Overjoyed…

I picked today’s song because WordPress tells me that this is my 100th blog post.

If I had been asked to guess how many blog posts I’ve written since I started in 2013, I would have said 30 – 40.

So I am surprised to discover that this is #100.

As loyal readers from the past years can attest, I do not write on a regular schedule.

If I do the math, however, I find that I have averaged one post per month.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

I am often happy — and sometimes even overjoyed — to be part of our WordPress writing community.

It is thrilling to check my statistics and find that folks have been reading and listening from different countries around the planet.

THANK YOU to everyone who has read and/or listened to one of my blog posts during the past eight years!

And a special thank you to the folks who have taken the time to leave a comment.

Reading and responding to these comments — and also writing comments after reading other people’s blog posts — is how the WordPress community comes to life!

“Overjoyed” was written by Stevland Hardaway Morris a.k.a Stevie Wonder and first appeared in 1985 on his 20th studio album, In Square Circle.

I am not sure when I first heard it — maybe when he performed it on Saturday Night Live or perhaps when a college friend, Rex Dean, sang it?

It became somewhat of an obsession for me and several of my musical friends…

Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

I finally performed “Overjoyed” in 2006 as part of a program of songs written by people named Steve — which also featured songs by Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Foster, Stephen Sondheim, Cat Stevens, Stephen Flaherty, Steve Schalchlin, and my friend Steve Sweeting (several of whose songs have been highlighted in previous blog posts).

This recording is from a rehearsal at pianist Doug Hammer‘s studio north of Boston, MA, which was attended by a journalist, Joel Brown, who ended up writing a lovely feature story in the Boston Globe to help spread the word before my performance at Scullers Jazz Club.

If you are curious, you can read it on my website (look for “Interviews — Boston Globe June 4, 2006).

This recording also features a wonderful musician, Mike Callahan, playing clarinet.

Photo from MSU Website

I met Mike when he was an undergraduate at Harvard.

He arranged a bunch of songs for me to sing with the Harvard Pops Orchestra — and then later with the Timberlane Pops. You can click here to see him and me in action if you are curious.

He can play just about any instrument (which is very useful when one is arranging a song for an entire orchestra) and is also a delightful human being.

Mike went from Harvard to the Eastman School Of Music, where he earned an MA and a PhD and is now a professor at Michigan State.

If you click here, you can read his bio to learn more details about his outstanding musical life.

Finding strong takes from previously recorded rehearsals and then polishing them with Doug via Zoom has also been a process which has given me much joy during the past year.

And — well-masked — we’ve even started recording a new batch of my original songs in the past month (I take off my mask when I am in the vocal recording booth…)

Hopefully a few of them will turn out well enough for me to share them in future blog posts.

Watching things grow in the planters on my back porch this past summer has also been a quietly joyful pastime.

Photo by Carole Bundy

I started with kale, basil, tomatoes and marigolds.

The tomatoes yielded a small but sublime harvest of vegetable gems.

Mine were yellow, and I did not document them with a photograph because they were so tasty I had to eat them as soon as they became ripe.

But my friend Carole Bundy sent me this lovely photo of HER first two tomatoes.

I’ve also been eating one brilliant green leaf of kale every week or so…

When the tomatoes were done, I replaced them with cut up chunks of a potato which my mother brought to family gathering earlier this summer.

It was one of a batch which she described as being the most delicious potatoes she had eaten in a long time.

I wasn’t sure if the cut up chunks would grow, but they did have many “eyes” on them…

Now I am overjoyed that one of them has sprouted, grown tall, and even flowered!

I was very surprised by the flowers, which are quite pretty and fragrant.

Photo by me

They have also lasted a long time.

Now the soil under the flowering plant is starting to bulge a bit.

I think I may need to pile more dirt on top of what may be one or more baby potatoes growing down below…

The cat in this photo lives with our neighbors upstairs.

I may write about her in a future blog post.

Trixie did something on 9/11/21 which was heart-wrenching (not to her but to me and maybe also to her owner).

But that is a story for another day and another blog post.

Today’s theme is joy and gratitude.

Thank you to the great photographers who share their photos with the world via Pixabay.

I am overjoyed that I can include your photos in my blog posts.

Thank you to all the great songwriters named Steve.

I am overjoyed to sing your songs.

Thank you to Doug and Mike for your musical gifts — and thank you to Doug for your engineering magic, too.

I am overjoyed to be able to make music with you both.

Image by Mircea Ploscar from Pixabay 

Thank you to the plants which have been so patient and cooperative with my humble attempts at gardening — as well as generous with their fruits and leaves and roots!

I am overjoyed that you breath out what I breath in and vice-versa.

I know I thanked my readers earlier in this blog post, but I will now thank you again!

THANK YOU.

It is a pleasure and an honor to be part of this WordPress community.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

PS: You are always welcome to visit my website — where you can find all sorts of songs.

Or you can find me singing — with Doug Hammer playing his Schimmel grand piano — on SpotifyPandoraApple Music and other digital music platforms.

And if you are hungry for more music, you are welcome to listen to a sublime version of “In My Life” which I recorded with Doug Hammer.on a bunch of different digital music platforms.

In Praise of Doug (and others!)

In Praise of Doug (and others!)

 

I have been blessed to make music with a terrific array of musicians during my musical life here in the Boston area.

In recent years I have worked mostly with pianists, including Doug HammerJoe Reid, Tom LaMark, Mark ShilanskyJoe Mulholland, Mike Callahan, and Steve Sweeting.

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.

doug2.jpg

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.

DougStudio

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.

Doug3

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.

You can click here for a link to his YouTube channel if you are curious.

Those of us who love to perform with him have been both excited to see his star as a solo artist rise and also sad because it means that he is less available to perform with singers…

Ahh, yes.

Life is full of changes.

Doug4

But so far he is willing to continue to work/play with singers in his recording studio.

Hurrah!

He and I are slowly but surely working on a CD of my original songs — which I write using a ukulele and are then transformed by his inspired piano playing.

I do not know when this project will be finished, but I am enjoying the process — one song, one session at a time.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for being born, pursuing a life in music, and working/playing with me on various undertakings for over two decades.

Thank you to Doug’s web site for the photos (probably taken by his talented wife) I have included in this blog.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to yet another post!

Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing

Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing

Exuberance.

Joy.

Playfulness.

Improvisation.

Not having to sit still.

Clapping.

Snapping.

Tapping.

Dancing.

Bouncing up and down.

Singing.

Laughing.

Doing whatever one wants to do as long as one is not hurting oneself or anyone else.

These are all daily occurrences in my Music Together classes.

They contrast vividly with my work as a child and teenager in NYC — modeling for catalogs, doing TV commercials and voice-overs, working in a dinner theater production of The King and I, and even co-starring in a few made-for-TV movies.

Here is what I looked like as a child.

willb

As one of my childhood role models, Jack Wild, explained in an interview I found on Youtube, children who work in show business are not treated like children.

They are treated like small adults and are expected to behave as well as — and often better than — the grownups on the job.

Here is another shot where I am behaving more like a small adult.

willc

Jack Wild was The Artful Dodger in the movie version of the musical Oliver and also starred in an odd TV show which aired on Saturday mornings called H. R. Pufnstuf.

I realize now (after watching an old episode via Youtube) that it was very loosely inspired by the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” and that it was a pretty horrible show — relying all-too-heavily on a laugh track to seduce us into thinking that what we were watching was actually funny.

But each episode usually provided Jack with an opportunity to sing and dance, which is what I particularly admired.

One song —”I’m a mechanical boy” — had enough resonance to me as a child that I remember it with bittersweet fondness to this day.

You can watch it if you are curious by clicking here.

Jack may have also been aware of the painful ironies of this song…

From Wikipedia, I learned to my sadness that Jack died ten years ago from mouth cancer.

He had apparently been smoking ever since he was 12 years old and drank very heavily starting in his 20s when work in the entertainment industry dried up for him.

He was 53 years old — my current age.

Deep sigh.

There but for the grace of g-d…

My career as a child and teen actor happened before the era of VHS recording devices — so I have very few watchable artifacts from that period of my life.

I have a few head shot photos (which I have sprinkled into this entry), a resume which I think might have been typed using what was then a new technology (an IBM selectric machine owned by good friends), and a VHS copy of one of my last films, Goldenrod, which was made in Canada and was eventually purchasable in VHS format.

Every few years, however, I spend an hour searching on Youtube for possible remnants of my childhood career.

Recently I got lucky!

I found an audio file for a voiceover I made when I was 11 or 12 — promoting Oreo cookies —  as well as a Dr. Pepper commercial I made as a teenager in which I sing in the background on a fishing boat.

At least I think it’s me…. I know I made a Dr. Pepper commercial which was filmed on a fishing boat, but I don’t remember much from the shoot except that I was grateful not to feel too nauseous while we did take after take in what must have been the Long Island Sound.

Here’s my teen-era head shot.

willd

You can click on the links below if you are curious…

Dr, Pepper Commercial.

I am pretty sure I am the teenager wearing a baseball hat who dances behind David Naughton on the THIRD boat (a fishing boat) in the sequence and leaps onto a railing when everyone sings,”Only Dr. Pepper tastes that way.” If you look at the timing bar, I appear about 29 seconds into the clip…

Oreo Cookie Commercial.

I am the voice saying, “Then you get two crunchy chocolate outsides to eat last!” and also one of the voices singing, “‘Cause there’s not a better middle you can fiddle with” at the end of the spot.

I titled this post “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” because I recently found a lovely take from a rehearsal (with Doug Hammer on piano and Mike Callahan on shaker) I did several years ago at Doug’s studio in Lynn when putting together a show called “Will Loves Steve” which featured all songs written by people named Steve or Stephen or Stevie.

Not only am I uplifted and reassured by Stevie’s melody and words, the rhythm instrument that Mike is playing reminds me of the plastic eggs which we use — with great delight — in my Music Together classes.

Right now I am putting together a show of all songs I have written or co-written called “The Beauty All Around.”

And I am discovering that it is a much more intimate and doubt-filled process than a show which features songs written by other people.

So Stevie Wonder’s great song is going to be my mantra for the next six weeks…

Thank you, yet again, for reading and listening to another blog post!!!

We Never Know Who Is Listening

One of the truly magical aspects of a musical life on planet earth in the 21st century is how widely one can share one’s songs if one has access to the internet.

After Bobbi Carrey, Doug Hammer and I — with lots of help from Mike Callahan, Jonathan Wyner, and guest musicians — recorded our CD “If I Loved You,” we heard from family, friends AND folks whom we had never met.

One listener included our version of the David Friedman ballad “I’ll Be Here With You” (which you can hear by clicking on the right hand sidebar of this page) on a CD she sent to her fiance who was serving in the US military overseas.

Another fan — who had been given our CD by a friend — tracked us down and told us that she listened to our music each morning while she worked out. When her husband died, she asked us to sing at his memorial service.

And I recently learned — in a reply to my blog post about music and spontaneity — that a CD of my “Will Loves Steve” show (which features songs written by people named Stephen, Steven or Steve) had traveled from Massachusetts to Argentina, where it helped lift the spirits of someone who was feeling very low.

Here’s a selection from that show — “Beautiful Dreamer” by Stephen Foster combined with “Overjoyed by Stevie Wonder…

The pianist is Doug Hammer, and the horn player is Mike Callahan.

I am curious to see how my musical endeavors may continue to ripple around the planet thanks to the internet.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Ahh, music!