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.