“thank you…for letting me be myself!!!”

Promotional photo of Sly & the Family Stone fo...

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Grooved with Sly and The Family Stone last night…along with many others in the audience, of course! Remember them from the 60s and 70s? Among other rocking numbers…Dance to the Music…Everyday People…Hot Fun in the Summertime…and Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself. Brought back a lot of memories…college days, disco balls, beach dates, psychedelic colors.

Living in Hawaii at the time, and not being a part of the drug scene, Woodstock could have been on Mars for all my friends and I knew. A scholarship and work study student, I had to keep my nose to the grind if I wanted to graduate with a degree from the University of Hawaii. At the time, the mainland United Stateswas only somewhere to vacation…if I was lucky enough to afford air fare.

Part of the crowd on the first day of the Wood...

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Sly and The Family Stone were one of the many groups who made history more than 4 decades ago at Woodstock. All that remains of the original ensemble are the drummer, the saxophonist and the trumpeter. In their 60s and 70s, these three still had the moves. They were joined by younger members who have kept Sly’s message and voice alive. Together both generations brought the house down!

By the end of the evening the entire audience was on its feet, bumping and grinding to the rythmn and beat of music from the past. Sounds and lyrics still relevant in today’s society with its economic, political and racial woes. Times change…but not that much.

Zippity the Hamster Exercising in His Wheel

Image by Jim, the Photographer via Flickr

When the group broke into the oldie but goodie Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself, I thought of my husband. Throughout 41 years of marriage, he has never asked me to be other than who I am. Even when I wasn’t sure who I was. Feeling pressured to be what others thought I should be, had me running like a hamster on its wheel. My husband never waivered in his loyalty, standing alongside me, waiting for me to dislodge myself from the vise of others’ approval. Long journey, trying to get home to me. I owe a lot to the one person whose belief in me never waivered.

Since our lives have settled into that of empty-nesters, we’ve enjoyed going on date nights, usually to movie theaters. Agreeing that there aren’t many we care to see of late, my husband and I have taken to dining at a jazz club. A nice, cozy meal, followed by music…from mellow…to rocking. Thing is, my husband isn’t a huge fan of jazz. He’s slowly warming to it…live. He still doesn’t care much for the canned kind…what comes out of the radio. But knowing how much I love to move to the rythmn of the music, my husband willingly accommodates my passion. As long as I don’t insist he dance…which I’ve stopped doing…a long, long time ago. We’re both very happy that we can…

… just be ourselves!………hugmamma.

in touch with…my soul

It’s not what you think. This isn’t about some soul-searching, life altering revelation. Although come to think of it, it might be. But actually, this is about getting down with my bad self…my pulsating, rythmic, jivin’, island soul. There are probably a handful of people in whose bodies I’d like to revisit this earth. And last night I met up with one of them, literally.

Brian Culbertson live in 2008 at the Xcel Ener...

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After watching him perform live on stage at The Jazz Alley in Seattle, he walked towards me down the narrow hallway, where I was waiting for my friend Sylvia to exit the ladies room. As he stood inches from me, speaking to someone, I leaned forward, touched his arm, looked him straight in the eye and said “You know when I come back to earth, and I’m almost 62, I want to come back as you.” Looking me up and down with surprise registering in his brilliant, blue eyes, Brian Culbertson could only grin and say “ohhhh…” He was probably thinking “Well let’s see now…you’re a middle-aged woman, Asian on top of that, and I’m a white, hip, 20-something year-old, male. Now what was that you were saying?” I think he was flattered, shocked, but flattered.

I do that to people sometimes. Say something they’re not prepared to hear. After 41 years of marriage, my husband’s not really surprised at what I might say. He can still be caught off guard, although he’s learned to smile, knowing there’s not much he can do to suppress my ebullience. Except once when he quickly covered my mouth with his hand when I said to his boss that I’d have wanted a son just like him, had I had one, and that I felt very motherly towards he and his wife who was standing alongside us. She was very sweet to say that I’d be more like a sister, since she was just 10 years younger than me. At this point my husband started backing us toward the door to take our leave. But we’ve socialized with them enough, so they know I speak candidly, and always from the heart. There’s a mutual feeling of admiration. They are generous people, down-to-earth and loving parents to 2 teens. But I digress.

Returning to Culbertson, I’m not a hard-core jazz afficionado, but after witnessing his musical genius and the wide-ranging talents of his band, and their passion for the genre, I’m sold. Stand me in front of a keyboard, put a saxophone to my lips, give me sticks to beat the drums, and teach me to blow a haunting melody from a trumpet, and I’ll be a true, blue, jazz junkie until the sweet angels come to take me away. Hallelujah! Oh, Lordy! Here I come…

The thing I most relished about the evening was the obvious camaraderie among the band members. It was as if the audience was the proverbial “fly on the wall” watching, as Culbertson and the guys jammed. Quite often their smoothe instrumental delivery would climb to a crescendo, finally bursting tinto a frenzied comingling of percussion, brass, keyboard, and electric guitar. I longed to be part of the creative process. And I’m certain I wasn’t the only one. All of us who bore witness to the passion these men brought to their music had to have been inspired. My inspiration was two-fold.

I’ve always wanted to play the piano. Brian Culbertson inspired me to get off my butt and sign up for lessons. He also spoke of the growing demise of jazz appreciation in our society, in part because corporate America doesn’t see the genre as profitable.

The first and only time my family and I went to Jazz Alley was because my favorite jazz radio station had emailed me a showbill of upcoming events. One of the deejays was on hand acting as hostess for the evening. We had a wonderful time, so it was totally incomprehensible when I turned on the radio the following morning and heard pop rock playing, instead of the usual sounds of jazz. “Whaaa haaapened?” Is all I could say. As I suspected, corporate know-it-alls decided what it was we wanted to hear. Always one to make my own decisions…I’m still scouring the air waves looking for a replacement.

meanwhile, culbertson cds will do just fine…hugmamma.

getting down…with jazz

There’s jazz…and then there’s jazz. Not sure which kind I like, probably a combination of all that’s out there in that particular genre. I think I’d prefer to be sitting in the audience listening to hard core jazz, rather than over the radio waves. Not the same, I don’t think. I need to be immersed in some things to get the full flavor. I like to watch the artists breathe life into their music…”getting down with their bad selves,” as my daughter likes to say. I’m pretty sure I’m referring to the kind of bluesy jazz that is original to New Orleans. I’d definitely fly there to sit in an audience and let the spirits move me…not the haunted ones, of course, although I’m sure they’ve got those too. 

As I sit here typing, music from a jazz radio station is wafting through the house. Wish I could watch the pianist who’s passionately hammering away at the keys in what seems like sheer bliss. That having ended, now there’s a honky tonk tune that’s got me moving my head to its beat…now my shoulders..now my torso. Before you know it, I’ll be up…”getting down with my bad self.”

Will I ever get out to do more weeding and planting? Who knows. For now, I’m just swaying with the rythmn, grooving and moving to some soulful singing, feeling like I left the cool climes for the bayou and its jazz-drenched humidity.

…can i help you get into the groove?…take a listen…

…are you “down with your bad self” yet?…hugmamma.  😉


cemetery parties

“More than a century ago, cemeteries were social hubs. They were often the greenest spots around. Families would visit on weekends for carriage rides, boating, or picnics by a loved one’s grave. Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery drew half a million visitors a year in the mid-19th century, on par with Niagara Falls.” According to an 8/12 Wall Street Journal article, cemetery socials are experiencing a resurgence. With more Americans opting for cremation, sales of burial plots are on the wane. All around the country prospective buyers have been lured to events on cemetery gounds, in the hopes that they might one day be chosen as final resting places. “In a marketing move that has drawn some criticism, graveyards across the nation are opening their grounds to concerts and clowns, barbecues and dance performances–anything that might bring happy families through the wrought-iron gates.”

At the Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, Colorado, Big Band tune “Swinging at the Savoy” rocks out while couples boogie in the aisles, chowing down  hot dogs, fried chicken and brownies. Cedar Hill Cemetery of Hartford, Connecticut “holds regular scavenger hunts.” Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles projects films on mausoleum walls during the summer, drawing thousands. Disabled children are invited to fish in “a serene pond amid the headstones” at Michigan Memorial Park in Flat Rock, Michigan. “So Davis Cemetery in Davis, Calif., plans poetry workshops, bird walks and art shows. Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Neb., hosts a Shakespeare festival and rents its quaint chapel for weddings. In Wheat Ridge, Colo., Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery staged a Memorial Day party with fireworks and sky divers. And Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery in Riverside, Calif., recently hosted its first fair, drawing a crowd of 700 for face painting, live rock and In-N-Out burgers.”

While cemetery superintendents want to become a greater presence in their communities, there are naysayers who feel that cemeteries are strictly for the dead. But with very few complaints being registered, festivities on burial grounds seem destined to remain a permanent fixture. As an attendee at a recent concert at Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery, entrepeneur Ken Katuin explained ” ‘People tend to go to places they’re familiar with…That’s why McDonald’s has Happy Meals. You start out there as a kid, you have a happy memory of the place, and then when you’re an adult, you keep coming back.’ …Standing outside the mortuary, Mr. Katuin looked at the couples strolling through the darkening graveyard to hear jazz. ‘Maybe this,’ he says, ‘is their Happy Meal.’ ”

On a recent trip to Orange County, California, to see our daughter perform as part of the National Choreographer’s Initiative, my husband granted my only wish for my 61st birthday, which occurred while we were there. We visited Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. I’d wanted to see Michael Jackson’s burial site, but also glimpse where stars from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood were buried. I’d picked up a thick paperback from Barnes and Noble, which was like an encyclopedic “map” of historical celebrity sites, hangouts, studios, homes. Hollywood: The Movie lover’s Guide – The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie L.A. by Richard Alleman, even detailed the specific locations where the famous were entombed. Book in hand we went on our very own scavenger hunt, seeking out dead people.

While we went scavenging, we saw families here and there, quietly laying out assorted picnic goodies for luncheon feasts. I also saw a young woman, sitting peacefully among some trees, eyes closed, in deep thought or maybe meditating. I felt such calm as I strode about, or glanced out the car window, thinking that this would be a wonderful place to rest in eternal peace. But I’m not convinced I’d move to traffic-ridden, smoggy Los Angeles just for the privilege of being interred in Forest Lawn.

but it does take your breath away, literally…hugmamma.