You're thinking, I thought this was a music blog, well, the illustrious Paul Williams sits on the ASCAP Board of directors, & also penned one of the most beloved Muppet songs ever written - "The Rainbow Connection." (Mental gap spanned? S'good? Onward then.)
I was talking to a dear friend of mine, when he suddenly exclaimed, "I don't know, I just don't get The Muppets." ... "What!?!?" I said. (I suddenly realized though that a huge part of Muppet charm, is its comedy, and you can't explain comedy. You either jive with it - "get it" or... well, you don't.) So, instead of explaining Muppet humor, I explained why the Muppets are so human. (Funny how similar the words humor & human look & sound... but that's another entry =-) Lets start with Fozzie Bear... Everything about Fozzie Bear is counterintuitive
Let's look at Fozzie's chosen profession, he's a comedian... probably THE WORST comedian on the face of the earth. Usually, (I know I'm generalizing, but roll with me here), comedians are, in their daily lives, less happy and more angry, and sport a specific way of looking at the world, thus fueling their comedic style. They almost never laugh at their own jokes, unless it's a tactic.
Now let's examine Fozzie on stage. Fozzie comments & qualifies every joke, set, routine etc., with a bombastic & rambunctious "wacka wacka wacka." He's also a pretty happy little bear, without a very specific point of view regarding the world. Fozzie's feelings, motives, actions, tactics, etc., are usually contingent upon Kermit's; thus severely limiting Fozzie's comedic content.
But we love Fozzie, despite his comedic ineptitude, because we root for him. Fozzie fails on stage 100% of the time but keeps trying. He's a survivor. HE'S A GREAT HUMAN - what's not to like?
Now lets look at Kermit. I grew up with Kermit, and am still learning from him. Kermit is the glue of the group. Without him, this misbegotten, crew of sometimes very unfocused, (but always charming), band of Muppets, would spin out of control, and/or cave in on themselves.
Much like Jimmy Stuart, Kermit is The Everyman. But he's a frog. (Counterintuitively speaking, I find it easier to look up to a Frog. I would be more apt to judge a human character, but a little frog, on a lily in a lake? A green frog that blends into the environment, with long skinny legs? That character I jump on board with immediately cause he's inordinately cute and adorable.
Jim Henson did this on purpose, he knows the human condition. We humans rally for something when our imagination is ignited and our belief is suspended. Subconsciously though, in my suspended belief, I'm connecting to Kermit as the ultimate symbol of a human being. He's the little guy that struggles, is tested, and wins. Kermit is the essence and the spirit of Jim Henson, and unlike the man, the genius of Jim Henson will live forever, in Kermit.
Jim Henson, belongs to that select pantheon of people that have touched the world. Jim's scope is wide. Couple Jim's talent with his ferocious imagination, marry it to his attention to detail and craftsmanship, fuse it with his desire to share his gifts with other young artists, and you get something that comes once in a lifetime. You get The Muppets and the kind of person who attracts people like Joan Ganz Cooney and Frank Oz. Ever notice the plethora of renown people that clamor to work with The Muppets?? Bill Cosby, Ray Charles, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams. I think you get it. But what am I saying, I, We, (the majority), do love The Muppets intuitively. For those of you who don't, I hope I shed some light on the message and meaning behind the muppets.
Look at The Rainbow Connection: "Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers & me." If you're a lover & a dreamer, then unknowingly, you connect with The Muppets, and Jim Henson... and that should make you feel GREAT!!!!
Ryan Kelly's, (singer/songwriter), debut album of originals, not just Another Girl, (produced by Terry Fabrizio at Trevi Music studios), is being played regularly on radio stations (1100 AM WHLI, Jonathan Schwartz's 93.9FM WNYC and Sirius Radio). In the summer of 2013 Ryan, opened for The Duprees at The Queens Park Theater, she also opened for Chris Botti at The St. George Theater, and her third radio interview aired on WHUD FM.
In NYC (this fall), Ms. Kelly appeared at Cafe San Martin, and at The Metropolitan Room. Ryan played the TBAIMS festival at Tobacco Rd in Dec. Her cover of Baby It's Cold Outside aired on 1100 AM (WHLI) during the 2013 Christmas Season. She was last seen at the Christopher St. Coffee House, and was invited back to perform there in March of 2014.
Ryan is at ease in many genres and paints from a broad musical palate. Headline appearances include: Birdland Jazz Club, The Bitter End, The Duplex, Merkin Concert Hall, Ars Nova, The Player's Theater, The Broadway Waterfront Festival, The San Gennaro's Festival, The Laurie Beechman, The Friar's Club, Bryant Park, The Iridium (with the late great Les Paul), and on New Year's Eve Celebration in Times Square.
Ryan was featured at Citi Field, and in Atlantic City, on the main stage of Harrah's Casino singing lead vocals in Le Ombre. In LA, she's appeared at The Hayworth, and the First & Hope Theater's in TUPELO. Ryan is also featured on the TUPELO album, singing the duet - If You Talk In Your Sleep with Jeremiah James, (Yellow Sound Label.) Ryan shared the stage with David Zippel, John Bucchino & Amanda McBroom in the Johnny Mercer tribute concert at Chicago Northwestern Univ - (Hosted by Michael Kerker.)
Other notable performances include a double role in the Sonny Grosso / Phil Ramone Production of Be My Love – The Life of Mario Lanza in Song. Film/TV: ABC's All My Children & MTV's Parental Approval, she plays Sissy in the film Outrage. Ryan also plays Tiffany, the vocal impersonating swing dancer, in Dorian Blues.
Graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s Musical Theatre program where she received a BFA in drama, and is also an AEA member, she received a COAHSI award for excellence in vocal performance, a Premiere Grant to produce her one-woman show - A Dozen Women In One - at CSI's performing arts center, and is an alumnus of Northwestern University's Johnny Mercer Songwriting Workshop. Ryan is a former Miss Staten Island. Presently teaching the singing, voice & speech, and acting. not just Another Girl is available on Amazon & I-tunes. For more information visit: www.ryeryan.com / www.facebook.com/GirlRyanMusic
I don't know when my love/hate thing surfaced with the piano. I suppose it's different from the piano stage fright madness, which I’m happy to reiterate, (if you didn't read my first entry), that I’m almost completely over. There are times they get connected up. For example, you play a few tunes at a show, and you forget one, (not the lyrics, the chord progression), cause logistically speaking, you're not playing by the chord progression; you're playing from muscle memory. - (For you fellow keyboardists out there, it's always good to be able to execute the same tune from two or three different parts of your facility: via the letter chord progressions, via the visual shapes of the chord voicings and via your muscle/brain memory. If you have all three musketeers kicking at once, & one fails, one of the others will save the day and the damsel ;-) -
- back to forgetting a song -
It's the worst feeling ever, even if you do cover by jumping to a different part of the tune, it feels like time has slowed to a halt and your fingers are no longer in control of the vehicle. If I forgot a few notes during a live show, instead of going back to the drawing board & honing the parts that eluded me, I boycotted my piano. Thus, forgetting how to play anything and feeling foolish and frustrated. I call this the hate piano cycle. Thankfully, I haven't experienced it in many moons.
Before I forgot songs from muscle memory, ages ago, I dabbled in some classical playing. (Mind you, I didn't have a teacher so I would listen to a recording to get the rhythm, intonation, nuances etc.) I remember the feeling of scrambled eggs in my head, plunking away, hacking at a piece, (undoubtedly with the wrong fingering), but hoping to recreate something of what the composer might have intended. This Christmas, my Grammie requested I revisit one of these classical pieces and play it for her on her piano. She requested Clair De Lune, (I'm just overjoyed she didn't ask for Afternoon of a Faun.)
PS, I found the sheet music this evening and started getting it back in my fingers. It's amazing how even years later, your hands recall what they played with ease and what they played poorly, and how they want to fall into the same good and bad patterns. I'm able to avoid muscle memory mistakes because of the time I spent composing, learning a bit of chord theory, messing up during live shows, and playing by ear. I can now look down at a classical pass and say, "you idiot, it's just an F# chord in the third position, there's no boogie man here!" Thankfully, I seem to be in an eternal piano love phase regarding this classical piece.
What am I saying? It's good to revisit pieces from what seems like your past. Whether it was a tune that derailed you in a live show, or a difficult piece you worked on as an adolescent. You're going to glean something different from it the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th time around. (And hopefully, my Grammie will be pleased!)
So I guess I wouldn't be a responsible singer/song writer with my finger on the pulse of things if I didn't address last night's Grammy awards right? (Not that I'd ever label myself hip to cutting edge music, or understand what even qualifies as music, or why which tunes and / or genres appeal to people.) Still, I guess I can say I was part of the process this year because a Grammy Board Member did submit my album for consideration for nominations, (what a nice guy… he shall remain nameless ;-) And I do have an appreciation and a respect for all genres all disciplines and anyone who busts their hump to get their songs out there. Rock on.
Love Carole King & Sara Bareilles, (no surprises there), & I’m fully behind the Grammy Bruno nabbed. Mars is one of the newer artists who does do it for me. His tunes, (while reminiscent of each other), reach me on a level beyond just fist pumping the air. I love his look, the dude's got class, and I’m a fan. He's also gracious without being touchy feely or forced.
I was thoroughly entertained by the robotic French Duo. Again, beyond the Grammy they won, that level of commitment to your brand, (not showing your face at the Grammys, staying in your trade mark outfit), has got to be really, really hard.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis's, (what's that Lewis guy doing with a chick name ;-), Can't Hold Us nod was pivotal. They were not released though any major label and yet, they claimed the award, just another testament to how much the music scene has been revolutionized, and how far fan based music can climb - hollah!!
Loved seeing Chicago rock out, (would have preferred it if they'd have covered their own medley of tunes w/o the assist from Robin, although I LOVE BLURRED LINES - even though it does liberally steal from Marvin Gaye… (It isn't like Roar doesn't steal from Queen & Survivor, but as they say, the mediocre borrow and the truly brilliant steal.)
Thought Madonna looked slightly out of place with her stick, as opposed to Queen Latifah's breezy, fancy-free air, I guess the marriage ceremony was cool right? (I mean if music can't bring us together - what can?)
But when all is said and done, no one can shine the shoes of Paul McCartney and his rainbow painted electric keyboard. Was wonderful to see Ringo beat it up with him on stage again. Paul McCartney will never lose his gifts for melodic writing and lyrical phrases. I'm glad he will continue to carry the burning torch from that time when music was… well, more musical. We'll never be Royal, but it's okay cause Sir McCartney has us covered.
*Holy Moly Batman, I completely forgot to mention John Legend's outstanding performance of All of Me from Love in the Future. (It's a fierce song, and now a part of my rep, I've alluded to Legend before, he's a throw back to a higher standard of music.) Also, my lady Alicia Keys brought home the award for best R&B album for Girl On Fire, another fantastic addition to the beautiful repertoire of super star Alicia Keys - probably my favorite contemporary artist.
The Voice Whisperer
What comes first, The Chicken, or the egg?
When people find out you're a songwriter, their first reaction, after a series of judgmental looks, is to ask, what comes first, the music, or the words? Let me commend all the singers, musicians, writers, dreamers, etc. I applaud your tenacity, your passion, your talent & your discipline. Don't pay any mind to the eye rollers of the world; they can only hope to stumble upon a gift as precious ;-)
For myself, the words and rhythm have always come first, accompanied by a rudimentary melody. I'll get an idea for a phrase, or I'll come across a word that can be repeated over and over in different ways. Recently though, I'm forcing myself to come up with a chord progression first. Pianos aren't around when song ideas strike. I'm undoubtedly brushing my teeth, vacuuming, or walking distractedly around a horribly fluorescent lit, home goods store, trying not to lose my mind. Luckily, I always have my trusty I-phone on me & I immediately click on the voice memo tool, mutter and record whatever I can hold onto.
Now, however, I make the sojourn to the piano, kick chords around, and fill in a few passing tones. My chord progressions are complicated, (this is a product of being influenced by Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Fats Waller, Sondheim, Hamlisch, Burt Bacharach, etc. I don't think in a straight forward I IV V, [one four five], orderly fashion. I hear mud, my ear likes Maj 7th chords, #5 & b5 chords, 6chords, I like modulating, I like descending 4ths, I like tri-tones, I can't stand parallel 5th's, but I'm a lover of the perfect fourth and the perfect fifth, and I say with ultimate zeal - All hail the mighty John Williams!) I sit behind the piano and experiment, sometimes, I'll hit a wrong note and that note will change my tonal path. The more I write, the quicker I'm able to hear what I want and what to discard. Sometimes what I discard will birth a different song… sometimes, it just really sucks. The test is whether or not I like it the next day. You'd be amazed at "what a difference a day makes."
What made me change my process? Or rather, what gave me the ability to leave my comfort zone? Several things. I became a better piano player. I’m by no means a great pianist, I'm not even a good one, I have a capable facility, and I can accompany myself. The song writing process becomes easier when more chords and more voicings become available to you. The more chords you know, the more choices you have. I also saw an interview with John Legend, I didn't realize to what extent the interview influenced me till years later. Mr. Legend spoke about singing nonsense syllables while he composed a melody. Later, he used the non-descript, undefined consonant and vowel sounds to shape his lyrics. Thanks Mr. Legend. Lastly, I began attending a bi-monthly songwriting share shop in NYC. Flocks of composers and lyricists of all genres attend this share shop, and their writings have opened my ears up to new progressions and alternate feels, and they've given me unspoken permission and support to take greater risks. (The share shop also gives you dead lines… but that's another blog entry =-D)
Armed with these new tools, fresh ideas and a freedom from the restraining notion that - "I can’t do that"- I'm delighted to say that, I can write both ways. (I can also co-write again, which I thought I'd never do in a million years, but that's a different entry.)
So what does comes first, the music or the words? It's different for everyone, and everyone's process evolves. I will say this though, don't be afraid to try something new because you think you might fail, don't be chicken about laying a rotten egg… it may turn out to be golden.
What do you do when a student has an audition for a show, (a school show), and said school doesn't reveal the title of said show till the night before your lesson with said student, (grrr), the audition for said show is before your next lesson with said student & the music for said show hasn't been published in the proper key… only 5 light year half steps up? There's nothing worse than feeling unrepaired for an audition that you've been waiting all autumn for, I don't care if it's a Broadway audish or a rinky-dink, back woods, talent show call, it's still the same rotten feeling. That feeling is even worse for a teacher… for all you teachers out there, here's what I did.
So there's this glorious, wonderful tool called youtube on the "world wide interweb" - (10 points that mean nothing to the readers who can identify the origins of that quote.) I visited this most holy of holy destinations, to check the key for this tune, (cause I didn't have the score, and I know it had recently been revived, and usually in these modern times, the latest Broadway production team does massive surgery on a score… maybe the composer comes back to scrutinize these changes, this particular composer happens to be dead, so I don't think so.) A keen observation from the point of view of a singer who’s also a pianist, (*I'm not the first person to make this observation*), that singular published version of a tune, in easy to get anthologies, is almost always transcribed into a key easy for a pianist to play, but a horror show for a singer to sing. Even when vocal selection books are published for Broadway shows; the tunes are never in the proper keys. WHY?!?!!?!? OH THE HUMANITY!!! So, after listening to the tune from the new Broadway prod via the youtube, I discovered that this tune was taken down 5 half steps from the original published key, it's actually a gorgeous key for an alto voice, right in the sweet spot, "who could ask for anything more?" ;-)
I feebly plunked out the transposed melody for my student to sing through, (we had already run out of time), and I assured my student, that I would find the tune in that key before the audish …less than a week away. WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?!? Searched the interweb, nothing, nada, zilch, and zero. (I also knew I wouldn't be able to get into NYC's Lincoln center library to check if they had it, "lions and tigers and bears" - oi vey.) Then I had a thought, perhaps the prod team already had their hands on the rights to this show, meaning, they probably already had the score with all the correct keys in their possession… But what if they didn't? Not wanting my student to wrestle with that completely unprepared, up in the air, "THE FATE OF MY AUDISION IS IN THEIR HANDS "feeling, I transcribed the tune note for note by hand into the correct key. (There's more than one way to skin a cat. You can yield the same results with the use of a midi-key board & cables, an interface, a computer and soft wear), for reasons I won't get into here, my keyboard wasn't available to me. My student only needed a 16 bar cut of the tune, which made my job of transcribing infinitely less time consuming. After I wrote out the sheet, I scanned it into my computer and emailed it to my student.
What's my point? My moral? My Aesop Fable? Go the extra mile for your students, they'll remember, and they'll go the extra mile… in the world. (And you'll feel pretty good too.)
The Voice Whisperer
I guess my history of facebook posts prompted the genesis of this blog. Friends comment on my various non-sequiturs invariably saying, you should really be blogging. I don't read any blogs, therefore, I don't know anything about the art of blogging, but I do have a ton of thoughts about all things musical, so I figure, what the hell?
So, what can you expect from my collection of verbiage/vids/pics/platitudes:
An inside look at the song writing process (I'm a song writer) A sneak peak behind the birth of vocal impersonations (I'm a vocal impersonator) A romp through the process of how to sing better (I'm a voice teacher) A rant and or stream of conscious regarding popular singers, oldies, & indie artists (I'm NOT a critic) Proverbial wrestling matches between me & various unassuming keyboards Some Mickey Rooney moments ("we should find a barn and put up a show.") Self-deprecating confessions of crazy "play fright" (and maybe a look at some music and recording gadgets)
Oh yeah, and I've decided to call this blog - The voice whisperer - here goes!!
The Voice Whisperer
I've turned into that person who plays the piano and sings at a b-day party, a get together, an anniversary shindig etc. Dunno how or when this happened, cause for the longest time, I had a horrible fear of playing the piano in public. I used to go through this huge pre-show combo ritual of psyching myself up while simultaneously, zenning myself out. Weird, cause I was never fazed by singing, acting or dancing in shows… but something about my 10 digits spanning 88 keys in public, (never at home), really freaked me out. Kind of a catch 22, cause in order to conquer this fear of playing in public, you actually have to play, with some regularity, in public.
You ever white out? You get really dizzy, and what you're looking at literally turns white and then disappears right in front of your face? Ya, that would happen to me while I was playing and singing a song in a live show. Also, it seemed as though the keys would jump out of order, the C would change places with G, chords would invert, it was a real party. But thank science, after much internal turmoil, and what felt like a zillion tomato red appearances at the mercy of numerous uprights, consoles and baby-grands, my fear of playing in public magically melted away… like the wicked witch of the west.
So now when my friend Lou, (one of the nicest, most dedicated and talented people to walk the earth), asks me to do few Christmas songs, which also happen to be vocal impersonations, while accompanying myself, at his annual holiday party, I'm happy to say, I don't even bat an eye.
What's the moral? - I’m going to try to leave each blog entry on a positive thought/moral what have you, (probably not as masterfully as Trey Parker and Matt Stone do it), but whatever. How do you conquer you fears? Every day, do something that terrifies you - (within reason!!)
Hope you enjoyed my first entry as - The Voice Whisperer - . Wishing you much happiness, peace, love and prosperity in 2014. (If you liked my insanity, share it with your friends, if you didn't … do me a flavor, don't tell nobody ;-)
(Ryan Kelly behind the piano singing - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas & Impersonating Judy Garland - must copy & past into your browser to see/hear.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1YFaWJaH70&feature=youtu.be
1100 AM WHLI is playing four tracks from my debut CD Not Just Another Girl, all week. Paul Richards has been making some amazing comments about my music. I couldn't be more thrilled to be on that station accompanied by the hits of a lifetime.
They are playing my cover of The Doors hit, Love Her Madly, and three of my originals, Maybe, Boy & Girl, You're Not My Type.
You can stream the station: http://www.whli.com/listen-live.aspx
Thank you so much Paul! It's such an incredible feeling!
Today, as I was sending out email blasts, creating FB invites, reposting tweets, (doing all things 2012), The Majestic, a period film starring Jim Carry, was playing in the background. I had never seen it before, it was great.
Especially magical about the majestic, was Nat King Cole's rendition of Johnny Mercer's - "I remember you," it played during the credit roll. Nat King Cole & Johnny Mercer, my first two musical influences.
If you asked me when I was a kid, who my favorite singer was, I invariably answered, "Nat King Cole." If you asked me when I was a kid, who my favorite lyricist was, I invariably answered, Johnny Mercer. For my part, those two artists, more than any others, were responsible for sucking me into the great and powerful world of The American Popular Standard. Of course once I located Standard Land, I fell in love with almost all of the male crooners, and female sirens of swing, but Johnny & Nat were the genesis.
When I was a kid, I had know idea that Johnny Mercer started Capital records, and that the sales of Nat King Cole's recordings, as they say in the business, literally built capital records. All I knew was that I loved anything Nat sang, and every lyric Johnny wrote.
(But I digress, back to Nat's voice on the credit roll) - I couldn't believe it, but I couldn't place the intro. Very unusual for me, I felt ashamed. For those of you who have absolutely no idea who I am, (that's the vast majority of all people everywhere), i'm a music buff, a "Standard" Music buff that is. It never takes me more than one note from the first phrase of a standard to name the song, the singer, the lyricist, the composer, and all other renditions ever recorded. But for more than a moment, I was floored. I heard "Was it in Tahiti..." and my reliable, acrobatic, music recall, was noticeably short circuited.
Of course, once Nat sailed into the unmistakable - I remember you - verse, I couldn't NOT know which song it was. And then... I started to cry. That is not unusual for me, I cry all the time, but I can usually feel a good cry coming on, but this one was different. It was like an old friend I hadn't seen & heard in years was suddenly in my kitchen, singing to me. Two old friends really, Nat & Johnny.
S'good to hear from you boys. Hope all is well in Standard Heaven.
Last year, I remember right around this time, the NY/NJ area was hit not only with a hurricane, but also a teeny tiny earthquake.. Remember? I remember, because I was compelled to write three songs, two of which are now released on my Debut Album, Not Just Another Girl. Who knew that, Far Out, (a now fully arranged, beautiful orchestral piece, showcasing strings and an emotionally immediate lyric, and A Hard Place, a throw back to the 1960's, featuring a sexy guitar solo and a rocking vocal, were going to be inspired by, of all things A HURRICANE!!
So what do I say to all you brilliant musicians, vocalists, writers, producers etc?? I say, be inspired by the elements, let Hurricane Sandy lead you to your next song... It will probably be a hit. And stay safe in the storm ;-)