Monday, December 6, 2021

Quiet Now...

 I am so honored to have my lyrics married to Denny Zeitlin's incredible composition "Quiet Now"

Here is a lovely interview with Denny from JazzWax about the story behind the writing of this remarkable song and I am deeply touched by Denny's support of my work. 

I'm unbelievably fortunate to a part of his world of music!


The Story Behind 'Quiet Now'

000Denny Zeitlin --Bamboo background. Photo by Josephine Zeitlin
I have known and admired pianist-composer Denny Zeitlin for many years. My admiration dates back to the early 2000s, after I heard for the first time his four albums for Columbia recorded in the mid-1960s. I was blown away. Our friendship dates back to 2009, when I did a multipart JazzWax interview with him. We've been email penpals ever since.

Last week, Denny sent along an email urging me to give a listen to vocalist Suzi Stern sing his composition Quiet Nowon her now-out-of-print album recorded in 1995. Suzi had uploaded the song to YouTube. You know Denny's song because it was part of Bill Evans's recording and gig repertoire for much of his career. I gave a listen to Suzi's track and had an idea. Would Denny be willing to share with me the story behind the song's birth and evolution? Denny eagerly answered my questions.

Here is my interview with Denny on the writing and recording of Quiet Now:

JazzWax: You were in college when you wrote Quiet Now. Where were you studying and what was your major?

Denny Zeitlin: When I graduated high school in 1956, I left Highland Park, Ill., a relatively cloistered upper middle-class suburb of Chicago, and headed down to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. My primary goal was to get into medical school. While the University of Illinois's undergrad, pre-med curriculum was fixed, I also wanted to make the most of a liberal arts opportunity. Philosophy, with its history and adventures of ideas and grappling with major questions was an attractive focus.

JW: Was there a jazz scene on campus?

DZ: Yes, an informal one. In and around town, I had a chance to play with some great players, like Joe Farrell, Wes Montgomery, Punchy Atkinson, and Jack McDuff. Being near Chicago, I’d frequently go in on the weekends to be part of the jam-session scene. I got to play with artists such as Ira Sullivan, Johnny Griffin, Wilbur Ware, Wilbur Campbell and Bob Cranshaw. All this constituted my continuing education as a jazz musician. There were no formal courses in jazz offered back then in the music department. Instead, I studied composition with Thomas Fredrickson, a faculty member who was fluent in jazz and modern classical composition and orchestration. He also was a hell of a bass player.

JW: What about the social scene on campus?
DZ: The fraternity-sorority system there was very strong and considered a major social stepping-stone. On arriving at the University of Illinois in 1956, I was immersed in fraternity “rush.” My high school experience in jazz performance and writing of stunt shows made me a highly desirable “pledge.” Stunt shows were musical-theater pieces that ran about 20 or 30 minutes each.

JW: Which fraternity did you join?

DZ: I ended up at Zeta Beta Tau, which seemed the best all-around fit, and began the challenge of living with 60 or so guys in a big old house. Though I was not religious, my ethnic background was Jewish, and ZBT appealed to me since they were known to cross religion boundaries freely in events and dating. I also was drawn to the overall vibe of the members. [Photo above of the fraternity house where Quiet Now was composed]

JW: So your ability to play jazz piano at a professional level was an asset?
DZ: For sure. Very soon, there was pressure on me to write music for the yearly competitive stunt shows where a fraternity and sorority pairs up and collaborates on writing and performing a 20-to-30-minute piece of musical theater. There was a lot of support from the music school. They provided a high-quality band and help with orchestration when needed. Competition was keen, and many of the entries were original and professional.

JW: What was the theme of the stunt show the year you wrote “Quiet Now”?
DZ: The fragility of love—how fleeting love is, how delicate it is and how easily love came be broken. The final piece for this stunt show called for a ballad. So I wrote Quiet Now. The title, for me, focused on the awesome silence of aloneness.

Screen Shot 2021-12-05 at 6.03.56 PM
JW: Where on campus did you write Quiet Now?

DZ: I composed the music in the fraternity-house living room, at a medium-size grand piano. When I finished, someone in the fraternity wrote lyrics. All I can remember is the opening phrase: “Love has come and gone away.” Subsequently, the song, for me, had a requiem feel.

JW: Why did you choose the "awesome silence of aloneness” as a theme?
DZ: The overall theme of loss came from the libretto, which I did not write. I attempted with Quiet Now to evoke a nuance, to capture that "awesome silence of aloneness."

JW: What personal experience governed your writing?
DZ: It wasn’t romantic love, since I hadn’t experienced that yet. I was quite shy dating in high school and had never suffered a bad breakup. My resonance with that feeling came from my immersion in the ballads of the American songbook, which so often explore the heartbreak of lost love. Frank Sinatra's 1955 collaboration with Nelson Riddle on The Wee Small Hours had a profound effect on me.

JW: What was the writing process like on Quiet Now? 
DZ: Most of my writing for four different shows was done late at night, under time pressure, when the day-time racket from 60-plus fraternity brothers simmered down. Pieces emerged at different rates of time. Quiet Now was the last piece I wrote for that show sophomore year, and it crystallized quite quickly in just a few hours.

JW: Was it secretly written for a girl you liked on campus or wanted to impress?
JW: No.

JW: When you played it for your fraternity days before the show, what was their initial reaction?
DZ: They were really touched. I made no changes.

JW: What was the problem with the initial lyrics? 
DZ: I can't remember anything beyond the opening phrase. My sense is that the lyrics were appropriate for the production but not particularly inventive or special.

JW: Of the songs composed for that stunt show, Quiet Now stayed with you.
DZ: It did. The song became part of my jazz repertoire on gigs off-campus at the University of Illinois. I also played it often while attending medical school at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

JW: And when you moved to San Francisco?

DZ: I recorded it in March 1965 for Shining Hour: Denny Zeitlin Live at the Trident, my third album released by Columbia, with Charlie Haden on bass and Jerry Granelli on drums. I was in the city then for my medical internship and psychiatric residency.

JW: How different was the recording from your original version?
DZ: There was no difference. The version I recorded was the same as how it was performed at the frat house.

JW: When did Bill Evans hear the song?
DZ: Bill must have heard the piece on my album. He found so much in it that he kept the tune in his nightly repertoire for over a dozen years and recorded it about eight times.

JW: Did Bill ever tell you why he liked the song or did he say anything about it? 
DZ: He never mentioned particulars, but several times over the years he talked about how compelling he found the piece, and wondered about its creation. This exposure prompted a number of lyricists to send me lyrics for the song, but none of them worked.

JW: Something changed in the 1980s?
DZ: Back then, singer-lyricist Suzi Stern sent me a cassette after she completed an album on which she wrote lyrics to jazz compositions and recorded them, including Quiet Now. I'm not sure if the album was ever formally released, but I was very impressed, and accepted her lyric for copyright.

JW: What made her Quiet Now lyrics different? 
DZ: I was knocked out by both the lyrics and her voice. She is one of my favorite singers. She combines a deep, sophisticated musicality with a haunting, pure sound and a rich amalgam of strength and vulnerability. She’s a brilliant lyricist, navigating the complex terrain of jazz compositions. Suzi showed me that Quiet Now can be a beautiful love song celebrating the moment of connection, not just the fragility of love.

JW: How did she discover the song?

DZ: I believe her initial contact was listening to Bill Evans’s 1969 live recording released on a 1981 album entitled Quiet Now, which then took her back to my original recording in 1965. In 1995, Suzi's album Seven Stars was released by Mad Moon Records. It's out of print now and hard to find. On the album, she sang Quiet Now with me on piano, David Friesen on bass and Alan Jones on drums.

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JW: What did you think?

DZ: I thought the chemistry was very special. The album had limited distribution, but Suzi (above) recently uploaded Quiet Now on YouTube, and I’m very happy to hear it brought back to life.  

JW: Ever been back to the campus piano where you wrote Quiet Now?
DZ: I've never been back to Champaign-Urbana. I just checked Google Maps on the web. I see that our ZBT house is still active at the same address. I wonder if that old grand piano survived.

JazzWax notes: For more on Denny Zeitlin, go here. For more on Suzi Stern, go here.

Denny's latest album, Telepathy (Sunnyside), can be found here.

My four-part JazzWax interview with Denny starts here(links to subsequent installments can be found if you scroll up above each post's red date at the top).

JazzWax clips: Here's Suzi Stern singing Denny's Quiet Now, with Denny on piano, David Friesen on bass and Alan Jones on drums...

Here's Denny's recording of Quiet Now in 1965...

And here's Bill Evans in January 1979 at the Maintenance Shop in Ames, Iowa, playing one of his most exquisite renditions of Quiet Now, with Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums..

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Heading East!

 Dear Friends,

I have been MIA for way too long and wanted to update you on what's been going on in our musical and personal lives! 

The biggest news is that we'll be leaving L.A. and re-locating to the Boston area so that George can take a gig as associate professor of film scoring at Berklee Music School. I am so proud of him. He's an amazing composer and orchestrator and a passionate educator so this will be a brilliant fit.

 I have several online vocal students attending Berklee so hopefully I can meet with them in person now, and my busy online teaching schedule will continue as usual but from my new studio in Massachusetts. 

Our new home is in the heart of Tanglewood so we are thrilled to be surrounded by music, fine art and dance and I'm excited about immersing myself in a new music community there.

And on that note, no pun intended, our beautiful K.Kawai concert grand piano has shipped and is scheduled to arrive at our new house mid December (if a blizzard doesn't close the roads) so we plan to continue the Casa Karen concert series that we began in Austin 16 years ago.  We have several performing artists already in the queue!  We'll need to rename it me out with that one!

We've been psyching ourselves for a plunge into serious winter! Even though we're originally New Yorker's it's been many years for both of us and we realized we don't own any warm clothes!  

Since I don't do FB too often I would be so beholdin' to you if you'll consider subscribing to this blog:  (click link then "subscribe" in right hand column next to blog text)

Or better still subscribe to my you tube channel (suzi stern jazz) to keep track of the music and the new events that we're planning:

 Feel free to drop me a line and let me know if you plan to be up in the north east, and email me your concert series name ideas!

I wish you all a happy holiday season! 

I am visualizing a new year filled with music, art, forward momentum, positive change, more kindness, of course good health...and sincerely, all the best to each and every one of you. I am forever the optimist!

Love from the road,


Ahhh farewell to the beautiful Pacific sunsets for now!  But we can watch the sun rise over the Atlantic and welcome new adventures!


If you haven't seen this yet, here's a little music and dance for you:



Thursday, April 15, 2021

Loves Benediction

 Hello blog readers!

It's been a long time since I've posted something so I wanted to touch base quickly to share my latest track.  The initial recording was done in Austin Texas over a year ago with Peggy Stern on piano, Javier Chaparro violin, Paul Unger bass, me on vocals and engineered by George Oldziey. Then the world scored a pandemic so the rough tracks stayed in our computer until last month when George and I decided to add a few production details from our studio here in Pasadena.  

George recently purchased and amazing sound library and I fell in love with the children's choir so he added some soaring lines in places where I wanted lift. We recorded George playing accordion which of course was needed on a tango and we added percussion.

 I sent the mixed track to Sarita Apel and Andres Bravo in NYC who choreographed this dance to my track then George edited the final footage.  It was trial by fire because video editing is much different than audio editing which he's a master at.  I'd suggest a cut on a certain turn or lunge or request the entire thing might be cool if it were in black and white except for Sarita's fire engine red skirt, so he would open up tutorials on You Tube explaining how to do that given effect, and we'd creep along this way learning as we went.  It was Suzi and George's pandemic project # 32! 

I hope the link below works but if not you can find it on my channel at You Tube Suzi Stern jazz "Loves Benediction"

There are several almost completed tracks waiting for their finishing touches so I'll keep you posted. 

If you're reading this it's because you 're on my list and support the performing arts, and for this I thank you.

With deep gratitude and musically yours,










Sunday, February 14, 2021

Stop Action Obsession!

 This pandemic has been life changing and very hard in so many ways, but I feel truly fortunate that I can continue to teach online and that George's work is also manageable online. We are among the lucky ones. 

Our families are OK, we have a house to live in, we have food to eat, access to the internet which keeps our lines open to the world and our music. I know I have nothing to complain about, but the sameness from day to day and the isolation was getting me down which is why I think I got so excited about jumping into something very different...something that woke up a different part of my brain. 

Stop action animation!

 I'm on an obsessive jag and it's totally fun!  It takes freakin' forever to get 30 seconds of moving image but that's the Zen factor that I'm loving.  I space out, think of where the story is going and micro-cosmically move objects between clicks on my iphone!  

I have a nice "real" camera but it seemed like a grand challenge to take on...seeing if I can create a decent stop action animation using only my iphone. 

It's a learning curve for sure and I'm a beginner, but here are my first two short (like REALLY short) videos to share with by my wonderful collaborator, the amazing George Oldziey!

This video at the top of this blog is called "String Love" and we'll dedicate it to Valentines Day. It was my first attempt at stop action.

And below the link will take you to my second attempt. It's called "Active Yeast"  about my experience trying to bake bread:

I'm loving the process and I hope you'll enjoy the videos!

More to come as I figure it out!


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Ella Swings Gently With Nelson

Ella not only informed the direction my music would take from childhood onward, but she continues to evoke memories that run deep and spin around inside of my gut and make my heart happy. 

George and I decided to put on some old vinyl while we played a hot game of Scrabble last night and I chose "Ella swings gently with Nelson". 

The cover of this well loved Verve recording has peeling edges and a yellowing paper insert protecting the precious black disc. The feel of the glossy cardboard square was already intoxicating, with a beautiful close up of Ella in a pink sequined trimmed chiffon dress, eyes closed caught in a blissful moment of expression, singing into that classic sliver RCA vocal mic that I know George would kill for. 

I placed the disc onto the black felt turntable, closed the dust cover and pressed "play".

The soft crackle of the needle making contact on vinyl just before the anticipated notes came ringing through the speakers is a sound that almost makes me want to cry with joy. That pre music announcement...pre 'what ever album' we were about to listen to, soft crackling sound brought back years of changing moments that the soft hushing of the needle on vinyl would become the back drop to. 

Then her voice issues forth...Ella in her prime...the same "Sweet and Slow" that would be playing on my parents old Hi-Fi  during a special dinner party, or on Christmas Eve while silent snow fell heavy flakes flying around the Buffalo street light in the front yard, fancy hors d'oeuvres and wine glasses set out and ready...or when I was supposed to be asleep but I could hear the music from my bedroom while mom and dad danced in the living room, or on a Sunday afternoon while I'd help mom clean the house.  All of these sensations rushed in and filled me up before the first 16 measures played.

"Georgia" "I Can't Get Started" "Street of Dreams" "The Very Thought Of You" my eyes are closed and I'm swaying and George declares "Bingo"  on some insane word like "zouaves"!! 

Having stumped me while I was lost in an Ella ecstatic coma I object "What does zouaves even mean?"

I continue my Scrabble outrage "If you can't use zouaves in a sentence I don't think you should be able to use it on the board!!"

He says "I have no idea but I know it's in the Scrabble dictionary!"

Once again I lose miserably but I don't care at all because I was sent reeling back to my original love of singing and jazz and warm wonderful sensations for two whole sides of "Ella Swings Gently With Nelson".

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Jazz on the lawn!

Pasadena is expecting rain this Sunday, Nov. 8th....but weather permitting we plan to have a musical event from 2:00 to 4:00 on our front lawn! (socially distanced playing of course!) 

There will be folding chairs scattered about so you can relax, and enjoy the music! 

George Oldziey on keys, Blake White on acoustic bass, David Sierra on drums, Suzi Stern vocals with special guests! 

We will re-schedule the neighborhood musical offering until December if we have wet weather on Sunday! If the day remains dry come join us! 

Playing for a real live audience is something all performing artists miss terribly during this year of COVID. Playing together and responding in the moment along with the energy that an audience supplies is so much a part of any live performance and we love and appreciate you for that! 

685 S. Oak Knoll Ave. Pasadena CA

If there's a question about the weather cancelling the music feel free to drop me a text at (512) 924-5821 and hope to see you tomorrow!

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 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