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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gino and the Java Jive

There are so many blessings in my life, but none better than the gift of good, old friends - in every regard. As many of you know, I recently had the privilege of working once again with the original members of The Manhattan Transfer - good, old friends. No, great old friends! It was a blessing to us all to reconnect musically after all these years.

Gene Pistilli recently wrote this short piece on the subject, and I could not resist sharing it with you! Gene has an uncanny way of capturing the essence of the moment. Enjoy!


Had a check up on Thursday that showed everything's good and gettin' better. So, “Hurrah!” for practically everything!  Now, you may think I'm wandering but stay with me, the story is worth it.

My old pal - well, not as old as I am - Erin Dickins from our Manhattan Transfer hippie days is back recording and performing live, which is so much livelier than doing so dead, don't you think?  She mixes new stuff and some wonderful versions of great classics. The most recent cut I heard by Erin on YouTube is Carl Fischer's "We'll Be Together Again," which has what might be the best bridge lyric of all time and Erin just nailed it:
   "Times when I know you'll be lonely
Times when I know you'll be sad
Don't let temptation surround you
Don't let the blues make you bad."

Top that, all you hip hop lovin', rappin', jitterbuggin' jive turkeys!

 Speaking of jive, there's one tune Erin cut that we used to do with the nascent   Manhattan Transfer: The Ink Spots' “Java Jive.” Backed by a very cool jazz trio, she makes it so light and happy that I want to start skipping whenever I hear it. I said “want to” because I don't know about you but lately my mind's been making too many appointments that my body just can't keep. So, I guess what I do now might be called virtual skipping.  But to continue...

 Pat Rosalia, the other gal from the original Transfer, found an old 78 of the original recording and brought it to a rehearsal. Up to that point we were sort of like “Spanky & Our Gang,”  doing folky stuff, a few old country classics and some of my tunes. But when she played that old 78 for us the bell rang and the lights started flashing. We put it in our show as soon as we could learn it, and it was to be the song that set us on the course of working out great arrangements of great old tunes that may have been forgotten, but deserve to be heard again. And it would help make Tim Hauser and the rest of the new singers in the Transfer become icons who are still drawing crowds world wide. (New? The youngest out of all of us is sixty. And they're probably lying.)  Although the original group disbanded you can still hear our version of “Java Jive” on the radio now and then.

Sadly, sweet Pat, the woman with the world's greatest laugh, left us a short while back and it's a real tribute to a great singer and a great lady that Erin is dedicating her recording of “Java Jive” to Pat's memory. Erin wanted the surviving members of the original group -Tim Hauser, Marty Nelson and me - to sing background on it. Of course we did and it turned out swell - shiny as a new dime. Get yourself a copy when it comes out some time this winter. Erin asked us each for a picture she might use in the music video, and this is the one of me I like the best.

Thank you to lens master, E.J. Holmes Dawson.  And thank you, Erin, for showing all our friends, old and new, that we can still shake 'em down!

 In closing, may I wish you all a really spooky Ghost & Goblin Day, a thankful Thanksgiving and the best Christmas you ever had.

God bless us, everyone!

Much love and affection from your only contact for zeppole in Nashville,

Jose Annoya


And God Bless you, Gino, for so many years of love, friendship, music and laughs. You are one in a million.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Turning back time....

Well, it took two ten and a half hour flights and crossing the international date line...but I may be experiencing real time travel.

My first visit to Australia has been an eye opener for sure. We all expect the usual G'Day and shrimp on the barbie routine and a kind of cowboy atmosphere, at least that's how Australia is often portrayed at home. I arrived to find none of that.

My tour is in Queensland - farther north than Melbourne. I'm staying in Brisbane, a medium sized river city, with an easy pace and collective smile. Even in the fall, it has a tropical feel and impossibly blue skies. The pacific ocean on this end is divine - more turquoise than in California and free from high rise buildings and residences - both are restricted to the other side of the street, keeping the beaches pristine.

It's always easiest traveling in an English-speaking country, but Australia is a cinch. One feels comfortable approaching just about anyone, and there are a surprising number of foreigners about - I had a big laugh with a young man from Milano who asked me for directions, and a lovely chat at the bus stop with a student from Sao Paulo, Brazil who is here to study English at University.

Brilliant cafes everywhere, lovely museums, even a man-made sandy beach in the middle of town...but time travel you say? 

Indeed. Wait until you see the school children in their uniforms looking as if they'd popped out of Eton....and these are public school kids - in shorts and knee socks, hats and skirts. Cool.

I rode the bus with the eighty-two year old mother of my concert promoter here, and three of those kids jumped up to give her a seat. When's the last time you saw that at home?

Here's one....on stage, every time I turn to the band to count off a tune, my pianist is smiling warmly at me. Really? That's amazing ...and unheard of. Don't get me wrong....I adore my cats at home, but this guy is one for the books.

Yesterday, in a cafe, a perfect stranger helped me by carrying my music case to the table, and then offered to draw me directions to the museum when he saw me looking at a google map. The optometrist re-fitted my crooked glasses for free.

Ok, you say, so there is kindness everywhere in the world, and indeed, there is. But maybe not so often all bunched up and visible everywhere you look. 

Glad I came. Hope to come back again soon and often. Also can't wait to get home to Tony and the puppies.

Now, I'm off to do a good deed. :)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Guns or Clarinets ..... May 2013

I am so moved by a piece I watched this week on NBC Nightly News. It's about a school in Roxbury, Massachusetts that was in dire straits. Violence ruled, and the environment resembled a prison. Kids could not even carry a backpack to school for fear they were carrying weapons.

Orchard Garden School had been labeled the "dropout factory." They have had five principals in seven years and nearly fifty percent of teachers each year did not return the following fall. Enter principal number six.

When Andrew Bott arrived, the school was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on security, and he decided to make a bold move - to reapportion the funds used for security into arts programs for his students - and to use those programs as a tool for success.

Orchard Garden is now termed the "turnaround school." While it was once labeled the worst performing school in Massachusetts, it is now boasts the fastest improvement rate in the state.

Surprised? Me, not so much. I have been beating this drum for decades. From my own experience, at age 13, the first time I sang for a school assembly, my life was changed forever. I was transformed from an insecure, fearful child into a musician. I knew that I had a talent and a gift. I knew that I was special.

What was even more important in that experience was the transformation I experienced by conquering my fears, taking a chance, taking to the stage. That is where real, measurable growth occurred. 

For many children - singing, acting, dancing, writing, filming, being on a debate team, or even working backstage has brought about the same profound transformation. It does not matter whether one chooses the arts as a career, or even whether one possesses an exceptional talent. The benefit is brilliant nonetheless.

Consistently, the very first programs that our schools cut for budgetary reasons are the arts. And yet, the Presidents' Council on the Arts has reported that the arts:

  Improve math and English test scores
  Improve self confidence and poise
  Improve team work and problem solving skills
  Reduce incidents of violence in schools

Kids who are immersed in arts programs are more likely to attend college. And they are more likely to succeed in life.

I am baffled that the arts still lack support in our elementary, middle and high schools. Recently in my home town, funds were approved for after school arts programs. Yet, the school superintendent instead used those funds to bus failing children to after school remedial programs. How many times must we remind ourselves that listening to Mozart improves math aptitude before we actually believe it?

From my perspective, if kids are not learning what they need to learn in six hours, they will not learn any more in seven. Depriving children an arts education robs them of an opportunity to greatly enrich their lives and improve their confidence and self esteem. But that's the least of it... it deprives them an opportunity to fully succeed, and that is something that every child deserves.

Please watch this wonderful story by clicking on the link:

And, PLEASE support the arts in your local schools!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Music and and the same?

 When I was working in New York many years ago, I had a wonderful business manager, who was also a good friend, and a tennis pro. Go figure. Geoff could be quite inspirational at times and had a wonderful way of making complicated or challenging situations simple.

 We often talked about tennis as a great "tonic" for me. He called it a "now activity." And when one is engaged in a now activity, the problems of the world fall away. It's a kind of aerobic meditation. You can't be worrying about love or money or world affairs when someone is slamming an overhead at you. And, like many forms of meditation, the relief it provides is giving one a few moments or even seconds free from thought.

Music, it is said, "has charms to soothe a savage breast." (Congreve 1697) Well, in my opinion it certainly does, and so do tennis, cooking, and many other "now" activities.

When the music business becomes too intense, the best thing I can possibly do is sing. Or cook. Or, better yet, sing and cook for my friends with wonderful music playing in the background.
I'm pretty good in the kitchen and really love making beautiful and delicious food for friends and family. And lately I've been toying with creating recipes for my music. Enjoying a creme brulee while listening to "Je Cherche Un Homme" would be insanely sensual. I think those songs deserve a proper dinner companion! And what self respecting recipe would not enjoy a good song whilst being devoured?

Music and food go together perfectly, as do the fans who love them. I would make a bet that any passionate music lover could become a good cook, too, if given a little guidance. It's all in the "feel."

What would you cook while listening to "Nice Girls Don't Stay For Breakfast?" I've got my answer!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Note of Thanks...

Professionally, 2012 has been a wonderful year for me! Many excellent musical collaborations, concerts and workshops here and in Europe, and plans have been made for a BIG 2013.

On the home front, I could not be more blessed. Tony and are happy and healthy, with a lovely granddaughter, and a second grandchild on the way. Our extended family is all well and thriving. We are so proud of the kids and nieces and nephews, and we really get a thrill watching their lives unfold.

I am grateful for my wonderful friends and the depth and richness they bring to my life. And our four legged kids are a joy. Well, most of the time!

But, what about the rest of the world? I wonder on a regular basis what can be done to change the conditions on our troubled planet. How can I be a part of the healing? How can I help to change our collective consciousness from one of hate to one of love? Is there anything I can do to "enlighten" our world? What can any one person do?

Well, there's the obvious - donate to our favorite causes, volunteer at a shelter, offer a kind word or a helping hand to an elderly person.

But, can we really make a difference? I'm not always sure.

Here is what I do know. I know that when I live my life in gratitude, when I share my joy through music, when I act lovingly to everyone I meet, I feel good. And when I feel good, I am a force for good.

 While I have not yet succeeded in acting lovingly 100% of the time, I'm getting better at it. And I believe that it matters.

I imagine that if all my family and friends were to act lovingly, we'd create a little bubble of positive energy in Philadelphia. If all my friends and I in Maryland lived a life filled with gratitude, then there would be another little bubble of joy in Maryland.

You get my drift.

So, Thank you. I am so very grateful for the joy, abundance and love in my life. And the music, especially the music. Thank you.

I wish you all a blessed Christmas and Holiday Season, and a joyfilled New Year.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

America The Beautiful...

Fall makes me nostalgic. It is a time of reflection, and I always look forward to time spent with close friends and family during the holidays.  An election year fall also makes me grateful to be an American.  As a witness - every day on the news - to the fear and hatred and violence suffered by people living in the Middle East, I thank God for the many blessings in my life.

There are many things I would change and many suggestions I have for improvement in our government, social systems, medical care and environmental policies. But I would not trade being an American for anything in the world.

I am proud of who we are as a people. As many of you know, I hurt my hip a few months ago and although I’m much better, I’m still limping a bit. And what I’ve noticed is that people who do not know me from Adam  - without exception – go out of their way to help. Doors are opened and held for me, offers to carry my groceries are frequent, and I sense a caring and kindness of heart in each person I meet.

I see people helping the elderly, kids and animals all the time. We have an almost parental manner in the way in which we look after one another. And in times of crisis, we are one. No questions asked.  We elevate our collective consciousness, lovingly and peacefully caring for one another. We realize who we are meant to be and we respond to a higher purpose. It may take a crisis for us to recognize what a great people we are, but really, it is happening in small ways every day.

So if we can embrace and love one another so naturally and easily when we are faced with a challenge, or when someone needs our help, why then do we just as easily forget all that and become so irrational when it comes to politics? American politics are seething. Our ability to discuss and learn from one another in this forum has vanished. It just doesn’t make sense.

While I have very strong political convictions, I will not allow hate to enter my heart.  Hate is simply a manifestation of fear. And if fear is the opposite of Love, then how can filling our consciousness with hate possibly serve the higher good of us all?

 As Americans, we have the freedom to disagree and not be tortured or murdered for our beliefs. We have the right to carry on a political discourse, to protest or to become activists for any cause we wish. This is a freedom that I cherish, and yet I am often afraid to express a political opinion for fear that even my oldest friends and closest family members will become enraged, demeaning and downright abusive if they disagree with me.

You can’t fight darkness, but you can turn on a light. The darkness that pervades our politics and undermines its process cannot be changed when we are consumed with hate and anger. It can only change with a shift from fear to Love in each of our hearts. One person at a time.  Awake from the collective nightmare we have created, and turn on your own light. Our great country deserves equally great Americans.

May God bless our President, Governor Romney and all the brave souls who are willing to serve our nation as elected officials.  Please light their way.

Michael Jackson said it well….

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror,
I’m asking him to change his ways.
And no message could have been any clearer...
If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and…Make a change!”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Feelin' Groovy!

I’ve been getting a strong message lately, and it’s not a new one: SLOW DOWN!   Actually, I’ve been getting different iterations of this message for about 30 years, and up until now I have totally ignored them.

I’m the kind of girl who runs full bore ahead until complete exhaustion forces me to stop. Most often it’s a cold or flu that puts me to rest for a few days, and even then, I can’t resist using the “down-time” to clean out closets, make lists, re-organize the kitchen…. well, you know the drill. It’s like this – God gives me a little tap-tap-tap on the shoulder (in the form of the aforementioned cold) and I brush him off time and again. I just refuse to listen.

Nothing I’ve tried so far helps me, because fundamentally I don’t want to slow down.  For about a year now, I’ve been studying the Alexander Technique (which is all about slowing down) and it is the hardest course of study I have ever undertaken.  I work so hard at this technique that I pretty much defeat its purpose. It’s hard to connect deeply with yourself when you are trying to be perfect at doing it.  Still, I continue the study and continue to grow.

Anyway,  God must have been sick and tired of being ignored, because last April, instead of a tap-tap-tap on the shoulder, he clocked me one – he knocked me out with a very tough lesson.  I was zooming along trying to be perfect at yoga when I over-stretched to such an extreme that I tore my hip labral cartilage and strained the hip flexor tendon.  Truly unbelievable.  Stubborn as always, rather than slow down and listen to my body, I charged ahead seeking a solution.

I spent months getting every treatment in the book and working hard at physical therapy while my symptoms only got worse.  Finally my good friend and muscle therapist said, “Maybe you need to rest, Erin.  This is a bad injury.  Rest it.”  I was at my wit’s end, in tears every five minutes from frustration, and so, finally, I listened.

While painful, exasperating and disturbingly slow to heal, this injury has taught me much.  I learned that healing begins in my mind.  That no amount of effort or determination can move things along faster than they are meant to go.  That until I surrender and am willing to accept my limitations, I will not find any peace. And most importantly, I learned that my decades old nagging message is crucial to  happiness and success.  Life is about the process, not the result.  Having an intense focus on achieving a positive outcome defeats its own purpose.

This summer has been an emotional roller coaster.  I am just now beginning to learn how to be still, how to rest and how to value my own internal deadlines more than the insane music business pressures that drive me.  I’m not fool enough to believe that I am finished with this lesson, but I can say that I’ve passed the first course:

Slow Down: 101 – 4 credits – B minus. Fall semester coming up.

Here is my new mantra:

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy.   (Paul Simon)