Monday, August 3, 2015

One of the best things about staying in the city in August is attending the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART: I, for one, have always preferred the city to the country. While my little Constanze often departed to take the healing waters at Baden-Baden, Vienna was the only place for me. The vibrancy of the city inspires me.
MM: I’m talking about New York City, Amade'. Although I’d be happy to spend some time in Vienna before this summer ends. But for now we’re staying in Manhattan.
WAM: And we are having such fun, are we not?
MM: You bet! This weekend we attended the eponymous festival that celebrates your music and heard virtuoso pianist Jeremy Denk perform your D Minor piano concerto—
WAM: —with grace and perfection, I would add. The man is a consummate artist.
MM: Yes. He captured the range of emotion of your composition flawlessly and with exquisite nuance. It made me cry at times.
WAM: Which was my intent, my dear. D minor is the death key, you know.
MM: I know. On the other hand much of the concerto is soaring and hopeful. Life-affirming.
WAM: Well, one does not wish to spend too much time wallowing in tears, does one? There is so much to enjoy in life.
MM: Most particularly music. For me, it’s the best thing in life. A healing force. Which leads me to yesterday’s adventure, a screening of Sound of Redemption: The Frank MorganStory at the Lincoln Center Film Society.
WAM: Frank Morgan…this is not a name familiar to me. Is he Viennese?
MM: No, Amade', he was an American jazz musician. Virtuoso alto sax player and protégé of Charlie Parker. The film is a moving and emotional experience that uses a memorial concert at San Quentin as a springboard to tell Morgan’s story and trace his journey from young prodigy in the Midwest to the heights of the L.A. Jazz scene, and on to San Quentin, imprisoned for crimes relating to his heroin addiction. The redemption comes after his release, when he resumes his career and conquers new audiences, including those at the pinnacle of the jazz world in New York City.
The screening featured a Q&A at the end with author Michael Connelly, who was one of the producers, and N.C. Heiken, writer and director. Afterwards, virtuoso alto players Grace Kelly and Marc Gross, both of whom appear in the film, treated us to an impromptu performance.

Years ago, Morgan’s music so inspired author Michael Connelly, he used it as the underlying soundtrack in many of his books. His lead character, Detective Harry Bosch, finds peace and comfort in Frank Morgan’s music, escaping into his CDs at the end of the day to help wash away the pain. Much the way I find peace in your music, Amade', at the end of my day.

WAM: I am happy you find solace in it, my dear. I found solace in composing it.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Feeling sentimental. Forty-one years ago today my plane touched down at LaGuardia and I embarked on my new life in Manhattan. As my taxi whisked me over the Triborough Bridge to an uncertain future, with my head full of  dreams and my heart full of hope, I thought about my immediate “to do” list: Find a job, an apartment and the love of my life. I somehow knew they were all waiting for me in Emerald City. It’s been a twisted and sometimes mysterious road, but it eventually led me to all three.

WAM: Do you not just adore it when dreams come true? I enjoyed the same experience when I moved from Salzburg to Vienna over 200 years ago.

MM: Yes, my dear Mozart, but you accomplished your dreams much faster than I. And in fact, I’m still working on some of them.

WAM: You do procrastinate, my dear.

MM: No, my dear Mozart, I multi-task. You applied yourself to your music full-time. After quitting my job as an advertising writer, I pursued many outlets for self-expression: Non-fiction, fiction, songwriting, singing, and serious composition. And yes, sometimes I became side-tracked, as in traveling the world with my late husband while he performed with the Original Blues Brothers Band.

WAM: In my day, we might have called you a dilettante

MM: I’ll ignore that. Point is, I’ve been working on a memoir about my unconventional life, and when I  heard about the New York Table 4 Writers Foundation 2014 Grant Competition I extracted 2,500 words from it, entitled it “Lullaby of Broadway,” and entered. It’s a three-part story that opens with that young woman looking down from the plane at the be-jeweled city waiting to welcome her and fulfill her dreams; then it segues into the reality of her NY life, as she snorts heroin with her piano teacher during her lunch break; and concludes with a nightmarish experience of playing piano bar in a Broadway dive, entertaining hookers and tourists.

WAM: Vastly different from our Sunday afternoon soirees at Baron van Swieten’s library.

MM: Vastly. But worth living through because it provided me with so much material to write about. And best of all, it won me a grant from the Foundation.

WAM: My heartiest congratulations, Madame.

MM: Thank you, Amadé. I received my award last night at the Table 4 Gala at the Metropolitan Club — exactly on the eve of when my New York story begins. Doesn’t that just feel…mystical?

WAM: A gala, you say. And you did not invite mois?

MM: I didn’t think you would have the appropriate attire.