Monday, October 15, 2018

100 years of music and art

It feels great to be back in L.A. planning some vocal workshops and working on my music again.
I was away for a week up in Buffalo N.Y. celebrating my mothers 100th birthday. 
It was somewhat surreal re-meeting relatives that I hadn't seen in 30 years...cousins, second cousins, second cousins once removed. How does all that work anyways? I never quite grasped it...anyways...there were a lot of fabulous people gathered in western N.Y. to celebrate this remarkable woman's life, and I loved getting to know my extended family again.  

There were so many beautiful tributes to Lorraine....dedications spontaneous from the heart, songs and poems written for the occasion, and performed for the grand dame.

This was my dedication to Lorraine aka Lolo. Thought I'd share it with you!

I recently had lunch with a retired trumpet player named Bill, my own ex-trumpet player and hubby George and a millionaire businessman named Lee who asked a plethora of questions to the three musicians sitting at the table about why we make music.   He couldn’t grasp why we continue to create if there’s no way in hell someone in their 60’s could suddenly make it big….or more importantly how we can make ends meet in the first place.

I gave him head-y reasonable answers about writing, licensing, residuals, royalties, performance opportunities, recording and teaching gigs…but what I wish I had told him is that there really isn’t a choice in this matter…it’s just what we do…who we are. I wasn’t brought up wondering “why” musicians or artists create. 

Thanks to my mother and father creative expression was a part of every single day, and warmly supported and encouraged.

As soon as I came back to my studio after that lunch I decided to look though old photographs and articles about my amazing mother to inspire a short dedication at her 100th birthday celebration.

The first thing I saw was a small square of yellowed fragile newsprint…the heading reads:
Lorraine Grant, 520 E. 84th St. was featured vocalist Friday night at the St. George Hotel, in Brooklyn. Her father, Thomas, has been a vaudeville and nightclub entertainer for 25 years.

I put down the piece of paper and thought; this is the cloth I was cut from.

Thank you very much Mom.

I wished I had described the legacy of the amazingly talented people that informed the direction of my life to Lee when he asked “why” and how fortunate I feel to have been raised around that constant creative energy. 

The line to artistic colorful characters goes far back. I remember mother telling me so many stories about her wild, and seemingly fearless father Thomas. When Harry was newly married to Lorraine, he hoped to make a good impression on his new father in law so he graciously offered to help Thomas install an antenna on the roof of the old house in Sutton.  My father was a brilliant musician, but keep in mind that he was no acrobat and had a fear of heights…he made it half way up the ladder holding a shaking antenna in one hand and froze…Thomas suggested he come down and let him do the task after all.  The story goes that Tom accidently slipped from the roof of the old 3 story house and saving himself, executed a double flip onto the first landing then just for show did a triple onto the ground, immediately scrambling back up the ladder as though nothing unusual just occurred.

I smile imagining Harry’s reaction to that.

(Uncle Tom and Grandpa Thomas in costume for the Vaudeville act "Bouncing Fools")

I loved moms stories about the tours she would accompany her parents on as a child, traveling on over night sleeper trains listening to the comforting rhythm of the tracks while reading her books bundled up in her berth.  Monroe and Grant on the Orpheum circuit with the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope, Gerry Colonna, Abbot and Costello, George Burns, Willie West and Mcginty, a young Frank Sinatra…these were just some of the influences in our family’s story and I thought every family had a similar cast of characters.  

Our house was the house everyone wanted to play at after school. Mother would come up with great ideas for plays and performances complete with costumes, sets and music.  I swear it was like a Judy Garland / Mickey Rooney movie at times:
“Hey Andy!  I have a swell idea! We can use the old costumes out in uncle Jim’s barn and put on that show!!”
We didn’t have an uncle Jim or a barn, but we had the back of moms closet and it was like a treasure trove to me.

Using many variations on mothers old performance gowns she’d help dress us for an impromptu neighborhood circus or carnival. For one of those grand events she helped Sharon and me make a space ship out of a refrigerator box. We cut out a door, painted a lovely control panel with blinking lights, and put a pilot’s seat inside. The neighborhood kids paid a penny to sit inside the rocket ship while we blared at top volume a recording of a launch we made on our reel-to-reel tape machine.  With 9-year-old astronaut in place, Sharon and I shook the box violently from side to side while Lorraine…who never smoked a cigarette in her life, took a drag on a fag and blew a puff of smoke into the box during “take off” for extra special effect. 
She was a nut. 
We had parades with mobo the tin horse, decorated wagons, floats, puppets and banners down Sterling Ave.  We have a photo somewhere of Mom featured as the bearded lady in one such parade that she helped Trudy produce.  Trudy was dressed as a beautiful crowned princess, ballerina, baton twirling queen of some sort, but definitely a lacy lovely sparkly satiny starlet.

Trudy is another story of the apple not falling far from the tree. 

Another time.

Back to my beautiful mother.  She would sing while doing the dishes and vacuuming the living room.

Wait!  Rewind. Actually I don’t honestly remember her breaking into song around the house. But she did scales while washing the dishes and vacuuming.
Warm up vocal exercises…but rarely songs unless relatives provoked her to sing at the holidays.  Aunt Calli always requested “September Song” and loved the way mom sang it.  She did sing it exquisitely. After mom finished the last note Cali would be in tears…then start to laugh heartily at herself because she was crying.

The famed quote that “Ginger did everything Fred did but backwards and in high heels” applies to Lorraine. 
She always managed to do all of the necessary day to day things like cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries and school supplies, homework, changing diapers, making birthday parties for 25 kids etc. looking like a million dollars and yes…in heels.

I believed my mom must be the most elegant and beautiful of all mothers.
I remember thinking  “my mom is so glamorous…she looks like Donna Reed…definitely not a June Cleaver…but Donna Reed…dresses, heels and hose…every day! 

1918: On my desktop I’m looking at a baby Lorraine propped up on a chair dressed in white ruffles and a 5 year old version of this beautiful child circa 1923. She’s wearing a sailor collar and looks directly into the camera with a sleepy half smile. She has dreamy eyes and an adorable over bite. She looks the same to me today.

I see how much Sharon resembled mom at this age.

Another favorite black and white shot of Lolo sitting on a bench in 1925.  The caption in Grace’s handwriting says “The first Day with Skates” Little brother Tommy is sitting next to 7 year old Lorraine, his feet dangling with heavy iron wheels attached to his leather shoes….mom looking confident with a huge white bow on the side of her head.

Early 40’s sultry black and white press shots of mom as Diana Durbin’s double.  In first grade my teacher at school 66 gave us an assignment to bring in pictures of our family members. I chose the one of mom looking like a sexy Hollywood starlet.  It was my favorite. I thought she looked beautiful. Head thrown back, bare shoulders and a ruffle of taffeta along the bodice.  I proudly presented the 8 X 10 glossy to my teacher Mrs. McMurrey…she handed it right back to me stating in an angry if not bewildered tone “This is NOT your mother!! Now bring in real family photos tomorrow!!”

And Harry’s favorite photo of mother. Probably around 1944.  Sitting on a couch, her beautiful legs crossed with strappy high heels, fingertip on the bridge of her nose looking coy.

1945 Mom and dad with baby Trudy in a pram…both looking happy and amazed. Two brand new parents.

1952 Trudy, Alan and baby Sharon around the dining room table that mom had set for one of many brilliant birthday parties that happened in that dining room.

1954 baby number four.  I hear stories that I was the “surprise” baby.
Mom sitting by the window on the edge of the steam heat radiator donning an apron…very pregnant with me, and still smiling.

Photos of trips to Florida…kodachrome fading on a beach scene of Harry and Lorraine with four children watching the boats head to Havana…New Hampshire every year…often twice a year…piling a family of 6 into the station wagon with pillows, pajamas (no seat belts!!) stuffed animals, books, flashlights and snacks. Mom was always the vacation planner. She was like Rick Steves and dad happily followed orders and did the driving while she navigated with maps and AAA tour books opened up on her lap in the passenger seat surprising every one with what she came up with. Trips complete with Lorraine’s historical well informed guided tours of Boston, Atlantic City, Maine, Montreal, Quebec City, Gaspe...these were my favorite trips.

Thank you for that mom.  You gave us all a passion for travel, seeing new places, discovering different cultures, and a love of learning. You and dad filled our lives with music and art and I am endlessly grateful for that.
The spirit of adventure that you got from Grace and Tom is what I hope I’ve passed along to my children and they in turn to their children.  Look at what you’ve started!

 It’s quite a legacy and I’m so proud to be in this family and part of that story.