I recorded the song “That’ll Do” when I was part of a vocal quartet called At The Movies many years ago with fellow singers Nina Vansuch and Michael Ricca plus singer/pianist/arranger Brian Patton.
All the songs we performed were related in some way to the film industry.
If you are curious, you can click here for a link to the CD we made together called Reel One.
“That’ll Do” appeared in a movie called Babe: Pig In The City — which was a sequel to the movie Babe.
Both of them featured extraordinarily well-trained animal actors plus a few human actors who illuminate heart-breaking lessons about ostracism and community, betrayal and faith, love and loss.
“That’ll Do” was written by Randy Newman — who has crafted songs and soundtracks for a bunch of movies including the Pixar Toy Story series.
And it was originally sung by Peter Gabriel — who is also a great songwriter as well as a globally-engaged rock musician.
I love the wisdom of this song.
It feels like an antidote to many of the forces wreaking havoc on our cultural, political, and environmental landscapes these days.
How easy it can be to overlook the gentle power of kindness…
In an age of instant gratification, how reassuring to be reminded of the value of perseverance.
My mind immediately connects the concepts of steadiness and balance with boats — canoes, kayaks, row boats, and sail boats.
One doesn’t want to tip too far to the right OR to the left — unless one wants to capsize.
And one has to communicate and cooperate with any other beings (human, dog, cat — yes, our family even took our cats sailing with us on occasion) on the vessel, or else everyone aboard runs the risk of capsizing.
Space exploration notwithstanding, for the foreseeable future planet earth is our shared vessel, our shared home, our shared ark.
And some of us (almost all HUMAN beings) are making choices each and every day that are tipping ALL of us closer and closer to some epic/epoch capsizings.
What choices could each of us make differently which might lead us back in the direction of balance?
How might we live more simply?
How might we consume fewer shared resources?
“That’ll Do” reminds me somehow of social justice, too — of folks who are brave enough to show up and engage in non-violent social protests.
I am pretty sure steadiness is a hallmark of non-violent protest.
As is kindness.
I also appreciate that “That’ll Do” doesn’t espouse perfection as a goal.
The next blog post I write, or music class I lead, or song I create doesn’t have to be perfect.
I do not need to be cowed into inactivity by the powerful illusion of perfection.
Finally, “That’ll Do” reminds me of the humble — yet powerful — concepts of “enough” and “gratitude.”
I am grateful for the extraordinary blessings of today — such as the hundreds of people who work to bring food to my table, water to my faucets, power to my electrical devices, and peace to my neighborhood.
What I have right now is more than enough!
I am grateful to Michael Ricca, Nina Vansuch and Brian Patton for the hundreds of hours we spent rehearsing, performing, and eating home-cooked dinners together.
I am grateful to Randy Newman for writing so many terrific songs, and to Peter Gabriel for putting his heart into the original recording of this song, and to the extraordinary cast and crew of the Babe movies.
I am also grateful to Pixabay for most of the images in this blog post.
And I am grateful to you for reading and listening to another blog post.
Let’s show up with a kind and steady heart… and see what happens.
“Here’s To Life” is a song I recorded with pianist Doug Hammer many years ago
It was written by Phyllis Molinary and Artie Butler and first recorded by Shirley Horn in 1991.
Sometimes people say, “They don’t write songs like they used to.”
I respond that many great songs ARE still being written.
But the era of different pop stars each recording their own version of a particular hit — with different versions of the same song riding up and down the charts simultaneously — are long gone.
So a song like “Here’s To Life” is savored by a few rather than beloved by multitudes.
I had not known anything about Mr. Butler and Ms. Molinary until I started poking around on the internet.
Mr. Butler is a composer, arranger, songwriter, music director, and record producer who has worked on an extraordinary range of songs — including Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child,” Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” and Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”
He was inspired to write the tune for “Here’s To Life” after watching Johnny Carson interview George Burns on The Tonight Show.
He gave it to a few different lyricists before Phyllis Molinary (about whom I have not been able to learn much of anything…) wrote the set of lyrics which became “Here’s To Life.”
And now we are all blessed with this wise and elegant song…
It reminds me of a birthday party I recently attended for a vibrant eighty-year-old who has lived much of her life in western Massachusetts.
Before dessert was served, many of her friends shared stories about their relationships with her.
In her understated, thoughtful, generous, organized, humorous, and wide-minded — as one woman from South America described her — way, this woman has touched thousands of her fellow human beings in significant ways.
She taught for many decades at her local college, serving as the head of the psychology department (if I am remembering correctly) and also overseeing the college’s counseling center.
She has advised several generations of students, mentored countless faculty members, led the campus teachers’ union, been very active in town politics, and on and on and on…
I know her mainly as a very faithful cousin-in-law.
She always visits during the winter holidays, bringing gifts for everyone and sharing stories about a web of family and friends she has accumulated around the planet.
And she shares her perspectives on what is happening locally — what options her town is exploring to mitigate an underground plume of contamination that the water department has recently discovered, for example, or how a new local restaurant (which she, of course, is eager to support) is faring.
She has a gentle finger on the pulse of her town…
Her birthday party was held at a local retreat center which is run by a very ecologically-minded order of nuns.
As the festivities were winding down, we were invited and encouraged to explore the property.
They have converted a huge carriage house — originally built in the late 1800s by the Crane family, who earned a lot of money making paper (including the paper which is still used to print US currency) — into a function hall.
On the second floor of the carriage house they have created many different areas where guests can make art, meditate, read, pray, explore eco-spirituality, marvel at the miracle of evolution, and rejuvenate their souls.
Outside the carriage house are fruit trees, free-ranging chickens, a labyrinth, a cathedral of very tall pine trees, a huge community garden, and lots of flowers.
I found these great photographs on Pixabay, and I am grateful to all of the photographers who have shared their images there.
I am also grateful to Doug Hammer, for his exquisite piano playing and terrific engineering skills.
And to the birthday woman whose life is an ongoing inspiration for how to move through the world with empathy and wisdom and generosity and balance.
And to the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center for inviting us to roam around their property after her birthday gathering.
And to Art and Phyllis for writing such a lovely song.
And to you for reading and listening to another blog post.
A healthy and happy summer to you — full of berries and flowers and friends and family (unless you are reading this from somewhere in the southern hemisphere, in which case I wish you delicious winter adventures instead…)
May all your storms be weathered, and may all that’s good get better.
My father (pictured above) died a year and a half ago.
He was a loving man who sang to me and my siblings at bedtime when we were young.
He didn’t teach me much about business or money — unless it was to inspire me to make different decisions than he did regarding concepts like saving…
But he was always willing to talk and listen.
At one point when he needed to stop driving, sell a trailer home he owned which was costing him money, and do some strategic planning regarding his declining health, two of my siblings and I and he met with a mediator.
It was not easy or fun to meet with a mediator, but we emerged with an agreed-upon list of things that needed to be accomplished.
And bless him, he accomplished everything on the list (with significant help from my older sister, with whom he lived for many years…)
As his health declined and he became less and less mobile, the sweetest way to spend time with him was sitting by his bed and playing the ukulele.
He loved to sing — even when his face was more and more disfigured by the cancer which eventually wore him out — and knew lots of standards from the 1920s – 1970s.
The wonderful team of David Shire (composer) and Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyricist) wrote a song called “If I Sing” which always touches my heart.
It was inspired by a visit which David Shire made to his father who was living in a retirement community/nursing home.
When I perform “If I Sing,” I am very grateful that my dad shared his love of music with me.
And I think of several male voice teachers who have nurtured me over the past couple of decades.
And I think of my step father, who was a professional flautist for many years — and is now a passionate music educator who loves his students and continues to teach in his 80s.
A heartful Father’s Day to you, dear reader.
I am well aware that not everyone is blessed with a loving and functional father — or even a father at all…
However, I hope you are able to feel grateful for something your dad — or a trustworthy male teacher, or minister, or rabbi, or mentor — has given you.
Thank you for reading and watching and listening to this blog post.
Thank you, too, to Maltby & Shire for writing such a terrific song.
And thank you to Mike Callahan — himself now an enthusiastic and loving father! — for creating this great orchestration, for inviting me to sing with the Timberlane pops orchestra, and for conducting the orchestra so tenderly and skillfully.
Although Ryan Zinke held much more conservationist views when he was a Montana state senator — acknowledging climate change as a significant threat to US national security, for example — now that he is Secretary of the Interior, he is working hard to remove burdensome regulations to industry on public land and in our coastal waters.
He even reversed a recent ban on lead ammunition in wildlife refuges designed to protect birds that eat carrion.
The article concluded by saying that — while it is possible future elections will nudge our leadership back in more sustainable and respectful directions — the damage already being done to our public lands and wildlife will take decades to re-balance or repair (which, of course, is not even possible when a plant or animal becomes extinct…)
Somehow this article has thrown me into what I trust is a temporary tailspin of depression and hopelessness.
As lyricist Fran Landesman once noted, spring can really hang you up the most…
Obviously there is SO MUCH that we human beings need to do to reduce and re-balance our patterns of consumption and destruction as soon as humanly possible.
And yet so many of us — me included — are unable to change a lifetime of habits and assumptions and behaviors in order seriously to address the coming environmental challenges/catastrophes/opportunities.
For example, many of us who are blessed to live in countries such as the United States continue to think, “Of course I deserve to travel as much as I can afford.”
And even if we can’t afford a plane trip to someplace warm (or intriguing or affordable or colorful) we are strongly urged by our morally bankrupt financial institutions to pay for it using a credit card…or two…or three.
How many of us are basically indentured servants to our credit card companies, making minimum payments yet never paying off all our accumulated debt?
Another assumption I find odd is that most of us continue to think that we deserve to have one — or more — cars.
Of course, this is often related to the fact that many of us think that we deserve to live wherever we like — places which may not be located anywhere near public transportation, for example — so, of course, we have to have a car in order to get to work, to shop, to visit friends and family, to drive to the gym (the practice of which I truly don’t understand… why not ride your bike or walk to the gym? Or ride your bike/walk/run instead of joining a gym and donate what you used to pay for your gym membership to a deserving non-profit group?) etc.
And how about those of us who feel that we deserve to own vacation homes — sometimes built in very unwise locations?
Many of these structures sit uninhabited for weeks or months at a time, consuming fuel/electricity so that the pipes don’t freeze, or so that the house doesn’t get too humid, or so that the burglar alarms are functioning…
The list of possessions and privileges to which many of us aspire is loooong — and has been extremely well-marketed for at least a couple of generations here in the USA.
Yet so few of us seem to be able or willing to pause and ponder the consequences of our consumption…
And global greenhouse gas levels continue to rise.
And weather becomes more erratic — affecting wildlife habitats as well as human agriculture (and thus the ability of more and more countries to feed their citizens).
And plastic — some of it visible and some of it in tiny fibers — continues to pollute the waters of planet earth and contaminate aquatic life on all levels of the food chain.
Sadly — depressingly — tragically — hubristically — the list of human pollution, deforestation, and environmental degradation goes on and on and on…
I often feel — as I watch TV or listen to the radio or use the internet — that I have entered a frantic cocoon created solely so that we human beings can hide (for couple of hours or for an entire lifetime) from the terrifying realities of the larger patterns/feedback loops which are unfolding/unraveling right now on planet earth.
And I want to say — to myself and to most of my fellow human beings here in the USA — WAKE UP!!!
Often this is when I catch a cold.
And I stay home and write a blog post like this…
I am aware that I am extremely blessed to live a life where I can moan about larger environmental challenges because my basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, employment, love, and respect have already been met.
However, I am also aware that anyone writing or reading a blog post is using electricity and some sort of magical electronic device which contains metals mined all over the planet by human beings under inhumane conditions as well as plastic from fossil fuels — and which have most likely been assembled by human beings working under inhumane conditions.
And my other job — sharing one-hour programs of beloved standards at retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and public libraries — involves driving many miles per month in a trusty, high mileage Prius belonging to the jazz pianist Joe Reid, with whom I do 50+ gigs per year.
So I am utterly complicit.
And I wonder what the f–k I am doing with my one precious life here on planet earth.
Yet I also know that music matters in some way — that it can touch our hearts and even inspire us to do unimaginably courageous things.
A documentary I watched recently about James Baldwin reminded me that there was a lot of singing by heroic non-violent protestors as they were marching… and as they were being beaten… and as they were being thrown into police vehicles.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
What do you think/feel about any of this, dear reader?
What do you think/feel about the sad news that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain — two people who have achieved international success, wealth, fame, influence, celebrity, and in theory the happiness which success/wealth/fame/influence/celebrity are alleged to bring — have taken their own lives during this past week?
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
Thank you to David Friedman for writing such compelling songs.
Thank you to Bobbi Carrey for her musical collaboration over the past 15 years.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his piano playing, engineering, production wizardry, patience, and humor.
Thank you to Mike Callahan for his vocal arrangements.
Thank you to Pixabay for the images in this blog post.
And thank YOU for making time so that you could read and listen to another blog post.
“I’ll Be Here With You” (on the player at the beginning of this blog post) is one of Bobbi’s and my favorite songs with which to end a performance.
And, although I do not know the details of Nancy and David’s musical partnership, I have the sense that this song may have had a strong emotional resonance for them (and might even have been inspired by their friendship…)
Perhaps people who know more about David and Nancy’s history can weigh in using the comments section at the end of this blog post.
I think of David whenever someone says something along the lines of, “They don’t write great standards like they used to…”
There are, in fact, many people who are alive and well on planet earth and who are writing beautiful, wise songs.
But the ways that those songs reach — and touch — the rest of the world have changed significantly since the days of sheet music and singing around pianos in living rooms.
No longer does a new song get recorded by many, many different performers — with different recordings of the same song vying for the top spot on a few national radio networks.
The rise of the singer-songwriter — along with self-contained bands who create their own original material — marked a significant shift in our popular musical culture.
David’s songs have been recorded by pop stars including Diana Ross, Barry Manilow, and Petula Clark — but these days Diana, Barry and Petula are not dominating the charts as they once did…
However, we now have many new ways to share music — such as YouTube, Pandora, Spotify… and even personal blogs like mine.
And there are many singers still devoted to both the Great American Songbook of standards from the 1920s-1960s AND to all of the great songs that have been written since then.
So ripples of music continue to wash around our culture and around our planet…
Thank you to David Friedman for writing songs.
Thank you to Bobbi Carrey for her singing and for her musical collaboration over the past 15 years.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his piano playing and his engineering and his production skills and his patience and his humor.
Thank you to Mike Callahan for his vocal arrangements.
Thank you to Pixabay for most of the images in this blog post (and to the world wide web for the ones of David and of Nancy).
And thank YOU for making time so that you could read and listen to another one of my blog posts!
I like the idea of a day to celebrate and honor love.
This blog post features two songs written by Steve Sweeting — a jazz pianist, songwriter, teacher, and composer who currently lives in New York City.
“I Carry Your Heart” is a song he wrote while living in Shanghai, when he was commissioned by Chinese choral conductor Jie Yi to write a song — based on an American poem — for a festival in Ningbo.
Steve chose an early poem by ee cummings.
A few years later he and I recorded a non-choral version at Doug Hammer’s studio on the north shore of Boston.
I love the images in ee cummings’ poem, and I love the way that Steve set them to music.
And I love Steve.
He and I have been friends since he lived — with a Yamaha grand piano — in a studio apartment above an ice cream store in Brighton, MA.
He and his wife and two children have lived all around planet earth, but we have remained in contact.
Right now he is working on an original musical with lyricist/librettist Geoffrey Goldberg called Piece of Mind.
It is about an 80-year-old former USO dancer named Robert whose mind is failing him.
If you live in the NYC area, Steve and Geoffrey are having two staged readings — on Monday, March 5th at 6pm and on Tuesday, March 6th at 2:00 pm — at the Davenport Theatre (354 W. 45th Street @ 9th Avenue).
It is by invitation only, but you can click on this Piece of Mind link to find out how to be invited…
The second song — “What Am I Doing Alone?” — was inspired by a phone conversation that Steve’s wife once had with a friend.
When Steve’s wife told him about this conversation, he took notes and then wrote a song inspired by her conversation.
And it took him about an hour!
These two songs represent a yin and a yang perspective on love.
Valentine’s Day is much more pleasant to celebrate when one has a beloved person with whom to share the festivities and hoopla.
And Valentine’s Day can feel rather raw and lonely if one does not have a special someone in one’s life…
I love the story that unfolds in this song.
And the sense of longing and hoping that Steve captured in the music…
Last week jazz pianist Joe Reid and I shared our program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish lyricists and composers at a retirement community in Newton.
As I have probably noted in previous blog posts, a significant number of great winter holiday songs were written or co-written by Jewish lyricists and composers.
In 1942 Irving Berlin gave us “White Christmas.”
In 1945 Mel Tormé and Bob Wells gave us “The Christmas Song.”
In 1949 Johnny Marks gave us “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
In 1950 Jay Livingston and Ray Evans gave us “Silver Bells.”
In 1959 Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen gave us “The Secret of Christmas.”
In 1966 Jerry Herman gave us “We Need A Little Christmas.”
In 1995 Jason Robert Brown gave us “Christmas Lullaby,”
And the list goes on and on!
In this political moment here on planet earth — when many are working to arouse a righteous sense of “us” versus ‘them” in their followers — I am grateful to be reminded of the folks who bridge cultures/identities and bring people together.
Mel Tormé’s parents were Jewish immigrants who fled Russia for a new life in the United States. Although he is most famous as a jazz vocalist, he also co-wrote 250+ songs, many of them with Bob Wells (born Robert Levinson), who was also Jewish.
According to Tormé, the song was written during a blistering hot summer day in an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool.”
As Mel recalled, he “saw a spiral pad on Bob’s piano with four lines written in pencil: Chestnuts roasting… Jack Frost nipping… Yuletide carols… Folks dressed up like Eskimos. Bob didn’t think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter, he could cool off. Forty minutes later that song was written. I wrote all the music and some of the lyrics.”
The forty minutes that they devoted to creating that song certainly paid off extraordinarily well for Mr. Wells and Mr. Tormé!
Many songwriters aspire to create a holiday standard, which will then be recorded and performed year after year — generating an ongoing stream of revenue.
When I was first putting together a program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish composers and lyricists, I worked with the wonderful pianist Megan Henderson — who is now the musical director for the Revels organization, which creates the beloved Christmas Revels held at Sanders Theatre each December.
As we were musing about the different reasons that these winter holiday songs came to be written, we came up with the term, “Christmas ka-ching!” to describe the economic motivation that no doubt was driving some of the songwriters.
Several winter holiday songs were created to be performed in films.
One of my favorite holiday standards, “Silver Bells,” was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for a 1950 movie, The Lemon Drop Kid, where it was sung by Marilyn Maxwell and Bob Hope.
I always associate it with my mother’s mother, a hard-working private nurse who lived in the borough of Queens for most of her life and no doubt did a lot of her holiday shopping on “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks — decked in holiday style.”
Jay Livingston, who wrote the music for “Silver Bells,” and Ray Evans, who wrote the lyrics for “Silver Bells,” were a famous Jewish songwriting team with many hits to their credit including “Mona Lisa” and “Que Sera Sera.”
Jay was born Jacob Harold Levison in 1915 in a small industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, and Ray was born Raymond Bernard Evans — also in 1915 — in Salamanca, not far from Buffalo, N.Y.
They met at the University of Pennsylvania when they both joined the university dance band, and their songwriting partnership endured until Livingston’s death in 2001.
I love the verse — not always sung — they wrote for “Silver Bells.”
“Christmas make you feel emotional. It may bring parties or thoughts devotional. Whatever happens or what may be, here is what Christmastime means to me…”
A contemporary Jewish songwriter, Jason Robert Brown, wrote another one of my favorite winter holiday songs — “Christmas Lullaby” — for his first musical revue called Songs for a New World.
Mr. Brown is an extremely gifted human being who sometimes works as music director, conductor, orchestrator, and pianist for his own productions — and has won Tony Awards for his work on the Broadway musicals Parade and The Bridges of Madison County.
“Christmas Lullaby” honors one of the deepest miracles of all — how a woman (with a little genetic input from a man — or, in the case of Jesus’ mother Mary, with the help of the Holy Spirit) can grow an entirely new human being inside her body.
I think about this miracle in my Music Together classes, because I have been teaching long enough for many mothers — who originally attended with their first child — to become pregnant and return for more music with their second (and even third) child.
Neil Postman wrote at the beginning of his book, The Disappearance of Childhood, that “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”
Although this sentence also appears in a book published the following year by John Whitehead called, The Stealing of America, it appears to have been coined by Postman.
And regardless of who gets credit for it, I LOVE this idea.
One of my sisters-in-law — who has parented two children and worked with hundreds of others in the public schools of Western, MA — incorporated this quotation into a work of art which I see hanging on her wall every time I visit.
Sometimes I remember during my Music Together classes that part of my modest legacy here on planet earth may be the spontaneous and affirmative musical fun I shared with these extraordinary little souls — who will grow up to face unimaginable challenges stemming in part from the ignorant (and at times utterly greedy) choices that we grownups have made during the past 100+ years.
Perhaps some seeds of improvisation and collaboration and harmony and community and inter-connectedness and playfulness and creativity and love and respect will have been sown during our musical time together — which will blossom to help solve/resolve future challenges in a time that I will not see.
And perhaps these wonderful holiday songs will also travel into the future, continuing to touch and guide people’s hearts and minds for generations to come…
Let’s keep singing and humming and whistling and playing them!
Thank you to all of the songwriters who have created such a great legacy of music for us to share.
Thank you to Joe Reid for performing 47 shows with me in 2017 at retirement communities, public libraries, community centers, memory cafes, and synagogues around New England.
If you are curious to see what’s on our calendar for 2018 you can click here.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for recording — while playing the roles of both pianist AND engineer — the songs in this blog post with me.
Thank you to Nate Bloom, a writer who has made it a personal quest to track down and figure out which winter holiday songs have been written or co-written by Jewish lyricists and songwriters.
And THANK YOU for reading and listening to another blog post!
Joe Reid fortuitously called me four summers ago — a few months after I had been laid off from my day job of sixteen years at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education — and asked if I might like to do a gig at a local retirement community with him.
This first gig — an hour of songs co-written by Harold Arlen plus a few stories about how they came to be written — has led to over a hundred performances together at public libraries, coffee houses, and retirement/assisted living communities with programs featuring the songs of Dorothy Fields, Oscar Hammerstein II, Larry Hart, Cole Porter, the Gershwin Brothers, Jule Styne, Jerome Kern, and Hoagy Carmichael as well as a program of songs written (by the Gershwins, Porter, Berlin, Styne/Sondheim, and others) for Ethel Merman to perform and a program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish songwriters.
It has been a fruitful collaboration with no end in sight. Soon we’ll be debuting a one-hour program of songs co-written by Sammy Cahn, and 2018 will bring a program of songs written (by Porter, the Gershwins, Berlin, Kern, Fields and others) for Fred Astaire to perform.
But so far Joe Reid and I have no recorded evidence of our collaboration because we have not gone into a recording studio together…
Tom LaMark, Mark Shilansky, and Joe Mulholland have all been a pleasure to work with as well, but I similarly have no recordings to document our time together.
Mike Callahan is now a professor at Michigan State (and the person conducting and/or playing piano in the Pops concert clips on YouTube — which he also arranged and orchestrated!) I hope to make music with him some day in East Lansing…
Steve Sweeting currently lives in NYC; so I don’t get to make music with him as much as I would like. I have, however, included many recordings that he and I have made together in past blog posts.
Which brings me to Doug Hammer.
Doug in his backyard with trees and water…
I do not remember exactly when I started working/playing with Doug.
It may have been when Steve Sweeting moved from Brighton, MA to the upper west side of Manhattan (in the mid-1990s?)
I was living as an au pair with a wonderful family on Spring Hill in Somerville, and Doug and his wife were living not far away on the Somerville/Cambridge border.
If I am remembering correctly, Doug had a very intimate but functional recording studio near the back of his apartment — as far away from the traffic of Beacon Street as possible.
He’d come from Chicago to Boston to study at Berklee, had played piano in other countries (which is how he met his stupendous wife, who is French), and then moved back to the Boston area to build a life as a pianist, composer, accompanist, engineer, and producer.
I think our paths crossed because he played with other singers I knew from having taken a class with Mike Oster in the South End.
Maybe some day Doug can read this blog post and correct or fill in some of missing details…
In any case, I loved the way he played the piano and accompanied singers and built a life with his wife (who is an artist and graphic designer).
And I loved that I could walk or ride my bike to his home studio.
But as many wise texts remind us, life is full of changes.
Doug and his wife decided they needed more space and moved to a new home on the north shore of Boston — where Doug built a recording studio in the lower level of the house and where he and his wife began raising a family.
Luckily it is accessible by public transportation (a surprisingly scenic bus ride from Haymarket T station), and Doug has also been kind enough to drive me to the nearest T stop, Wonderland, when the weather is horrible or the hour is late.
And his family is willing to be quiet upstairs when someone is recording downstairs with Doug.
There are two isolation booths to the right of the piano (which you can’t see in the photo above) which is where I usually stand when we are rehearsing/recording.
This is what Doug looks like when we are rehearsing/recording.
One of the many great things about working/playing with Doug is that we are able to record all of our rehearsals in high fidelity.
He is not only a terrific, playful pianist, but he is also a super competent sound engineer and producer.
Over time he has invested in high-quality musical tools — a Schimmel grand piano, great microphones, and endlessly upgraded recording software and hardware (including an Apple computer which almost never misbehaves) — and he is able to switch effortlessly from being an engineer/producer to being a collaborative pianist/accompanist/co-creator and back again.
The songs at the beginning of this blog post are from a show we did called Will Loves Steve, which featured all songs written by people named Steve, Stephen or Stevie. “Love’s In Need Of Love Today” is by Stevie Wonder, and “Everybody’s Got the Right” is by Stephen Sondheim from his extraordinary show Assassins.
They demonstrate how imaginative and improvisational Doug’s accompaniment often becomes when we work together.
He and I have been operating on a very simple guideline — familiar to improv comedians among other creative beings — for many years.
We always say “yes” to each other’s ideas.
Sometimes I have a specific set of images I share with Doug: “Let’s imagine that we are next to the Charles River and someone has started a fire in an old oil drum” or “We’re in a piney woods on the Cape, and a downy woodpecker is hopping up and down one of the tree trunks.”
Sometimes Doug starts playing something interesting on the piano while he is familiarizing himself with the sheet music for a particular song, and I encourage him to pause and hit the record button so that we can start with his fresh idea before either of us has had much time to think about it.
After each take we usually offer each other feedback about what we liked, what we might retain, and what we might like to explore further (“Let’s try going into a Latin feel on the bridge…” or “How about we do it twice as long so that you can take a solo and then we’ll end it with a triple tag at the end?”)
By the third or fourth take we often find ourselves in completely new and unexpected musical terrain.
Then we let that particular song rest and move on to the next one…
I don’t remember what ideas led us to this thoughtful version of “In My Life” by John Lennon.
I think we recorded it when we were rehearsing for a benefit concert (or maybe when we were rehearsing for a show I did at my old high school in Connecticut?)
Doug’s solo on this take is one of my favorite things that we have ever recorded together.
In the past decade Doug has been devoting more and more of his time and energy to composing and recording CDs of original piano — and increasingly orchestral —compositions.
It is a perfect example to me of a “wisdom song” — which helps me to re-align with my better, wiser self whenever I sing it.
Writing this post inspired me to search on Pixabay for some butterfly images, and I was astounded by what I found.
The idea that earthbound caterpillars can transform themselves into winged butterflies — that they can literally dissolve themselves and re-form their molecules into a new type of being — has fascinated and inspired us human beings for millennia.
I am also inspired by the paths they take — paths which do not travel in a straight line from point A to point B yet manage to cover vast amounts of mileage none-the-less.
Butterflies have a inner sense of where they are headed, but they also follow and respond to whatever flowers and breezes appear along their journey.
This seems to be how I, too, am moving through my musical life here on planet earth.
I looked online to learn more about the current health of our butterfly populations.
First I was directed to a relatively new company called “Butterfly Health” that seems to specialize in adult diapers…
Then I found a lovely story about vineyards in eastern Washington which “stopped using harmful pesticides and created natural habitats with native shrub-steppe plants around the vineyards to keep out harmful insects (e.g., mealybugs) and attract beneficial insects (e.g., parasitic wasps) that feed on pests.”
These vineyard saw a significant increase in butterflies — from an average of five different species to more like twenty different species!
The article noted that “butterflies don’t protect the vineyards or provide wine growers with economical benefits, (but) they are pollinators and an important element of the ecosystem. Furthermore, having butterflies flutter around a vineyard increases its aesthetic appeal and provides proof of earth-friendly pest control practices.”
It reports that “more than three-quarters of Britain’s 59 butterfly species have declined over the last 40 years, with particularly dramatic declines for once common farmland species such as the Essex Skipper and Small Heath…
‘This is the final warning bell,’ said Chris Packham, Butterfly Conservation vice-president, calling for urgent research to identify the causes for the disappearance of butterflies from ordinary farmland. ‘If butterflies are going down like this, what’s happening to our grasshoppers, our beetles, our solitary bees? If butterflies are in trouble, rest assured everything else is.'”
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
What, I continue to wonder, will it take for enough of us human beings to wake up and take significant actions so that the extraordinary species extinction we are now experiencing on planet earth can slow down…and maybe even stop?
Why are so many of us seemingly oblivious to what is happening to our ecosystems and unable/unwilling to make wiser choices?
I recently visited a friend’s house (his/her second home, actually) and saw a small vat of RoundUp that I assume s/he is using to take care (??) of weeds in his/her lovely garden.
It was sitting alongside an aerosol can of pesticide to kill wasps.
This is an extremely well-educated person who loves the views of nature from his/her home overlooking a beautiful river.
Yet s/he is completely oblivious to the increasingly well-documented scientific research linking herbicides and pesticides to all sorts of profound disruptions in the overall health of a wide variety of ecosystems. And disruptions to our own human metabolisms — since we human beings are deeply rooted in nature from an evolutionary perspective and share many of the same biological pathways/systems as our animal and plant cousins..
I know that beautifully photographed and persuasively written advertising messages from the makers of herbicides and pesticides contribute to our human ignorance..
And lots of us think, “Oh it’s just a little bit of RoundUp or a little bit of wasp spray…”
But it all adds up and takes a cumulative toll on a wide variety of plants and animals and bacteria and fungae which we dearly need to be functioning in balance with each other.
Another deep breath in.
And another deep breath out.
Thank you to Pixabay for these wonderful photographs of butterflies.
Thank you to Doug Hammer and John Bucchino for their tremendous musicality and songwriting expertise.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to another blog post.
What steps — small and/or not-so-small — have you taken in your life to help keep life in balance here on planet earth?
I just opened up WordPress and was happy to find a post about gratitude from The Snail of Happiness in my daily feed.
There are a seemingly-ever-increasing number of energies and actions on planet earth that we can be aware of — due in large part to the magic of electricity and our wide-ranging embrace of modern media — yet which we can do very little to influence directly.
And I am easily overwhelmed by this onslaught of information.
However, we CAN re-align our own energy/perspective by doing something as simple as writing down three things for which we are grateful.
And then — from a more grateful, grounded emotional space — we can send a card to an elected official, give a little money to a compelling cause, or volunteer our time at a local non-profit.
Or make some art.
Or write a song.
Or simply sit and breath.
Today I am grateful that a friend’s husband is alive in New Orleans.
I don’t see this friend very often (our paths used to cross because of work) and have never met his husband.
I learned about his husband’s recent assault and robbery — while he was attending the Unitarian-Universalist annual general assembly being held at the end of June in New Orleans! — when I checked my Facebook page.
Apparently it is all over the Boston and New Orleans news — since our media have (sadly) functioned for decades with a mindset of “if it bleeds, it leads…”
But I have been out of town and away from the local news.
So today I am grateful that my friend’s husband is finally out of the hospital in New Orleans and back at home in Boston.
And I am grateful that the other person who was (less severely) attacked is also recovering well.
And that two of the four young men who perpetrated this crime (some of whom had been staying at a Covenant House shelter for homeless/troubled youth) have turned themselves in.
I hope they — as well as the two people whom they attacked and robbed — are being treated with compassion and respect by the judicial system so that some unexpected healing might take place as a result of this sad and brutal event.
And I am grateful for the basics: health and patience and delicious food — more and more of it organic — and a roof over my head.
I am grateful for people who visit my blog even though I haven’t posted anything new for four months.
I am grateful for progress (sometimes very sloooow) and persistence (sometimes almost imperceptible) on larger tasks such as letting go of un-needed possessions, processing complicated emotional situations, and crafting a CD of original songs.
Which leads me to the song at the beginning of this post.
I wrote it last summer while I was camping with family in heaven a.k.a. North Truro, MA.
Some of the words came from a little piece of paper I picked up after one of my cousins was married a few summers ago on a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake in upstate New York.
The little piece of paper turned out to be a crib sheet that the mother of the bride had used when she spoke during the ceremony.
I expanded her words a bit, consulted my trusty ukulele to find chords and a melody, and eventually brought it to pianist Doug Hammer’s studio on the North Shore of Boston to record.
Thank you to anyone and everyone who reads this blog post.
I am grateful for your interest.
I am also grateful for the beautiful images from Pixabay that I have used in this post.
My cousin who got married loves horses and is an excellent — and very hard-working —equestrian.
She and her husband also just had their first child.