Joy was in the house with Donny McCaslin

And I think the spirit of David Bowie was there too. Saturday night’s (April 1, 2017) scintillating performance at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall demonstrated that Donny McCaslin has developed into a world-class, big league band leader, composer, and sax player. I saw McCaslin perform in early 2016 at the Village Vanguard, shortly after David Bowie’s death, and the events of the past year seem to have transformed McCaslin from an angry young(ish) man into a joyful, seasoned artist who is streaming his creative gifts into the world.

Last night McCaslin opened with a discordant, in your face composition from his earlier repertoire of published music, and then the quartet took a leap into two new (as yet un-named) numbers that McCaslin wrote specifically for the performance at Zankel Hall. The band members were beaming, and so was I, as I heard the driving rhythm section (bassist Jonathan Maron and drummer Zach Danziger) provide counter-point to an astonishing fusion of McCaslin’s sax and keyboard wizard Jason Lindner’s never-before-heard arrangement of electronic noise. The sounds were so unexpected and new, a feeling of wonder filled the hall and penetrated into the minds and bodies of the audience like a magic dust, floating down, pinging off the earbones, and ringing bells of awakening in every cell of the collective body. This music was exciting! A fresh invocation of joyful wonder, and the band was fully enjoying the revelation as well, with smiles on their faces throughout the performance. They felt the rapture, and made us feel it too.

As you may know, McCaslin and Lindner played on David Bowie’s final musical gift to the world, Black Star, released two days before his death in Jan. 2016. Clearly some audience members were Bowie fans, and McCaslin did not disappoint. The band played “Lazarus,” bringing tears of remembrance and sorrow as we heard the song, perhaps for the first time, without the vocal track of Bowie’s achingly familiar, distinctive, age- and wisdom-tinged voice.

The song begins with the (now silent) vocals, “Look up here, I’m in heaven…” and expresses humor, Bowie’s love of New York, and further musings on the afterlife… “By the time I got to New York I was living like a king. Then I used up all my money, I was looking for your ass. This way or no way, you know I’ll be free. Just like that bluebird, now ain’t that just like me. Oh I’ll be free…”

This missing element struck home the loss to the world of our dear David Bowie, and perhaps by making the loss so real, helped to bring a year of deep mourning to a close. I am moved beyond words at Bowie’s generosity to write this music as his continuing creative contribution to the world, and help us prepare and come to terms with his death, and perhaps our own.

McCaslin generously shared an anecdote about accepting a Grammy award for Blackstar on Bowie’s behalf (the album garnered five in total), together with Lindner, at the ceremony in February. McCaslin outfitted himself for the awards ceremony at Agnes B. in Soho, a designer who had often created clothes for Bowie, and even designed wardrobes for Bowie tours. McCaslin had selected a black Euro-fit suit with a reverse-logo Blackstar t-shirt—very hipster and ringing that note of musical triumph of Bowie’s final work. McCaslin confided with the audience that this was the very suit he was wearing for our performance, and shared that Gail Ann Dorsey, Bowie’s long-time bass player, also gets some of her fantastic clothes at Agnes B. Check out the hard-core punk meets Buddhism dark green dress she wore during Bowie’s Oct. 2, 1999 performance on Saturday Night Live! I noticed that Lindner was also paying subtle homage to Bowie vis-à-vis tiny astronauts floating on the dark background of his socks, and silver denim high-tops.

The group played another shrieking, body-armor penetrating track from McCaslin’s 3rd and most recent CD, Beyond Now (released in Oct. 2016). And then another homage to Bowie, “Warzsawa,” a song he’d written with Brian Eno on 1977’s  Low, Bowie’s first album in his Berlin trilogy.

McCaslin has a  growing body of original music to draw on in his live performances, but his new work takes us to another level entirely. McCaslin’s generosity of spirit shines through this new creative font of joy, and he demonstrates it doubly with making space in the evening’s program for two Bowie songs. There was enough time and space for it all, and by drawing Bowie’s early and final work into the melange of his own oeuvre, McCaslin showed how these two streams are intertwined and that Bowie’s gifted soul continues to impact the world in the next generation of musicians and audiences—if the young man head-banging in the row in front of me was any indication!

It was an all-ages crowd, with older audience members sharing memories of seeing Bowie at Madison Square Garden in the 1990s, and a young child talking in the balcony, penetrating the silent spaces between Maron’s acid bass notes in his introduction to a song of further keyboard magic. McCaslin riffed on the child’s play, repeating the words “Uh-Oh” that floated down from the balcony and generating a ripple of laughter and repetition through the crowd. Then Lindner struck, with waves upon waves of overlapping repeating sequences of electronica notes, joined by tinkling ivories reminiscent of Bob Geldof’s “I don’t like Mondays.”

They received a standing ovation, and played an encore of two more pieces of splendor. Joy was in the house.

As you may have noticed, I had a lot of fun dressing in homage to Bowie.

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Moving to New York

I went to Montreal for my US immigration interview on Dec. 19, and my application to immigrate was approved! This year has been amazing, with a whirlwind of trips and activities, all aimed at working towards this goal. I am so happy to have the chance to live in New York—it is truly a dream come true.

bay-montreal

Visiting Montreal was an unexpected boon along the way. Though it was very cold (down to minus twenty), this was okay as it gave me a great excuse to shop for some fabulous winter gear at the Baie Montreal, shown above in Christmas splendor.

montreal-statue

Here is another beautiful winter sight, a snow-draped statue in the Square Phillips, across from my hotel.

I am working on a technical writing contract for A&W, so I was pleased to visit this location on Rue Sainte-Catherine:

montreal-awI love the French signage!

And this is a picture of me in my interview suit, after I got the Yes from US Customs and Immigration.

montreal-headshot

Wish me luck, and drop me a line here now and then! I hope you will stop by this site occasionally to see my monthly updates on life in New York.

P.S. I am moving on New Year’s Day!

Running in New York Marathon to raise funds for Harlem United

2008 HalfThis is so exciting! I will be running in the New York Marathon on November 6, 2016 to raise money for Harlem United. My goal is to raise $3,000 for this fantastic organization that helps Harlem community members by providing access to health care, resources, and education about AIDS and HIV. They provide quality HIV prevention, housing, and care services in a safe and nurturing environment to unite Harlem’s diverse communities and address the needs of all people living with and threatened by HIV/AIDS.

I’m asking all my friends, family, and colleagues to help support the amazing work that Harlem United does, and cheer me on in my dream of running the New York Marathon.

If you can help, please visit my donor page. You can sponsor me by:

  • Mile ($26 for the 26.2 miles of the marathon)
  • Kilometre ($42 for the 42 kilometres of the race)
  • Meal ($100 to buy a group lunch for LGBT youth at risk for contracting HIV)
  • Or pick your own amount!

Here is an inspirational video on YouTube about the impact Harlem United has made in helping people who had no hope.

Visit my donor page often for photos and updates on my race training progress.

I’ve been wanting to run in the New York Marathon for 20 years, since I first began running in 1996. It’s the largest marathon in the world (yikes!) and goes through all five boroughs of New York City. This will be my first full marathon, though I’ve run ten half marathons. I’m thrilled to finally run this race and to raise money for Harlem United. This is a celebration of my new life in New York and I am putting down roots by contributing to the well-being of my community there.

New York-bound alien of extraordinary ability!

Visa 2

Hi everyone,

I have some very exciting news! My US visa application as an alien of extraordinary ability has been approved! This is a wonderful privilege, and many people helped me by writing letters on my behalf for the application. Thank you all!

From the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website, this is the requirement for the EB-1 employment-based immigration category:

“You must be able to demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics through sustained national or international acclaim. Your achievements must be recognized in your field through extensive documentation. No offer of employment is required.

“You must meet 3 of 10 criteria* below, or provide evidence of a one-time achievement (i.e., Pulitzer, Oscar, Olympic Medal).”

With the Olympics just on, this makes my application success all the more special. It’s like I have won the Olympic Gold Medal for technical writing!

Visa 3And the letters you all provided helped me to establish most of the criteria in the list of 10:

You must meet 3 out of the 10 listed criteria below to prove extraordinary ability in your field:

  • Evidence of receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence – Yes
  • Evidence of your membership in associations in the field which demand outstanding achievement of their members – Yes
  • Evidence of published material about you in professional or major trade publications or other major media – Yes
  • Evidence that you have been asked to judge the work of others, either individually or on a panel – Yes
  • Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field – Yes
  • Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media – Yes
  • Evidence that your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases (this is true – I had my first art exhibit at Havana last summer – but I didn’t submit evidence for this category)
  • Evidence of your performance of a leading or critical role in distinguished organizations – Yes
  • Evidence that you command a high salary or other significantly high remuneration in relation to others in the field – Yes
  • Evidence of your commercial successes in the performing arts (I provided equivalent evidence of the success of my book – a Canadian best-seller with over 40,000 copies sold – the number of sales for a quadruple-gold record!)

This achievement fills me with joy. The work of the first 50 years of my life has resulted in a wonderful foundation for the next 50 years! During the process of preparing the materials for the visa, I had the opportunity to reflect on everything I’ve done so far, to connect with many people I’ve worked with along the way, and to really appreciate the many opportunities I’ve enjoyed, to contribute my abilities to the world in many different capacities. It was almost like going on a vision quest, except that it involved consuming reams of paper and dozens of ink cartridges! 🙂

First submission (450 pages, 8 pounds!):

Visa 1
Second submission (350 pages, 5 pounds):

RFEThank you again, to everyone who has helped. It’s been wonderful connecting with you again, and I couldn’t have done this without you. Words can’t express my deep appreciation.

CP6 Productions

CP6 Productions is a premier HD video production company in Vancouver specializing in art and music videos.

My inspiration for video production was born in Manhattan. In Washington Square Park, to be exact. When I took my first video I wanted to capture the sounds of competing musicians in the park, especially the completely unexpected piano player. I took out my iPhone 5s, and CP6 Productions was born. (See Washington Square Jazz.)

VIFF

I am very excited to be submitting my work to VIFF 2016. This is a new realm of artistic direction for me. For many years I have been inspired by the films of VIFF. I’ve loved movies since I was a little girl, and used to read the accounting production credits back when I was an accountant in the late 80s. I dreamed of having my name on the big screen even then, but had no idea that one day I would be creating my own films.

CP6 Productions

CP6 is a reference to Counter-Phobic Six, one of the nine positions in the Enneagram system of understanding human psychology and spirituality. The Counter-Phobic Six leaps in where others fear to tread. I’ve been skydiving, fasted alone in the desert for four days and nights, and lived alone in the wilderness for six years. I wear my CP6 badge with pride, and I am now sharing the In Joke with you. Making movies always requires taking a leap into the unknown. And like other dangerous ventures, it’s a helluva lot of fun!

Videos

These are the initial raw materials of the work I will be submitting to VIFF.

Another New York Love Affair #25

I am excited to share Another New York Love Affair #25 with you:

I took this footage of the “Sterling Cooper” building in my final week in New York, at the end of March. At the time I was midway through watching Mad Men on Netflix, and in love with the cast of characters. Also in love with New York, and the beautiful strangeness of Madison Avenue. Enjoy!

I am aiming for 100 over the next three years. I’ve got to get back to New York to do it, though!

Springtime in New York

Financial Distric Ferry TerminalYesterday was the first day of spring, and it snowed in New York. I went for a run as glorious flakes skirled and floated through the air, stage-lit by the lights along the Hudson River walk. It’s a nice hour-long run from my place in the village along the Hudson to the Financial District Ferry Terminal and back.

Tennis players on the Hudson River courtsI passed tennis players on my way to the ferry terminal, enjoying the gentle snowfall, and caught a glimpse of One World, nestled between the legs of two other high rises.

One World TowerNew Yorkers still call this the World Trade Center.

ESBOn the way back, I could see the Empire State Building in the distance, over 70 blocks away (the lit tower in the center of the photo). I love seeing these two landmarks as I go about the city. They are orientation touchstones, helping people find their way, much like a striking tree or cliff formation would have guided our ancestors.

East 4th Street

I made this video for David, a dear teacher and friend who lived on E. 4th St in his Bohemian days. He lives in California, recently turned 80, and will probably never see this street again. Different friends who lived there tell me it was a dynamic, exciting place in the 50s and 60s. And I think it’s still creative & dynamic, human, real. Sit back and groove…

Alphabet City

The Wikipedia history of Alphabet City (a term mayor Ed Koch used in a New York Times article he published in 1984) indicates this was a dangerous part of New York until crime rates dropped in the late 90s and early oughts. I wanted to show my friend how the street he grew up on has changed. That there is love, hope, and people helping each other. He became a spiritual teacher and showed me tremendous kindness on my journey. He helped me experiment, find myself, and mature. I was thrilled to discover the value of teaching expressed in the street art of this block of E. 4th St, between Ave. A and Ave. B. As harsh as it was when he lived here, I think there must be a channel of the ultimate goodness of reality and human nature that rises out of the old salt marshes, up through the earth and concrete, and into the souls of the street’s inhabitants.

Louis Abolafia

Another dear friend, Allan, also a teacher, moved to this block from Long Island in the 60s, the minute he turned 18. That’s why I focused on #217, so he could see how his seedy apartment looks now. He told me about artist-nudist-humanist-activist Louis Abolafia’s presidential campaign in 1967-1968. My friend had just moved to E. 4th St., and Abolafia’s headquarters were in the same street. This street was in the heart of the Lower East Side drug culture in the 60s. Sadly Abolafia died of a drug overdose in California in 1995.

Allan said “I remember Louis Abolafia very well, used to pass his storefront campaign headquarters all the time. I can feel an affectionate warmth for that time and place, and for that young soul wondering, ‘which way from here?’ Everything was alive with possibility, in the neighborhood and the culture, on the streets and in the air. I’m lucky to have lived there and then. It was still  slum when I got there, as it was when David grew up. People were just beginning to call it the East Village. But I think that sounded pretentious to many of us who lived there. It was just the Lower East Side, as it had always been.”

Dorian Gray Pub

I am a writer, and I wondered about the pub in this block called Dorian Gray, with the Canadian flag included among the string of flags out front. (David taught a group in Vancouver, BC, for 15 years, and I thought this Canadian flag was a nice reminder of our group and those years.) I wondered if it was some young hipster who didn’t know a thing about Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, first released in a periodical in 1890. A little research revealed that Oscar Wilde’s great-grandnephew opened this pub, and it is a literary hangout. As you will see, Jason Darling is purported to play there on Wednesday nights!

I put a few historical clippings about themes from this block at the end of the video. You can press the Pause button to read them, if you like.

The Blizzard of 2016

I invite you to take some time to sink into the groove and drink in the details of this diverse—alternately rough and polished—creative, expressive street. People might say New York has been gentrified beyond recognition, but I think this block of E. 4th St. shows that it is still a home, a place for children to grow up, a place where people stand on the street together and enjoy each other’s company, and a place for discovery through graffiti, art, theatre, religion, law, psychic consultation, and liquor! And, on special days like this one, a place to chuck a few snowballs.

P.S. Another luminary lived in this block, in a fifth-floor walk-up. Hint: Like a Virgin! Ooh, touched for the very first time… She moved here in about 1978—it was her second New York apartment after moving from Detroit with $35 in her pocket—and she lived in this apartment for a few years before her music career began to take off and she moved to a loft on Broome St. Her song Ray of Light, “And I feel, like I just got home…” feels like an expression of spiritual ecstasy to me, flying through the stars, faster than a ray of light. “Waiting for a time when earth shall be as one.” On E. 4th St., I think it’s like that. Each One Teach One.

Production and Editing Notes

I shot the material for this video during an afternoon a few days after a January snowfall (the blizzard of 2016, during which the mayor closed down the city of Manhattan to wait it out).

This piece is an experiment with moving from stillness into motion and back again. I wanted to linger on some shots to give a longing heart time to drink in every detail of the bricks and paint and tiles and people. Then move more quickly with others to bring dynamism and a hunger for more time. The moving clips bring the immediacy of being there, enhanced by the focus on the sounds of the street.

I used an ancient iPhone 5S! Corel PaintShop Pro Photo for the photo editing. Camtasia Studio to put the video together, with QuickTime Player and Windows Media Player as support for planning the music.

Music Notes

I opened with Richard Hell and the Voidoid’s Blank Generation—a classic that kicked off the punk music wave, influencing Britain’s Sex Pistols and many others. Richard lives in the East Village. I think these lyrics are brilliant, and point to the mysteries of birth, life, and death—something my friend taught me about.

The next two segments had to be Lou Reed. I played around with different alternatives, but for me, Lou Reed’s music epitomizes the East Village, and it had to be him. Looking at these buildings, thinking about his painful life and the poignancy, despair, hope, and joy he wrung out of it through his musical genius, pulls on my heart to soar in that same way.

The closing credit music is Jason Darling playing at the Dorian Gray pub. The sound of breaking glass, a happy crowd, a local musician, and a song about California seemed like a perfect closing for David. Thanks to Tadhg Ennis for posting this recording on YouTube.

Here is an alternative version, with Lou Reed’s Heroin as the only music. Let me know which one you like better!

Christmas Eve in the West Village

My street at Christmas

on the hudson river, people take selfies and groupies against the fading bright layers of sunset

a muscled black man in combat gray t-shirt, jeans, leather boots, and earbuds sits down on a bench facing the river, singing in falsetto

I do a double-take as I run by

a french-speaking family of 7 or 8 spans the entire walkway

I pause a beat for a gap and slip through

a police boat flashes blue and red lights on the jersey shore

down river, lady liberty shines pale green across the water

I do an extra leg along the river, strong and free

I can run forever and don’t want to ever stop

but friends and dinner at EN japanese are on the menu, so I cross west street at eleventh when the white walker beckons

a young man in a black suit, white shirt, sits on a stool at the corner of perry and bleecker, playing mournful cello

he smiles when I run by

four twenty-somethings dressed holiday festive fill the sidewalk, one of the women carrying pink lilies, on their way to a dinner party

I swerve into the street to pass

I bet a lot of people live in sixth floor walk-ups

don’t you think some people own the top two floors?

no way!

on the next corner, a giant black SUV idles at the curb

a diminutive black man holds open the door for a very large black man

I wonder if he’s a famous rapper

I smile at the driver in complicity about the glory of being near this man

he doesn’t get it

at seventh ave and greenwich the light is with me but sirens are coming my way, a block uptown

I dash across flying on endorphins and more glory

jayrunning across greenwich, two guys on bikes run the light at charles and I slow and change my angle to let them pass in front of me

we rule the night

kids

coins jingling in his paper cup, the grizzled black man who sits on an over-turned bucket next to the magazine stand at sixth avenue and west ninth street sings

and heaven and nature sing

and heaven and nature sing

and hea-ven and he-e-ven and nature sing

the sirens rise

My love affair with New York

New York MinutesI have started a new project, inspired by the sounds of New York. Check out this playlist of audio meditations on YouTube. Each meditation is more or less a New York minute. It all started when I was drawn into Washington Square Park by the sound of a piano playing. How could this be? A piano in the park? Friends have since told me there is also a piano in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, and in fact there are pianos all over the city, including on the corner of Hastings and Penticton, which I visit at least two or three times a week to go to London Drugs and other businesses in the area. I guess I am usually wrapped up in my own world and don’t notice what is going on around me! But I digress…

Washington Square ParkI went into the park and sat down on a bench to listen to a person playing an upright piano. I wondered how the piano got there. I wondered about the person playing it. As I sat there, a drummer started off in the distance, playing the drummer’s proverbial different tune. Soon after, a third busker began playing saxophone behind me. Each instrument was playing its own tune, creating a discordant harmony. The vocals soon joined in, in the form of the quintessential New York soprano, a siren. And thus the New York minute sound project was born.

I will be adding sounds to the playlist every week, so check back often to hear new corners of the New York soundscape. Remember, this is about what you hear, not what you see. Some of the visuals are going to be a bit freaky, let me warn you! But I hope you feel the love in this love affair, and maybe you will fall in love (again).