Showing posts from 2017

The Importance of Cultivating Taste

In completing my responsibilities as a voting NARAS member (the Recording Academy), I was recently dismayed to discover a downturn in the moral content (and in some respects, musical quality) among the top five contenders for this year's Record of the Year category. Without mentioning any names, all five songs being considered for the prized Grammy award contain lyrics that are highly objectionable, to say the least, and not only to those with traditional, conservative values. Any parent or teacher conscientious about protecting their children/students from filling their ears and minds with downright destructive, obscene, inappropriate-for-any-age messages should be concerned about this trend. So I endeavor now to urge not only those that have the honor (I'm beginning to wonder about that, too... it's a responsibility, to be sure) of deliberating over Grammy awards, but everyone in the listening public, to ramp up their standards of quality, and not to simply tolerate list…

Working Through Illness

From time to time, everyone must pass through seasons of forced rest and recovery. Often through no fault of our own, we find ourselves exposed to germs at a time when the immune system we rely on is depressed for one reason or another. One mentor of mine phrased it thus: "Sometimes there's just a bug with your name on it." It's important for singers to remember that these times require careful attention to one's instrument. Vocal rest, when there is pain in the throat or larynx, is an absolute necessity. However, much work can still be accomplished during this time-out from singing.

Score study, which too many singers ignore, to their detriment, can still be undertaken while in the sick bed. In fact, this mental practice is every bit as necessary as the physical kind whenever one is preparing music for performance. Too often we picture "practicing" as something we do in the same manner every day, when it needs to be an organic process that ebbs and …

The U.S. Army Voices

I had the distinct honor and pleasure of spending a week this month with some of the finest musicians and classiest people I have ever met--the distinguished members of the U.S. Army Voices. This ensemble is a highly select vocal ensemble within the elite Army Band known as Pershing's Own. They are the bearers of the singing burden for official government ceremonies in Washington, D.C. including appearances at the Pentagon, White House, Capitol Building, monuments, and Arlington National Cemetery. They also get flown to many different places to sing the national anthem (like the Super Bowl and professional ball games) as well as on international performance tours. The auditions to become accepted into this amazing group are rigorous and competitive, yielding a crop of professional voices that can and do sing everything extraordinarily well. The impressive multitude of styles these individuals sing (not just well, but at amazingly professional levels) includes classical music, sym…

Writer's Block

Hmmm... what to write... what to write? From time to time, those who call themselves writers, composers, songwriters or poets experience that null... that vacuous state of blank-mindedness during which we struggle to finish something, or just to write anything at all. It can be attributed to stress, fear of committing words (or music) to paper, burnout, or to any number of causes. Since this is a universal problem, and since I value too highly the inspiration others confer upon me, I am happy to offer a few suggestions for handling such times.

At the risk of portraying meditation as a panacea for just about every ailment known to man (it's not!) I do highly recommend this method for bringing one's mind back into focus. I know that I sing with greater concentration and refinement immediately after I meditate. I write with less distraction after I meditate. I even cook better, clean the house with greater efficiency-- I may even drive more patiently. Ok, it is a panacea. Just d…


This hue begets a host of symbolic impressions, depending on the context… Green can represent money, envy, growth, freshness, or youth. It also stands for nature/the environment, and brings to mind chlorophyll-producing plants and algae. In a performance context, the term “green” may describe a person lacking in experience or polish. Kermit the Frog famously remarked “It ain’t easy being green…” which may well be the less-than-ready, immature performer’s mournful reality.

How to avoid being viewed as “green” (in the inexperienced sense) by one’s peers? Pursue study and practice, of course, and always show up fully prepared for each performance. I find that even experienced performers sometimes find themselves feeling a sense of under-readiness when returning to literature they have not performed in several years, or returning to a performance schedule after a long hiatus. In those times, it is imperative to do the necessary preparation “in spades” months before the concert date.


A Tisket-A-Tasket

Last week I had the time of my life singing a centennial tribute performance honoring the great Ella Fitzgerald. What a special moment in the career of this singer to formally and publicly pay tribute to the one performing artist who had provided the greatest inspiration... who served as the primary model after which my own voice developed. To say that I grew up listening and singing Ella's songs would be a gross understatement. Most jazz vocalists have several influences. I had Ella. While yes, I was also enjoying the beautiful radio voices of Olivia and later, Whitney, my truly formative years were spent learning every nuance, pitch, smear and syllable sung by the First Lady of Song herself.

In preparing my show last week, I dusted off several transcriptions of Ella's arrangements that I had written very early in my career. Those were, after all, the first songs I wished to learn how to transcribe when I was a jazz arranging student. I have been singing them in public for s…

Singing Through Discouragement

This blog post represents a new leaf I am turning over as a blogger. From now on, rather than use the blog to talk primarily about forthcoming concert events, I have decided to devote my blogging energies to discussing topics that are relevant to performing artists, recording artists, and other creative artists in modern times. Or I may wax on a historical or theoretical topic related to music... or the teaching of music... So if the reader has any specific requests for topics you would like me to take on, please feel free to send an email and make a suggestion! This blog is for you...

So many days of our lives, depending on who we are, and on our psychological makeup, are dotted with moments of discouragement. How do we move through them as artists, and how do we give our audiences the quality shows they expect, even during these trying times? I am helped when I concentrate my mental focus on "the zone..." that beautiful milieu of freedom, creativity, awareness of the musi…

Musical Ensembles

Performing with a wide variety of ensembles is one of the distinctly enjoyable aspects of this performer's career. One week I may be fronting a jazz orchestra, while the next I may be playing the piano myself in my own cabaret show in an intimate room. My need for variety and fresh challenges has historically been responsible for my booking certain themed shows before they exist, and then writing the musical arrangements for them out of the necessity of delivering a performance date. Any musician's thirst for new experiences would show this to be the way many of us operate. Along with the theme of the show, I often invite a concert presenter to choose the size of the ensemble they wish to book, which proffers me a great deal of booking flexibility, while giving the presenter some options.

Next month I have the distinct privilege of serving the U.S. Army Band, "Pershing's Own," as their Artist-In-Residence for a few days. During our time together, I will teach a…