Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Music Video: "Joe Williams Died Walking/Every Day I Have the Blues"

This new video begins with a spoken poem based on the true story of how the great jazz and blues singer Joe Williams passed from this life  in a way that embodied the joy and strength that can be heard in his renditions of his signature tune, "Every Day I Have the Blues." It then segues into my own version of that memorable song. 

The final frames of the video show a note from Joe Williams' widow Jillean Williams (who requested a copy of the CD after hearing about the song). In the note she writes, "...you've obviously been listening! It is wonderful that you felt moved to write such a tribute, and I know Joe would have been most impressed with your talents."

Please support indie music and this song by purchasing it from my "Center of the Rhyme" record at www.iTunes.com/lisab (or song link https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/joe...)
CDBaby (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/lisab), 
Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Center-Rhyme-Li...). 

Personnel on this recording: 
Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) - vocals
Frank Martin - keyboard
Mimi Fox - guitar
Bill Douglass - bass
Paul van Wageningen - drums
Jim Gardiner - producer and engineer, Pajama Studios
George Horn - mastering, Fantasy Studios

Please comment, whatever your response, and please share! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Press Makes a Record Release Feel Real

East Bay Express logo from lisabmusic com
All Music Guide logo from lisabmusic blogAs a very-indie musical artist, it's hard to know when I'm succeeding, failing, or treading water. How do I measure success, whether artistically, commercially, or even in terms of impact on listeners?
Jazzreview.com logo from lisabmusic blog

Midwest Record review from lisabmusic blog

Cat Fancy magazine logo from lisabmusic blog
Los Angeles Times logo from lisabmusic blog
Because I started out as a poet and writer, one measure I've always prized is what reviewers have said about me in print (which includes text online). And I've paid a pretty penny to help garner their opinions, by hiring excellent publicists to reach out to them and serve as neutral though trusted advocates, though I've also contacted a number of reviewers and publications myself.
Courier-Journal logo from lisabmusic blog

Seattle Post-Intelligencer logo from lisabmusic blog

Jazz Times logo from lisabmusic blog
Jazziz logo from lisabmusic blogAs part of looking back on my life in the music-business trenches, the other night I went through the press page on my website and looked at all the reviews of my five CDs released since 1999, adding many of the publications' logos to the site. It was fun and made their reviews seem more real to me again, with a welcome distance from the tortured immediate post-release phase when I was hoping someone would get and like the record. 

Philadelphia Daily News logo from lisabmusic blog
All About Jazz logo from lisabmusic blog
Check it out if you'd like: http://lisabmusic.com/press_quotes.html.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Looking Back on the Release of "Free Me for the Joy," 1999

cover of Free Me for the Joy CD by Lisa B aka Lisa BernsteinAs I embark on reviewing all the meticulously saved pieces of paper relating to my adventures in the music business, I'm looking back on the release of my first full-length CD in early 1999, almost 15 years ago: "Free Me for the Joy."

All the songs on it were originals, written by me alone, or with Jim Gardiner or Barbara Higbie (except for "Trane's Ride," which is my arrangement of Coltrane's "Naima" brilliantly rendered by Jim, with my original poem over it). It was produced at Pajama Studios in Oakland.

My precious record original had waited for six months at the offices of Warner Jazz, where it was being considered by former Executive VP of Jazz Matt Pierson and Manager of Jazz A&R Dana Watson. Dana, a nice man, sweetly held many supportive phone conversations with me updating me on their review. It was amazing that they even listened to it: I had gotten it to them by cold-calling them myself. Ah, the bravado and fears of youth (though I was't that young, except I felt it in this venture)! Of course, I was deeply disappointed when they passed, "for no particular reason" except that they could only pick one new artist to add to their roster. I forget whom they choose. In retrospect, it was a hell of a coup to get even that far without any connections or help. 

In 1998/1999, musical artists were just starting to release their own records, and we believed that we could match the promotional efforts of the labels, albeit on a smaller scale, and gain a real listening audience.

I hired a good press agent, David Ginochio, former publicist at Concord Records, and we mailed out a slew of records together from his apartment, which was decorated with hip mid-century furnishings, of course long before "Mad Men" popularized the look. He managed to get some nice reviews for me.

I also got respectable radio play on 87 stations, mainly non-commercial and college stations along with about 10 smooth jazz stations (http://lisabmusic.com/radio.html). I remember painstakingly tracking the radio reports from the promoters I'd hired, noting every incidence and position of charting on the CMJ top 30, jazz, and adult album alternative charts, hoping for some kind of groundswell.

I also sent many fruitless missives to distribution companies, sold it myself by mail order and my then-rare gigs, and got it online on an early CD storefront. The whole venture was a maddening, exciting, massive learning experience. No one really knew what the outcome could be and no other artists shared the results of their previous efforts to release records on their own. Not that many had done it.

Below is a review of "Free Me for the Joy" from Jazziz Magazine by Jonathan Widran. It was a lovely critical response  the press the record garnered also included a number of other good reviews, a feature story that was picked up by the Jewish press, and an online interview on downbeat.com  but like some of the others, the review prompted not only my gratitude and excitement, but a sense of the lack of control over the critical interpretation of my music. I was surprised that he viewed my voice as "a dead ringer for that of Dianne Reeves" (a huge compliment, but come on, not accurate) and frustrated by his statement that "Trane's Ride (Naima)" detailed Coltrane's impact on my "body and soul" when I had clearly introduced the track during the intro as being in the voice of Trane himself. Perhaps Jonathan (who was supportive of all my subsequent records) was thrown by the idea that a woman could voice a man's experience. Still, I was pleased to get a positive multi-paragraph review in a major national print publication.

A couple of the spoken-word-oriented tunes, including "Trane's Ride," had appeared on a 1994 EP in limited release and three appeared later, in remastered versions, on my 2009 "The Poetry of Groove." Yet the overall sound of most of "Free Me for the Joy" is indeed more smooth jazzy and adult contemporary than any of the records of mine that followed — as we had intended. 

While my voice opened up and my technique and interpretive powers deepened in my four subsequent records, the originals of "Free Me" still sound pretty good to my ears. I've progressed enough to forgive myself for the parts I cringe at on my maiden voyage. And I'm proud to have launched this first full-length record in all my stomach-churning hopefulness, naivete, and determination. The musical landscape feels so different now, crammed with countless releases by artists on their own labels, whereas the reviews surrounding mine in Jazziz target records from Concord, RCA Victor, and indie Palmetto. 

You can hear and buy "Free Me for the Joy" at CDBabyiTunes, or Amazon. I'd sure appreciate your enjoyment, reactions of any kind, and support.
Jazziz review by Jonathan Widran of Free Me for the Joy by Lisa B aka Lisa Bernstein

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Eavesdropping on My Body

writing illustration by Anthony Russo from The Spiritual Mechanics of Diabetes blogShortly after I was diagnosed with diabetes, I decided to write down what my body was saying to me about having this condition.

I postulated that I would just listen and take dictation. I recorded the first things that came into my head that I imagined as the communication from my body at that moment. Here’s what I heard, and wrote:

Take care of me
I am your system
I am your lifeblood
I am a network which communicates with itself
I am a network of information pulsing within the world
I transmit what you need
Feed me
I unfortunately must be plumbed with a needle
In a haystack
In a dimwit
In a bad girl
In a durable item
In a shining woman with tresses of auburn and a gown of netted gold
In an arched cathedral where you once stood witness and sang
I am your support to find your signals
I am your trampoline
I’ve got nothin’ but love for ya, baby
I’ve got some pain for you too
I remind you with each pinprick that you have skin
I remind you that you have borders which any prick can’t get into
I communicate in infinities of systems
But all can be known with the inner eyes
All my organs pulse with knowledge
Feed me
Know me
I’ll make up for letting you down
Work with me
Play with me
I’ll nourish you
I’ll shine for you
I’ll be strong and sturdy
Through me you will cry, but then you will laugh
And eat!
Feed me
And I’ll feed you back
I’m all yours

I found myself near tears at points with the baldness of the truths that my blunt body stated. And I was impressed by the imagination and perhaps ancient memories it seemed to offer. I didn’t want it to be a finished poem; I was happy to just have it, a communication from the body like a message in a bottle pushed urgently to shore.

typing from The Spiritual Mechanics of Diabetes blog
Afterward, I felt rather tender toward my body, appreciative of its ups and downs, its loyalty throughout this and other challenges. I felt forgiveness – toward my body, and from my body toward myself.

Try this little exercise, also called "free writing." Find a spirit of childlike playfulness. No judgments, just listening. You don’t have to be a writer to do it. The outcome doesn’t have to be “good writing.” It doesn’t have to be poetic or meet any other standards.
pink journal from The Spiritual Mechanics of Diabetes Blog

Pick up a pen, or go to your computer. Pretend you’re just taking dictation. Don’t stop to revise. Don't stop at all, in fact. Don’t censor. If you don’t hear anything, write the first thing that comes into your head. Don’t wait for something “good” or “inspired” to come to you. It may feel like junk or nonsense at first. At some point, you'll start to get meaningful stuff, even if you don't see it that way while you're producing it.

If you have a specific issue you've been working on, ask your body to talk to you about that. It could be weight gain. It could be exhaustion. Just ask, and "take dictation" from your body as it tells you something in response. See what flows from your awareness down your arms, onto the page or screen. Start.

No one else has to read it. Or you may want to share it. You’ll have fun, and you’ll feel surprise.

Whatever other emotions arise, just allow them to be there in your experience for a few minutes. Then take a deep breath, and exhale. Put away what you write someplace you can find it, so you can pull it out and read again.

I know that one thing you’ll feel is relief: one always does in the face of intimate truth.

The communication from my body shown above was written decades ago. The other day I decided to do this exercise again. Here's what came out:

You make me work so hard
And yet I love to stretch out
Here in the middle stretch, in fact, 
It’s a bit more challenging to keep taking the next step
Yet what else are we here for?
And what alternative do we have?
Yes, this dull ache is still here in the right hip
But so many other dull, or not-so-dull, aches have come and gone
I know you’re better at handling the flaring-up pains
Those dramatic, cry-it-out, think-it-out, emotional waves
But here I am just carrying you through
I need you to notice this
If I were a horse, would you give me an apple?
If I were a dog, would you massage me more?
In fact, I’ve noticed, you do massage your dog a lot more often than you massage me!
It’s OK to take it easy, you know
And I’m more resilient than you sometimes remember
So, baby, let’s get ready for the rest of the race
Or is it a marathon? A marvelous, a Malomar, 
A mistake, a message, 
A missive, or a mistress? (no – that last one is me) – 
Maybe it’s more than you bargained for,
All this living, and yet I know my duty,
To live, to revive, to restore, to regret, 
To resurge

copyright © 2013 Lisa Bernstein

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Double-Infinity Birthday

My Dad turned 88 recently. I told him he turned double infinity. 
infinity sign from lisabmusic blog

He laughed in that belly-shaking way and said, 
Lenny Bernstein from lisabmusic blog

"Double infinity standing up."
double infinity sign standing up from lisabmusic blog

My Dad is a guy from the Bronx, a Communist, a World War II vet, a scientist, a jazz photographer, an attorney, and a man who deeply loves his family. And despite many hip and back surgeries, he prides himself on continuing to literally and figuratively stand up  for himself, for us, and for what's right.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Essences: Aretha, Sheila Jordan, and Miles

A Facebook thread started by singer Laurie Antonioli with comments by singer Stephanie Bruce inspired me to write some verbal "thumbnails" of some of my favorite artists. We were discussing marketing of artists and I commented that the key is communicating the unique essence of each. So I thought I'd make a stab. 

Here are three of them. What do you think?

Aretha Franklin:
Melding the black church with the bedroom, buoyant girlish flexibility with downhome female power.

Aretha Franklin from lisabmusic blog

Sheila Jordan:
Appalachia meets bebop. Whatever your journey or mine, you can always enter the sunshine of my smile.
Sheila Jordan from lisabmusic blog

Miles Davis:
Ever-evolving cool. 

Miles Davis from lisabmusic blog

Thursday, October 3, 2013

New Video for My Version of Cole Porter's Great Song: "Night and Day/The Cat Goddess"

Egyptian cat goddessIlate July 2013, artist Jenifer Bacon created an enticing video for my song "Night and Day/The Cat Goddess." 
The song first appeared on my 2006 CD "What's New, Pussycat?" and was re-released in a remastered version on my 2009 CD, "The Poetry of Groove." A revisioning of Cole Porter's great composition, my arrangement intersperses original spoken-word sections with my singing of Porter's mesmerizing lyrics and melody. 

It was recorded with marvelous engineer and co-producer Jim Gardiner at Pajama Studios in Oakland, California. On the track with me are Frank Martin, keyboards, Troy Lampkins, bass, Paul van Wageningen, drums, and John Santos, percussion. 

With its echoes of an Islamic call to prayer, according to Porter, and its intensely yearning quality, "Night and Day" conveys a longing not only for the beloved but also for the divine. The hunger and burning referred to in the lyrics show the intense intertwining of the physical and the spiritual, and they suggested to me the figure of the cat and the cat goddess, as well as the goddess in her many forms. I yoke these elements together in my spoken segment of the tune, with imagery spanning the goddess's (and the cat's) agility and mystery, revelations of darkness and light, the magic of witches and their burning, nursery rhymes, and the continuation of these memories by we who recall, know, and keep singing

All this is intimated in Jenifer Bacon's stirring video, with its imagery of the romantic hero and heroine; the moon, the sky, and our planet; fleeting images of the cat goddess and her suppression; and modern-day dancing goddesses.
Cole Porter and a quote from "Night and Day"

We know that nursery rhymes can be the repository of some of the oldest forms of culture that have otherwise died out in their original forms. Below you can see how the cat goddess Bastet and her sacred musical instrument the sistrum live on in the figure of the cat and the fiddle (which I connect in my spoken lyrics). The images of the cow and the moon are additional echoes of the goddess.

Egyptian cat goddess with her musical instrument the sistrum resembling a fiddlecat and a fiddle, derived from Bastet image with her sistrum

You can purchase the song from iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/night-day-cat-goddess-remastered/id317598375?i=317598438&uo=4  Enjoy!

copyright © 2013 Lisa Bernstein

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Neighborhood Wisdom on Miley Cyrus at the VMAs

So after reading the hubbub on the net about Miley Cyrus's performance and looking at it after the fact, I stopped three male youths ambling past me in the darkening twilight, one with earbuds, as I was walking my dog in my working-class/middle-class Oaktown nabe. I asked if if they'd seen the VMA show and what they thought of her act. I'd guess they were high school sophomores, two black, one Asian. 

Two said it was stupid and one said it was funny. The first two then launched into a rather impassioned speech together: "We all know what the music industry does, how corrupt it is and how they try to brainwash you." I asked, "So you saw her performance as an example of music industry corruption?" They said, "Yes!" Then they cogently pointed out that it had nothing to do with her actual video for the song, which had a lot of medieval things in it and had to do with Satanism (they said), and also that obviously she was trying to get rid of her Hannah Montana innocent image. One kid looked pleased as punch that I was asking his opinion, smiling very sweetly. We talked a bit more about the songs and other artists, and the neighborhood. I was impressed by them. Very cute.

I posted the text above on my personal Facebook page a few days ago. Here is the ensuing discussion (with their permission) among writer Lisa Motherwell, music critic Jordan Richardson, and sax player Michael Eaton, with a few other comments thrown in.

Lisa Motherwell And did one mention that MALE singer who participated? (My new rant....) Why is just she being excoriated?

Jordan Richardson ^^^ What she said. Miley was just dressed in the garb for "Blurred Lines" anyway, yet some people were actually tweeting about her audacity to "grind" on a "married man." Funny ol' world.

Lisa B Lisa Bernstein Lisa Motherwell, agreed. I just commented on a post by Doug Ferrari about this related to the fact that she kept talking about Molly (Ecstacy). I think she's being excoriated partly b/c she so pushed the current envelope in pop culture about what white female pop singers can do with their sexual self-presentation. She wasn't just slutty, she was outrageous and aggressive with it, even using her big finger prop like a dildo at one point. What bothers me is that she seemed to be high; that partly pressed people's buttons. But, aside from the fact that Lady Gaga is a vastly superior singer, I didn't think the dance/theatre part of Gaga's act was way cooler. In fact, it was less interesting. The other part is that Cyrus appropriated a lot of stuff that black hiphop artists are doing, especially the males. Nothing new in white pop but not from the innocent Hannah Montana simultaneously consciously tilting her image with teddy bears and onesies.

Lisa Motherwell Oh, agreed that there were many manipulations and layers of bad meaning with everything. I don't personally care for Miley Cyrus (though I admire her bravery) but the sexism, considering who sets the tone, and who we talk about at these awards, seemed a bit tilted this year.

Jordan Richardson What interests (and repulses) me is how certain segments of society, beyond political lines it appears, want to effectively "punish" Miley for what she did. I've seen tweets and FB posts about "cutting her tongue out" or otherwise ruining her for "behaving like a slut," and some of these have come from card-carrying liberals. It all turns my stomach.

Lisa Motherwell No kidding! It's my liberal friends who are trashing her (I'm a Socialist). It's disconcerting.

Jordan Richardson There's also another component here that, I think, misses the idea of performance. People got upset about Miley mentioning that people did lines in the bathroom at the party, for instance, and they got upset that she was twerking and grinding on Robin Thicke's stripes. It seems like it was all taken very literally, like there were no storytelling elements to speak of or analyze. Makes me wonder what the same crowd would've done hearing gangsta rap, for instance, and wondering how many people Biggie Smalls shot while lounging in his bathtub full of cocaine.

Lisa B Lisa Bernstein Yes. And btw, I don't have a problem with her appropriating black hiphop gestures esp. given that she does it so extremely that she's showing us she's doing it.

Michael Eaton I've seen photos, but not the performance. A woman has a right to be sexual as she pleases and present herself as she wants, so to me the sexuality of it wasn't a problem. If anything, I think it was de riguer as a pop star for her to present herself that way. The jarring quality came about from how relatively dissonant her presentation was compared to her squeaky clean Disney past, but to me that's all theater. I think it was kind of tasteless, but that's my opinion.

What I would find offensive is if she were exploited, and that's precisely where my question is. I'd like to see a feminist analysis, because my question has to do with whether she voluntarily went along, and to what degree she was a victim of sexism in the industry (or wasn't). Did the record company or whoever force her to do it? I don't see her as being working or middle class (her net worth is around $120 million), so it's hard for me to see her as not having command over her own work, or having the ability to back out.

Jordan Richardson Was Robin Thicke exploited or is that a question we're only prepared to think of in terms of young women? I'm not asking to be cheeky or rude; it's a serious question because I've heard this before but never directed toward male artists.

The music business is almost necessarily exploitative because it is a business and in that regard almost all participants in it are victimized to an extent, whether by what singles they have to promote or by what image they have to put out there. Miley's image could be a complete fabrication, but that really wouldn't be any different than suggesting that Taylor Swift's "demure" iconography is similarly fabricated and similarly a matter of exploitation. What it really comes down to, what drives the questions, is the content of the image. 

In other words, we don't ask Taylor Swift (or even Selena Gomez) if she's being exploited because it doesn't "seem" like she is. But Miley's performance and imagery does beg the question and I think we think that because it doesn't "seem" like any self-respecting woman would behave "that way." I saw people posting about how she has a good future in porn or how she could've been replaced by a stripper or how she was acting like a slut, so there's certainly something in the content that people are reacting to: namely what it means to be a woman or HOW a woman should "behave." We don't ask "well-behaved" women if someone was exploiting them to put on a prom dress, do up their hair like Marilyn and sit properly at an awards show, but we DO ask the one who's twerking, beating off a foam finger and bending over in front of a randy Canadian. I just wonder why that is.

Lisa B Lisa Bernstein So Michael Eaton your comment reminds me that I was really wishing I had followed up with the young guys on the sidewalk about what exactly was corrupt about her act. Was it the overt sexuality that they found corrupt? That is, did they think SHE was brainwashed? Or was it that the ultra-theatricality of it all seemed very "music industry" to them and an example of we the consumers being brainwashed? I think they definitely viewed her performance as being very calculated. And they were right. So they was more insightful than some of these patriarchal/paternalistic critics of her.

  • Megan O'Neill Great story Lisa. Wonderful of you to engage in these youths and interesting opinions!
  • Daria Jazz Lisa B, Reporter at Large! Great story!

Lisa B Lisa Bernstein Actually, I've thought more critically about some of her appropriation of some black hiphop aesthetic elements, thanks to this excellent blog post shared by Vicki Randlehttp://battymamzelle.blogspot.com/2013/08/Solidarity-Is-For-Miley-Cyrus.html?m=1