Category Archives: Music

Blogs about music, performing and performances

Thank You Leonard Nimoy and Spock

After days of rumors, they confirmed this morning that Leonard Nimoy passed away at his home. I’ve adored him for years, and wrote this tribute to him last summer. R.I.P. Leonard.

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February 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of “The English Invasion”, when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones arrived in the USA for televised concerts.  The images of hundreds of screaming Beatles fans from their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show are part of music history burned into people’s minds.  As I watched them, something has always puzzled me: Why were the girls all screaming?  The answer to that question came to me as a result of watching Star Trek.

The show was scheduled against the hit show “Bewitched”, and it was not an immediate hit; at least not with me.  However, after watching a few episodes, I found myself (pardon the expression) fascinated with the alien character, Mr. Spock, as played by Leonard Nimoy.  Tall and thin, with shining dark hair, deeply set dark eyes, pointed ears and steeply slanted eyebrows, and yellow complexion, he was not as universally handsome…

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THE 2015 GRAMMY AWARDS-PLAY IT!!!!!

Tonight is the 2015 Grammy Awards program.    As I go over the list of this year’s nominees, I’m stunned to finally see singers I not only know–but like!  It’s been many years since I bothered to watch the show.

The Grammys used to be very, very dry and stodgy, but my favorite broadcast was one where the group Wild Cherry performed their hit song .  The audience had sat there all night, watching the nominees take their awards and politely clapping for the winners.  Then Wild Cherry started playing “PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC WHITE BOY”, and everything changed.  First the crowd nodded, then snapped, squirmed in their seats, and suddenly people started getting out of their seats, dancing in place and even jumping into the aisles, singing the chorus at the top of their lungs,..

“Play that funky music white boy, play that funky music play! Play that funky music white boy! Lay down some boogie and do that funky music till you die!”

It was an electrifying moment in live TV, and I’d never seen anything like it. Even more than that, I until I saw the broadcast I had no idea it wasn’t a black band like Earth, Wind and Fire!  Now every time I hear a band launch into this song, I jump to my feet and boogie like there’s no tomorroW…

I hope tonight has a thrilling moment as well…We’ll just have to see.  In the meantime, crank up the volume on your machine, and use the link to hear and oldie but a SERIOUS GOODIE.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Feeling Fancy.”

Greta pensive

Greta pensive

If someone said they would pay for me to have a full day doing anything I want, I would want wake up–without an alarm clock– after an incredibly restful night in my own bed on fresh sheets and a new lacy nightgown.  Get up, and make a quick trip to a nearby restaurant for a wonderful breakfast of gluten-free Belgian waffles(I’ve never seen any) with thin bacon, and spicy Mexican coffee and soft scrambled eggs…Leisurely walk home in brilliant sunlight in a blue sky, then spend an hour going over my music.  Nap for 90 minutes, while listing to ocean sounds.  Eat a light dinner of a small steak with mushrooms and potatoes, with fresh coffee. then shower and dress.  Take a cab downtown Carnegie Hall, to prepare to perform my  widely publicized and critically acclaimed sold-out solo jazz vocal concert at Carnegie Hall, with an orchestra and 5 piece jazz combo to accompany me.  A large, red oriental carpet would be underneath my feet onstage.

I would be wearing a beautiful custom-fitted v-neck, floor length, gold sequined gown with a small train(Lightbox.com has exactly the one I want), and matching low heels, my hair would be professionally styled in an elegant undo, with beautiful makeup by a master of black makeup.

The concert would be a mix of jazz and classical music–with Bachianas Brasilieras #5, Les Filles De Cadix, Du Bist Die Ruh, El dis que me quieras, and Marietta’s Lied for the classical set–using the orchestra, then 8 of my favorite jazz and standard pieces in the second half…..

The concert will end to thunderous applause from both the audience and orchestra, and will result in a flood of requests for me to sing further paid concerts in venues all over the world, but especially in Vienna, and a special concert in Okinawa, Japan, where I was born..

After a quick dinner, I will leave in a limo to go out Viennese waltzing to a 20-piece orchestra for 2 hours at the Grand Prospect Ballroom in Brooklyn with a fabulous dancer as my partner.  The hall will serve a desert menu with coffee served by waiters in tuxes,and when it is over, my date will escort me home the lime and present me with a huge bouquet of yellow roses.  I will end the evening with a rose-scented bubble bath in a tub surrounded by candles…………………

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MEMORIES OF JULY 4TH


For most people, the Fourth of July immediately conjures up visions of barbequed meat, potato salad, cole slaw, hot corn on the cob with butter and beer.  As a daughter of a US Army Sargent growing up in the sixties in Junction City, Kansas, for me the Fourth is connected with marching bands, parades, and fireworks!

Nearby Fort Riley Kansas is the home post of General George A. Custer, (yes, from The Little Big Horn) and The Big Red One Infantry Division; one of the premier fighting units in World War II, Korea, and Viet-Nam. ( I’ll discuss crazy George some other time.)

On the Fourth, Fort Riley would send troops and the Big Red One’s marching band into the city to march in the annual parade, then they would have activities on post for people to come out and enjoy.  Usually the band would hold a concert on the parade ground (a huge open field the size of 4 football fields, where soldiers practice marching). Off to the side of the band you would see 6-8 small cannons, with gun crews eagerly standing by.  At the end of the concert of mostly John Phillip Sousa pieces, the band would do the last section of Tschaikovsky’s 1812 overture,   Of course that meant instead of using drums, they would shoot off actual cannons as the piece ended, then from the tallest hill nearby, more soldiers from the artillery brigade got to shoot off the fireworks.  Most years everything went off without a hitch, but my favorite year was when the cannons–which shoot flames out the back of the barrel as the gun fires–set all the grass on fire.  Half of the group ran to get water, while the rest kept firing the guns.  Every year thereafter, the post fire department had water trucks standing by at the concert.

Another year they cleared a huge field next to the body of water we laughingly called a river(it was usually a mud flat) and allowed people to actually ride on tanks, troop carriers, jeeps and other military vehicles….We had never known before that how LOUD, DUSTY, incredibly uncomfortable those vehicles are–with no shock absorbers as far as we could tell, but it was fun!

I am always disappointed when I attend fireworks displays today.  Since military bands marching music is considered corny now, programmers in NYC usually dig up some pop music and play that instead.  People don’t know what they’re missing.  I’ve even gone so far as to bring along a tape recorder, and play recordings of Sousa’s wonder music just loud enough for me to hear; and I’ve noticed people move closer so they can hear too….You’d have to be emotionally dead not to be moved by the piccolo solos at the end of The Stars and Stripes Forever.  Maybe some day the planners will go back to using the right music for fireworks celebrating our nation’s birthday.  In the meantime,

Happy Independence Day!!!

HOW DEEP DO YOUR ROOTS GO?

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Sunday, June 1, 2014 I went to Drums Along the Hudson, a Native American Festival and Multicultural Celebration—translation: an Indian Pow Wow. This not the first of these I’ve attended, but as I sat in the stands watching the dancers, enjoying the drumming and fighting the urge to go join them, a question occurred to me. How much of your ancestry is hiding inside you, waiting to come out?

My father once told me that like most African Americans we have very mixed heritage. We are part (maybe 1/16th) African, french, scottish, and blackfoot indian. I always assumed those were just numbers, but on a recent trip to Colorado, I found postcards with photos of blackfoot indian tribe families. The resemblance to my Dad and his family was unmistakable…Locals told me Blackfoot originated in the south—where dad is from– and were brought to Colorado because of their skills in mining silver.

Although I learned how to sing in German and Italian in my private voice lessons, when I studied French in High School, I found I had a flair for speaking that language….Photos of Scotland, and the skrill of bagpipes fill me with yearning to go somewhere I’ve never been…..Touring the African exhibits in the Museum of Natural History gives me chills. Looking at the ceremonial masks on exhibit there, I get (vibes) that they are not happy about being in the museum on public display.

My strongest reaction however, is to Native American Music. Although I’ve attended many Pow Wows—in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and even the Shinnecock Tribal festival in Southampton, Drums Along the Hudson is the only one that allows—and encourages—the audience to participate in the dancing. Even though I’ve never studied their dances, I suddenly find myself out there reveling in dancing with abandon in the grass, under the open sky. I have no idea what the singers are saying, but it doesn’t just strike me as simple noise; the only thing that matters is the drums, that drive you on…. which is also a huge part of the African music…..

Looks like the roots go far deeper than we realize!

 

 

Casablanca-The Great Comic Movie?

Greta, Bogart and Friend at Casablanca Screening

Greta, Bogart and Friend at Casablanca Screening

Last week I was one of 1100 people who went to a special big screen viewing of CASABLANCA at the newly restored screens at the United Palace Theatre on West 75th  in NYC.   As a special treat, the theatre let anyone who showed up in formal dress or period clothes in free, and it was fabulous to see how many people took advantage of the chance to really pull out all the stops!

I have seen the movie many times(usually on Turner Classic Movies), but on a large screen, with full speakers, I was bowled over by all the gag lines in this supposedly serious movie!  Bogart seemed to be a straight man (no pun intended) for Claude Raines, who did joke after joke in each of their encounters. Here’s an example: 

Louis(Raines):I always wondered, Rick, just why you came to Casablanca.  Rick(Bogart): I came here for the waters(in other words for his health).  Louis: The Waters?  We’re in the middle of the desert. Rick: I was misinformed….
 

Although technically Bogart was the star, Claude Raines stole the movie.  Whenever he was speaking, he was disarmingly lighthearted and wise-cracking, but he changed into someone who was shrewd, calculating and much darker when people weren’t watching him.   Raines the actor seemed to do this a lot in his movies..he would change from someone vaguely (and sometimes not so vaguely) effeminate, to a man with a rumbling, stentorian voice and a commanding presence.  Check him out in the movie “Caesar and Cleopatra” with Vivien Leigh.  Up until the time his troops arrive, he acts like a kindly, bumbling scholar–then he becomes the man who could have easily conquered a world…

Paul Henried and Ingrid Bergman were playing everything straight, and their lines were usual dramatic fare–except that until the end of the movie, Bergman had no idea whether or not her character was getting on the plan with Bogey, or Victor.  She must have found it frustrating, but it gave a reality to her portrayal of a woman trying to decide between two men.

But! The major shock from seeing Casablanca in a theater is the MUSIC!  During all the scenes in Rick’s Cafe, the music constantly underscores–and comments on–the action….For me as a cabaret singer, I cracked up at the titles of the songs being quietly played.  Of course, people at the time of the film’s release would have known the songs as well as I do, making the music used in Casablanca an inside joke between the audience and the composer of the film score….Viewing the movie on a TV, you miss much of the music, and many of the jokes.  The next time you watch Casablanca, give yourself a treat and really crank up the volume.  You won’t be sorry….

Celebrating the Solstice With Music

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Friday June 21st was the 2013 Summer Solstice–the longest day of the year.  To celebrate the occasion this year, I decided to join the Words and Music group gathering at the Fallen Flagpole in Fort Tyron Park (near the cloisters museum in NYC).

The flagpole is at one of the highest points in the city, enclosed by a tall stone wall, surrounded by tall trees,  that still lets you view the Pallisades on the west, the Hudson River on the North, and uptown Manhattan on the east,  The setting was amazing. As you sat there listening to various poets reading from their works, you could hear birdsong and trees rustling in the breeze, in addition to whatever music the musicians(guitars, bongos, trumpet, trombone, claves, etc.) provided for them. At one point we looked up to see the sun setting as a big orange ball in the West, as the Moon came up in the east–at the same time!

I had brought pre-recorded accompaniment with me to use for my two songs, but as I sat there listening to everyone else, I decided it would be counter to the spirit of the event. When my name was called, I got up and asked for some of the guitarists to accompany me, instead, and two immediately joined me at the microphones.  We made it through the first song-note to self: always bring sheet music–, but for the second, I decided to go with a fun jazz number, “Alright,, OK, You win”.  The crowd got into it from the beginning, and I suddenly realized that I had more than the two guitars playing with me, and then the audience members got up and started to swing dance!  I have never before moved people to dance, and it was really, really cool.  I can never thank Words and Music enough for that experience.  They were so appreciative of my efforts, and I have to say it was a nice change; to have people tell me directly that they appreciated my song.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something.  Earlier last week I ran into someone who had played for me in a club, and made room in her open mike for me to sing.  They said, you’re really good, you know?  and I said, “it’s nice to hear someone say it”.   A lot of time, thought, and practice goes into  singing–often you spend hours just deciding WHAT to sing.  And unless you’re one of those lucky few being paid to perform, the praise is all the payment you’ll get.  People assume you know they liked your performance, just because you didn’t boo them off the stage, but really, please take the time to run some kudos by them.  You might be surprised at the reaction.

Again, THANK YOU to Words and Music at the Fallen Flagpole for the outpouring of love and appreciation, the dancing–and the photos–you sent my way.