Friday, June 10, 2016

Your Fears Are Not You

As I'm starting to prepare to release my new recording project ("I Get A Kick: Cole Porter Reimagined" from the Jazzed Media label in January 2018 -- lots more on that to come!), of course a few doubts and fears are getting kicked up in my personal reality. 

So it's great timing to share this new blog post from my psychic reader-healer-coach space: an inspiring story about a client of mine who faced down her fears about an exciting new job opportunity. 

I learn a lot from my clients. Read on...


Fear is a feeling. And like all feelings or emotions, it is physical. That is, fear mainly has to do with the body.fearful woman from
Despite its physicality, fear can keep you, the spirit, from moving forward.
I help many of my clairvoyant reading clients work through their fears. It makes sense that fear often comes up in a reading. Usually, someone contacts me because they want to make a change, embark on a new direction, or get guidance about an opportunity or decision. With the contemplation of risk, some fear may light up – followed by a request for help.
My neutral, clairvoyant response (with a dash of calm Jewish mother) is twofold: 1) assess the present situation and 2) check out the fear that it has triggered for the person. Then we can narrow the gap between the two – the upcoming opportunity vs. the fears – noticing whether the latter really have anything to do with the former, or instead are spectres from the past.
Now that insight is the gift you want to get to. The opening feeling of possibility now.
I’ve been working regularly with someone on a mission to improve her financial situation. I’ll call her Marjorie (and never fear, she approved this blog post). A job opportunity had come up within her current workplace, a government office, that piqued her interest, but she had some reluctance about pursuing it. It would be more interesting than her current position, with better pay and improved status. Still, she felt torn about applying. I took a look at it and saw that it was a great opportunity for her.
Click here to read more about Marjorie's story...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dynamic Jazz Performance Photography from Lenny Bernstein/Jazz Jones Photos

Wayne Shorter, photo copyright Lenny Bernstein,
Wayne Shorter 
(photo copyright Lenny Bernstein,
The recently launched website Jazz Jones Photos is the place to go for compelling live jazz performance photography.

The site showcases the work of photographer Lenny Bernstein. Check out dynamic shots of hundreds of musicians and vocalists, from Anthony Braxton, Michael Brecker, and Lester Bowie to Jeff "Tain" Watts, Joe Williams, and Randy Weston, and everyone you can think of in between. More photos are being added all the time. 

Bruce Forman, photo copyright Lenny Bernstein,
Bruce Forman
(photo copyright Lenny Bernstein,
All photos are copyright-protected, but Jazz Jones offers very reasonable licensing fees. Contact Lenny and his staff for permissions and the digital files and/or prints you need.

Cindy Blackman Santana, photo copyright Lenny Bernstein,
Cindy Blackman Santana
(photo copyright Lenny Bernstein,
In Lenny Bernstein's work, you won't find artful black-and-white compositions conjuring up nostalgia for a bygone jazz era. He does not romanticize jazz. Rather, he captures and amplifies the dynamic moment of music-making. His photos show the player deeply inside the music, and the music deeply inside the player. The two elements exist inseparably in his images.

In these photos, the music and the player are still moving in time. Here you don't see etched shadows of black and white: you enter vivid color. And you don't see an isolated portrait of a musician in the footlights: you experience the musician in the multi-hued act of creation and communication. That act of jazz music-making as revealed here is both personal and communal, involving both private reverie and collective inspiration.

Bobby Hutcherson, photo copyright Lenny Bernstein,
Bobby Hutcherson
(photo copyright Lenny Bernstein,

You might say that Lenny Bernstein's photography arises first of all from his experience of what jazz musicians invariably refer to simply as “the music.” He doesn't seek to freeze the music or the musician — he allows the music and its players to generate the image. Look: and listen again.

Lenny Bernstein is the co-author, with Reginald Carver, of Jazz Profiles: The Spirit of the Nineties from Billboard Books. His photographs are permanently exhibited at California State University, Monterey Bay. They have been shown at Yoshi's Jazz Club, Oakland; the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz; and the Art Museum of Santa Cruz County. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Monterey Jazz Festival, and others have licensed Mr. Bernstein's photographs for use, including such publications as Art Forum, The Atlantic, The Economist, Forbes, Gourmet, Harper's, House Beautiful, Interview, New York Magazine, the New York Times, Saveur, and Vanity Fair.

Lenny Bernstein of
Photographer Lenny Bernstein

An electronics engineer, attorney, and WWII veteran as well as professional photographer, Bernstein writes, "I spent a great deal of time at Yoshi's in Oakland, Keystone Korner and the Both/And in San Francisco, and Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, along with the Monterey Jazz Festival and other clubs and concerts. In these settings, I photographed more than 1,000 jazz musicians in more than 30,000 photographs. What you see here is only a small selection from my archives."

(Since this post appears on her blog, it's worth noting that Lenny Bernstein's daughter is the singer, poet, and intuitive Lisa B, aka Lisa Bernstein. His website includes some instrumental versions of her compositions.)

Jason Moran, photo copyright Lenny Bernstein,
Jason Moran
(photo copyright Lenny Bernstein,

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Poems by Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) in Caliban Online #20 and #21

Caliban Online logo from lisabmusic blog
I am thrilled to have poems included in the 20th and 21st issues of Caliban Online, especially since editor Larry Smith has believed in my work since publishing it in the original print version of Caliban (see an earlier post about how groundbreaking Caliban was even then, and this one too). 

Download free PDFs of all issues of the online Caliban at the link above.

Janet Kauffman, Nathaniel Tarn, Ray Gonzalez, Elizabeth Robinson, Timothy Liu, Brian Swann, and my old acquaintance from the 80s San Francisco poetry scene Ed Mycue are just some of the writers in Caliban Online #20, while #21 boasts such writers as Gerald Vizenor, George Kalamaras, Karen Garthe, and Anna Halberstadt. 

This online mag includes the most striking work from a range of visual artists that I've seen in any magazine anywhere not totally dedicated to visual art. Worth looking at!

Here's one of the three poems of mine in Caliban Online #20, from a series identified there as "Persephone Post-War" but whose name I just changed to "Kore: After the Battle." (Thanks to poets D.A. Powell and Brent Sunderland for helping me figure out that change, which is nearly a restoration to the sequence's original name of years past.) 

plums from lisabmusic blog
Plum Juice

The fleshy plums
firm and black-purple
falling, shriveling,
in days
rotting on the ground.
The relief
of just looking.
Just stepping past them,
bits of plum skin
sticking to my slippers.

The space in my throat
where a bite of sweet plum
could slide past.
From that hollow,
my voice
echoing on gray
wood, apples
a woman’s
sweet singing in the lanes
of trees.

A faint
gleam is hidden
in the crack of a mossy
rockface. I reach in
my thumb
—it stings. Pull it out
dripping blood.
I suck it,

I can still feel pain
even gone from the world
which sliced into me
when I saw through it.
Here a simple line
of blood from my own flesh.                         

my juice.                                                                     
See the water pooling
in a hollow of
grassy dirt, sap
in circles in
the bark. And transparent beads
of liquid welling from the sliced
pumice-white fruit
which he places for me
on the tops of tree-stumps
at points along my
unplanned path.
He must see

where I walk and
when I want,
the sharpness of light
and liquid blurring
into hunger.
After each bite
a space of air.
I am inside

and outside
the orchard, a lady
in a gray dress,
treading the leaves.
A matted scent
like singing warms my throat,

and then
warm as the orchard air,
where I can breathe.

copyright 2015 Lisa Bernstein

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Who’s setting the tone of your holiday season?

So, who’s setting the tone of your holiday season? And how’s that working out for you?

It’s a cliché that we in the developed world are bombarded with messages saying that our winter celebrations should involve consumption and commodities. The other part of the cliché is that you should fight these messages by somehow returning to the true, original, spiritual meaning of your preferred traditional winter holidays. Two competing shoulds.

I have a simple, technical suggestion that’s a little bit different. Reset the tone, the vibration, for yourself, of your own holiday season. More on how to do that below; you can skip to the end right now to read about it. Or continue on for more of my own holiday story.

As children, we usually default to the tone, and all the accompanying customs and emotions, that our family sets for the holidays. The result for me has been mixed. As a child in suburban Long Island, New York, I lived mainly among other secular Jews. Though my family was grounded in what I call the left-wing branch of Judaism – focused on progressive social action but not religious observance – we did what most of our neighbors and friends of various political leanings did for the holidays. We decorated a tree and exchanged gifts on Christmas, pretty much in the spirit that to do so was to be American; we also lit candles in a menorah and gave Hanukkah presents. It felt normal and comfortable.

We moved to Cupertino, Calif. when I was 10 years old, and I suddenly felt like an outsider.

The only Jews I was aware of lived across the street, but they didn’t have that comfortable New York-y feeling that was connected to modern intellectual culture as well as to the “old country” as personified by my Russian-born paternal grandparents (who had helped overthrow the Czar in Russian and were still Communists, and who still lived in the Bronx). No longer did my immediate pals and neighbors follow the traditions we did.

And I couldn’t really call them traditions anymore. My parents, in their interests and actions, increasingly matched the overall tone of cultural, social, and political change of the late 60s and 70s (peace marches, relocating to a self-reliant life in the redwood forest, and other experimentation, usually involving people much younger than themselves, even while my father still worked in Silicon Valley and my mother carried on to some extent the traditional life of a suburban mother). Amid all the hubbub, not to mention my father’s career switches and the economic challenges of the time, they never reestablished a consistent approach to celebrating the winter holidays. There wasn’t much of a tone for me to match.

In recent decades, one person in my immediate family made a strong stand for a December celebration: my only brother (and only sibling), not quite two years younger than me. He and his wife, an observant Catholic, started giving a big party every Christmas Eve. He swathed his house in Christmas lights, more of them each year, and put out a lavish spread. At first, though his approach felt startlingly foreign to me, I enjoyed these parties. They were fun, even though filled with a sea of his wife’s relatives whom I didn’t yet know well. 

But the pleasure of the parties was increasingly marred by what went on during the rest of the year. My brother, whom I loved dearly and was once quite close with, was extremely busy with a high-tech job and four kids, and his wife disliked my parents. Though he lived about a 10-minute drive away from my folks, and about an hour-and-a-half drive away from me, he and his wife chose to spend little, if any, time with us. The time I did gain with them was hard to schedule with him.

The only reason for all this that I heard from him was that he was too busy and wanted to focus on his new immediate family, and that our parents’ requests felt like big demands on him, while what he needed was help. Yet it was difficult to reach either him or his wife to schedule such help. Also, my brother and his wife wanted my parents to take care of their grandchildren for long stretches of time, but arthritis made it hard for my folks to do this for more than three hours or so. My brother and his wife couldn’t comprehend this. Finally, my parents, whom I remained very close with and saw often, didn’t understand why their son and his wife didn’t want to hang out with them as my parents had so loyally hung out with my grandparents, as often as every two weeks, kids in tow for a happy gathering.

I felt hurt and perplexed by the situation, and frustrated by my unsuccessful pleas to my brother about the value to everyone of us spending time together. So, every year at his Christmas Eve party, I felt more uncomfortable about the disparity between the cheer around me and the emotional pain and distance during the rest of the year. But I attended, managing to enjoy the festivities and the company, in some ways at least.

Then a second complication occurred: I began living with a man whose widowed father (also Catholic), celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. That was where we had to be. My brother wouldn’t hear of it. He wouldn’t see us any other day of the holiday season, or for that matter, of the year. It was his party or nothing.

So my Hanukkah/solstice/Christmas season became a welter of impossible desires, frustrated expectations, and confused sadness.

Gradually, it dawned on me that I, just me, could have – did have – my own experience of the darkest time of the year, in which humans historically set out light and gather together for warmth and company. I didn’t have to simply react to what others wanted. I didn’t have to only try to be a peacemaker, or, when that didn’t work, to feel an underlying drumbeat of frustration and anger and disappointment throughout the holiday time. That drumbeat was me being busy resisting other people’s decisions and tone for the season.

For here’s a handy truth you may have heard: what you resist is what you get. If a good deal of your energy is tied up with something, that’s what you experience. So why tie up your energy with what you’re fighting?

I still try to spend time with those I love around the holiday season. I still try to broker agreements where there are none. I help create and attend others’ celebrations. And I still feel some of those uncomfortable, even heartbroken, feelings. But amid all this, I also make sure to set the tone for my own holiday season – a largely happy tone. 

How? Well, as a poet, a singer, a psychic, or, for that matter, someone who cleans my own house, I believe in using good technique. It’s not an intellectual approach. You don’t have to be perfect at it. You don’t have to be particularly qualified either.

The technique I recommend is to consciously set the tone or vibration of your own experience of the holidays by imagining a color for it. Sit down in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted for 5 or 10 minutes. Ignore the phone, the computer, and other devices. Give yourself this time.

Put your two feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Imagine a connection between the base of your spine and the center of the earth. Don’t make this too difficult. Just be like a child and imagine it – some connection that happens instantly, descending from the bottom of your spine and hooking into the middle core of the earth: a tree trunk, a rope, a stone column, a giant stream of water, something about as wide as your body. Once you’ve done this, your body is grounded, feels safer, and has some conduit through which to release feelings, thoughts, and energies you want to let go of.

Now, bring your awareness back up to behind your eyes. Postulate that you will see a rose in front of you with a color that embodies the tone you want for yourself holiday season. Don’t make it hard. Just see a rose. What color is it? Red? Gold? Blue? Green? This should feel good to you. If you don’t like the color, let the color change. Let the rose take on the color that represents the vibration you want to feel throughout the holidays. What’s the color? Let it fill the rose.

Look at it. Enjoy it. Does it conjure up a particular feeling in your body? What does it remind you of ? What song? What sound? What food? What place? Savor this rose you just made.

Reach out and grab the imagined rose you just created. Pull it up against your chest. Experience what it’s like to have this feeling. It’s all yours. Right in that moment, practice having this feeling. This tone. This vibration.

Then, when ready, let go of the rose and let it travel out into the universe to manifest. 

Energy vibrations can be communicated and quantified in various ways. In the slowest way, they become things. In the fastest way, they are subatomic particles we don’t yet know how to scientifically track or measure. One way to notice and set vibration is to use a mental picture incorporating color. I like to work with this mode because, for me as a human – as the old adage goes – seeing is believing. You don’t have to be officially clairvoyant to work with color as a way to reset a goal, an experience, a plan. (And you don’t have to be a musician to target and re-find a vibe via music.)

So with this simple technique, you can reset the tone of your holiday season – or for anything in your life – by targeting a color (that is, an energy vibration) and owning it for yourself, using the neutral, lovely, even healing image of a rose, then letting it go out to do its work. Then you don’t have to work at it all the time – you can let this energy analogue you created, the rose, do the job of keeping the tone you want for your holidays. You did it – it’s done. But you can call back the rose to check it, remind yourself of it, or even recreate it entirely if you can’t find it anymore or it looks a bit worse for wear.

Family conflict, external or internal expectations of what you should be able to buy for yourself or others, or just the demands of survival in the dark winter – all this can be painful and difficult. Even those of you who have harmonious family relations may feel the claims of the season to be exhausting. Life feels more complicated over the holidays. Time really is shorter.

All the more reason to try this simple tactic for changing the energy. Be the one calling your own tune for the holidays. No one else even has to know about it. 

When you do this, you’re no longer competing with the demands around you. You might meet the demands, or you might not meet them, but you’re still the one setting the tone for how you feel. And others get to set the tone for how they feel too. Which doesn’t have to be your responsibility or your problem.

It works for me.

Wishing you a joyful, easy, satisfying holiday season – along with a little bit more awareness of your own (changing) energy tone, and the tones of those around you! I can see the colors lighting up (or not), and hear the bells and the melodies sounding even now…

Last night to light Hanukkah candles...

Tonight's the last night of the year to light Hanukkah candles!

"Miracle" by Matisyahu sung by Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein)

Enjoy my version, accompanied by the brilliant late guitarist Andre Bush, of Matisyahu's inspiring song "Miracle." (And I made this video for it myself.)  

May you find more light...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Happy Birthday, John Coltrane ("Trane's Ride" by Lisa B [Lisa Bernstein])

Thanks to John Coltrane on his birthday. May his music inspire us always!

"Trane's Ride" is a poem I composed in the imagined voice of the great saxophone player and composer John Coltrane. (At the start of the recording I say, "I heard Trane say...." Later in the poem I refer in Trane's imagined voice to "Him," that is, God.) 

I listened to John Coltrane's music in utero, as my father was a big fan and then a friend of the humble master. I kept listening ever since. The power, depth, and beauty of his music, the intensity of his unique voice in continual struggle, yearning, and discovery, profoundly affected me as a person and an artist.

I wrote this poem when I was teaching undergraduate poetry writing at San Francisco State University during my two-year term as Associate Director of The Poetry Center there. That half-time position was itself split into two: quarter-time as Associate Director (doing grant-writing, publicity, and administrative work) and quarter-time as a lecturer in creative writing helping folks learn to write poetry. I loved it.

In every class, we did writing exercises together. I usually did the exercise along with the students. One assignment was to write in the voice of another person. I chose Coltrane. Unlike my usual writing approach, as I was composing the poem I heard the silent bar lines of a song passing underneath the words that streamed from my pen. Later, of course, I realized that song was "Naima." 
In 1993, I received the rare permission of Alice Coltrane, then owner of Jowcol Publishing, the copyright owner of "Naima," to record the poem with "Naima" as an instrumental background. It first appeared on my 1994 EP "Be the Word," next on my 1999 CD "Free Me for the Joy," and finally on my 2009 CD of new and remixed/remastered tracks, "The Poetry of Groove." 

This track is one of the few recorded Coltrane compositions with a legally permitted verbal element. 


The poem "Trane's Ride" copyright 
© 1993 by Lisa Bernstein. 

The composition "Naima" copyright © 1959 by John Coltrane (Jowcol Music, BMI). 

Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) - lead spoken vocal
Sandy Griffith and Alice Peacock - background vocals
James Richard - drum and bass programming
Rock Hendricks - tenor sax
Bob Mocarsky - keyboard
Dave Yamasaki - guitar
Jim (James) Gardiner - engineering, production, all other music, and mastering
Vince Wojno - mixing
Pajama Studios, Oakland, Calif. - recording studio

Please support the costs of making indie music (rather than ripping this or generating a penny per play or less from streaming services):

-- download from iTunes at:


-- download or buy a CD from CDBaby at:


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but please don't buy a CD there as no proceeds go to the artists.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What Diabetes Taught Me As A Creative Person

More than 30 years ago, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (it used to be called juvenile diabetes; I wasn't a juvenile when I got it, though). It's been a challenge and a teacher.
pink writing journal from lisabmusic

Here's some of what I've learned from diabetes that is crucially helpful in my work (and play) as a poet, singer, and creative person:

1. It's never perfect.

2. What works one day doesn't work another.

3. Conversely, what doesn't work one day does work another. So keep a record of your previous drafts/approaches, stand back and assess context, and watch the trend.

4. Your body is not you; it's your instrument, lens, and primary companion. So take care of it.

5. Allow variation. To quote my vocal coach Jane Sharp, that's where the beauty is.

6. There's always more room for pleasure.

7. There's always a place for discipline. If not daily, almost daily. By that I just mean: "do your practice," "follow your plan." But see 5. and 6.

8. Use the technology that feels easy to adopt and manage.

9. Write stuff down. You won't always remember it.

10. Meditate.

11. Mortality is your friend. It makes the moment sweeter.

12. Sing. This goes for everyone. Admit it, you want to. Follow the lead of the angels, the animals, the birds, the insects, and the babies. It's the grown-up human way too. And it heals.

copyright © 2015 Lisa Bernstein