I only saw him once but knew immediately and without a doubt that he was sent from Satan, and that if I engaged with him at all, I would be irrevocably doomed to a life of sin and depravity, instead of a life of music and love. (Hippies can have a dark side, after all!)

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Picture a hat this color… and a matching beard… 

Still, I embroidered colored thread on my jeans. I bought love beads and wore peasant blouses. I sported a badge I’d purchased in Greenwich Village that read, “Save Water – Shower With a Friend”.  I hitchhiked up and down the east coast, as well as back and forth to classes. It was nerve-wracking as all get-out.  I did the best I could, but unlike many of my peers, I was never cut out to be a hippie.

 

I had a flashback recently; I’d been having trouble with insomnia and had heard that CBD oil could help me get a better night’s sleep – or even just a decently restful nap. So I bought a roll-on bottle that smelled nice (it had lavender oil added!), but did nothing for me. So I got a bottle of edible hemp oil – with an equal lack of success. The odor was kinda nasty and elicited nerve-wracking anxiety attacks and visions of that drug dealer from so many decades ago. (Even tho I’ve since learned that CBD and hemp oil are the modern-day equivalents to snake oil, in that any effect they produce is the result of the placebo effect. Hmmm.)

I guess once a non-hippie, always a non-hippie.

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Picture me half-empty.

 

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learning, music biz, music

Things We Do For Lo♥e

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No professional I know in the arts began with the idea “to get rich”.  Indeed, pursuing the arts comes from an irresistible impulse to write, to make music, to act, to paint, to perform, to create something new. As artists, we spend countless hours and prodigious amounts of money to develop our skills.  I began with the piano which drew me like a magnet. It was an inner impetus: I had to take lessons. I had to learn how to play. It was an all-consuming urge that could not be denied. I didn’t start out with the idea of becoming a star, or even of making a living in music – although that goal developed in pretty short order!  When I was learning to hand-copy music manuscripts in college, a teacher gave me an orchestral work that had been composed by a friend of his. I was delighted to spend weeks extracting the parts from the score, just for the practice and experience of learning. I don’t think the tiny check I received covered the price of the paper and ink I used!

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To my mind, the performing arts can be more treacherous than fine arts (painting, sculpture, etc.) in this regard because in most instances performers crave to relate directly with other performers and ultimately to the audience. One has to “keep up their chops” between gigs, so workshops are formed and often participants pay-to-play, as if they were out bowling recreationally, instead of working hard on perfecting their professional skills.

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As the daughter of two people who met on stage, I’ve noticed theater people appear to be more eager than many other performing pros to assume that one will volunteer for unpaid rehearsals, free rewrites, event promotion, set-building, etc. – Just For The Joy Of It.  This delusion persists their entire lives, apparently!?  One of the reasons I found it so onerous to work at The Gaslight Theater was the presumption that my time was worthless and therefore I need not be compensated for it. That idea may have been okay when I was in school, but it didn’t pass muster when I was in my 50s!

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As I see it, the stage is set for such gross exploitation at the outset of one’s creative life, when we’re so eager, we’ll do anything to scratch that itch! (It also doesn’t help that the world refers to what we do as playing music, as if it isn’t actually work!) Granted, there are so many more of us who get bitten by the creative bug than opportunities exist to do our thing, let alone get paid for it; it can become a desperate scene.

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Last week an article ran in The Hollywood Reporter recounting the tale of an actor who suffered terrible abuse at the hands of a powerhouse film director.  My heart was touched by the catch-22 in which he found himself; an ordeal that’s been echoed in my own life experiences all too often, though not as frequently now as in my younger years. Yes, there are still many Things We Do For Love – but increasingly, just as we learn to drive defensively, we may need to lo♥e defensively!

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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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self-acceptance

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).

 

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politics, self-acceptance

Redbook Magazine 3/2016

I had occasion to page through last month’s Redbook while waiting for my car to get an oil change, and was struck by the messages that pervaded not only the advertising but also the editorial copy. Here’s what I saw:

“You’re OLD!” (or you at least LOOK old!  So FIX it, already!)

“You’re FAT!” (or at least heavier than you should be. Shape up, fer cryin’ out loud!)

“You’re just not attractive enough! You need THESE clothes, THIS haircut, THAT makeup!”

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No matter HOW drab and ordinary! ‘Cause what YOU’RE wearing just ain’t cuttin’ it!

“You will most likely DIE from cancer!”

“Now, Julianne Hough – SHE has a life worth living! Be like her!”

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You, too, can be KICKY! Go ahead! Be KICKY!!

“You’re too stupid to manage your money!”

“You complain too much! Knock it OFF, already!”

“Your house looks drab and dated! You need to redecorate!” (something more kicky!)

“Never mind how expensive it is, or whether you can actually AFFORD to go – your whole family NEEDS to visit DisneyWorld! NOW!!”

“You should cook complicated dishes and eat indulgently, meanwhile miraculously maintaing a slender figure, because otherwise? You’re a LOSER!”

I felt the entire issue had been written by Donald Trump.

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learning, self-acceptance

Worth Defending

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The oncologist had given my father a 3-4 month prognosis, and even without treatment, he lasted for almost 10. Mark and I had just bought our first house in L.A. and he was commuting to Chicago, spending half the time away from home, working feverishly and the other half recovering from travel and having overextended himself.  I called my dad every other day and traveled to NYC to see him and be with family whenever I could but basically had to stay home with our 4 dogs most of the time.

My 3 sisters and mother all lived in or near Manhattan and they met for weekly powwows to discuss my father’s condition, their emotional fallout and to comfort one another. After 6 months of this, in spite of visits, letters and phone calls, I began to feel a bit left out and in need of support for myself, so I began weekly therapy sessions at a hospice group in Pasadena. While I didn’t feel exactly excluded from my family, I did feel alone, especially as my dad lingered on well past his projected expiration date and my sisters and mom became more exhausted by the stresses of caring for him and their own emotions. 2,500 miles away, what could I do? Not much as it turned out. We were all doing the best we could but it was increasingly difficult. At a certain point my therapist suggested I take self-defense classes, to literally protect the boundaries I needed to feel safe.

At first I signed up for a Learning Annex class: Self-Defense for Women. There were 30 of us in the first class, and we got to punch and kick bags and it was even kinda fun! By the 3rd class, though, more than half the students had dropped out, and it was increasingly clear that I was not going to get the empowerment I had come for – not from this instructor! Fortunately a friend shared her experiences with Model Mugging.

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I had to do some research to find them, but it was well worth the effort. In one weekend of intensive instruction, I learned several basic strategies for self-defense, and, most importantly, the attitude that I was worth defending! (as we all are!!)  Knowing that I literally “had it in me” to fight back against physical attack empowered me to defend myself from psychic and emotional attacks; to actually experience how it felt in my body to connect blows, to yell, “NO!” and protect myself. All of the Model Mugging students got what we’d come for – the will to survive and the confidence that we could and would fight back against an aggressor.  It may get a bit complicated when that aggressor is your own flesh and blood, but I think it’s even more essential to maintain boundaries with our loved ones under stressful circumstances – just because you love them and they’re in pain doesn’t give them the right to abuse you!

The final exam at the Learning Annex happened a week after my Model Mugging training, and of the 8 remaining students, I was the only one who was able to successfully escape from the instructor. Even though I was the most out-of-shape, unathletic and oldest student, I was the only one who breathed deeply and verbalized “NO!” as I was striking back, and the only one who actually hurt the instructor enough to make him stop coming after me! (and was he surprised!!?!)

I’ve been very fortunate to have lived in relatively safe neighborhoods most of my life – the only actual physical attack I’ve had to fend off was an unleashed Doberman who wanted a bite of my knee while I was out jogging – and super-loud “NO!” was enough to stop him long enough for me to escape unscathed.

Women are taught to be submissive in our culture – to avoid defending ourselves, which leads to many of us feeling disempowered on more than just the physical front.  I needed reminding on a visceral level that I was worth saving – and to learn that I could muster the power to defend myself.

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