Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A not really SXSW story

Having George in another city part-time has me venturing out solo more than I have since we've been married.  The result is I’ve been made more profoundly aware of strangers around me and the conversations they’re having...wondering what they’re about and who they are as they pass me in the streets or sit near me on the train. 

Speaking of the the train, I took it from North Austin downtown for SXSW last week. It was packed solid…all the seats taken and commuters standing shoulder to shoulder. I didn't mind at all…  having lived in NYC this seemed typical and it gave me a chance to hide behind some big guy's denim jacket and backpack so I could secretly observe people and wonder what their stories might be. 
While blatantly staring at a pretty blue haired young woman trying not to look like I was staring at her, a man in front of me sneezed.   I immediately held my breath.  I understand that at some point you have to breathe again...the same sneezy air that's inside this little steel bullet that everyone else is breathing in. How long does it take for a sneeze to dissipate I wondered, still holding my breath. Maybe if I just take really tiny shallow breaths like a goldfish gulping I won't inhale particles of said sneezer’s saliva which continued to dance around in my air space.  
Now that I had worked myself up into a completely neurotic state, I started noticing a lot of little children coughing and sneezing. I picked up the scarf that I was wearing around my neck and put it over my nose and mouth, knowing full well that I looked like an obsessive compulsive weird person. 
The train stopped and the doors opened to pick up more riders. “Ahh new air”  We all adjusted our cramped bodies to magically create enough space for 5 more commuters. My mind went back to it’s happy "people watching making up stories" mode.  
I started to imagine how it will feel on the eventual day that some young person looks at me and considers me old enough to offer their seat to on a train. 
We stopped at Martin Luther King and several people got off creating some vacancies. 
A young guy with skinny jeans, leather jacket, SXSW badge dangling from a laniard, tattoos on his strong forearms, baseball cap on backwards looked at me and said "would you like that seat?"
Yikes!! No sooner did I think "I wonder what it would feel like?" And Bamm! I smiled and said "no thanks I'm fine standing!"
I suppose it would've been nice to sit down but my ego was temporarily bruised! Did  I look so old and fragile already? Then he looked at his friend who was standing with him and said “Hey man you want that seat?" 
The tattoo boy was just being a nice guy! I was just being that obsessive compulsive weird person who covers her mouth with her scarf when someone sneezes. 
Maybe I need to start observing my own story more often!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Laffite and the Troglodyte

Last week I dined with my husband George at a high-end restaurant in midtown Austin. The outing was inspired by a gift card given to me from a generous voice student of mine at Christmas time and we only now found the time to take advantage of the sweet offering.

I had dined there in the past, not surprisingly due to gifts from other extremely generous clients, so at least I knew how to dress. Now I am not proud of this fact but I knew that driving up to the valet parking in my 2002 hail damaged, bumper stickered, Texas sun toasted faded finish red Honda Accord would send up red flags and make me
self conscious, so we parked several blocks away and walked to the front door of the restaurant. As we approached I did indeed notice a shinny new Porsche, a gleaming Alfa Romeo and a Lamborghini.   (I know it seems out of character for me, but I actually do notice cars when they are well-crafted beautiful machines).

 I was glad that we walked.
A woman greeted us with a stony expression
 Yes? May I help you? 
I have a reservation for Stern
Yesfollow me…”
Without meeting eyes, she placed a leather bound book on the table that was designated to be ours. 
Enjoy your meal…”

Oh good…the wine list…
My eyes scan the 21-page leather bound book.
I’m wondering if buying wine by the glass is gauche. What ever…I don’t want to have more than one glass of wine so I keep perusing the manuscript.

A young man comes over with his hands neatly held behind his back in a formal Downton Abby server sort of fashion.
“Are we having anything special to drink this evening?”
He said “Are WE” so I wondered for a second if he was planning to join us?
“Yes…do you have any wine by the glass?”
His eyes looking past me…over my head, chin held high he replies…
”Page 11”

I flip to page 11. Oh good…they do have some choices…all French? OK I like French wine…scanning the page my eyes go past the “by the glass” section and onto page 12…$3500.00…what wine is that?  A Laffite…Ok I know that’s an expensive wine but $3500 really? $3500? Good grief. I couldn’t help myself and at the risk of sounding like a complete troglodyte, out of my mouth poured “Do people ever really purchase a bottle of wine for $3500?”
Still looking over my head, hands still behind his back a la Downton Abbey, with out a smile, his left eyebrow slightly raising he said in a matter of fact way  “Oh yes, certainly…”

Gee I was thinking I might have broken this pretentious barrier he had crafted and perhaps he’d bond with us…you know, he’s a young working boy…and here was an opportunity to say something like “Yah…crazy, right? I sold a bottle to someone once” etc. bla  bla…but he answered me like it made perfect sense to spend almost $4000.00 on a bottle of wine that you will piss out in an hour!  I felt like telling the haughty little whippersnapper that one can buy an excellent bottle of wine for $200…like an astounding bottle of wine, and with the rest of that dough feed 100 refugee families…or mail a check to a charity of your choice, but don’t make me feel like you are above me for thinking that’s a stupid way to spend an awful lot of money. Go ahead and spend a month’s salary on a bottle of good wine if you want to, but at some point you get diminishing returns. I wonder if I poured a $25 bottle of Columbia Crest into a bottle that said 1986 Laffite on it would YOU young Downton Abby server child know the difference…or your diners for that matter?

But that fierce and righteous speech crossed through my brain in perhaps one millisecond as I starred at the waiter still standing steadfast arms neat behind his back eyes straight ahead.
”Oh wow…” is all that I said. “I’ll have a glass of Champagne…I always love that…thanks!”

I often write awesome responses to a personal experience well after the fact…lying in bed…thinking about a better ending to a particular scenario.
  I wish I had looked at the young man and said

“Ahh Yes..The Laffite…Dark, with brick edges.  Blackberry, fig, currant, and cedar present on the nose.  Palate is filled with currant and hints of fig, cedar, whiffs of pipe tobacco and faint earth notes.  Tannins are melding into the wine, and acid is present but not particularly lively.  A touch heavy.  It is indeed a wonderful wine, but a bit lost in the crowd.  Not as complex as the 1996 Margaux, and not as balanced as the 1990 Beasejour.  Very good, but far from perfect. In fact not worth the Hype in my opinion…I’ll have a glass of your Champagne. Thank you very much!”

I guess I am just a Troglodyte!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sounds from the Dead

Cleaning out a closet and finding old recordings of my dear friend piano genius Doug Hall, my remarkable violinist father, my sister Sharon and dear friend vocalist/ composer Tina Marsh...all making music up in the clouds now.

Sounds from the Dead

I can listen,
But not all the time…
Only when I’m centered,
His touch on piano
Coming back in time
Press rewind,
I love that phrase…
And he plays…
Flooding interior of my car,
sound track
of the world passing.

But I hesitate to hear
The strings of my father…
Violin song
Too close to his voice
Heartbreakingly sweet frequency
long ago,
My young world then…
Washes over
an uncertain aging heart.

She speaks
On fragile Maxell.
Worry I might loose captured
ghost of speech…
in antique Sony sound machine.
Her laugh rising
from plastic speaker holes,
her timid song
in tune
self conscious
I had forgotten how beautiful,
As tone flies through my ears
To my tightening throat
I empathically sing along
With her…
Finding this process
I press
Room quiet
Ears buzz
Her voice remains.

And you
Who made your
Voice song captured
to be replayed on time
The focus of a life.
You sing
and grab me
from unexpected places
ever present.
belted lines
of dissonant collisions
and sorrowful calling.
Again I press stop,
And remove the vault
Where sounds flood back
Returning memories
To a jewel case grave.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Chicken or the Egg?

Back at the piano.

It's a Monday night. I should go out and support live music in Austin. Some good friends have a steady gig downtown every Monday night, but I'm sticking to my promise to stay home and get the music out of my psyche and onto paper.

Things are flowing with more ease tonight thank goodness. I attribute it to the fact that I dined with my 6 year old grand nephew this evening.  Hanging out with 6 year olds is good for the spirit. We had pizza and then we built a fire in our back yard chiminea.  Shoal Creek runs behind my yard and it's often a dry creek bed, but tonight it was a raging river from yesterday's heavy rain fall.

So we sat talking with a rushing river, a pink sunset, and a blazing fire on a cool Texas evening.

It was quite perfect.

I'm not sure if being calm and happy brings out the music or if bringing out the music makes one calm and happy. It's a "what came first, the chicken or the egg" thing right?

Well, I'm calm and happy now for sure.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A 6th Century feminist, writers block and Guacamole.

I'm staring at a blank sheet of lined notebook paper to the left of a blank sheet of manuscript paper propped up on the piano's music rack.
In a mindless trance, still staring at the blank sheets of paper my fingers plunk out a pattern of notes on the piano.
Then the voice inside my head interrupts.
"maybe I'll make some tea...that wold be nice...or get some apple juice? No! Concentrate on what you're doing..."
Back to the pattern. I love bass vamps, so I put the pattern in the bass register to see how that sounds.
The voice is back.
"that's dumb...sounds like everything I write...maybe I'll make some guacamole out of that avocado. I better use it up today..it's getting too ripe. FOCUS!!"

I close my eyes...fingers still dancing around on the keys like they have tiny brains of their own that are completely detached from the mother ship up above.
I see todays news behind my closed eyes.
Donal Trumps face. Yikes!
I open my eyes with a start and look down at the keys, trying to center myself again...trying to get back into the zone.


Writers block.

I close my eyes again...start thinking about something I read last night.
Empress Theodora, who was married to The Emperor Justinian in 527 AD was this amazingly strong woman who voiced her opinions to her husband about human rights. She made rape a punishable crime and fought against kidnapping girls and women into prostitution. She elevated the legal status of women to unprecedented levels giving women the right to own property.
We're talking about 527 AD!!  Things went forward for human rights for a minute then they went way backwards before inching forward again...and now can they be taking several steps backwards again? Really?

I open my eyes.

I found myself in that same trance hovered over the piano.

"Wow...there's a song in there somewhere...Maybe I'll go water the garden...or make that guacamole."

On another "note" altogether, check out my new Web Site which in progress but mostly finished, and go to the "Shows" link.  I have some Austin dates coming up soon! www.suzistern.com

Monday, January 30, 2017

Music and the Minimalist Kitchen.

I had no idea that I would fall in love with the Los Angeles area.  I've been in LA for work several times in the past but I never spent time exploring the mountains and gardens around Pasadena and Altadena.  It's really wonderful here! The Huntington library, Art and Garden complex is a 30 minute walk from our apartment and it's spectacular.

Setting up an apartment in Pasadena has been like a flash back to college days. The living room is sound equipment, 2 keyboards and 2 chairs. The bedroom is a mattress (Albeit a new fabulous Beauty Rest) on the floor and a lamp.

The kitchen is a study in minimalism and we love it!  2 wine glasses, 2 forks, 2 spoons, 2 plates! Actually we have enough stuff to cook with and we could feasibly and comfortably have exactly 2 guests over at a time and we hope to soon.

Music work is beginning. I taught one student yesterday and I've been compiling ideas for some new material while I sit with my music on my lap cross legged on the bed as George composes in the other room.

Next week I'll be back in Austin full force teaching and doing gigs. I feel pretty damned fortunate to be able to do what I love between two very cool places.

Friday, January 27, 2017

On the road again!

Traveling to new places always expands my vision.  I am reminded that there are so many different ways to live. There are so many different types of people who are moved by the vastly different environmental surroundings that shape their unique culture.
This trek that George and I are currently on isn't really very far. We're just driving from Austin Texas to Pasadena California, yet the changes in color, and light and texture and the dynamics of the people who live along this 1300 mile line are remarkable. The food, the art, the politics, the general aesthetic noticeably shifts along the highway.

Here are some shots that I've taken while on the road this week in West Texas, Santa Fe New Mexico, and Sedona Arizona.  I'm still traveling...off to Oregon after Pasadena California, but I'll be back in Austin to play some jazz gigs on February 24th at the Elephant Room with GATO 6, and then a warm musical offering with two great friends Alex Coke and Peggy Stern at a house concert hosted by the phenomenal piano restoration wizard Bernard Mulberg at his beautiful home on Feb. 26th. (email me for more info. on that event! suzistern@gmail.com)  And on March 5th the Suzi Stern Quintet will be the featured band at the Austin Jazz Society concert series at Chez Z. http://www.austinjazzsociety.org/Monthly-Event-Schedule.html

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West Texas Beauty

Headed to Lubbock

Cotton. Clouds of white soft loveliness growing out of a stark dry soil popping out of unforgiving sharp pods. Imagine picking this for 12 hours a day.

George and the west Texas big sky.

Snow and berry vines in Santa Fe.

Crab Apples and snow...Santa Fe

Santa Fe adobe

At our dear friend John's home in Sante Fe..talking over vino in his great kitchen...look at that kitchen!!

More snow in early morning Sedona Arizona!

Snow on grasses, Sedona Az

Bell Rock in a cloud Sedona

George growing out of nature!

Beyond the wire...

Wire and snow scape

Bell Rock

Our planet is so stunning!!

Earth and sky...intense!

By mid day the snow had melted and the red's of the earth intensified.

Happy Hiker!