Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ann at The Norton

My wife, Ann, was invited to her 55th HS reunion and this is what “Ronnie G.” – the organizer had to say about her: 

In high school, Ann Linguvic, you were one of the most fun and exciting ladies I ever knew.  I, along with many others, never knew what you were going to say, but whatever it was it was Always Great creating lot's of laughter.  I loved to flirt with you and you were a Classic Challenge.

He certainly had her pegged.  She’s still a “classic challenge,” here posing as a Barbie Doll at the Norton Museum Exhibit last weekend, part of their Wheels and Heels: The Big Noise Around Little Toys featuring Barbie Dolls and Matchbox Cars.

Also from the Norton, the last day of their extraordinary special collection (particularly to me, born and raised in NYC), Industrial Sublime: Modernism and the Transformation of New York’s Rivers, 1900-1940. One of my favorites was Jonas Lie’s Path of Gold. (1914) but there were so many to choose from, equally evocative of NYC and the growth of industry during those years. 

Here’s what was said about this particular painting:  In 1914, Jonas Lie traveled to Panama to document the construction of the Panama Canal, which, like the island of Manhattan, was a symbol of America’s industrial might and global power.  Upon his return, he viewed the city with eyes transformed, portraying city canyons and flowing rivers as, what one critic called, “vital forceful constructions.”  In the dynamic of Path of Gold, the viewer gazes longingly on the city in the mist, and, like the tugboats on the river, is drawn, irresistibly, to ply its path to gold. 

Ironically, the painting is from the Collection of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, the city of Ann’s birth and where she was raised.

And, from The Richman Gifts: American Impressionism and Realism, is the unforgettable Rockwell Kent painting, Holsteinberg, Greenland (1933) which as a gift to the Norton is becoming part of their permanent collection:

More on that painting and their current exhibitions are linked here.

And if you visit, be sure to have lunch or dinner at their wonderful restaurant, great food, beautiful surroundings, and a refined ambiance, light jazz softly playing in the background.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Two Songs

As an amateur pianist, I generally focus on the “classic” period of the Great American Songbook, including Broadway, from Gershwin to Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sondheim.  I relate to that music, as I do to classic jazz (not the so called “smooth jazz.”) Just let me listen to a piano, bass and drums and I’m in heaven.  Think Oscar Peterson or Bill Evans and so many other wonderful jazz pianists.  A great vocalist such as a Stacey Kent is an added bonus.  And I enjoy classical music, although my ability to play classical pieces on the piano is limited to those that have been transcribed for fake books.  In effect, I have to improvise much of the music – not the intent of the likes of Beethoven, etc. 

Although my musical tastes sometimes extend to country and R&B, I do not relate to most contemporary music, some of the so called “American Idol” sound.  But I suppose I’m beginning to sound like my parents, criticizing my teenage addiction to the music sung by Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, and I could go on and on with that list.  I still enjoy occasionally listening to that music today, making me a nostalgist.  (After all, that’s what half this blog is about anyhow.)

My teenage musical “taste” gives me an opportunity to post something that’s been in my files for some 56 years now.  Why I kept it, who knows.  Maybe for this moment?  New York City’s WMCA distributed a weekly listing of the top hits at the local record stores where we would buy our 45’s. This particular one was for the week of Dec. 20, 1957.  I still can hear (in my mind) most of the “tunes” listed on this particular sheet.  Coincidentally, number 15 on the list for that week was Hey Schoolgirl sung by “Tom and Jerry.”  They were a local pair, growing up only a mile or so from me.  Never heard of them?  Later they reverted to their real names, Simon and Garfunkel.  They too tried to make a go of R&R but I don’t think any of their songs at the time rose higher than the one listed here.

I’ve tried to keep up with contemporary Broadway / West End musicals but except for Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Claude-Michel Schönberg, nothing really appeals to me. But I’ve been remiss in not seeing (yet) works such as Nine and Rent.  There is a song from each which I discovered in my fake books and I found myself playing them although I had never heard them before. 

From the more recent of the two shows, Rent, there is One Song Glory, which needs to be appreciated in the context of the lyrics and the story, but even without those, the music has a haunting leitmotif.  So I decided to make a video of my playing it, but it’s digital size is too large for the limited software that BlogSpot offers, and to my chagrin I discovered that BlogSpot’s video postings do not play on certain devices, particularly mobile ones (where the entire digital world is moving – get with it BlogSpot!), so I had to post my rendition on YouTube to play here.  There are risks doing that, opening myself for criticism – any professional knows that I am but a rank amateur, but that doesn’t matter to me, I still enjoy playing.

Unlike the other videos I’ve done its close up.  This is not because I’m wild about my hands.  After all, they are, together, 142 years old! : - ).  But the sound was better with my little digital camera nearer to the piano. One Song Glory is a genre outside my traditional classic Broadway comfort zone.  In other words, it doesn’t come naturally to me, but sometimes we have to forge into new territory….

The musical structure of Growing Tall, from Nine, on the other hand (no pun intended), is closer to the traditional Broadway musical, so I’m more relaxed playing this piece.  Its digital size is within the parameters of BlogSpot, so I can bypass YouTube (although it may render it unplayable on some devices, sorry).  Getting Tall is a very evocative conceit, the younger self counseling the mature version of the same person. 
Learning more, knowing less,
Simple words, tenderness part of getting tall.

Hopefully, that tenderness comes across….

Friday, June 13, 2014

An Enduring Friendship

It is one of those times of the year that a sense of sadness sets in.  Ann has been away, visiting her good friend, Maria, who she considers the sister she never had, in Palermo Sicily, staying with her and husband Beny. 

It’s a long story, one best told by Ann.  Maybe I’ll ask her to write something in more detail when she returns, but here’s a summary.  Ann and I met in 1965 when she was hired by the publishing firm I was working for.  She was soon promoted to manage Customer Service and she needed a secretary / administrative assistant.  Publishing companies are notorious about their low pay and the salary she was permitted to offer was really for an entry level – even a less than a full time – employee.  A then 17 year old Maria applied for the job and Ann and she (seven years her “senior”) hit it off.  Ann recognized an inherent intelligence in Maria and vulnerability as well.  Maria’s family originally was from Sicily.  After immigrating, her father worked as a house painter on Long Island.  She had two younger brothers.  No one spoke English in the family, except Maria.  So Maria became the spokesperson for the family, and the family depended on her, to such an extent that it was overshadowing her maturation as a young woman.

Ann became not only became her boss but her mentor as well.  Maria tried to get her own place in New York, to break from the family, but her parents would not approve.  However, they would approve of her finding a job and moving back to Sicily, on her own!  (A place they knew and considered safer, especially with relatives there.)  And that was what Ann encouraged Maria to do, at least temporarily, so should could claim her own life.  I could go into detail as to what happened (Maria’s excellent command of both Italian and English made her exceptionally well qualified for employment there), but I’ll leave that up to Ann if she is so inclined to write.  Maria’s “temporary” relocation to Palermo Sicily became a life, marrying Beny 40 years ago, raising a son, David.  Of course Maria and Beny frequently visited the US to see her parents while they were still alive and to see us, but Ann has made it almost a yearly pilgrimage to be with Maria, her family and friends. 

I went with Ann a few years ago to attend their son’s wedding, but hers is basically a bonding trip for them, no place really for me during three long weeks, so I attend to the “home fires.”  That now means preparing the house for the onslaught of a Florida summer and possible hurricanes, playing lots of piano and reading and some writing, and getting ready for our trip north to live on our boat in Connecticut.   

Although apart, there are now emails and Skype although I prefer the former.  Ann has had good Wi-Fi connections and she has her iPod with her so although apart, we can share our experiences, such as some photos while she’s visited. 

In the “old days,” we wrote letters and post cards, with a rare overseas call (very expensive then).  I remember when we were first married, living on Rabbit Hill in Westport, our first house.

Ann made her first trip to Palermo in 1972.  We had our “first child” a frisky Miniature Schnauzer puppy, Muffin.  We loved her dearly.  I was eagerly looking forward to receiving Ann’s next letter (she had promised a lengthy one in her prior one) so that night I drove home from my office in Westport and opened the door (in which there was a slot for mail), and found the mail, as well as her letter, mostly eaten by our pup.  Especially her letter – Muffin must have identified the scent.  I pieced together what I could. 

While she has been gone the last few weeks, I read a collection of Updike short stories, The Afterlife, and I’m just finishing Julian Barnes’ Nothing to Be Frightened Of which is part memoir, part philosophical treatise on mortality.  In fact, the confluence of reading these two titles during the past few weeks strikes me as being somewhat eerie.  I’ll probably have something to say about them when I’m finished with the Barnes’ book. 

I welcome back Ann on Father’s Day and will await her tales, especially as this year she and Maria made several side trips, one in particular that took her to Milan where they stayed and toured for a few days.  Maria and Beny have bought an apartment there, a home away from their home in Sicily, and the city in which their son and his wife live. In fact, Ann can describe this better than I – this from an email I just received.  It has a surprisingly bitter-sweet ending, one I suspect is unlikely, but?….

We are going today into the center of Milan.  We'll visit the famous Duomo walk around in the more fashionable part of the city with the beautiful designer shops, you know the Worth Ave/via Veneto of Milan.  I love this city & especially the fantastic neighborhood where their apt is located.  Think trees everywhere, outdoor cafes, little boutique filled charming streets, crammed with great restaurants one after the other with food markets, fresh fruit & veg & flower markets on every corner practically!  The upper west side of NY vibe, with a touch more sophistication.  And young people everywhere.  At night, they fill the cafés & restaurants to overflow….They will be living in a real city with every amenity at their fingertips including an extremely efficient subway system right at their doorstep.  They do not need a car to live very comfortably here.  In fact, I may have seen my beloved Sicily for the last time.  Now it will be Milan if I come again!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Field of Dreaming

Looking back at some entries written over the years, I’m fascinated by how things evolved vs. expectations.  I normally don’t note when predictions come true, but this one feeds into a childhood fantasy of pitching in the major leagues.  I never made it out of the Babe Ruth league or whatever passed for that kind of league in the 1950s.  It wasn’t for lack of effort.  l practiced or played most days or even into the twilight trying to perfect my pitches (luckily, I had two neighborhood friends during my childhood years who fancied themselves catchers and had catcher mitts).  I fashioned my assortment of pitches and delivery after my childhood idols, particularly Whitey Ford and Bobby Schantz. 

Never heard of Bobby?  Pitched for 16 years in the majors with a 3.38 ERA, and won the MVP when he had 24-7 record and a 2.48 ERA in 1952.  Those kinds of numbers would have made him a mint in today’s baseball world.  I wonder how much Bobby made during his career.  Chump change compared to today’s multiyear contracts that approach a quarter of a billion dollars!  Are today’s stars worth any more than Schantz or Ford (who also had 16 year major league career, a 2.75 era and of course an incredible winning record given he was with the Yankees mostly during the 1950s and early 1960s)?

They were both lefties, as I am, and I wanted to be just like them.  Physically, I matched up to Bobby Schantz at 5’6”.  I figured if he could pitch in the big leagues without an overbearing fast ball, I could too.  So I worked on my control and off speed stuff, particularly a screw ball (most lefties have a natural fade away from a right hand batter with their fast balls).  Alas, such ambition also needs extraordinary talent, and other interests found me drifting away from baseball by college.

Still, I love to follow the game, and even pride myself on being a “closet scout” particularly when it comes to lefty pitching.  This brings me to my observation about a year ago when I first saw Andrew Heany pitch for the Marlins’ Class A Plus Jupiter Hammerheads.  At the time I said “I'll go out on a limb and predict he will make the majors in 1-2 years, maybe sooner depending on the Marlin's pitching needs.  It was a pleasure to see him work the other night.”

Since then he has gone to AA and then AAA ball.  According to last Sunday’s Palm Beach Post, “since joining Class A Jupiter last season, he has shined at each level with a 0.88 ERA in 61 2/3 innings in Jupiter, a 2.58 ERA in 87 1/3 innings in Jacksonville (AA) and 0.82 ERA in 11 innings in New Orleans (AAA).  Heaney, 22, will be in Miami soon.”  Mark your calendars for the end of June, sort of what I predicted.  This guy has it all.

Nicolino is now in AA with a 4-2 recorded and a 3.30 era.  He recently took a no hitter into the seventh inning in a win over Montgomery.  He’ll be up soon as well.

The Marlins have all sort of farm talent and it’s good to see them first in Jupiter.  I count it as one of the reasons this area is so appealing – one of Florida’s big pluses.

And the Marlins farm club shares Roger Dean Stadium with the Palm Beach Cardinals.  Last night I went to see their highly touted left hander Kyle Helisek.  With an ERA of 2.59, he’s made the Class A All Star team.  Looking at his record, he has had some control issues striking out about only 50% more than he’s walked.  This game he had control, no walks as I recall, but his fast ball is not domineering and he left some pitches too close to the heart of the plate, therefore giving up seven hits over five innings, and two runs, but striking out six.  With better control, he’s yet another lefty who could make it all the way, maybe within a couple of years. It was a pleasure to watch Helisek’s form on the mound, as these photographs attest. Classic stuff.