Thursday, June 7, 2007

"Air Piano"

"Air Guitar" has been the rage for some time since the spread of the virulent Rock n'Roll virus. My niece in Florida used to play "Air Violin" but now practices with the real thing. "Air Conducting" is another favorite pastime for those who prefer Bartok to Buddy Holly or Stravinsky over Rod Stewart.

During my teenage years, when jazz disc jockeys and their careful selections formed the basis of my education in jazz, I often bought the recordings they played. Jazz pianists were fascinating and still are. I memorized where the low, middle and high notes occured, the fast, dazzling passages as well. Kneeling beside my single bed, I'd play AP for an hour or two every day. Art Tatum, Dave Brubeck, Meade Lux Lewis (!), Fats Waller, Oscar Peterson, Marian McPartland, Teddy Wilson, George Shearing and Barbara Carroll were some of my favorites. "Playing" along with Erroll Garner was the most fun. (If some Hollywood stars had adopted my method, the results would not have been as hilarious as when I watched their hands poised over the low end of the keyboard while the music played a passage at the high end.)

If my aging knees would permit it, I'd be joyously flailing away in front of the bed, trying to imitate the brilliant technique of Bill Charlap.

"Air Piano". Ever tried it?

PS ... I am working on a lengthy entry which will attempt to answer the persistent question: "Do you teach?"

Monday, June 4, 2007

Scullers Weekend

Boston was a very busy place this past weekend: Numerous college reunions, commencements, high school proms, a Yankees-Red Sox three-game series at Fenway Park and my own Friday and Saturday engagements at Scullers Jazz Club. The quartet led by Norman Simmons consistently played Happy Jazz***, the audiences were attentive and generous, and I was pleased to sign copies of "Dearest Duke" after my shows. As for the baseball contests, they were intense for players and fans. The series split, with the Yankees taking two from the Red Sox: On Friday, 9-5, Saturday Red Sox prevailed 11-6, and last night's significantly stressful go-round ended in a narrow 6-5 victory for the Yankees. I am feeling justifiably spent.

***When the quartet is having fun, when we're all loose and enjoying our combined communication, it can only be described as Happy Jazz. No angst, no ego trips, no grumbling. I like to think it's the sort of ambience Ella Fitzgerald created every time she appeared, rewarded for her artistry by demands for more. Hers was A Perfect Voice! We loved her, smiled with her and generally had a good time sharing the music, toes tapping, bodies moving rhythmically just as they would to the pulsating drive of a Count Basie concert or the playfulness and swing of a Louis Armstrong performance. In a very real sense, this same sort of buoyancy occured at Scullers on Friday and Saturday night. I like to keep it light, mingled with one or more ballads containing classic lyrics. At least, that's my method.

I would be extraordinarily remiss if I failed to mention that Rebecca Parris, one of this country's finest jazz singers, graciously agreed to join me for a bit of fun on Friday night. I could never compete with Becca in the scat singing department, but she very tactfully chose not to issue the challenge. Also on Friday night, Ray Santisi, one of Boston's most respected jazz pianists and Berklee College of Music professor, joined me for a tune. Fun night.

AND THE ENVELOPE PLEASE! The First Ever Knucklehead Award goes to the unknown gentleman who guided his young sons (nephews?), approximate ages 6, 4 and 2-1/2, through the lobby of my hotel, cheerfully suggesting: "Okay guys! Let's go play on the escalator!" Familial love personified. Maybe he's the person who originated the idea of sending obstreperous children out to play in traffic. The boys completed two circuits on the moving stairs and were about to embark on the third go when my husband, grandfather of five equally young boys, made his move. Placing his hand firmly on the man's shoulder, he said quietly: "This is NOT a good idea", pointing out the very obvious dangers for the kids, information this Knucklehead seemed surprised to learn.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Work Takes Precedence

I am singing this weekend (June 1 & 2) at the-absolutely-wonderful-in-every-way jazz club Scullers in Boston. Backed by a superb quartet led by Norman Simmons, I expect to have a wonderful time. Copies of the new Arbors CD "Dearest Duke" will be available for purchase, copies of which I will happily sign if requested to do so.

Norman Simmons, piano; Steve LaSpina, bass; Paul Bollenback, guitar; Sheila Early, drums. I am submitting links to their web sites for your further edification. I am very proud to work with these musicians at any time, and have been fortunate to find them all available to join me when I am offered work.

Norman Simmons

Steve LaSpina

Paul Bollenback

Sheila Early: (Check Norman Simmons' site)

Hope everyone stays cool and calm this week, and that the Red Sox will continue their exciting string of victories. At this writing, the dear lads are leading the Eastern Division of the American League, ahead of the Baltimore Orioles by 11-1/2 games, Toronto Blue Jays by 12, and The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay tied at 13-1/2 games out each. Ah, the bliss of it all. May it last the season!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bird Calls

4:10 AM: No, I did not dream a dream starring Charlie Parker. Rather, I was awakened by vigorous bird song very near my window. The sound is sunny like a bride's wedding day smile and as complex as a Bill Charlap piano solo. I listen in quiet appreciation of the song's intricate message. After a few passages, I also begin to sense an urgency, possibly a stress call of some kind?

The song lasts up to six seconds, stops, and then repeats. It is so elaborate, I'm unable to recognize any rhythmic pattern. Three or four messages, separated by stops and then repeats. Then, I hear what I believe is a distant response. My chap's apparently been attempting to contact his partner: "Harry! WHERE ARE YOU?"

"I'm over here, Ralph. In the third branch from the top on the elm tree behind the barbeque pit". Ralph flew off to join his pal and I went back to sleep, vowing to listen to my Charlap cds while writing today.

(Currently enchanted by a 1997 favorite track from Bill's cd titled "All Through The Night", Criss 1153 CD. His newest release is the dazzling "Live At The Village Vanguard" on the Blue Note label. Go ... run ... buy it!)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mel Brooks

I have been busy with life's other surprises, none involving my health. Except for the boring routine of dropping three different solutions into my left eye four times a day, it's all quickly done and no doubt necessary. My vision is so much improved that I've questioned whether my cable provider magically switched to hi-def transmission at the precise moment of the surgery. I wish you could see the Red Sox games on our hefty RCA floor model color tv. My husband's father purchased this highly collectible item in 1954, in the days when they built 'em to last.

I was going to tell you about several fun-filled meetings with Mel Brooks which occurred in the earliest days of my life in Greenwich Village. In 1958, I lived in a one-room basement apartment in a building which still exists. I know: I paid a brief nostalgia call to the address recently.

My neighbor, Charles Morgan Harris, a darling, starving illustrator, lived in an identical cramped unit beside mine. We learned quickly that we shared a love of jazz and our friendship lasted until his untimely death five years ago. Our small building contained six other tiny apartments, one of them the second-floor residence of an elderly, very patient lady named Mrs. Eleanor Biddlecomb. Perfect! Lacy, genteel, herself a cat lover.

Our digs faced an indoor courtyard, an area which softened street noises and provided my cat the opportunity to pay a Curiosity Call on neighbors who left windows open. The building which fronts West 15th Street also housed a woman who provided secretarial services. One of her clients was Mel Brooks.

On a balmy spring night, Charles and I were sitting in the couryard sipping our favorite beverages with Miles Davis sounds in the background. We recognized MB as he approached and pulled up a chair. Mr. Brooks was not as well-known as he is today, and should it be possible you know not of his accomplishments, please go here


Before long, Mel had us reeling with his jokes and hilarious takes on people and life in general. He was soon scheduled to appear on The Late Show Starring Johnny Carson, and he couldn't resist rehearsing his schtick for us: He would sit in the Number One Guest Chair and after a few minutes, Johnny would mention, feigning naive curiosity: "You like to sing, don't you Mel?" To which Mel would reply: "Well, yes ... and if I may ... I'd like to ... may I?" "Of course, please do", responds JC.

Mel: (To Skitch (Henderson, band leader): I'll sing "I've Got You Under My Skin" if that's okay ... just give me an arpeggio in C ... "

Mel begins to sing, and gets as far as " ... so deep in my heart, you're really a part of me", suddenly breaking off. "No, sorry Skitch, that key's too low ... could you take it up a half-step." Skitch complies. Mel stops in the same place. "Sorry, it's still a little too low ... another half-step please?" Mel stops at the same place again, and this time he's standing, presumably to make it easier to reach the low notes. The back-and-forth continues, taking Mel progressively into higher musical range. He's now standing ON the chair. Still no luck. Finally, Mel is standing on Johnny's desk, audience is screaming and JC looks appropriately bemused. Charles and I are now hysterical, holding our sides and gasping for air.

Before he left us, we asked about future projects. "Well, I can tell you now that I will one day produce a Broadway show called "Springtime For Hitler". We explode into tear-producing laughter: "Oh Mel! STOP ... we can't take it any more!

P.S. Please take special note next time you see it: In Mel's film "The Producers", there is a scene in which CPA Leo Bloom is carefully entering the names and amounts little old ladies have contributed to Max Bialystock's forthcoming project. One of the checks is signed "Mrs. Eleanor Biddlecomb".

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"What A Difference A Day Makes...."

On the day after cataract surgery, the vision in my left eye is remarkably clear and bright. I am understandably startled and delighted by the improvement, requesting the same procedure for the right eye to be scheduled as soon as feasible. My brilliant opthalmologist agrees he can duplicate the miracle at the end of the summer. I am anticipating a week singing at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York in September and I want to visit MoMA during that visit, plus Really See my friends, the musicians in the band and the audience!

The current exhibit at Boston's MFA features works by Edward Hopper through August 19 and I'm willing to face the hordes even more bravely now that the haze and fuzz are no longer a bother.

Coming this week: Meeting Mel Brooks in New York, pre-"2,000 Year Old Man".

Friday, May 11, 2007

I Remember, Mama

Here's deep gratitude to my mother, who dreamed of living in the most beautful home in our little town. When I was five years old, her dream came true. My parents, my sister and I became The Folks Who Live On The Hill. The house rested midst four acres of meadow and woods, bordering Mr. Bailey's farm where he kept dairy cows. Times were enlivened considerably whenever one of the heifers took advantage of an unlocked gate, casually wandering into our back garden. Summers found me quietly reading my Nancy Drew books under the tall trees. Could my childhood surroundings have been more idyllic? Well, yes: there was a small lake just across the road, down a path filled with wild blueberry bushes.

Thinking of my mother this Sunday and all the happy years I spent in that house (where, among other things, my sister and I invented a clever rainy-day diversion we called "Name That Tune"), I knew from the moment I heard it, the song "Looking Back" by Jimmy Rowles perfectly describes those days. The startling thing is that the lyric was written by a then amazingly mature nineteen year-old named Cheryl Ernst.

This is the house where I grew up, followed by the lyric:




I still see the meadow come alive with the morning
From the house where I lived as a child
And the sun as he lifted his lazy head
Shining down where the clover grows wild

The nights that I slept with all the windows wide open
The rain coming in through the screen
And the pale silvery mist draped around the moon
Was the loveliest sight I have seen

Then I left and I wandered
Through the world on my own
But that old house on the hill
The only home I have known

The shelter of tall grass
Was made for young lovers
To lie down and dream upon
Though the years and the worries
Have changed my life
All the memories of then still live on

Coda:
And wherever I go
And the grayer I grow
I'll remember my home in the country