(photo credit: Phil Ramone by Genevieve Rafter-Keddy)
After he died and left us, I started to write something about Phil Ramone, record producer, musician, gentleman. I ended up speechless, so wrote nothing. Recently, I've been reflecting a good deal on what it means to have lived (I guess we could say I have been pondering "the meaning of life" and so I will say that just to keep the existential cliché "alive"). Artists and other great humans walk among us breathing, then, they go. Some are celebrated, others not; some are revered, some are reviled, most are anonymous. Carpe diem. We all go eventually. My thoughts are on the traces we leave. And so, I've been thinking about, among many others, Phil Ramone. That is perhaps inevitable, since I hear his work many times a day, when I least expect it, and most probably unknowingly, in the music I listen to. He, of course, is ubiquitous. To say he worked with virtually every music legend around is putting it mildly. Also, he IS a music legend. When I worked with him (that is not a humble brag, there is nothing humble about it) I was blissfully unaware of his illustrious history and resume, and besides, I was too BUSY to be cognizant, occupied as I was behind a microphone, for the first time, recording the original cast album of The Boy from Oz. I had my eyes wide open and butterflies in my stomach trying to learn the studio recording ropes quickly, and he was far, far away behind the glass in the control room. How could we possibly interact? But I donned my headphones, and all of a sudden there in my ears was a reassuring voice, and that was Phil. He was there with me, and probably he was as close and closer with each of the artists he worked with in his life, but to me it felt like he was my one and only, from the second he was talking to me, it was just me and Phil and the glorious band! Phil: his warm and encouraging presence, inspiring and inspired, with me, in this exquisite intimacy that comes with recording MUSIC. Light! Joyous! Concentrated as a laser, but also loose (he could hang with the cats: his words to the brilliant musicians were spoken as a peer, because he was). He was RIGHT THERE, and didn't seem to wish to be anywhere else, there was the great feeling of mutual respect among all of us, orchestra, cast, engineers. He didn't seem to differentiate between us and Stevie Wonder! We were all just about making music happen! His warm words of support instilled confidence, and great freedom to PLAY, to RISK, to maybe make fleeting magic. He had instincts which he trusted, and one of his greatest instincts was coaxing us to trust our OWN. That was his work, his art, his genius. To have been in his company in the service of the work at hand was a great gift. In retrospect, I see it was also one of my greatest lessons: Phil Ramone's master class in how to LIVE.
(photo credit: Phil Ramone by Genevieve Rafter-Keddy)
"We have parsley," I said, almost rhetorically, thinking only of how much to chop, expecting no answer. My comment was met with a delighted look of not-sure-I-was-serious. Puzzled, I repeated myself. The quizzical face smiled back at me with just the slightest bit of condescension. "You said PARZ-ley....That's so cute. ParZZley!" Me: "Well. How do YOU say it?" Him: "Um. It's PARSS-ley."
And to think I had often laughed with my sister about those neighbors who called their O-rings greaZy.
I have a knack for accents. I've worked my way around the world adopting new languages with relative ease, attuned to the regional dialects of each country, and especially interested in the variants of my native tongue, which despite the evidence is in fact English. It came as a humbling surprise that I had blithely been pronouncing a favorite herb with the accent of my native Georgia.
Why? I wondered. My mother was a Spanish woman of strong character and even stronger accent (when I was a teenager, I asked her, "Mom, you've been in this country for twenty-some years. Why is your Spanish accent still so strong?" Her reply, even more extremely accented: "Isabel! Dass my eye-DEN-TITY!" Obviously, it was her choice to keep it. She was a great mimic and could easily have morphed it into some generic breezy American sound. She could bring down the house with her send-ups of some of the characters in my hometown, one of whom was her own husband, my dad.
Which brings me back to parsley. In my mind's ear, I can hear mom conveying to me one of her many great Mediterranean recipes: "Chop some PARSS eh lee..." She might follow that with an anecdote about one of her first dinners out with dad, who'd laugh knowingly, full of pride in his bride. "At the rrrrrrestaurant, I would actually EAT de PARSS eh lee.... your father looked at me like I was CRAYssy. He tells me, "Heart, NO, that's just for decorATION!" Her eyebrows raised in a mixture of mock and real frustration, she'd exclaim, "AIIEE!" To which dad would say, in his equally thick Savannah drawl, "Dahlin, now thanks to you, I LIKE PAHWZ-lih!"
I navigated the aural terrain of my parents' opposing accents well enough to pass as a Savannahian in Savannah, but I realized early on that we lived in a different paradigm: I'd stroll along the "SIGH-deh-walk," hang clothes on a "cot-HAHNG-ah," and use the "DAHMbin" on the vacuum cleaner (that's a story of its own). My first social forays of kindergarten lifted the veil. Others spoke differently than we did. My parents' idioms were not the norm. At the age of five I was parsing pronunciations, and not only that of parsley. Life with mom and dad, two wonderful people from opposite ends of the earth, was the ground where my ear was trained on a spectrum of sounds from Spain to Savannah.
I now CHOOSE parZ-ley. Often for suppah. With ajo and a pinch of azafrán. "¡Ai ai ai! ¿Cómo no?"
Sunshine for Valentine's day means finding a heart on the street where I live! Squint and you'll see it in this shadow of a winter tree's branches. And a chance to paraphrase my fave romantic show tune!
That's a finger-painted chocolate heart from what was left of dessert! Tonight, I will be serenaded by Mark Berman, of course. At 78 Below, where his trio will be trying out new tunes before their tour. Broadway World asked me what the most romantic Broadway song is. Well, that is a nearly impossible question to answer with just one, but I narrowed it down, and it does include my favorite crooner. You can see what I and my Broadway colleagues are listening to this V-Day here.
The blizzard blew away the old blog! Here's my requisite blizzard pic to say hello to the new one. All of this since melted, but while the rest of New England was being inundated, I captured this scene on my way home from the theatre. More snow expected today and tomorrow.... Perhaps more pix?