Friday, April 21, 2017

Music, Money and Mara Lago.

I've been thinking about how fortunate I've been to have music be such an integral part of my life... forever...for as long as I can remember.  Music wasn't something outside of the realm of my day to day was a part of my day to day world.

This is me circa 1958.

Music was probably buzzing around somewhere in that little head. I distinctly remember the day that photo was taken. My Grandmother Grace was making spaghetti in a huge pot over a camp fire. Who does that!? She was amazing. Anyways, it was a glorious day on Lake Winnepesaukee in New Hampshire.  There was clean water, pine scented air, my big family and of course music.

When I think about Trump's plan to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities ENTIRELY ( this is the first time any president has ever proposed such a measure) I am beyond angry.  I think of the lucky little girl I was and how rich my life has been because of Art and Music. It makes me ill to think about today's young and budding artists having a much harder time than I did getting that part of their spirits fed.  It is unthinkable. It's unfair. Art and music should not be extraneous luxuries.  They are essential.

I never met my grandfathers. They were both gone before I was born but they were both artists. My paternal grandfather was a shoe maker but he played violin with a passion. He passed that love of the instrument on down to my father who made his life playing jazz violin.

My maternal grandfather was an actor, acrobat and comedian in Vaudeville.

This is my uncle Don with Grandpa Thomas dressed for the act "Bouncing Fools"
"Monroe and Grant" were on the bill with a young Frank Sinatra, The Marx Brothers, Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello...very cool stories live on about his life on the road!

Mom followed in her fathers foot steps and became a fine singer and doubled for Diana Durbin in Miss Durbin's films out in Hollywood.

That's mom on the far left...she was adorable!

For a while she toured all over the U.S. in acts with the Hollywood doubles and sang her heart out!  That's her on the far left of photo.

So I never thought that art and music were a peripheral aspect of was a necessary and constant part of life.  
Today I find so much joy in teaching music to young interested talent. I see how it excites and enriches each student I work with...young and old alike. I'm still wrapped in music every single day. 

This is mum today...listening to a recording of my husband George's music being played by the Bratislava Radio Orchestra in Slovakia.  As I said young and old alike are enriched by music. She turns 99 this year! Take a look at music joy on that face.  George's music is beautiful and lifts the heart and spirit!

And this is my mothers Great Grandson....he too loves the violin.  My father would be so happy...

See the similarity? 
This was my father in 1989. He had fabulous white hair that flew wildly when he played.

So...back to our current president? 
Here's my message to you D.J.T.
"Donald..cutting funding for the arts is unthinkable. I think we need to cut funding your trips to Mara Lago, no? 
One trip to Mara Lago costs taxpayers $3.6 million, and I see that you go there quite a bit sir." 

OK I will stop preaching. But on the subject of Art and Money, the music festival that I am the associate director of "Lulufest Austin" (which will take place on June 3rd)  needs more funding. No surprise there, right?  
I will be having a fund raising concert this Sunday April 23rd at Casa Karen 3:00 PM and I hope you can make it!  If you'd like to attend please email for details like directions and time and suggested donations. 
 I will be joyfully singing with the amazing Peggy Stern (no relation)  on my 9 foot concert grand, Sam Pankey on Bass, Michael Longoria on drums and Joey Colarusso on sax.  It will be a great afternoon of Salsa, jazz, tango and more!

more info on the June festival coming up at:  check out the line up which is stellar, and the workshops offered all day!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Pearl Inside Of The Shell

I have been remiss in sticking to my commitment to do a weekly blog, but I am back and moving forward with the plan!
The short spring that Texas experiences is here in full force. Beautiful cool evenings and just enough rain to make things lush in new green-ness. I know the heat of summer is minutes away, so I'm remembering to enjoy the days that I'm able to enjoy in Austin's spring.
The "living between L.A. and Austin" experiment is proving to be interesting but a bit difficult energetically.  I'm psychically always somewhere else...sort of out of my body and it takes some effort to be present in my body where ever I am literally. 
I think being able to transport ourselves over thousands of miles in a matter of hours in a speeding silver tube in the sky makes it confusing to truly be whole where ever we've traveled to until our bodies and minds catch up at the destination. 
Walking to L.A. from Austin might give me a more realistic perspective of time and distance...well that's not happening.

In my "present" moments in Austin I'm writing a new song and a rough of the poem is below. The Pearl Inside Of The Shell.

Hopefully a new CD will appear in 2017 with all the most recent material I'm working on. 

In the mean time I'm excited to be singing with a group of musicians that jazz pianist Peggy Stern put together for a concert we'll be doing at: 
Casa Karen in Austin on Sunday April 23rd from 3:00 to 4:30.  
If you'd like to attend, drop me an email and I'll pass along the details!

Also please check out the Lulufest Music Festival ( which I am the associate Director of ) that's coming up on June 3rd at Jones Auditorium in Austin!
Web site with details:

me trying to be present in my body!

The Pearl Inside Of The Shell

she drifted on water
Her feet wet, 
with mud of brown earth
That she will carry with her, 
to step upon a new shore
And walk into the unknown, 
not knowing what lies before.

She watched death,  
he feasted on sorrow.
Their eyes met, 
to challenge her fate.
“Don’t look away he dared her, 
come sleep with me with out fear…
I offer you sweet blindness, 
to all you loved and held dear.”

“You are not my lover…
I am not your whore, 
so lie beside another,
Let me wash ashore”
A lifted flag will fly…
Though not afraid to die…
Life is like surrender.

The ocean, 
holds secrets in fathoms
Beneath her, 
the salt of their tears
A wish for opal stillness
The fog that hides a farewell
A welcome quiet stillness
The pearl inside of the shell

Thursday, March 30, 2017

L.A. VS Austin?

It's been a beautiful day on the left coast reunited with my hubby for a week.  We walked to the Huntington gardens / art museums and had lunch in the Chinese garden there. The Huntington is only a 25 min. walk from our little apartment in Pasadena and it's a paradise in the middle of the city.

We are both constantly comparing the livability of Pasadena VS Austin...Weather? Recycling? Work for composers? Work for Jazz singers? (haha!  that's a good one! ) Polite people? Gun Laws? Traffic? Walking distance to cool things? The Arts? Politics? Great restaurants? Live music? The Symphony? Ballet? Jazz? Distance to hiking trails? Tough call!  But one definite is that there's more work here for a film score composer and orchestrator, so onward with our plan!

This experiment of living between the two cities for a year is proving to be an interesting challenge. It has it's pros and cons for sure.  On the up side of things our time apart makes us value our time together all that much more...and we are both working on what we need to work on with a heightened sense of focus because we really want to make an informed decision by the end of the year.

So George is madly writing cues for TV and film and submitting to different projects and I'm spending more time writing new music and preparing for my next recording project and I'm also the assistant director of what I hope will be an amazing annual Austin music festival, called Lulufest.

On April 23rd  Jazz pianist and Lulufest director Peggy Stern and I will be hosting a fundraiser / concert for Lulufest and hope that we'll get a good crowd.

Spread the word!  

The concert will be at Casa Karen

Sunday April 23rd  from 3:00 PM to 4:30

Donations taken at the door!

Dancing, music, listening, food, drink and fun!

reservations required:
Email: for details and to reserve a place!

Suzi Stern  /vocals
Peggy Stern / Piano
Sam Pankey / Bass
Joey Colarusso / woodwinds
Michael Longoria / drums

To pre order tickets for Lulufest coming up on June 3rd go to
You can read about the day of workshops and concerts that we have planned and purchase tickets on the site!  Two of our special guests will be Trumpet master Ingrid Jenssen leading her own group and the remarkable jazz pianist Helen Sung fronting her ensemble (both from NYC) and several other amazingly talented "women led" bands that will highlight the day!

And for now:
Here are some images from my fabulous day off today!

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.