When the jazz bug bites

I used to laugh when I heard “the jazz bug bit” (name of famous musician) and their life wasn’t the same afterwards. I didn’t understand it at all, and moreover, I thought it was an exaggeration of someone who really loved to play music and did it well.

But lately, I’m beginning to understand that the “jazz bug” is something real. It’s obsessive. And I have been ‘infected’ with the jazz bug (some would suggest I call Dr. Jazz, but I don’t think that would cure me!)

When I started my journey, WAY back in the Summer of 2014, I had a very simple goal. I wanted to be able to get up at a local jazz jam in my neighborhood and sing a few songs with the band. I knew that the musicians playing at the jam were professionals, and so I felt that since I hadn’t been a singer previously, that it was important that I take a few lessons to make me competent enough to get up in front of others and sing. (And no, I had never done – and still haven’t done – karaoke.)

After half a dozen lessons or so, my excellent jazz vocal teacher wisely suggested that I begin taking vocal technique lessons. I was so enthusiastic about my progress to date, and still very excited about the prospect of singing in front of an audience, I jumped at the chance to study with my most excellent vocal technique coach.

In retrospect, this was one of a few turning points for me, because it moved me from wanting to “just get up and sing a few” to really understand the mechanics behind what I needed to do to sing properly. I didn’t realize it at the time.

Eventually I had my public debut, and had to conquer my absolute terror of singing in front of a live audience. (Something which I have conquered to a great degree, although I still get a bit fluttery from time to time.) The debut went well, and there were so many people around me who were incredibly supportive. They offered advice, lots of applause and praise for each baby step forward, which was undeniably motivating to keep me going when things were tough.

Soon I was getting feedback (correctly) that my repertoire was limited as a beginner, and I needed to work on expanding my song list. And so began a period of more intensive study of various singers and material.

This led me to periods of frustration, entirely of my own doing, because I liked songs that no one else knows. Of course, this led me to a new teacher, who could work with me to help me learn these lesser known songs and write charts for me. He also was helpful in giving me introductions to basic theory, and blues and gospel scales too.

As all of this was going on, I began increasing the amount of time I invested in getting out in public to sing. And the more I sang in public, the easier it became to sing in front of live audiences.

Along the way, I learned more and more about how to interact with musicians, including knowing that I had to tell them the key for my song, explaining what tempo I wanted, and eventually when I learned more, giving them information they needed to help play the song before and during the performance (the bridge goes to Bb Minor; or, let’s do this as a bossa; or, touching the top of my head when I was supposed to come back in, indicating I wanted to sing the song from the top.)

And again, there were times I was frustrated. For example, when I was learning how to sing behind the beat, I realized I needed more help on my sense of timing. So I decided to take lessons with a drummer to help me internalize this sense of timing. His help was so invaluable, I know I took a leap forward in my ability to “swing” jazz songs due to his instruction and help.

I sometimes think that maybe, if I had started as a kid, maybe I would have picked this stuff up over many years of practice. I would have had lots of time to internalize many lessons and evolve my skills.

As an adult though, I feel a sense of intense urgency to learn things as quickly as I can… and frankly, to work hard when I have internal resistance to doing things that will help me up my game.

I regularly re-organize my practice routine to help me maximize what I get out of my practice time. And I just stumbled upon a helpful (and free!) handbook that I’ve been reading that is pushing me forward yet again.

Jamey Aebersold Jazz Handbook: http://www.jazzbooks.com/mm5/download/FQBK-handbook.pdf

Perhaps my biggest weakness right now is my ability to improvise during a song, in the way I’d like to be able to do it. I’m not trying to be Ella Fitzgerald, but I would like to feel a sense of freedom when improvising that I don’t feel today. I have plenty of other things I’m still working on, and I strongly suspect it’s a lifelong path I’m on, but for right now, improvisation is a critical jazz skill that I need to nurture along more forcefully than what I’ve been doing to date.

When I go back and listen to all of the recorded lessons I have had, with EVERY SINGLE TEACHER who has given me their valuable time, advice, guidance and mentorship… they have all told me that I needed to do stuff that I refused to do. Like, memorize scales. Like, sit down at a keyboard (every  day) and tap out notes and sing them. Like, start improvising everyday when I sing in practice. (This seems so obvious.) Like, take the two most common jazz blues keys of Bb and F, and improvise to them. (This last piece of advice is spelled out directly in the Jazz Handbook referenced above.)

I am obsessed with getting to the next level. And many days I wish I was 20 years old so I had a few extra decades to play with in order to get to many next levels. But I don’t. The clock is ticking. Hell, Charlie Parker was dead at 34, and I passed that mark long ago. Oh well. I’m too fanatic at this point to stop anyway.

The jazz bug is real. I’ve been bitten, and I can’t wait to scratch my itch.

Why A Singer Has to Be Every Instrument

Me singing St. Louis Blues at a jazz jam. 12-7-14

Me singing St. Louis Blues at a jazz jam. 12-7-14

I began my journey as a singer only about 5 months ago, when I started taking jazz vocal lessons. In early September I got up and sang in public for the first time, and by mid-October I had a “debut night” for friends, and since then I’ve been singing at jazz jams at least twice a week… sometimes more.

There are so many lessons I’ve learned by getting up and singing in public. What I’d like to reflect on today is how a singer needs to be every instrument.

There are a lot of things I mean when I say that.

First, a singer has to have a strong sense of time, and needs to be in the groove with the rhythm section. While the singer doesn’t have to be a drummer, it certainly helps when a strong sense of time is embedded in your brain. Some singers sing ahead of, or behind the beat. In order to do that well, you have to have an impeccable sense of timing.

When I sing a song all the way through, and then the band begins doing their solos, I have to know exactly where I am in the song so that I can come back in after the solos and begin singing again to complete the song.

Singers sometimes get “lost” in the tune and don’t know where to come back in, either because they lost count, or they don’t have the lyrics running in their head, or both. A good keyboardist will “cover” for the singer’s error, and just keep playing the tune again until the moment to come in comes back around again, and if you’re sitting in the audience you may see the guy on the keys give a nod or a little signal to the singer to come back in. More advanced singers don’t need these signals, because they know exactly when to come back in.

Beyond that, a singer has to be listening for the changes that the keyboardist is playing to sing a tune with proper pitch. Of course, the singer should have the proper pitch in their head first, and the correct note can come out whether there is music playing or not, but when you are at a jazz jam, what if the keyboard player didn’t hear your key correctly and starts playing your tune in the wrong key? You’d better not start singing until you correct him.

Aside from that, the human voice – as an instrument – should be flexible enough to create sounds that are more “flute-like” or “trumpet-like,” depending on what is desired. If you listen to the live recording of Ella Fitzgerald in Berlin doing Blue Skies, in her scat solo she often sounds like a trumpet. Words like “bop” “dee” and “dot” can sound like a trumpet when sung.

To me, one of the greatest aspects of singing live jazz is the fantastic collaboration a singer can have with a band, to get things swinging and then everybody has a great time.

What experiences have you had, as a musician or a singer, that you’d share with others when it comes to creating the best possible performance?

A Jazz Canary Update

Considering how important my jazz vocal practice is to me, I’m surprised that the last time I wrote about it was July. Back then, I never could have imagined how my life was going to change. So much has happened since then!

https://cdeminski.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/the-jazz-canary-an-update/

THE TECHNICALS…

I began taking jazz vocal lessons in July, which was an exciting first step. I’d never taken singing lessons.

My teacher started me on the basics with warm up exercises. Then she introduced me to wonderful singers I hadn’t heard of before like Carmen Mcrae (now one of my favorites,) Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington and others, all with the purpose of familiarizing me with classic jazz standards.

At the beginning, I was really scared to sing, even in front of my teacher! My palms would start sweating in the car as I drove to her house, even though I had been practicing. Standing behind the microphone in her living room and listening to my voice booming out of the amplifier was unnerving.  Thank goodness she was encouraging every step of the way and gave me constructive feedback on how to improve.

After 7 weeks with my first teacher, she suggested in order to “build up my voice” that I go to one of her singing teachers who is a vocal technique specialist. I’m so grateful my teacher saw the potential in me and opened the door for me to take a next step. I can see how essential it’s been to my progress.

The vocal technique coach I’m seeing is amazing. She has helped me understand every mechanism that’s involved in singing, and how to use her techniques to improve. I do specialized exercises to shape vowels when I sing, or ensure my air passage is fully open to allow air flow, and how to make sure I’m not constricting my throat muscles to hit notes higher on the register. Since I began singing as an adult, these techniques are invaluable because although I may be singing for years to come, I didn’t start when I was a kid.

Singing is about building up muscles in the abdomen for breath support, and the throat has to be able to do a lot of “tricks” behind the scenes while you’re singing. All of that has to be so natural when it’s happening without thought or effort.

And while all of those lessons have been going on, I’ve been spending at least an hour a day doing warm ups, or assigned exercises or singing songs. It’s so clear to me how important repetition is to drive improvement. In order for your body to internalize what has to happen, it becomes part of muscle memory and part of your subconscious mind. You need to hear the notes in your mind before you sing them, and then you must hear those notes so accurately that you sing them exactly as you “hear” them in your head.

If that sounds complex, it’s because it is complex… but when it’s happening, especially after a lot of practice, it feels natural. And when it feels natural, there is a wonderful surge of adrenaline from being a bit nervous, but it can fuel good feelings of having fun. Most jazz songs don’t last very long, certainly less than four or five minutes, but when you’re behind the microphone in front of a crowd, it seems to last forever.

THE PERFORMANCE…

By the time September rolled around, I’d found several open microphone jazz jams that I began attending on a regular basis.

One very important place was Robin’s Nest in Linden, NJ. This is a small venue, but I made friends with so many of the regulars and the house band, I felt (and still feel) like I’m part of an extended family in that place. There was one singer in particular who took me under his wing, and gave me advice and tons and tons of encouragement.

Now, when I started taking lessons, I DID have a goal in mind. I wanted to sing at my local jazz jam at the Brightside Tavern in Jersey City. Singing at the jam was the whole reason I got started with lessons, although like I said at the beginning of this post, I had no idea how big an influence all of this would become in my life.

In order to push myself to achieve my goal, I sent out an invitation to a large group of friends to do a “debut” at the Brightside in mid-October. It was a fixed date on the calendar where I was making myself perform in front of a room full of people who knew me. Yes, it made me nervous as hell, but I felt without that date on the calendar, I’d just keep going to lessons and put off performing.

Thank goodness my mentor at Robin’s Nest suggested I begin singing there first as preparation for my big “debut” night. It took me a week to think about it, but on September 7th, I took the plunge and sang in front of a small crowd. I was absolutely terrified. I was trembling and sweaty, and I really didn’t know how to properly signal the band about the tempo I wanted to use… but somehow I managed to get it done. People came up to me later and said they didn’t think it was possible that was the first time I’d sung in public, which was really nice of them, and I felt very encouraged by their reactions. After that night, I decided to sing every Sunday night at Robin’s Nest to continue preparing for my debut at Brightside.

Sure enough, my mentor was so right, getting up and singing in front of a live audience before my debut was really important. I had originally planned to practice and prepare but use my debut as my first time out – and I’m mighty glad I didn’t do that!

On the night of my debut, October 13th, about 15 friends showed up on a rainy night, along with various musicians and regulars to the jazz jam at the Brightside. I sang Blue Skies, Bye Bye Blackbird and I Got Rhythm that night. Since then, Blue Skies has become a kind of signature song for me that I can sing most easily because I’ve been working on it the longest.

In the six weeks since my debut night, I’ve settled into a regular schedule of performance. Every Sunday I sing at the Robin’s Nest; on Mondays I’m at the Brightside Tavern; and now I also go to Crossroads in Garwood, NJ on Tuesday nights usually twice a month as well.

These jazz jams are filled with wonderful musicians and singers who have become good friends. I know dozens of people associated with the “jazz scene” in New Jersey and I’m so proud of that fact.

Singing for a live audience is an amazing experience. It’s liberating to me in a way like nothing else I’ve ever done before. In order for the performance to be the best it can be, I have to let go of everything including my fear of failure.

And of course I’ve made mistakes… not hitting the right note, not coming back into the song on time, forgetting lyrics, freezing up on stage, oh yes, I’ve had my share of scrapes and bruises “on stage” but as a very dear friend said to me, the best thing about music is that it floats out into the air during the moment you’re doing it, and then it’s gone. Then it’s time to move on to the next song.

Writers I’m Sleeping With

Writers I am Sleeping With

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Sometimes it’s good to cuddle up with a writer in bed. Better yet, it’s good to cozy up to several. For now, I’ve decided to sleep with Stephen King, Etgar Keret and William T. Vollman. I tried to sleep with William Faulkner too, but he and I just weren’t seeing eye to eye, so he’s sitting on the bed but we’re not really together. (And I’m not holding it against him that he’s the one who’s dead, either.)

Each of these guys has something different to offer me as I get my brain back into “writing mode” (otherwise known as I made that up so I can trick myself into writing more.) Eh, reading helps me write.

In re-reading parts of King’s On Writing, I’m reminded of how funny some of the stories are in the autobiographical section of the book. The precision of King’s language amazes me, the images are powerful, whether he’s dropping a cinder block on his baby toes, or nearly getting electrocuted by his older brother Dave. The read creates so much pleasure; I could re-read that book many times and never tire of the stories.

I haven’t cracked open The Girl On the Fridge yet, but I’ve read other Keret story collections like The Nimrod Flipout and Suddenly, A Knock On the Door and really enjoyed them; they’re fun. So Keret and I were friends first, now he’s been promoted to a sleeping partner. I’m hopeful that “Girl” will be a worthwhile companion.

Finally, the complicated Mr. Vollmann. I began reading The Atlas earlier this year and explored the strange emotional landscape Vollmann inhabits in that collection of stories. I never finished the book, but I’m ready to spend more time with Vollmann again and given the nature of the content, the best place to read that book is in bed. (No, I’m not going to tell you more, you will have to find your own copy and explore the terrain on your own.)

Yes, blogging about my reading is another mechanism to get my writing juices flowing again too.

Another baby step forward.

 

 

 

Gearing Up to Write

As I’ve admitted previously on the blog, this year has not been as productive as I’d have liked from a writing standpoint. There are “things” I am doing to help gear myself back up to write short fiction again.

First, I’m making more of an effort to go to my Jersey City Writer’s Group. Every other Tuesday and Thursday they do a “Writing Prompts” night, where writers get together and three people give prompts. We all write to the prompt for 10 minutes, then read whatever we came up with to the group. I find the more I don’t want to go and do prompts, the more I need to make sure I go and do the mental exercise.

Second, friends are asking me for feedback on their work and I’m reading their work and doing what I can to help. When I’m asked to give feedback, I often go to writing advice books I like and re-familiarizing myself with the guidance from the best. I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s On Writing, and I’ve been re-reading passages from it. It’s tough to give honest feedback to friends, because I care about them and when I see issues I want to bring to their attention, I want to do it in a way that they can “hear.”

Third, and this was a surprise to me, but reading poetry has been a pleasant mental bath in all kinds of imagery and finely wrought word craftsmanship. I’ve read widely, from Rumi to Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks (The Bean Eaters), and Jack Kerouac. I am also reading passages from books I love. I dusted off Faulkner’s Light in August and began reading a few pages, not with the intention to read the whole thing, but to enjoy the craftsmanship and the language.

Fourth, I am participating in a writer’s retreat this weekend. I am forcing myself to spend Friday night and all day Saturday in a cabin with nearly a dozen other writers and I WILL spend some of that time writing. Frankly, at this moment it still seems like it could be torture and I haven’t drafted a plan of attack for the time I’ll be there. Yeah, it’s a scary proposition, and I’ve put myself in the situation on purpose. Hopefully something good will come out of it.

Fifth, messing around on the internet looking at the daily routines of writers. Just for fun, but also as a reminder that whatever torture I’m going through isn’t the first time it’s happened to a writer and won’t be the last.

On the Brain Pickings website, here’s something to chew on from William Gibson:

When I’m writing a book I get up at seven. I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. If absolutely nothing is happening, I’ll give myself permission to mow the lawn. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap. Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.

[…]

As I move through the book it becomes more demanding. At the beginning, I have a five-day workweek, and each day is roughly ten to five, with a break for lunch and a nap. At the very end, it’s a seven-day week, and it could be a twelve-hour day.

Toward the end of a book, the state of composition feels like a complex, chemically altered state that will go away if I don’t continue to give it what it needs. What it needs is simply to write all the time. Downtime other than simply sleeping becomes problematic. I’m always glad to see the back of that.

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Sixth, okay, uh, I haven’t sat down to write yet.

This post is called Gearing Up to Write, right? It’s not called “I’m not having trouble writing” or “I’m a virtuous writer” or “My daily writing routine” so, yeah, I know, I know…………………….

 

 

I’m a Pro at Procrastination

As I look back on many months of blog posts for 2014, I’m a little sad.

First, I will claim my one main creative victory for this year, which was writing an original screenplay for Jordan’s Jackhammer. That’s a biggie, and so far this year, THE high water mark for my writing.

However, my blog posts have become a diversion from my original purpose for this blog… to promote what I was writing, or when fortune and an editor’s good will intervened, promoting what I had gotten published.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a literary journal accept a new piece from me. Of course, that’s because it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything worthy of submitting to a journal.

Behind the scenes, I wrote a short, absurd piece in June. I sent it around to very few places, and it got rejected by all of them.  I’m not going to send it around to a few dozen more places and accumulate rejection notices (or even an acceptance.) The piece is called A Million Times, and I’m going to put it out here on the blog as a follow up to this posting.

But facts are facts. I’ve allowed myself to become side tracked from my writing.

On the positive side, one distraction from my writing is my quest to achieve greater health by going to the gym 5x a week, and eating healthy. I don’t regret one minute I’ve spent sweating and exhausted beyond recognition. It’s required to achieve the results I’ve gotten so far.

Another important and positive distraction from my writing is my jazz vocal practice. Opening the door to jazz music, and jazz singing, has been joyous. I can now sing a passable Carmen McRae impression in my shower, and that means something to me. There will be more posts about my jazz singing to come, but this post is about my writing procrastination. It wouldn’t be right to continue expounding on how great jazz singing is, in this post.

The terrible thing about writer’s procrastination is that I came up with truly interesting and important additions to my life to give myself an outlet for my creativity. That’s a funny thing about being creative, even when you are blocked from expressing yourself in one vein, the creative blood finds alternative places to flow and give life elsewhere.

I’m not going to make promises in this post that I can’t keep. I won’t say, oh, I’m going to get back to writing immediately and start putting out short stories by the boat load. That would be foolish of me.

But for whatever reason, around this time of year I usually get some urge to write. I’m counting on that to propel me to begin doing something again. I hope soon. The levels of internal resistance I’ve been experiencing are very high, and that resistance has sustained itself for months. I haven’t “forced myself” to sit down and write (which usually results in me becoming instantly sleepy) and instead have channeled the energies elsewhere.

So, stay tuned for a piece of flash fiction in my next post. Perhaps it will be one of many short pieces I may still write before the end of this year. I wish I could say I know that’s true, but right now, I don’t. Still, there is intention here now…and that counts for something.

 

The Jazz Canary – An Update

As many of my readers know, these days I’d consider myself a big jazz fan. I’ve always liked big band and swing music, but over the past two and a half years I’ve ventured into listening to modern jazz, mostly in live venues in New York City. These forays into the jazz scene in the city have inspired me to want to sing.

I like to sing, but in recent years have confined all of my singing to the car or the shower. This is to protect the ears of the innocent. 😀

And let me say, the thought of getting up in front of an audience to sing is terrifying to me. A lot of people get stage fright, but mine is specific. You can ask me to get up and speak in front of a crowd of hundreds of people – no problem. I can give a lecture, or do a reading and I’ll be fine. But sing? The thought of doing that makes my palms sweat. 🙂

BUT … one beautiful aspect of hanging around musicians is their connections to other musicians, singers and teachers. One of the guys at the jam suggested a jazz vocal teacher with AMAZING credentials.

Yes, I’ve taken the plunge and begun my jazz vocal lessons with Grammy award winning jazz vocalist Roseanna Vitro. Ms. Vitro is, to my mind, nothing short of inspirational. I feel incredibly lucky to spend time with her, and get the benefit of her tutelage.

I’m at the very beginning of my journey, but I can tell I’m in excellent hands with Ms. Vitro. When I get up to sing in public, at some point in the future, I know I’ll be prepared because of her.

It’s a thrilling prospect.

 

My Vegan Journey – A Whole New Level

I recently wrote about my bad cholesterol results after the first six months of my (mostly) vegan eating regimen. I vowed in that post to up the ante on myself, and that’s exactly what I am doing.

This is a whole new level of commitment.

To recap, I’m totally off meat, chicken, fish, all dairy, eggs, caffeine, or alcohol. I have eliminated white bread and white pasta from my diet as well. (I’m still struggling to eliminate white potatoes from my plate…)

But that’s just the starting point these days. That’s just the price of entry.

Begin at the beginning - this is how I look today

Begin at the beginning – this is how I look today

I joined a gym near my house and have begun a daily weight lifting regimen. Based on input from the in-house trainers, I do a circuit of six different machines, and do three sets on these machines.

After I’m done lifting, I hit the stair master.

When I’m done with the stair master, I get on the elliptical machine.

Then I walk home, and drink a brown rice protein shake.

And THEN, I go out and do either a 4 or 6 mile walk outside.

I am doing this every day, although after three straight days of doing weight lifting I take one day off from lifting and just do the cardio part of the routine.

This level of commitment is extremely difficult and time consuming. I spend a lot of time preparing my food and exercising. I’m not sure how long I can keep it up, but I’m determined to DO MY BEST.

I’ve really only just begun, so I have not seen anything in the way of results yet. Within the next few weeks, I would expect to see movement on my scale in the downward direction…

More to come on my progress when it’s available………

Short Stories – Submit It or Quit It Presentation and Press Coverage

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation at the Jersey City Writers group titled Submit It or Quit It: Short Stories, followed by a panel discussion with two other writers, Nancy Mendez-Booth and Meg Merriet. The panel was hosted by Adriana Rambay Fernandez.

L - R, panelists include: Meg Merriet, Nancy Mendez-Booth and me

L – R, panelists include: Meg Merriet, Nancy Mendez-Booth and me

Our panel moderator, Adriana Rambay Fernandez

Our panel moderator, Adriana Rambay Fernandez

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We were lucky enough to get press coverage for the event, and The Hudson Reporter published us on the front page yesterday under the article title A Gathering of Scribes.

http://hudsonreporter.com/view/full_story/25085939/article-A-gathering-of-scribes–Jersey-City-Writers-talk-about-how-to-get-published–?instance=latest_story

To begin my presentation, I did a reading from Etgar Keret’s Suddenly A Knock On the Door; specifically I chose to read The Story Victorious, which was well received and got the laughs it deserved.

Making a funny face while reading The Story Victorious by Etgar Keret

Me making a funny face while reading The Story Victorious by Etgar Keret

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Me hugging Rachel Poy, the co-organizer of Jersey City Writers for all her help on setting up the event

Me hugging Rachel Poy, the co-organizer of Jersey City Writers for all her help on setting up the event

Then we had an excellent panel discussion facilitated by Adriana, followed by questions from the audience.

My message on submitting short stories was simple … if you work at your craft and are persistent and put in the time to submit to journals, you will be rewarded by getting published eventually.

I offered suggestions on how to stay organized by maintaining a spreadsheet / submission tracker. I mentioned Duotrope and Poets & Writers as places people can go to search for potential journals where work can be submitted. And I also told folks that many journals use Submittable, and that setting up a Submittable account is easy and free for writer-submitters.

None of this is rocket science, but it does take time and effort to cultivate a pipeline of finished pieces you want to submit, then select multiple markets, read submission guidelines and send your work around… then track all the results.

I’d been meaning to put up a posting covering the event, and now that we’ve gotten local press coverage I realized the time is now to post a few photos and to say thank you again to Rachel, Jim, Adriana, Nancy and Meg for all of their support in getting this event together and participating.

A Canary with a Jazz Mind

A very, very long time ago (so many years I cannot say publically how many!) I sang in front of hundreds of people when I performed in a school play. I was the lead in a musical.

Since then my singing has gone downhill.

Oh sure, I like to sing in the car to the radio or iPod, and I like to sing in the safety of my own home … my potted plants don’t seem to mind.

But singing in front of a crowd? No way.

This isn’t an issue for anyone who doesn’t care about singing in front of other people. And until recently, I didn’t care about that either… until I started to attend a jazz jam in my neighborhood.

Singers get up and belt out jazz tunes there. Some sing beautifully, others sing off key, and they all have the guts to do it in public. I give them credit for that alone, even if they don’t hit their notes.

As a creative type… I like to write, sing, make art, cook, photograph, and express my creativity in as many avenues of my life as possible. And its not unusual to use a recipe, read a how-to book, or get assistance to figure out the best way to improve what you enjoy doing.

And so it is that I decided to get some help with my new goal. I’ve reached out to a professional jazz singer to take singing lessons. I got her info from a musician friend, not surprisingly, at the jazz jam.

My first singing lesson will be in a little over a week. I want to focus on jazz, but I want to sing some blues tunes too because I love the blues.

And it may be silly to say this, but I’m even nervous about singing in front of the singing coach!

I don’t understand my “stage fright” because I’m not shy in other areas of my life. I can speak in front of large crowds without pause. I introduce myself to strangers all the time.

But because I feel apprehensive, it’s a great challenge for me to embrace the idea of singing in public. I’m looking forward to practicing with a pro until we both feel I’m ready to make my amateur debut at the jazz jam.

To be clear, I have no aspirations of getting paid to sing. Ever. That’s a ludicrous idea. But being able to sing in public, being able to sing with others…? That appeals to me.

And so another new adventure begins…!

Movie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a charming marvel. It’s a masterful combination of great acting, great dialogue with an absurd and humorous plot, and unbelievable attention to detail.

Production designer Adam Stockhausen is a miracle worker. Every moment in the film is so carefully designed, it’s beautiful to watch for that reason alone. Even with the sound off, I think the movie would be so visually arresting the viewing would create its own pleasure. (My favorite “sound” moment in the film is when there are two cable cars that stop on a wire, and the squeaking of the cars on the wire is in time to the soundtrack music in the background. It’s pure genius.)

Every moment we spend in the Grand Budapest, both in the “past” and in the “present” are delights, right down to the cracked plaster, orange curtains, pink-boxed pastries, and purple and red uniforms for the Grand Budapest staff.

In typical Wes Anderson style, there are tons of cameos from his regular buddies, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and a few small parts played by well known actors that are new to the Anderson pantheon: Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton as an ideosyncratic 80-something dowager, and F. Murray Abraham as the narrator who steals every scene he’s in with Jude Law.

Jeff Goldblum is also amusing as the lawyer overseeing the dowager’s last will. Other star turns are put in by Edward Norton as a police chief, Willem Dafoe as a psychopathic killer, and Adrian Brody as the evil son of the deceased dowager.

The star of the movie, though, is Ralph Fiennes as the divine Monsieur Gustave. He plays this role with just the right touch.

Without giving the film away (this will be a spoiler-free review) I can highly recommend this movie for the sheer pleasure of watching the amazing performances of such a huge and distinguished cast, as they romp all over these incredible gorgeous sets.

I saw the movie in New York City, and much to my dismay, the film is only playing in two theaters in the city right now. I don’t know why this movie is in such limited release. That baffles me.

But if you are a Wes Anderson fan (and who doesn’t love movies like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Fantastic Mr. Fox?) you should rush out to see this movie before it’s gone.