Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Steel dust on lilac leaves

 When I was a child I would pick leaves from the lilac bush in the back yard and examine the shimmery silver dust that frosted each one. 

Bethlehem Steel was still going strong in 1960. The wind would carry billows of gray smoke from those looming industrial smokestacks up into the Lackawanna air, sending fine particulates of steel along a breeze to my Buffalo back yard, blocking out blue and challenging the summer clouds to a duel.


No one ever talked about how bad the air was in Buffalo. I thought silver dusted leaves were the norm. I was just a child. I guess the adults tolerated it because the steel plant which had been vital during both world wars had kept Western N.Y. employed for 80 years. 


I did hear grownup murmurs about how Lake Erie was dying though. 


“We could go fishing today, but don’t eat any thing you catch…throw it back. It’s poison!”


“Don’t go swimming in the lake!” 


“if you get any lake water in your mouth…spit it out!”


Those comments left an impression.


Bethlehem Steel ran a 2 mile stretch along the Lake Erie shoreline, continually dumping into the once pristine waters, toxins that went unchecked by the government until people couldn’t help but notice and start talking about it. The green crust along the lake’s surface had a stink that said toxic and it was impossible not to be concerned. 


The lake was indeed dying and people were dying from breathing the air.


In 1982 the plant closed its doors. Steel plant families panicked, foreclosed, moved away if they were able. For many in the area Bethlehem Steel had been their bread and butter for generations. 

Buffalo and the surrounding areas went into a financial depression that took years to turn around.  

The earth coming back to life actually had a faster turn around than the financial strain on Western N.Y. which is a hopeful thing. With a relatively small amount of effort lakes can come back to life and the air can become cleaner once again. These manmade problems can be resolved with manmade resourcefulness and diligence. We just have to listen to the science and be vigilant. 


The earth cannot be constantly abused without dire consequences.


On the subject of constant abuse having dire consequences, now we have fires. 

Lots of fires. 

Global warming and drought have assisted in forests blowing up like perfect tinder boxes causing the unstoppable spread of thousands of acres of forest land, taking homes and lives with it. 

The western seaboard of the United States is literally burning down. Well over 1 million acres of land in Oregon alone has now burned to ash...and all of this in only one month. 


I live in Los Angeles county now. The sun is a distant fuzzy glowing ball in the sky obscured by a peach colored almost opaque canopy above us where blue is just a memory.

We haven’t seen the sharp angle of a sun shadow across the front porch or even the vague outline of the mountains on the horizon in 10 days and it is ill advised to go outside. 


In the morning when I first wake and open my eyes, I wonder what time is it? I get no clue from the morning light, which is flat, unfamiliar and ominous through the bedroom curtains. 


As bad as the air is in Southern California, it’s worse in Oregon right now. My son and his family live in Portland which was said to have the most hazardous air on the entire planet this week.


Yet we have a man in the White House who dismisses scientific research completely. 


How did this man get to be president? That’s another essay...or a book. I am flummoxed....no I'm not flummoxed. I know how he got there. That's another discussion entirely.


Where was I? 


Trump has successfully lifted or reversed over 100 environmental protections laws that were in place when he took office. This is a frightening fact.


Last week he met with California Governor Gavin Newsom about the apocalyptic fires running up and down the west coast of the United States.  

Trump still denies that climate change is a problem and denies that there is any connection with global warming and this national disaster. He believes that the forests need to be cleaned up (which is true) and that growing heat on the planet and dryness are inconsequential to this issue. 

And he adds smiling smugly at Governor Newsom as though God has let him in on a little secret that only he is privy to,  “It’ll start getting cooler…you just watch.” 




Bethlehem Steel 1965

This weeks fire in Napa Valley




Monday, August 24, 2020

SLRadio Austin Interview on You Tube

 I hope you can take a moment to grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea and watch the replay of Scott Lanningham's interview with us from last month!  It was a blast!  We had so much fun, and I was reminded of how grateful I am to Austin and the opportunities it sent my way for so many years. I played with extraordinary musicians made many wonderful recordings, and Scott and I waxed poetic about the "Old Austin"!  

George played some of his remarkable symphonic scores and discussed his collaborations in film and his transition to L.A.

Here's the replay on You Tube: Enjoy!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTqh12Ws8F4



Sunday, August 2, 2020

SLRadio Live interview Monday August 3rd!

Hey everyone! 

 Tomorrow night, Monday Aug. 3rd, George and I will be interviewed by the talented Scott Lanningham on his wonderful SLRadio show via Facebook Live. 

We'll be chatting and we'll be playing tracks from many of my past recordings featuring so many amazing artists that I've been blessed to work with over the years.  Paul Ostermayer, Doug Hall, Denny Zeitlin, David Friesen, Alan Jones, Bill Ginn, Chris Maresh, Randy Porter, A.D. Manion, Dennis Dotson, Mitch Watkins, Bob Mayer, John Mills...too many to list here actually. 

George will be talking about and sharing some of his compositions for film as well as his arrangements for last years amazing Grammy Award winning Mon Laferte Album.

 Please tune in and join in the conversation! 

 live on Scott Lanningham Facebook SLRadio  5:30 PDT /  7:30 CDT / 8:30 EDT

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Silver Pin

The Covid 19 crisis has kept people home and forced our hands at becoming creative in different ways.
Online ensemble shares where one musicians plays a part and sends it along to the next player etc. to be finally edited to look cohesive as if we had been playing together.
There are front porch 6 feet apart neighborhood concerts, hundreds of hours of Zoom teaching sessions, and Zoom family reunions, and Zoom cocktail parties.
I'm so grateful for access to other human beings through my devices but I must confess I'm screen timed out.

Since my mother's passing away in April I have lit many candles for her trying to find some closure around her passing away while I was on the other side of the continent.

I created my closure project from a collection of matches struck over the past months.




I've also started bartering with a wonderful writing teacher named Charity Hume. She takes online voice classes with me and I take creative writing classes with her.

It's one of the silver linings in this new strange reality I'm living as of late.

Here is a story I wrote in my last class with Charity.

The assignment was to write about a lost object. My silver pin came to mind.

Thanks for visiting my Blog and stay healthy and safe!

Creatively Yours,
Suzi

SILVER PIN

When we got back from the cemetery there were 7 men sitting in mom's living room dovenning. 7 men no one knew. 


Dad's younger brother, uncle Sam was a rabbi. His family were the only serious Jews in the family. He arranged to have these guys come over and sit shiva which is customary. We all believed that dad would have wanted to make his brother happy even though he was hardly a practicing Jew, so we went along with it.


Uncle Sammy was a sweet man. He was a brilliant savant-ish math scholar as well as a rabbi. My parents would often have him stop by the house to tutor me in middle school math, which was not a good idea because middle school math was much too basic for his brilliant brain and he would unconsciously launch into algebraic equations to find the solution to a simple division problem. I’d watch his pencil wildly scribbling numbers and figures onto a piece of paper and then pronounce,


 “there you go...the answer is 224.”


He  lived in a completely different world from the one we lived in. For several years he and aunt Miriam lived in the brick house across the street from us. We would hide the Christmas tree in the back bedroom every December so Sam and his family couldn’t see it through our front window...we didn’t want to offend him...or maybe it was so we wouldn’t embarrass my father, I’m not sure. 


Mom converted when she married my father but a few traditions remained from her former life as a pseudo Christian of some sort. We always had big Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners, a tree, Easter baskets that were filled with chocolates, decorated eggs and small pastel colored plastic toys that she would hide and we would find...it was magical, and even more magical were those holidays spent in New Hampshire occasionally with Grandmother Grace because we could come unglued without concerns about relatives from my father’s side of the family voicing any opinions on the schizophrenic nature of our upbringing.


Sitting on chairs set up in circle, the bearded pious men rocked and swayed while reading from small manuscripts on their laps. Their lips were moving and the almost inaudible Hebrew words tumbled onto the floor as these seven professional mourners emulated grief and filled the room with an unfamiliar air of orthodoxy.


I could tell that mom felt like her house had been invaded.
I felt the same way, so when Alan asked if I wanted to take a ride to the K Mart I jumped at the chance to get out of there.


I grabbed my tweed jacket with the silver serpent pin on the lapel that dad had given me.


Seeing the pin brought me back to El Interior in Austin. I had been admiring the coiling silver snake with an elaborate design etched on his back in the jewelry case and when we left the shop and got into the car dad handed me a small box.


“Here you go Suri! I saw you looking at this!”


I can’t remember what Alan was shopping for at the K Mart but I think he needed to pick up a few things for the crowd forming back at the house.


The fluorescent lit, stale popcorn smelling, primary colored bright plastic packaged KMart seemed like a weird comical contrast to the anachronistic circle of men we just left. 


As soon as we got back home I was unloading bags and I noticed the pin was missing from my coat collar.  


“I need to borrow the car and head back to the store.  My silver pin fell off somewhere on that KMart expedition so I’d like to retrace my steps.” 


Searching the parking lot, I looked under muddy car wheels and empty shopping carts. My eyes scanned the cracked black asphalt with detritus from years of litter that had been fused into the surface. Old receipts, soda can zip tops, juice box straws, flatterend candy and gum wrappers. My eyes settled on a flash of silver on the ground and my heart did a flip...just the foil from a stick of Wrigley's. 


After 45 minutes of exploring every square inch of the parking lot I gave up and headed home. 


Kugel…Lois Malek always makes kugel at funerals.


I’m sure she has a stock pile of noodles and raisins in her cupboard just in case.


She was always domineering and impatient with me.


 Earlier that day she took me firmly by the shoulders and told me to stop crying.


“Be strong for your mother.”


How dare she tell me not to cry.


That morning at the cemetery I watched her mouth moving as she was giving me instructions on how to be a better daughter. 


I turned off the sound of her voice and I was standing in Lois Malek’s back hallway with my sister Sharon. 


I was 8 years old. Sharon was 11.


Sharon’s best friend was Mrs. Malek’s oldest child and they played together all the time. I would follow Sharon everywhere so we were standing in the hallway together, feet wet from melting snow. 
Lois scanned the two girls standing there and pointing to my sister declared,


 “You can come in….but you..”


pointing at me,


“You need to wait in the hall because you’re dirty...your feet are dripping white shoe polish all over my clean floor!”


I looked down at my feet. The go go boots mom bought for us at Hengerer's downtown last month were sure enough dripping white Buster Brown shoe polish all over Lois Malek’s clean floor. How was this strange occurrence possible?  Sharons white go go boots were wet but only trailed a bit of clean water from melting snow on the hall floor? 


I had a sad realization that Sharon's boots were much better than mine. 


Hers were flawless white patent leather with zippers up the inside and mine were a cheaper grade of white faux leather that pulled on gapping at my skinny calves and  required frequent Buster Brown white shoe polish rescue.  Like the whiteout used on a page of typing errors this shoe polish came in a small bottle with a sponge applicator and I used it frequently to cover up scuffs and scrapes that I acquired from a day of proper play. The label on the polish had a little boy with a red barrette on his head and a blue ribbon around his neck winking and smiling and his dog who looked rabid was beside him smiling as well. 


I stood there for what seemed like an hour waiting for Sharon to come back out. 


It was most likely only 5 minutes before I turned around and walked out of Mrs. Malek’s side door to head home in the snow leaving the remains of my white shoe polish on her once pristine linoleum hall floor.


She never did like me.


Her kugel is great though. 


Who are these 7 men in the living room? What’s their story?  This is something I’d like to get to the bottom of.


They had a long list of things one is not to do while in mourning. 


Music was one of those things. No music? No singing? No piano playing? 


Dad was a professional jazz musician...his friends were all guys from his bands...cool old Italian guys. In the middle of the living room were the 7 professional mourners praying and swaying and mumbling in Hebrew under their breath while dad's friends were sitting around the grand piano at the far side of the living room softly chatting, scotch in hands and cigarette smoke coiling around their heads. 


Then something strange happened which broke the hum of voices in the room. 


The piano seemed to jump off the ground, at least a quarter of an inch up into the air then slam down again with a loud thump that stopped everyone in the room into a moment of complete silence…the dovenning stopped and the Jewish guys looked up from their prayers wide eyed…the chatting around the piano stopped and Dick Reiderer looking scared took a swig of his scotch...everyone seemed completely dumbfounded.


 “What the hell was that?!!” 

Dick who played trumpet in dads orchestra said, 


“Must be Harry saying hello! That’s definitely something Harry would do!”


The musicians all laughed.


The Jews went back to praying.


Alan and I went into the basement to see if the foundation of the house underneath the place where the piano sat may have shifted?  


No answers. Just a curious wonderful sense that perhaps Harry really was saying hello.


Another thing on uncle Sam’s “in mourning you don’t do” list was leaving the house, but Mom who had always been a rebel had an escape plan. 


Making aunt Norma an accomplice she assigned her the task of lying to guests who continually streamed in and out of the house, telling them that the family was resting and would come say hello in an hour or two.


We all quietly followed mom out the back door...brother Alan, sisters Trudy and Sharon and their husbands snuck out into the yard carrying instruments, shot glasses and a bottle of Jack Daniels Black label, and piled into the car 


We headed back to Forest Lawn to visit dad on our terms this time. 


Paul played sax, mom sang  "I’m just wild about Harry” Alan read a poem that he wrote then pressed the folded up paper deep into the freshly dug soil of a new grave. We stood in a circle, singing and laughing and toasted to the man who loved to party and make music and poured Jack Daniels on his grave because dad loved Jack Daniels. 


Back home more people had arrived along with more Kugel and several lasagnas.   A veritable smorgasbord of carbohydrates. 


No one had missed us on our secret trip to Forest Lawn.


No more visitations that moved pianos or other heavy objects. 


On automatic my hand went up to my collar and I felt the empty space where the pin should be.



Friday, April 17, 2020

The Voyage

several times a day
i pause and wonder where you might be now
what is it like in this new existence

i'm sure that I feel your lightness of being now
a diamond clear and sparkling transparency
that rains over me
in a gentle wash of you


it's just a feeling
but a comforting one
to feel you are at peace
one with all there is
beside inside and around each one of us

everyone that you ever loved
during your time here
before taking off on your amazing journey
of forever-ness

bon voyage sweet lady.
thank you for the good life you gave to me
see you on the other side.






Sunday, April 5, 2020

Lorraine Stern 1918 to 2020

The story my mother always told us about the glorious day of her birth, as told to her by her mother Grace, was that on November 7th 1918, celebrations occurred across the world after the announcement that the armistice was soon to be signed and the "war to end all wars" had finally come to an end, but she only heard the "celebrations occurred all over the world" part, believing for the longest time that the global rejoicing was entirely about her coming into the world. It gave that little girl a sense of self importance but it also gave her a stunning sense of invincibility, self confidence and optimism that would serve her through out her life. 

She was born in a vet hospital because it was the midst of the 1918 pandemic and all of the other hospitals were over run with dying influenza patients. 
A ward of recovering French soldiers in the vet hospital were overcome with joy at the announcement of the war's end and the sight of a new born baby girl, and they asked Grace to name her Alsace after their home Alsace Lorraine. She nixed the Alsace and gave mom the name Lorraine. 

Almost 102 years later, on April 4th 2020 my mother, our amazing sweet Lorraine exited this world on another pandemic.  

She was not just my mom but my friend and confidant. We talked to each other everyday. I will miss those daily conversations profoundly. She was truly a remarkable human being dearly loved by everyone who knew her...funny, extremely smart, brave, kind, biting and opinionated at times, generous, talented, lover of art, travel, reading (she used to devour books) politics (she was a leftist I.F. Sone Weekly reading junkie) cooking and food....she could eat a man three times her tiny self under the table. 

When someone you love crosses the 95 year old mark we start preparing ourselves emotionally for that persons eventual passing on into the next realm. When that moment does indeed come, which it does for all of us as no one gets out alive, it is no easier for having prepared yourself. The loss is real and painful. This remarkable woman who touched so many lives over her very long rich life has passed on. I was going to write that she is gone now, but she really isn't because she is a part of everyone who ever loved her and still loves her. That is her immortality. 101? That's just the physical Lolo. She really is inside of us forever.


Lorraine Lowe 1923


1939 on the road, Augusta Ga


Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Bliss


Press shot Lorraine Grant days


Press shot singing with dads orchestra 1943


Mom with her brother Tommy 1944


New parents. with baby Trudy 1945


Mom and Dad downtown Buffalo


101 years young...


Fist bump!


How we remember her...smiling in her kitchen.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Domino effect

It's already February!

2020 is unfolding with so many possibilities, and I feel like I'm often on the edge of my seat looking ahead to see how one event will ultimately affect another like a series of falling dominoes.

On a microcosmic level in my personal world of possibilities one hopeful event will determine the next...which is exciting (I'll tell you about it in my next blog! hint: think travel, recording, performing) and I'm trying to take a Zen approach to living with many unknown quotients at this writing...being in the moment and simply going with the flow. I'm actually loving the ever changing aspects of my life and my work. The uncertainty feels inspiring and it makes me appreciate where I'm at in any given moment more than I used to.

On a much bigger scale on the domino effect line, I'm waiting and watching to see how our world is profoundly affected by political decisions every single day.  I check the news on my iPhone first thing in the morning to see what's changed in the world while I slept...what fuming tweets Trump has unleashed on social media...what natural disasters have occurred due to climate change...maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised and today will be the day that everyone wakes up and decides to take action towards positive change, and be kind to one another...politicians and corporations will wake up deciding to be honest and suddenly want to consider humanity and the environment ahead of personal gain.

That would be amazing no?

One thing I am absolutely certain about is our fabulous women led bands music festival coming up on the horizon in Austin Texas!  Lulufest 2020 will be on May 16th & 17th this year and we couldn't be more excited about the line up.

May 16th at St Eds: 
The absolutely brilliant grammy nominated vocalist Kate McGarry, and one of my favorite artists in the world, pianist /vocalist Dena Derose, and from the Bay area saxophonist Kristin Strom all fronting their own projects and the evening will culminate with an all star line up on Peggy Stern's closing set with the "Estrella Salsa" band which I'm thrilled to be a member of.

May 17th:
Master classes in the afternoon with Kate McGarry, Dena Derose, Suzi Stern, Peggy Stern, Kristen Strom


May 17th in the evening: "Lulufest Afterglow" party with  LeeAnn Atherton, Emily Gimble, Suzi Stern, Danielle Reich, Peggy Stern, Sharon Burbonnais, Rachel Spencer, Austin Women's Jazz Choir and more!


More info. about the upcoming festival, tickets, locations, hours, and past Lulufest's at: https://lulu-fest.com/

Keep your eye on this site for info. on upcoming exciting developments and see you in Austin in May!

Musically Yours,

Suzi