Retro Jazz: Singer Mildred Bailey and Pearls

When I write new music for a project, whether for my own CDs or someone else’s, or a video, there are usually two seemingly opposite creative things going on. First, once a song or idea ‘takes’, I become obsessively focused with it; the concept, the genre, the instruments, the writer, the frontmen- exploring everything around “it”. All of this led to my discovery of the “First Queen of Swing” songstress Mildred Bailey.

A friend asked recently, “what’s up with the pearls in your shop? I never thought you a pearl person.”  True, I used to only make pearl jewelry for my working friends- simple and classic. But singing retro jazz has changed that: I love to layer pearl chokers with longer necklaces, and now make pieces- similar to what I wear on stage- for a new “Onstage and After Hours collection.” Actually, there are specific musical influences that make these more retro than modern…  😉

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When I write new music for a project, whether for my own CDs or someone elses, or for a video- there are usually two seemingly opposite creative things going on. First, once a song or idea ‘takes’, I become obsessively focused with it; the concept, the genre, the instruments, the writer, the frontmen- exploring everything about “it”. Second, I always keep a lazy ear open to hear what others on a similar track, are doing/ or might have done, with a similar Muse; it could be 2012 or 1912; a rapper or a legendary composer. These sparks all go into the mix  of writing a song several ways, until one ‘catches’.  The final version is usually something that self selects; usually by the next morning, when I wake up mindlessly humming one version. Ha! That is my litmus test, if even I can’t get a hook out of my head. 😉

For my latest CD, Torch and Sass, when I was exploring “retro” jazz, my vinyl collection scattered across the floor was only the first springboard of discovery.  Then came visits to my favorite music and record stores to talk to experts. I would say “I’m listening to X, and I want to discover more.” I love to see my friends go into overdrive to inspire others, pulling music from bins, spinning turntables, talking story on their favorite artists, songs, labels, with those very cool little known tidbits of info in between. Ah… this fading art!  I mean, Wikipedia is good and all, but nothing beats a listening tour back through time, with pictures, and luxuriously long liner notes from album covers.  (*Sigh*.)  JC at Downhome records is my favorite contact for this, and Dave at Dave’s record shop, Emeryville.

So, this kind of musical sleuthing led me to vocalist Mildred Bailey; somewhere between looking for ukulele jazz, blues driven jazz, and 1930’s composers for Louis Armstrong- Mildred Bailey’s name popped up.

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Mildred Bailey from the Pacific Coast, called “First Lady of Swing”,  was said to be one of the very first woman singers in jazz, the first to sing with emerging big bands (Paul Whiteman, Eddie Lang, Benny Goodman), AND is said to have been a primary influence for the young Sarah Vaughan. Here is an early tune of Mildred’s, 1931.

Mildred was also the first female musician to get a guaranteed pay in the business, less than half the male musicians of the day, but significant considering. Being one of the first- the road was tough as her biographical notes hint at- Mildred called the “Queen of Swing”, had a versatile voice, and was established quickly with the big-band orchestras of the day. But as the sound of big band grew, so did the preference for women singers who fit a certain look and profile.  Though radio made her popular, and her voice was gorgeous, big-band leaders favored more petite female singers.  Sadly, this, and health issues, affected her career.  A song from the peak of her career in swing- Darn that Dream:

Mildred’s lilt, range, fine, bright tones, and her emotive delivery- that morphs with every song- inspired my singing for Torch and Sass. My voice is a low alto, and many in the lower registers have to work harder to get clear tones in the higher registers; so these women are definitely role models for me.

Mildred’s alleged taste in furs and jewelry, inspired this pearl jewelry collection in my Etsy store.  (And grandma’s Majorca pearls.)  I was never into pearls before, but these “vintage” pearls of the past seemed a great way to celebrate Mildred’s beautiful voice and contribution toward establishing women in jazz.

Use code pearls20 to get 20% off anything with pearls-until May 31st.

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Day 1: 30 Days-30 Poems NaPoWriMo & Jazz Month too!

April already?! The month to celebrate both Poetry & Jazz, they say. Here begins another wonderful challenge NaPoWriMo- 30 poems in 30 days. I’m happy to reconnect to a daily writing/posting habit again this year. I think I’ve been running about 17 poems/month in past years, with daily posting being my greatest challenge. So this year, I aim to do better; to post more often, shorter, and more immediate, less worked over bits. Because that is what it’s about, yes?- quantity and NOT perfection; leaving the critic in the dust.

April already?!  The month to celebrate both Poetry & Jazz, they say.  Awesome Possum!! 😉

On the jazz front- I  just finished a jazz and blues course at the JazzSchool, Berkeley- an intensive taught by musicians of the Montclair Women’s Big Band. Amazing teachers & inspiration from an all female crew of instructors!  How cool was that! It was a serious intensive, packed with classes for improv, ensemble, vocals, all instruments, and performance- with a culminating concert last Friday night. Whew!  Rewarding and exhausting both. I posted a whole photo album on FB here.  These are some of my favorite pics.

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For poetry, I’m happy to reconnect to a daily writing/posting habit again this year. I think I’ve been running about 17 poems/month in past years, with daily posting being my greatest challenge.  So this year, I aim to do better; to post more often, shorter, and more immediate, less worked over bits. Because that is what it’s about, yes?- quantity and NOT perfection; leaving the critic in the dust. Just writing. Just poetry!  It’s posting from the road that’s tough for me…

I’m on Twitter now!  @TaraLindaMusic , & hope to use that as a tool for nano writing.

I will post a page of prompts soon- but so far, I’ve begun to warm up with my own 52/365 poem prompt, and I’ll be starting with prompts from life, the NaPoWriMo site, and the Sunday Whirl.  Post your prompts here so I can discover more!  Poets- leave your links so that I can drop by and enjoy your Muses too.

Poem 1:  Perpetual

Just words, she says
a stretch of meaning scrawled
across the sidewalk, over a curb
under a street, faint calls to an
underworld, to deviants, or raccoons
whoever trembles first.

What was lost in March is found
in April, curbside, nestled deep because nothing
dies when shared perpetually, he says- twirling
circles, eddies, gyres around us, out and back into
all those places a train might scour before midnight.

Change the Absconder, rolling and heaving,
winds past poppies and dandelions on its way to create
something better: era, master, poet, fuse-
syllabic truths growing straighter than weeds-
 

She calls to him
Just words, to die for.

Prompt: Wordle 100

Sparking the Airwaves: Thank you for listening…!

I can’t find the words to express the joy of having my friends & family calling now to say:
“Hey! Omg-I’m listening to your song on the radio right now, Right NOW! Hey- You’re on air!”

Your voice,

so high, so happy

we can feel your glow, a thousand miles

close and sparking the air.  Even Chula races

room to room to catch

your laughter.

I can’t find the words to express the joy of having my friends & family calling now to say:

“Hey! Omg-I’m listening to your song on the radio right now, Right NOW!  Hey- You’re on air!”

This morning’s call…2 states away, my Mom to tell me- “KUVO is playing Recession Stomp right now! So I called the DJ Arturo to talk to him… wow, what a great guy he is…!” 😉

Since starting publicity 2 months ago, sending my new CD Torch and Sass around the world- I’ve enjoyed calls & shout outs from Richmond, Washington, Portland, Ohio, Atlanta, San Antonio, Boulder, San Francisco, Boston, Brownsville, Denver, & Italy…. Of course, Mom’s call was the best! 😉

It’s crazy surreal. This culmination of sorts- the place where last year’s writing & recording in 3 studios meets this year’s send-it-out-into-the-world, (hold-your-breath!), and then feel (through others), how ether expands on the airwaves... 😉  Can’t believe it.  Maybe someday I’ll hear for myself… hehe 😉

For stations that report what they play publicly (many don’t) we guesstimate that around about 175 US radio stations are playing music from Torch and Sass right now.  So this has put me in that  elusive place of  “in “the charts” with other musicians & recording artists – sometimes with Diana Krall, Robert Glasper, Karrin Allyson.  My place bounces around, but for awhile the College Music Journal had me in the top 30- & the only unsigned artist!!

Since I’m so bad about appreciating the little successes along the way (too focused on that long list of what I haven’t done yet…), and since it’s January, I’m just going to stop now.

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Stop for a second & breathe in…this great space. And all mi Mum’s good energy….

Thank you Thank you Thank you….to everyone who has called, to the DJs who take time to listen and find something new, to all of you who listen to radio, & to your local, community radio stations:  you ALL keep musicians going!  Today- I am ecstatic, exuberant, silly-high, bouncing-off-the-walls elated!!!

Thanks Mumma!!!

Poetry pebble:  Mindful Writing Prompt

Second Spring~ Ukuleles, Dandelions, and Jazz

I just did a photo shoot for Lanikai ukuleles. It was one of those shoots where you’re not quite sure how the pics will turn out because, well, you are on your way someplace else when the publicist/photographer says- ‘hey let’s do this now!’. And so you just grab your instruments and hat and go with it, to the front porch, dog in tow.

“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. “
– G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936

Quote carved on an Anne Choi bead

I like the “doubled by wonder” part. That’s what I’m feeling now, post holiday; gratitude, tripled and spilling the brim.

I’m adapting more of my songs to ukulele of late (isn’t everyone playing uke lately!? 😉   I just did a photo shoot for Lanikai ukuleles.  It was one of those days where you’re not quite sure how the pics will turn out because, well, you’re on your way someplace else when the publicist/photographer says- ‘hey let’s do this now!’.  So you just grab your instruments and hat and go with it, playing on the porch with the dog in tow.  I threw in a fuzzy one for good measure (my pic, not his). 😉

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I’m so in love with my Lanikai ukes. I write most of my music on bass guitar, with voice.  But the other instruments I play add texture (baritone & tenor ukes, guitar, accordion, percussion, pan pipes…). They embellish the emotion and feel of each the song.  Each instrument speaks a different language, and I want to speak them all!  Once a song is finished, the band kind of takes over, adding their own magic. Then I get to focus on singing and picking what texture/instrument I want to play live.  It’s ideal playing with a band like this.  Playing a ukulele or guitar keeps you strong as a soloist too. Both are ideal, but I love how other musicians keep me learning.  Like with this song-  my jazz band has inspired me to learn it on…accordion 😉    I have to have it down by tomorrow night’s show. Eeek!

Is this video crazy awesome or WHAT!?  Back when jazz was pop- ever cool, alive and infectious.

We’re having our ‘second spring’ now, just after the first rains and before storms pull the last leaves from trees; a new carpet of green has sprouted up over dead, “gold” California grass.

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Fresh weeds,  flowers- annuals and perennials- blooming one last go before the cold.  I had hoped for a good macro of this but the wind nixed that.  A sunset through a full dandelion bloom is pretty cool though.

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Sweet Tune~ “Polliwog” by band James Farm

Can’t wait to see this crazy cool band in May at Yoshi’s. Called James Farm, they are an acoustic jazz quartet consisting of saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland.

This song made the rain stop for a minute today… 😉

Can’t wait to see this sweet crazy ensemble in May at Yoshi’s- Oakland. Called James Farm, they are an acoustic jazz quartet consisting of saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland.  Talk about fresh, new jazz.  This stuff- and each musician in their own bands- is all just plain fun to take in live.  We’ve seen Aaron with Terrance Blanchard & solo, & of course Joshua Redman over the years; fresh energy. Can’t Wait!!   Check out sonic bits of this project  here.

Vista Point: Sweet Beginnings

I don’t know about you, but when something new begins- a new cycle, a season, a project, or a year– it’s not the first day that matters to me, but some point just past it. This place is where I like to savor that newness.

I don’t know about you, but when something new begins- a new cycle, a season, a project, or a year– it’s not the first day that matters to me, but some point just past it.  This point is where I like to savor that newness.  Like taking off on a boat, but waiting before you look back- before seeing the dock recede in your wake; or peering out from the first vantage point on a hike, to the place you started from.  Today, feels like that turn-around place, that vista.

I can’t believe how busy this year has kicked off.  But before visiting that- I just have to salute a couple of mileposts in 2011. First, I’m happy to have a blog sanctuary now- one place where poems, jewelry, lyrics, and life come together.  It has helped me see the little notches in progress that really do add up.  Musically speaking, when I look back via blog posts one year ago, I find the Muses and influences for all the songs on my new album.  I was so excited to stand on the shoulders of Tradition and sing out in my own voice.  I guessed the new work would take a few months to finish. Ha! It took almost a year to write, record, mix & master this album, Torch and Sass.  Always takes longer, eh?  But I/we have 13 original jazzy blues tunes, and the journey was full.

Release date is March 2012.  I’m sending it out for critical review now- and feel good about it all.

Third, it was really important to me to launch my on-line jewelry store this year, to try to sell my work beyond my circle of supportive friends.  The store name became an animal of a concept that morphed from several things into, finally, “The Three Muses”- a topic that poetry and music and purpose led me to.  After all, jewelry too is a place where Muses converge. I made my first sales this year to real folks I’ve never met!! in addition to my Mum!  😉  This was SO exciting for me!! Here is my jewelry page update.

2012 began with a big move; unpacking boxes, electrical work & painting rooms.  All while we quietly finished the CD itself.

Producer sign off; check. Mastering back in Tejas; check.  We took cover photos and I asked for help choosing the cover on Facebook.

Master photographer, graphic designer JT did the layout & design; we learned about vector art.

This is the final product:

 

We started filming song videos in 2011 in Texas & CA.

And then something crazy cool  came up. It was on my list o’ goals for 2012 to play the biggest jazz club in the SF Bay area, Yoshis, sometime this year. I envisioned a CD release there this Summer.  But the first week of January, Yoshi’s heard some of the new songs (thank you S), and booked me in their January artists showcase!  So the band & I spent the last 3 weeks on new songs, writing horn parts, refining charts & just burning oil all around to present the new material.   Unbelievable that before Torch and Sass came out, we  played Yoshi’s-Oakland.  Last week!    And they are the first to post a song from the new album here.

It was pure JOY.  A bit surreal at first, and then magical; to see friends there-was the best, they helped me ground. Building community with my music is all I want to do.  I had to remember to breathe at first; seriously, a stage where I go to see Terrance Blanchard, Winton Marsalis, Zakir Hussain, Aaron Parks…  How sweet it was to play with my wonderful bandmates-  The Rumor Mill.

More than “be careful what you wish for”, I’d say;   Keep your dreams front and center. Prepare. Be ready! Repeat.

The Past in Pearls

The past is never where you think you left it. Creative endeavors in pearl jewelry.

“The Past is Never where you Think you Left it.”
Kathrine Anne Porter

I love the irony and humor of this one.  multiple meanings. Despite our best intentions, illusions stay illusory 🙂

Something is in the air now that feels nostalgic. It’s moving through creatively in a way  that feels like honoring the past in a positive way. A celebration, a remembering, or a reminiscing of sorts. Maybe it’s more a time & a place (not necessarily mine) caught in sepia toned photos in a far off place, or spinning on vinyl while you unfold the lace of a tucked away keepsake.

This last song I’m writing, Havana Honeysuckle (Una Noche Dulce), has me listening to early  Latin jazz- before my time, but somehow sweetly familiar. It makes me want to slip back for just one night- all dressed up, (pearls anyone?), ready to dance, and sipping the drink that’s all the rage. 😉

Last week we recorded percussion, bass, scratch vocals for this new song.  Up next, this weekend- guitar, vocals. It sounds like Portishead goes to Cuba, with my jazz noire spin.

And the jewelry inspired by this same energy also salutes the past, like the Majorca pearl necklaces my grandma wore, with those very visual, tasty, pearl colors named ‘almond, sabre, Tahitian, mocha.’ But this era, I’ll string the pearls on sterling wire links- choker length, or longer, with charms or pendants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I got my first custom orders for jewelry last week (yay!!!) – 2 matching bracelet & earring sets. Here are the bracelets. (I forgot to photograph the earrings…)

I called these mocha creme; sunstone, red tiger eye squares, pearls, and photo drop center beads on copper & sterling.