Married to the Bass

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Okay, Ladies, listen up. Bass players make great husbands. There is no scientific data to support my claim. But having worked my way through the rhythm section, the technicians, and a handful of brass, reed, and string players, I’m a qualified judge.

Sliding Into Home

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Mother-son road trip. It’s mid-summer and I’m on a jam-packed Condor Airlines flight, headed to Pittsburgh (my hometown) with my twenty-six-year old son. Just when I thought my days of traveling with kids had come to a grinding halt, here I am, in Economy Premium—the poor woman’s business class—sipping champagne from a paper cup (sneaked […]

Baubles, Bangles, and Queens

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I may be in my seventh decade of life, but this is hardly my first drag queen rodeo. Some of my earliest gypsy-in-my-soul performances on the professional stage—back in the late seventies—included playing the piano, singing, and dancing in an old-fashioned Burlesque show that featured a couple of queens. First lesson learned: Never ever stand next to anyone, male or female, who is blonder or thinner. Second lesson learned: Always make friends with the drag queen—she’ll keep you laughing, teach you how to touch up your roots, and let you cry your broken heart out on the padded shoulder of her Joan Crawford suit jacket.

Love You Forever

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It’s September 20th, 2014. I have two big events today, neither of which I anticipate with glee. This morning, I’m driving our twenty-year-old son, who has been educated here in Germany, to the Düsseldorf airport. He’s headed to California for a senior-year university exchange semester at UC Riverside. After I drop him off and drive back home, I must shift gears, turn around and drive two hours to play a concert in a chapel at a funeral home. Not a memorial service, but an actual concert. Who plays a concert at a funeral home?

Waltz of the Asparagus People

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New York City, 1986: One evening, on a break from my cocktail-piano job at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan—a hotel that hosts Major League baseball teams, B-list celebrities, and an annual transvestite event called Night of a Thousand Queens—I notice an odd display in a glass showcase in the lobby. Inside the large window, built into a marble wall, is a handmade village of Asparagus People. Over 200 of them inhabit the village, each skinny green stalk hand-painted, shellacked, and dressed in a little outfit.

The Bear

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In 1966 I play my first piano recital. Scheduled to perform the Bach Minuet in G, I begin the piece. I have practiced efficiently, memorized the music, and prepared for the recital by performing in front of other students.

I am nine years old.

The Minuet in G has two “A” sections and two “B” sections—the form is AABB. I plow through the first half of the piece perfectly, gaining more confidence with every note I toss behind me. Puffed up and full of pride, I finish the first half and launch into the second section. !The first note of the second section is a B natural.

Play Something You Know

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“Did you leave anything at home?” Dad says as he heaves the first of my five suitcases into the big green taxi. “Or did you bring it all with you?”

 The distance from Pittsburgh to Nantucket is 633 miles. It is the summer of 1976—the bicentennial summer. I’ve just arrived on Nantucket Island with an ancient Schwinn bicycle, two frazzled parents, a lot of music banging around in my head, and a vast amount of self confidence. Having just completed my freshman year of college, I’m looking forward to the beach, an army of Ivy League boys, and a waitressing job at a little Italian place called “Vincent’s Italian Family Restaurant.” I’m going to be a real woman and a superb waitress—sexy and sophisticated—conquering the world, one meatball at a time. On my days off I’ll frolic on the beaches of Nantucket wearing a white bikini and no sunscreen. I’ll gain my independence, make some money, have a string of boyfriends, and get a tan. This is my plan.

Yeah, Man

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“What key is this in?” Bob Rawsthorne (my dad), mallets hovering his vibes, asked Johnny Costa, musical director of Mister Rogers Neighborhood as they prepared to record improvised music with complicated changes, live on tape. Playing with Costa was harrowing, inspirational, and full of surprises. Bob called the band the Kamikaze Trio. He and bassist Carl McVicker never knew what Costa would do next—he had a habit of switching keys at the last minute, causing low-level panic for his experienced sidemen. In the shoe-string budget world of public television, the trio was usually not offered more than one chance to get it right. Sink or swim.

The Fast Lane

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Here I am, a blond American woman in a short skirt racing down a busy stretch of the German Autobahnat 150 kilometers an hour. I’m too busy driving to calculate the conversion, but I must be approaching 100 miles per hour. I negotiate a curve, my knuckles grip the steering wheel. I pick up speed and feel the G-force—or whatever it’s called—push me back into my seat.

Bottoms Up: Three Conversations about Aging

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I’ve been thinking a lot about aging and the music business, mainly because I’m aging and I’m in the music business. A few weeks ago, I had three age-related conversations on the same day.  Meet Bob, Fred, and Jörg Achim, three of my musical heroes.

My Celebrity Endorsements

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Halfway through the 2018 Christmas season, while running a Google search on my name (I only do this once a month, I swear), I stumbled upon my original composition, “First Snow,” included on a Spotify playlist put together by Kourtney Kardashian (or her people). For me, a sixty-one-year old solo pianist with no people and a decidedly non-cool repertoire of soothing music, this came as a bit of a yule shock. A Kardashian Kristmas. For a moment I considered changing my name to Kobin Koldsby.

Wake Up Santa: Three Variations on a Holiday Theme

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Nothing says “Christmas” quite like a snoring Santa refusing to wake up for the holidays.

The Piano Zone

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I’ve played ambient music in roadside dives, glitzy five-star Manhattan hotels, third world countries, coastal resorts, and on the European castle circuit. A musician who plays live must read the room, assess the mood, and create an atmospheric cushion of sound with her musical choices. Live music catches the day’s chaos and distills it to a warm elixir for the weary; it paints a dingy canvas with pastel streaks, and weaves a shimmering, aural thread of artistic finery through an otherwise bleak tapestry. The right music adds color and light and depth to a bleak, one-dimensional world.

Limelight

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The older I get, the more I respect the tenacity required to balance prominence with virtuosity. George Benson is clearly an artist dedicated to the craft of making music, but he’s also a stalwart celebrity, keen on maintaining his judiciously-groomed notoriety.  George has been walking the celebrity tightrope for decades and, aside from the current gorge irritée, has remained ready, steady, and in the game. I can’t wait to meet him. I truly admire musicians—famous or not—with careers that span decades. As my dad likes to point out: “It’s easy to have a hit; it’s much more difficult to have a career.” Not that there’s anything wrong with a hit.

The Bench

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I love Paris. But just once I would like to visit when it is not hot enough to fry an ouef on the sidewalk. After our 2017 fun-filled adventure with Robin Spielberg and Larry Kosson—also known as the sweat your ass offtour de prance—during which time we bravely climbed Montmartre and cheerfully joined drenched throngs of tourists dragging themselves through the scorched gardens of Versailles—I swore I would never again enter a land-locked European metropolis between the months of June and September. All the Aperol Spritz cocktails in the world could not convince me otherwise. Figures that music would lure me back into the bronzed arms of the city that doesn’t sweat, it glistens. And maybe smells a little. Camembert, you might guess, doesn’t hold up well in the heat. Neither do I.

A Thousand Words

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Scrapbook: A lifetime of photos and memorabilia pasted into an album that will one day jostle for position on a crowded bookshelf, attract some attention at tense family reunions, collect dust, and—a generation or two down the line—land in a dumpster. Scrapbook to scrapheap. Not very hopeful. Still, we persist with making paper shrines to memories of lost childhoods. Show me a woman who doesn’t collect the flotsam and jetsam of her children’s lives and I’ll show you a woman with ice cubes (and possibly gin) in her veins.

Astoria

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Step lively now. Back in the eighties, during my busiest years as a Manhattan Piano Girl, I had a subway routine. Late at night I took cabs, but when I played during the daytime I would finish my last set, grab my coat, fight for an elevator, join the throbbing crowd of Times Square movers, shakers, and sidewalk dwellers, scurry down into the Forty-ninth Street station, slide onto the RR train, scuffle for a seat, and heave a sigh of relief when I got one. Hoping for a wasabi rush, I would eat my takeout tekkamaki while cruising past subterranean stops for Carnegie Hall and Bloomingdales. I admit it: I had a tuna habit during the eighties.

Emma

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Emma González and the circumstances that plunged her into the bright, white spotlight reserved for America’s budding leaders, shooting stars, and civic heroes. I applaud her valor and admire her authenticity, but I mourn for the childhood she forfeited—the easy-breezy self-consumed teenage years that were snatched from her by shameful gun laws and a mentally-ill boy with access to a bullet-spraying machine.

When I was Emma’s age I stayed busy writing bad poetry and playing the piano. My most valued possessions included a mini-skirt, a maxi-coat, and a perfect black turtleneck (who can ever forget the ‘dickie?”). My hair was shiny and long. I obsessed over shoes. I poured baby oil and iodine on my lily-white skin and baked myself, summer after summer, in an attempt to look like the mahogany Coppertone girl, the one with the puppy pulling down her swimsuit. I wrote song lyrics about sunsets and boys with brown eyes.

The Accidental Insult

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My definition of an Accidental Insult: a comment that causes the recipient to say thank you and cringe at the same time. Most of the musicians I know have developed thick skins underneath their little black dresses and tuxedos. Like it’s not hard enough to smile and remember 3,000 tunes while playing for a chiropractor convention—we must also suffer the slings and arrows, the digs and dings, of well-meaning, slightly-idiotic customers.

The Girl Who Curtsied Twice

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London, November 23rd, 2017. The prince is giving a ball. My daughter, Julia, and I are headed to Buckingham Palace, where I’ll be playing dinner music tonight for HRH, the Prince of Wales, and 250 of his guests as they celebrate the 20th Anniversary of In Kind Direct, an organization that encourages corporate giving for social good. Julia and I, trying to look relaxed and casual, are wearing our very best sound check/meet-the-tech-team outfits, and have our voluminous ball gowns, golden snakeskin sandals, extra bling, and hair spray crammed in a small trolley bag. This particular suitcase has seen a lot of swag in its years on the Piano Girl circuit, but tonight takes the royal cake.