Friday, December 18, 2015

Clifford Bell Finds the Corner of Jazz and Cabaret is a Perfect Avenue for Philanthropy

Have you heard about “Season’s Greetings from the Corner of Jazz and Cabaret”? Set for Sunday, Dec. 20, at 7:00 p.m. in the popular E Spot Lounge in Studio City, California, all the buzz on Facebook promises an unforgettable evening of holiday music, jazz standards, and Broadway entertainment. Producers Tiffany Bailey and Clifford Bell are hosting a benefit in support of vocalist Kiki Ebsen’s nonprofit, The Healing Equine Ranch, in Agoura Hills. In an interview exclusively for, Clifford Bell told us how plans for this incredible evening happened.

It was classic Hollywood kismet, where the universe reached out to a central LA jazz force, to begin a conversation with a cosmic Broadway and cabaret producer. Together they agreed that audiences love bringing jazz and cabaret together for an evening. Discussion ensued, and cosmic brilliance happened. Oh, and the elegant, talented actress and singer, Lee Meriwether, is the surprise angel, who floats down to top the beautiful musical Christmas tree they’re decorating for just one night. Only in Hollywood.

Cathy Segal-Garcia is known best as an acclaimed jazz performer, recording artist and international vocal leader and mentor, whose inspirational workshops have launched many career artists. There’s a reason she was nominated for the Jazz Del Corazon Award this year (“or Women Movers-and-Shakers of the L.A. Jazz scene”). Clifford Bell, replete with an impressive Broadway and cabaret producer, talent managing, and entertainment resume, brings all his talents to the discussion.

Then, Cathy immediately recommended Kiki Ebsen, whose recent concert evenings singing jazz in New York and Los Angeles have actually started to overarch her golden reputation as a first-call touring singer and musician. The conversation is then even more animated and exciting, exploring the possibilities.

Ultimately, the organizational plan for the event went safely into Bell’s hands, as his other credits include producing and directing beloved TV and film actors from Broadway stages and performing arts centers. If you’ve never heard Peter Gallagher (“The Good Wife,” “The O.C.,” “While You Were Sleeping”) sing, you’ve missed out. Actress, comedienne, and Golden Globe winner, Katey Sagal (“Sons of Anarchy,” “Married with Children”), a powerful vocalist, and her band, toured the country under Bell’s direction.

Conversation continues as Bell brought in his newest friend to co-produce; Tiffany Bailey is a talented singer whose career work includes the nonprofit “Autism Speaks.” Bell staged his Thanksgiving-themed “Giving Thanks” concert in November for Bailey’s favorite cause. Now picture what happens when the conversation ramps up. These “discussions” resulted in what promises to be an unforgettable night of music at The E Spot Lounge, a popular intimate venue above Vitello’s in Studio City.

(Photo by Greg Spurlock: Tiffany Bailey, Al Garcia, Dori Amarilio)

So, when Clifford heard Kiki Ebsen’s album, “Scarecrow Sessions,” produced by David Mann, a comprehensive jazz tribute to the music of Buddy Ebsen’s (her father) career, he invited Kiki to join him in discussing her music career as well as her equal passion, The Healing Equine Ranch, and its mission. His interview with Kiki on his “Cabarabia” podcast on Global Voices Broadcasting with Dec. 14 can be heard here.

And now a few words about the surprise. One of Buddy Ebsen’s premiere television roles was his show, “Barnaby Jones,” co-starring the lovely and talented Lee Meriwether. From the day she earned the title of Miss America, until present day, Meriwether has remained a consummate talent and beauty, still very active in films. A colleague of Bell’s had worked with Lee in an independent film that garnered close to 20 Film Festival awards. And, she’d been a recent guest on Clifford Cabarabia podcast. Said Bell, “She’s every bit as lovely as she always was, sweet as she can be.” So, with the upcoming event in the works, Clifford was determined to surprise Kiki. He invited Meriwether to the event in support Kiki’s The Healing Equine Ranch, she immediately accepted, saying, “Absolutely, I’d love to join you all.” The chance for Kiki to be reunited with Lee, such a dear friend and respected colleague of Buddy’s —in support of The Healing Equine Ranch—was destined to be the brightest package under Kiki’s Christmas tree this season. Thus, it’s appropriate for Clifford to be wearing that Santa hat you see in the profile photo!

(Photo: Kiki Ebsen and Lee Meriwether, Photo by Greg Spurlock)

Bell also shared about the talented singers assembled for the evening: “Francesca Amari is a very celebrated cabaret performer, who just had a very successful engagement in New York, with her tribute show about Gilda Radner, celebrating the 40th year since Gilda began her career on “Saturday Night Live.”

Valerie Swift Bird has had a career in musical theatre and dance, played Cassie in “A Chorus Line” and she’s transitioning into a career in jazz. “She’s very beautiful and she’s going to do a really fun set.” L. Aviva Diamond is “a newcomer to the jazz scene and she’s fascinating, because she has a background as an award-winning network TV journalist. She was an on-air reporter, tracking down amazing stories, and she’s had a lot of success as a fine artist. About a year ago, Aviva began classes with Cathy, and this show will be her very first jazz debut. She will be wonderful!”

(Photo Right: Greg Spurlock Photo, Tiffany Bailey and Valerie Swift Bird.)

Daniel Friedman is a friend of Tiffany Bailey’s, Bell explained. “He is a talented cantor who has this gorgeous voice. And, he spent 20 years on Broadway with a wonderful musical career, including “Cats” and “Les Miserables.” He is an amazing singer.”

“Cathy also invited the lovely and talent vocalist, Karen Celeste Kruz to join us; Karen and Al Garcia (our bass player for the evening) are a very popular musical duo here; they will both get raves!”

David Lucky is a “very celebrated singer/songwriter who is coming up the ranks. Virtually every review of his performances reflects his style as being a very young Randy Newman in many ways. He plays the piano and writes really brilliant, funny, moving songs; he’s a really hot property in the cabaret world,” Clifford allows.

Bell said, “What’s so exciting to me is the hybrid of the theatrical, lyric-driven cabaret people and the jazz people, where the emphasis is most on the musicianship , compared to the lyrical aspect, while focused on the tempos and the rhythms. That’s a very broad distinction, but I’m always a big proponent of mixing it up, because the two forms really do belong together, and many will appreciate the chemistry among the group of people we’ve gathered for the evening.”

Bryan Miller is one of the “kings of the piano bar world in Los Angeles and has been so for many years here. He and his partner, singer Gilmore Rizzo, are fantastic together and have a lot of fun, crowd-pleasing entertainment-oriented shows that are vastly popular here!”

Alexandra Theodora Spurlock, at age 18, has just completed her first semester at the Boston Conservatory of Music. “She’s a young woman who I’ve had the privilege of working with since she was 14 years old. An exceptional talent, the best way to describe her is as a powerhouse belter. That says it all.” “This ingénue will raise the roof,” Bell assures.

Of Kiki Ebsen, Bell shared on his Facebook page, “Her CD, ‘Scarecrow Sessions’ is so exquisite and heartwarming that I spent the evening wrapped in its spell…beautifully conceived and executed; first class vocals, arrangements, and production.”

Photo by Greg Spurlock: Clifford Bell, Kiki Ebsen, Lee Meriwether

Now, making all the great music happen behind this vocal collective, the band for the evening includes musical directors Mark Massey and Steve Rawlins on piano. Bell said, “Both are extraordinary guys with big jazz chops. Rawlins tours a lot with Steve March-Tormé, Mel’s son, and he’s written several books on jazz arranging; he’s very accomplished.” Mark Massey, I met through Karen about six months ago, and he is unbelievable, jaw-dropping great.” Dori Amarilio on guitar is truly outstanding; and we’re delighted to welcome Al Garcia on bass for the first time this evening.” “Tom Bowe has been on drums on virtually every show I produce; he’s just the best,” allowed Bell, who will direct the entire evening.

Set for Sunday, Dec. 20, from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., at The E Spot Lounge in Studio City, upstairs in Vitello’s Restaurant. Click here for VIP and general admission ticket info. If you don’t have tickets yet, you’re going to want to move quickly. The mission of The Healing Equine Ranch, “to educate, empower, and enlighten people through the natural interaction with horses,” is definitely in good hands, and can be located in Studio City, California on Sunday night, at the corner of jazz and cabaret.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Search No More for P.F. Sloan, for He is No Longer Among Us: Music Innovator Dead at 70

Jimmy Webb brings out a special guest star, British singer Rumer, to duet on "P.F. Sloan" during his concert at MacArthur Park, Los Angeles, June 15, 2013.

Philip Sloan deserved status as a music icon for most of his life; yet, for so long, he was denied that status until one good friend, Stephen Feinberg, convinced him it was time to tell his story and finally set the record straight, for perpetuity. Philip Gary Schlein, known early as Phil, best known as P.F. Sloan, died on the evening of Nov. 15, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. As a press release from publicist Sangeeta Haindl noted today, “The world has lost one of its great talents.”

In June 2014, Sloan and Feinberg published “What’s Exactly the Matter With Me: Memoirs of a Life in Music” (Jawbone Press). As soon as it was released, people who thought they knew P.F. Sloan very well by his music found instead that they had known nothing at all about the man or the indignities he’d suffered for years, how he paid the genuine price for his success when those who were jealous and more powerful wreaked their havoc onto his career. The memoirs, resplendent with perfect recall and genuine grace as they’re related, include his affiliations and influences on surfer music, such as Bruce & Terry (Johnston and Melcher, respectively), Terry Black, The Fantastic Baggys, and Jan & Dean, and across two generations of classic rock.

Music textbooks are filled with Phil’s songwriting and producing success for artists like Barry McGuire, The Grass Roots, The Turtles, Herman’s Hermits, Johnny Rivers, The Fifth Dimension, but the true stories of how the events actually occurred are mind-bending.

It’s beyond poignant that P.F. Sloan’s best-known composition, “Eve of Destruction,” which defined Barry McGuire as a musical artist, came back to life in the titles of newspaper and magazine articles published in the earliest hours after the tragic attack on Paris last weekend, by the radical attackers who seek to inspire fear with their actions.

Yet, the song’s words first resonated with a generation that was transforming its impression of war as a brave act to preserve freedom into a gathering of protest groups springing up across America as young minds were led to question authority as well as military service with the war in Vietnam.

A breakout song for those who would not follow the paths of their fathers, “Eve of Destruction” became the anthem of what society called “radicals” back then. Bob Dylan said of the song,” “There are no more escapes. If you want to find out anything that’s happening now, you have to listen to the music; I don’t mean the words. Though, 'Eve Of Destruction' will tell you something about it.”

All too poignantly, today the title of the song and its lyrics are the centerpiece of commentary from the opposite end of the political spectrum, as the lyrics and message of the song hit home for an entirely different mindset. Music is the message the sender emits into the universe and the receiver absorbs the message and embraces it at such point where it resonates and hits home with the one hearing it. p> For many years, Sloan’s frequent coauthor was Steve Barri and the Sloan-Barri hit factory was subsumed by Dunhill Records. Both yesterday and today, it seems that Lou Adler gets all of the credit for The Mamas and The Papas, when in fact the heavy lifting was essentially Phil Sloan’s— from songs to early guitar playing on the records, and creating their trademark sound in the Dunhill studios.

Mostly these days, Adler gets credit for the resurgence of the music of Carole King, and the multi-Grammys of “Tapestry,” and for his easy-to-spot beret atop his head while sitting next to Jack Nicholson at Los Angeles Laker games. Back in his earliest years, it is now clear that Lou was a suit with a primary penchant for spotting talent, hooking it to his line, reeling it in, and getting the very best part of the unsuspecting fish out, before casting the remains into the ocean deep, never (he thought) to be heard from again. Egos, power, and poor judgment perhaps explain Adler’s treatment of Sloan. But, worse yet was John Phillips’ (The Mamas and Papas) treatment of Phil, the classic dog biting the hand that fed him relationship. Of course John Phillips’ errors in judgment throughout his life as are long as the Apple iPhone Terms and Conditions agreement.

One story from the book: Phil was invited, together with Jimmy Webb, to the earliest planning meetings of the Monterey Pop Festival, and walking into a room he found cluster of egos and ended up being booted from playing guitar (with The Mamas and The Papas) and, further, threatened with a knife to his face by John Phillips from showing up at ‘his’ Monterey Pop Festival. From his memoirs, John Phillips said, “Do you think I called you here to my home to get your opinion on our festival?...I called you here to give you fair warning that I’ll have you killed if you show up in Monterey. Are we clear?”

Soon after telling John Phillips off, Phil checked around for Jimmy Webb, couldn’t find him, and gave up and drove down to Santa Monica. “It turns out that Jimmy Webb was looking for me, while I was looking for him. When he couldn’t find me, he etched the scene in his mind, and a couple of years later came the key lyrics to Phil’s namesake song, “I have been seeking P.F. Sloan but no one knows where he has gone…” Incidentally, it wasn’t like good people didn’t try to warn him about the Dunhill gang. After a meeting Bob Dylan said to Sloan privately, “I’ve been wanting to tell you something, Phil. Those guys at Dunhill are going to tear you up. You’re not safe there.’ Sloan replied, “I’ll watch myself.” “You better,” said Bob. Robert Zimmerman was right.

How Jay Lasker, Bobby Roberts and Lou Adler treated P.F. Sloan, as you read his words, is a story filled with greed, hatred, and rejection that is sickening to realize, particularly as the hit records of the Grass Roots on the radio were essentially created by Sloan, with the obligatory “together with Steve Barri” whistling in the wind. Despite being ripped off in more ways than one, royalties the biggest asset purloined, without care or regard for the genius to whom they belonged, Phil still created hits. He had that much talent.

Even before that, life at the peak of success was unsettling for Sloan, as he felt truly the outsider in the world of musicians he was helping to make famous. P.F. Sloan began life as simply as any unknown, but nevertheless was an inspired young man from Brooklyn who many considered a prodigy. In a scene at the St. James Club, “McGuire and I were seated at a booth with Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger. I thought to myself that I must be here by some Divine plan, but was this really what success looked and felt like?”

"(Barry) McGuire was having the time of his life. Everyone seemed dizzy with happiness. But what was the matter with me? I wasn’t getting it. I was trying to have a good time. I really was. I knew I was alive. I just didn’t feel like I knew how to survive in this reckless life style. All these people were older than me, and they were, after all, my role models. If this was what they did to celebrate life then I would need to learn to get with the program.”

Chaos, self-destructive behavior, and valiant efforts to fit in led to despair, poor health, and a propensity for bad luck in Sloan’s life for many years. The lowest point of all was when Dunhill’s Jay Lasker made him sign away all of his royalties, plus threatened his life. As Phil describes his final interaction with Lasker, the conversation was (from his memoir):

"I just had a nice chat with Steve” (Barri), he said. ‘Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to leave Los Angeles and never come back. You’re going to do this within twenty-four hours, or your parents or your sister or anyone else you care about may come to regret knowing a boy named P.F. Sloan.’ ‘I want to talk to Lou,’ I said. ’This has nothing to do with Lou, Sloan. This is about you and me….mostly you. I’ve had the papers drawn up. Before you leave the office, you’re going to sign it’….’We own your contracts for the next ten years so you can’t record anywhere else. We’re not firing you. We’re just telling you that you can’t work here or anywhere’….’All of the money that will come into Dunhill Records from P.F. Sloan will be split between the three partners. Oh…one more point, I’m pretty sure that I own the name P.F. Sloan and that we can have any writer we want to be P.F. Sloan.”

That was not to be even the worst time in Sloan's life; there was even more still to come. That is, however, why Phil vanished from the music scene, to protect his own life and those of his loved ones, out of sheer fear and terror. Lasker retired in 1987 and died of cancer at age 65, in 1989. His obituary in the New York Times is, appropriately, one of the shortest ever published.

Despite this despicable treatment, things truly turned around for P.F. Sloan. His memoirs reflect the final years of Phil’s life as one of religious experiences of grace, of complete and total forgiveness for all who sought his forgiveness and even for those who didn’t appreciate the fact that he had only love and compassion in his heart, down to even John Phillips and John Sebastian, both of whom asked him for forgiveness and he gave it to them.

The song written about him, “P.F. Sloan” was first recorded by author Jimmy Webb and later covered by The Association, Jennifer Warnes, and British Band Unicorn, as Wikipedia notes, as well as the British singer, Rumer. Poignantly, it was Rumer with whom Phil performed in concert in London in his first public appearances upon the publication of his biography.

Last time I saw P.F. Sloan He was summer burned and winter blown He turned the corner all alone But he continued singing Yeah now, listen to him singing…” Lyrics from “P.F. Sloan,” by Jimmy Webb, Canopy Music"

Also in 2014, Sloan released an album “My Beethoven” (Foothill Records) that contained nine new original songs that Phil shared are “beautiful and will stir your heart and soul.” In May 2014 the team of Sloan and Feinberg completed a musical play, “Louis! Louis! The Real Life and Times of Beethoven)”. More information on the play is found on the same website.

In classic rock, many talented people have attained accolades, awards, and acknowledgment befitting their status as relevant, important, or groundbreaking for their work. The spotlight has shined on many but has missed hitting many more, who are equally as deserving. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a perfect example of one man’s preference prevailing over those of millions of fans who actually embrace and live in the beauty of the music that defined the 1960s and 1970s. In 2015, P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri were 2015 nominees for induction to the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.

If you’re not “in with the in-crowd,” you essentially exist in obscurity. That is, unless you have a friend like Steve Feinberg, whom you trust to lead you out of the darkness and back into the light. P.F. Sloan had to wait 45 years to find all those who’d been looking to find him, if only to say “Thank you for your music.”

After the success of his memoir, Sloan enjoyed a limited but incredibly popular personal appearance tour in venues he chose to be. People had a chance to thank him, and he was as gracious and loving and appreciative as a man who survived trekking over a vast desert greets a glass of cool water.

Phil’s collaborator and co-author, Stephen Feinberg, anchored him as together they told the public whatever had happened to Sloan. When the book was published in 2014, among the very first to reach out was Mike Somavilla, a rock music historian and San Francisco Bay area music promoter, who immediately called his good friend, Harold Adler, with the concept of creating Sloan's first major U.S. public appearance with a concert and book signing at Adler's Art House Gallery & Cultural Center in Berkeley.

Mike contacted Phil and said, “Just read your book; you have to come to Berkeley and meet a few people. And please bring your guitar.” And, that was all it took for Mike Somavilla to get Phil Sloan and his co-author Steve Feinberg to come see Mike, and a sold-out crowd at Berkeley’s favorite in-spot for music you can enjoy, in a peaceful atmosphere free from distractions.”

Poignantly one man named Adler provided the perfect spot for Somavilla to make sure that the “wrongs were righted” and who passionately wanted Phil to tell his story, thus righting the wrongs done by another man named Adler. Feinberg’s first-call photographer and good friend, Joaquin Montalvan, took the historic photos shared here. It was sit-on-the-floor night at the Art House as all the chairs were taken in the blink of an eye in July, 2014, the month after the book was published.

From that point, Feinberg accompanied Phil to several memorable book signings, one of which was also groundbreaking. In October, 2014, in the Community Room of the South Pasadena Library, two previously unannounced musicians joined Phil for an evening of music and memories. Among the crowd were John York of the Byrds, Donna Loren, Steve Kalinich, and Jared Cargman, an original Fantastic Baggys band member.

They made more Grass Roots history that night, when Warren Entner and Creed Bratton joined Phil in singing songs that Phil had either co-written or produced for the Grass Roots. A band in name only at first, created after Sloan/Barri crafted, recorded and produced hits under this assumed name, with no real band, just incredibly gifted studio musicians on the songs.

Before the great Diesel bookstore closed in Malibu, one of their final public events was a book signing featuring Phil and Creed Bratton that drew another standing-room-only event. In that audience were more colleagues from the same music era, including Steve Kalinich, Danny Rutherford and his wife Marilyn Wilson Rutherford (The Honeys, and mother to Carnie and Wendy Wilson by father, Brian).

At these concert/book signings, Feinberg said, “During the show I noticed several people in the audience weeping, as was the clerk at the bookstore, both on Sunset Strip as well as at the Art House & Cultural Gallery. The trigger of nostalgia can be very, very strong, though the clerk was too young to remember the songs.” The list of songs that do not define, but do comprise the music of P.F. Sloan is lengthy, those being the hits he wrote and produced for others.

In 2009 journalist Mike Ryan interviewed Phil, asking him, "In the last 40 years, how has music changed, say, for yourself? Sloan replied, "I wish there was something positive to say in that regard. I am generally an upbeat, positive soul. I mean that what we're witnessing is basically the implosion and destruction of the music business as it was known, not that it was a positive entity, but it was an entity that we were used to. Just for people that aren’t that involved in the business aspect of it, there was distribution of how to get the music into your store and you’d buy it and you’d listen to it. That doesn’t exist anymore, at least in most places; there aren't any stores anymore."

I think the main point, which I’d like to give Bob Lefsetz credit for, is that there is no culture of music anymore. There was a time, and I’m paraphrasing what he said, and I really agree with it. There was a time when we were involved in a culture of music. It was important to hear this new album by Pink Floyd. It was important to hear certain bands. They became your North Star. That doesn’t exist anymore."

Sloan continued, "You can’t go on a major television show and try and create a culture…Going on television shows and promoting your music is not selling music. Basically, I’ve witnessed the loss of the culture, the excitement, of someone who speaks from their heart, and soul and consciousness and raises yours. People would understand Elvis Presley or The Beatles or The Stones or Procol Harum or the Beach Boys….not just the 60s…there were 70s and 80s groups, Foreigner, etc., but the culture is gone, that’s all. It doesn’t exist." It's true enough, and those who were fortunate enough to be there at the time, or even today to learn from those times are the benefactors and guardians of the memories of those times, and curator of the culture for generations to come.

Sloan created songs that forever are remembered as performed by literally some of the most talented musicians of our time. Whether he is properly remembered as having the role in crafting the message to all who hear the music is unknown. One thing is for sure. The true talents among his colleagues in music never forgot him. Today on Twitter, songwriter and friend Jimmy Webb posted “prayers for the family of PF Sloan and for those who loved his music. A great loss.”

Sloan’s memoirs collectively shaped by Steve Feinberg describe one night in music memory:

The first group onstage was The Grass Roots, who began their set with ‘Mr. Jones’ and followed it with ‘Where Were You When I Needed You?’ and ‘Live for Today.’ Next came Herman’s Hermits, who did, among others ‘A Must to Avoid,’ ‘Hold On,’ and ‘All The Things That I Do for You, Baby.’ The Kingsmen did ‘Louie, Louie’ followed by ‘That’s Cool, That’s Trash.’ Paul Revere & The Raiders did a set, as did The Buckinghams. And then The Turtles took the stage. They started with ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ and went through ‘Let Me Be,’ ‘You Baby,’ ‘Can I Get To Know You Better,’ and all their other great hits. When they got to ‘Is It Any Wonder,’ Howard Kaylan paused. He spoke quietly, taking the audience into his confidence, as if speaking to old friends. ‘I wonder where Phil Sloan is tonight.’”

This night, we wonder no more where Phil is. We know. His final words in his book should be the final ones here.

I had climbed the mountain, by His grace, after falling off it more times than I can count, and I got to watch the show from that unique and marvelous vantage point. May God bless us all with an unselfish heart and mind so that we may make each day better than the one before for each and every one of us. Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings in the world know peace and happiness. P.F. Sloan”

Amen, and amen, Philip. May love and light be yours on your journey forward. You and your work lives still on the minds and in the hearts of those you know, and even more you never met, but who love you all the same.

Article first published on 11/17/15

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kiki Ebsen Guest of Central Texas Medical Orchestra in People’s Community Clinic Fundraiser

(Photo credit: TCV Media, used with permission.)

Since 1970 Austin, Texas, has been able to provide “high quality, affordable healthcare with dignity and respect” for the medically underserved and uninsured in central Texas, thanks to the nonprofit People’s Community Clinic. Volunteer doctors and nurses funded this important organization in a church basement, paving the way for other community healthcare organizations, which is “one of the oldest continually-running independent clinics for primary care in America.”

The hearts and minds of caring medical practitioners started this initiative, and some 45 years later, who better to partner with in a dynamic fundraiser than the Central Texas Medical Orchestra, a group of “medical professionals who enjoy music fellowship and performance outlets that raise funds in support of local health-related nonprofits.” The Saturday, Nov. 14, the CTMO is offering an exciting evening of music and memories, at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, starring the acclaimed vocalist and songwriter, Kiki Ebsen. Popular violinist Bryan Hall is also be featured in this second musical partnership event between the PCC and CTMO. The Central Texas Medical Orchestra is led by Musical Director, Dr. Robert Radmer.

Speaking by phone from Los Angeles yesterday, Kiki Ebsen said in her travels as a vocalist and musician, Austin was one of her favorite venues to perform in and that she was “very excited to be coming back to Austin to perform with the scholar-artists of the Central Texas Medical Orchestra to support the People’s Community Clinic. She said, “My father, Buddy Ebsen, began his college career as a pre-med major; he wanted to become a doctor, but economic challenges forced him to give up that dream.” Turns out that his second career choice, as a dancer, led to New York’s Broadway stage, then film, television and various recording projects, as he would discover a hidden talent for songwriting and singing among his myriad gifts and talents.

From father to daughter, a love of entertainment was passed on, as Kiki grew up watching her dad perform. Although he suggested she use her vocal gifts for jazz as a natural outlet, she was more interested in listening to Heart, Alice Cooper, and plenty of hard rock. For the past 20 years, Kiki’s voice and keyboards have been heard on international tours backing Austin-favorite Christopher Cross, Boz Scaggs, Tracy Chapman, Wilson Phillips, James Ingram, Al Jarreau and the band Chicago.

Two years ago, Kiki said she “discovered a box in the attic of her mother’s home, which contained a true treasure trove of some of the most important times in his career,” previously unbeknown to his children. Among those prized mementos was Buddy’s original movie script from “The Wizard of Oz,” where he was originally cast as the Scarecrow.

As happens often in Hollywood, someone intercedes in casting decisions, and Louis B. Mayer decided that dancer Ray Bolger should be the Scarecrow, so Buddy was recast as the Tin Man instead. Speaking of medicine, early Hollywood makeup artists were clueless that massive doses of pure powdered aluminum painted on Buddy’s skin would lead to a critical respiratory system failure.

Bedridden in the hospital, as Buddy recuperated from the life-threatening accidental poisoning, producers proclaimed “the show must go on” and recast Jack Haley, Jr. as the Tin Man. That time, the makeup people learned from experience not to use aluminum. Buddy, of course, was devastated at losing the prime role in this now-iconic movie, but he never publicly shared his sorrow about that, not even with his own family. It was not until Buddy was in his 90s that he even told his children about the incident. Fortunately a few filmed scenes showing Buddy were included in the final film, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary year of popularity.

As an ode “to the big role that got away,” Kiki developed an album concept, “Scarecrow Sessions,” and recorded songs that were important to the films of Buddy’s career, including “Moon River” (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), “Codfish Ball (“Captain January”), “If I Only Had a Brain’ (“The Wizard of Oz”), plus a song Buddy wrote with music partner Zeke Ebsen, “Missing You,” a sultry haunting melody that Kiki sings poignantly and perfectly.

The schedule for the CTMO Fundraiser Concert evening starts at 6:30 p.m.–7:15 p.m., with “Growing up with Buddy,” a ticketed preconcert presentation by Kiki Ebsen, who will share what it was like growing up with a father who had the number-one rated show on national television. The evening’s concert begins at 7:30 p.m., and is held at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, 1500 N. Capital of Texas Highway. Organizers say some tickets are still available, ranging from a very affordable $10 for students, to $15 and $20 for the public.

The Chief Executive Officer of the People’s Community Clinic is Regina Rogoff, JD, and a recent story on Latino notes that “individual donors provide almost half of PCC’s funding (a $12M operating budget),” which is extremely impressive as a measure of the heart of philanthropy in central Texas. They are tremendous stewards of the funds provided to them and the upcoming fundraiser, deep in the heart of Central Texas, will go a long way towards helping the mission of People’s Community Clinic continue to be served.

This Saturday, Ebsen said, “Come and listen to a story ‘bout a man named Jed,” and stay for a concert that will bring the glamor of Hollywood to Texas on the wings of piano, violin, orchestra, and Kiki Ebsen, an unforgettable evening of great music and generous philanthropy, courtesy of all those whose hearts and minds remain fixed on helping others.

Monday, October 26, 2015

In Loving Memory of the Lifetime of Inspiration of Ruth Chandler Clearfield, Sept. 4, 1930-Oct. 26, 2015

Exactly one year ago today, I wrote these words:

“The first of many standing ovations at the first BVSO concert of the season, Oct. 26, 2014, was most appropriately offered in appreciation for the announcement that Ruth Chandler Clearfield had been bestowed with Honorary Lifetime Membership, the BVSO’s highest honor. As Executive Director Mary Koeninger read a brief passage of the lovely full-page biography, listing just some of Ruth’s accomplishments and gifts for the BVSO since 1978, the capacity crowd that filled Rudder Theatre listened intently. The applause was loud, and long, for a woman whose listed litany of accomplishments still didn’t fully describe who she is and precisely what she has meant to keeping the BVSO alive and thriving in the Brazos Valley.”

Awaking this morning to seeing a Facebook instant message from a dear friend, who I’d asked to let me know when the final transition came, naturally I shed a few tears of sorrow, because the curtain had fallen on an era of a life devoted to volunteering, to making Bryan-College Station, the Brazos Valley as it’s often called, a better place to live. The week was beginning on an ending.

We’d been in touch regularly by e-mail throughout the last year of her illness, her preferred means of communication, as her days of strength and optimum times were unpredictable, and I liked having lasting memories of our chats committed to e-mail anyway. Looking back, I smiled about the word “exactly.” “Exactly one year ago today...” then I saw her words of this past July:

“On a happy note, since our both sons and I received our degrees from Ohio University we have established the Abraham, Ruth, Norman and Howard Clearfield Endowed Scholarship. We are going to Athens the week of August 10th...and we are looking forward to this very much. It's exactly one year since Abe and I have done any traveling... so this, too, is something I am looking forward to...”

Exactly one year...again. Ruth lived to make that trip, and she had opportunities to be with more of the people who cherish her life. Good works live on far beyond our time here, as do our memories of special people and what they mean to us, still. Ruth’s work is all around us in the Brazos Valley. Not all that many people are truly aware of what she did because she went to extreme lengths to obscure accolades for herself, because she was all about shining spotlights on others. That gave her great joy. You can spot her smiling in this favorite photo from an OPAS fundraiser.

Photo: Dec. 5, 1992 - Pre-event fundraiser for MSC OPAS White Nights Gala

Ruth touched countless lives in the communities where she lived, before the Brazos Valley as well as ours--arts, politics, civic activities, gourmet cooking, Weight Watchers, Texas A&M, Congregation Beth Shalom, and her neighborhood.

Health for All was a special passion as she was determined to provide medical care for those whose jobs didn’t provide it for their employees. She was an ambassador for anything good going on here, and going through two decades plus of files, I see her name at the head or on the committee of innumerable fund raisers, many of which I was one among countless who served, because she personally invited us to participate. Our loss is so substantive, yet the gifts of lessons, love, and life she shared stay with us permanently, and thus we are so fortunate.

Recently I’d told her about the Chicago with Earth Wind & Fire concert I’d just enjoyed and asked her what her favorite concert was of the past 10 years. Her answer? “I would have to say, without a doubt, that it was a PBS presentation of Itzhak Perlman playing Klezmer music, alone, and with other musicians. This is the kind of music I grew up with as a child - very nostalgic!” Here’s a link to aYouTube video I’m sure she’d enjoy:

Ruth was a great advocate for PBS, undoubtedly. She and Abe contributed to KAMU-FM and KAMU-TV and reminded us often that the only reason they can stay on air is because we are here, and it was our duty to support them.

I first met Abe over 35 years ago, first as Dr. Clearfield, in the Department of Chemistry. I was entering graduate studies in the department and it was at the home of Bruno and Marge Zwolinski, my graduate professor, who were grand about hosting parties for the PChem division at a moment’s notice. In the Zwolinski home, I had a chance to see a collective of some of the most brilliant minds in chemistry in the world They had forgotten more in their lifetimes than I might ever hope to know.

Yet, in his gentle and unassuming way, Abe was so easy to talk to. He could speak with minds matching his at the highest level all the way down to new grad student, and make everyone feel comfortable. He proudly said, “I want you to meet my wife, Ruth. She is wonderful and she’s very involved in the community; she’s always looking for new volunteers.” Ruth and I had a great chat, and she equally praised Abe in return for all of his work in science. It was absolutely natural for them to speak of the other’s attributes with love, and it was so precious.

Later, Dean Clearfield was one of my immediate bosses in the College of Science, where he served as Associate Dean for many years. He ultimately returned to groundbreaking work in the field of zeolite chemistry, and again, Ruth was by his side every time he received one of many of his international honorary doctorates for his incredible contributions to the field.

Conversely, wherever Ruth was in volunteering, Abe was nearby, smiling, eyes shining with pride, beaming with love for his bride. Among favorite memories was spotting them sitting together at OPAS and BVSO concerts. Without thinking, they’d reach out for the other’s hand to hold as they enjoyed the music. For the almost 30 years I’ve known them, it has always been such a joy to be around them.

As much as they cherished each other, they were equally devoted to their sons, Norman and Howard, and their families. Ruth adored her sons and she loved being a grandparent. She loved people, life, and everything she did, without complaining, one of her greatest attributes.

I imagine that collectively our community is reflecting on Ruth’s life, remembering our personal interactions with her, the happiest of days, her brightest of impacts that she made, and we are now beaming, because we remember her with joy and love. We are all so very lucky that she was here. Exactly. The photo above is from the standing ovation Ruth received from the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra...exactly one year ago today. The kind of welcome I imagine she received entering Heaven this morning, just as she deserved. Exactly.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Exciting new ‘Eastside Heartbeats’ musical celebrates L.A. Chicano rock sounds

Just two weeks remain for classic rock fans that remember and love the music of the 1960s, to join in launching an exciting new rock musical, “Eastside Heartbeats.” If you appreciate the finest classic rock music of the 1960s, if you loved “Land of 1,000 Dances” by Cannibal and the Headhunters and can sing the chorus, and if you remember the roots of East LA’s phenomenal music scene, then there’s a groundbreaking project that you can take part in: “Eastside Heartbeats, A New Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical.”

The story of Cannibal and the Headhunters and how they came to help establish a new kind of music stemming from California proved inspirational to writers David Reyes and co-author Tom Waldman, who released the book “Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock and Roll from Southern California.”

On June 2, 2015, author David Reyes shared with that enthusiasm for this special music genre lives on. Interest in Chicano Rock is such that it has launched the development of a musical in fact, which found inspiration from the 2009 book.

Inspired by the story, Tom Waldman recently wrote a musical around a fictional story centering on "one young man's dreams and the vibrant East LA music scene of the 1960s." The musical therefore takes audiences “from the barrio to the Hollywood Bowl,” where the legendary band Cannibal and the Headhunters were indeed the opening act for The Beatles. Though Waldman’s book is true, the musical is fiction, but it seems a more than natural extension or next step of a day and time in which those born in East Los Angeles had to overcome economic, social, and even California surf rock music barriers to make their marks on the genre known today as Chicano rock and roll.

This incredible sound belonged to those of Mexican-American and Latino heritage, to be sure, and it was embraced by a nation that blended cultures to come together and celebrate a sound that was as uplifting as it was unique, and still is today. Check out the Indiegogo site for “Eastside Heartbeats” to learn more about how you can participate in being a part of this great project.

For as little as $10, you can be part of this exciting project telling the story of the musical and cultural heritage of Latino and Mexican-American musicians, who grew up in East Los Angeles (East LA), California. Sharing their musical gifts and talents helped define East LA as a music scene and coast within the coast, standing proudly together with surfer rock from SoCal studios.

If you’re a seasoned classic rock fan, you remember, back in 1965, when The Beatles played the Hollywood Bowl and their opening act was the dynamic band, Cannibal and the Headhunters. Okay, confess: right now the “na, na, na, na, na—na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na—na, na, na, nanhhh,”—the captivating hook from their biggest hit, “Land of A Thousand Dances”–is running through your head. Right? And you can still hear that sound on Sirius XM "60s on 6" almost daily, as well as classic rock radio stations and internet radio around the country. Those rich, powerful sounds stemming from East Los Angeles hold the memories for many who grew up to become part of the music industry, creating new music still today.

Acclaim and preliminary interest for "Eastside Heartbeats" led Waldman and Reyes to reach out to classic rock hitmakers, songwriters James Holvay (founding member of horn band, The MOB), whose songs put The Buckinghams consistently on Billboard’s charts for years), Rudy Salas (founding member of Latino group Tierra, who put Gamble & Huff’s “Together” on Billboard’s Hot 100) to become involved.

Songwriter James Holvay, best known for penning “Kind of a Drag” for The Buckinghams on Chicago’s USA Records, shared exclusively for readers what drew him to join with Rudy Salas (founding member of Tierra) and composer David Reyes, author Tom Waldman, and co-producer Nancy Bianconi, in making sure that people remember the roots of music that was created and shared by the East LA musicians whose Mexican-American and Latino community remains defined, permanently, as relevant.

Holvay said, “I’ve walked through the neighborhood of East L.A. so many times, and am very uplifted to see what’s happening today. Like most urban areas in the cities, it’s being redeveloped with young Latinos opening small shops and restaurants.” Jim noted, “It’s really good to see the revitalization, but we also have to preserve the history of the music that helped put East L.A. on the record charts as well.”

During the 1960s heyday of rock and roll, Holvay was busy performing with his band, The MOB, helping to shape a horn rock sound that would quickly become popular in performing venues, moreso than recordings at the time. Holvay used his spare time, collaborating with fellow “MOBster” and good friend, Gary Beisbier, in writing more chart-topping hits for The Buckinghams, including “Don’t You Care,” “Hey Baby, They’re Playing Our Songs,” and “Susan.” all three songs of which share coauthoring credit with producer James William Guercio on the Columbia label.

Of the popularity of Cannibal and the Headhunters, Holvay said, “At the time, their music had just come from the projects to initially tremendous national attention, but through the years the band was never quite given their due for what they did to inspire their community as well as for making their mark in the music business.” The East L.A. radio stations played their music, but they couldn’t catch a break to make it onto radio stations in the Eastern United States.

Like so many other bands of the day, the hours were long, the struggles at times seemed insurmountable, and Cannibal and the Headhunters “had considered throwing in the towel and just going on their way,” Holvay said. What saved them was “After Paul McCartney heard “Land of 1,000 Dances” on the radio, he directed Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein to find out who these guys were and then wanted them to open their U.S. tour.”

Added Jim, “That’s some heavy validation considering it’s coming from the biggest band in the world at that time, and they kept going.” Holvay has written 15 of the 23 songs in the play, including some he wrote with the play’s author, Tom Waldman. Holvay is clearly enthusiastic about his active role in helping create a new musical, especially in a vehicle that insures that the musicians of East L.A. will be celebrated and receive their due, at long last.

The project's full funding goal is set at $30,000; now when you look and see that only $2215 has been raised by 23 people in four weeks’ time, that’s not the only money that’s expected to come in. Experienced fundraising and development professional Maria Elena Yepes has been hard at work making a great case for investment among individuals, corporations, and foundations devoted to promoting relevant historical work in music and the arts.

The show will go on, and is expected to open in November 2015, for an initial six-week run at Casa 0101, a Boyle Heights arts center in East L.A. Next step is to head even further east, to Off-Broadway and who knows, maybe one day a film version will follow. Click on the accompanying video to learn more.

What’s most relevant and dynamic about this project is that the same fans who bought Cannibal and the Headhunters records can participate, the same fans who regard and revere James Holvay and Rudy Salas and David Reyes as musicians and songwriters can be a part. Frankly, if you bought Top 10 music singles at your local record store in the 1960s, you can jump in for $10, $25, $50, and even more, and some nice perks await those who act in the next two weeks. Indiegogo is different from Kickstarter in that you can make your gift today and have it make an immediate impact. It’s a donation, not a pledge, you’re making.

For $50, you’ll receive a limited edition poster signed by all the cast and crew. Just $75 will get you the poster plus a digital download of all the songs. And even for $10, you’ll get a real thank-you e-mail and the sincere gratitude of people you haven’t met (yet) for believing that what they think is important is relevant to you. Think about when the last time someone wrote you a truly proper thank-you letter. It’s worth the $10 just to get one, even if by e-mail, the preferred communication today.

You know you’re singing it. So just admit it. The song worm is in your head: “Na, na, na, na, na—na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na—na, na, na, nanhhh,” “Jump in for just $10,” says Holvay. And be a part of history-making inspiration, today.

Update: Author's clarification added 6.3.2015

The author regrets that the original story, published June 1, was potentially and, most assuredly unintentionally, misleading in ascribing or implying that Robert Zapata and his group, Cannibal and the Headhunters, endorsed the musical "Eastside Heartbeats." As a good faith public apology, the author adds the following: Per written communication from Mr. Zapata, received this day at 5:31 p.m., please be advised that: "On the contrary, Mr. Zapata, the owner of the trademark 'Cannibal and the Headhunters, and his group are not involved with the musical and do not endorse it."