Thursday, June 29, 2017

Remembering Eddie Gilmore

Eddie, at Christmas 2012, with dear friends.

It had been at least 5 years since I’d seen Edward Charles Gilmore, best known as “Eddie” to his wide array of friends in Bryan-College Station, but learning of his passing this morning on a friend’s Facebook post generated a few memories from over 20 years of seeing this larger-than-life truly good soul at the top of his game, living life large. With his beautiful head of white hair and trimmed white moustache, I had to smile at the impression he left on all those around him. He was a tailored, dapper gentleman, no matter what the occasion.

The first thing you saw about this amazing man was the imposing figure he posed; he was tall, built like a trim offensive lineman, and he walked fast whenever he was headed somewhere. The second thing you would likely see was that he was usually in the company of his beloved wife, Virginia, the genuine light of his life. One family nickname for her is ‘Shorty,’ but to be fair, standing next to Eddie, everyone is short.

Eddie and Virginia were best friends first before they were married, and in all the years I was around them, they spoke to one another with such great regard, respect, and just a fun little bit of good-natured teasing, but never a cross word. Virginia was the go-power that made Eddie able to be the social butterfly he was and that they were. This devoted couple loved music, dancing, sports, and their oldest and dearest friends. For the last three decades of his life, they were very much at home in Bryan, Texas. Others who knew him far better can cite his early career years and his love for Texas A&M, even though he graduated from another school.

In the 1970s and 1980s, if memory serves, Eddie had been a mover and shaker in the financial world of stocks and bonds in the Dallas area, and Virginia had worked for the same firm. Both were brilliant with numbers. Eddie’s razor-sharp memory was one of the most amazing things about this man.

To know Eddie means you know that he lived and breathed sports, 24/7. ESPN should have called him if they needed a fact-checker. In fact, there were a few times he’d talk to the TV, explaining how they should have known better than what they were saying, which was fun to watch when a gathering of friends would enjoy a sporting event together.

Eddie loved watching all the “NCIS” episodes when USA Network ran marathon viewing days during his retirement years. It didn’t matter how many times he’d seen them before, he’d willingly watch them again and again. He could probably recite all the dialog by heart, with his phenomenal memory.

I remember when, after years of trying, I’d finally made it past the preliminary rounds of the competition to be a contestant on “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” I was headed to New York City to try out at ABC Studios there and in the event I made it past the semifinal round, I’d already planned ahead and asked Eddie to be my phone-a-friend should there be a sports question that I couldn’t answer. Between Eddie and Gene Joyce, the answer to any sports question ever considered could be answered right here in the Brazos Valley.

Eddie was absolutely thrilled that I’d asked him to be of counsel for me, and I felt confident that I’d be hauling back a ton of money if my big question revolved around sports! If only I’d been able to make it past the semifinals. A dear friend had gone with me to the audition to keep me company, and as we stood in line to get into the testing area, we saw how far back the competition stretched around the block for the chance to win.

So, my friend and I both got to take the test, a nice surprise; after it was over we marveled at the obscurity of some of the questions! Meaning, no we didn’t make the cut, ha. Eddie probably would have been the one to know all the answers to the entirely baffling questions on the written quiz, but not me. Anyway, for a long time afterwards, I acknowledged him by my greeting him with: “There’s my phone-a-friend!” He just beamed.

Eddie was a real savant when it came to sports and statistics. Some people are great with key knowledge of one sport, such as baseball. They will know everything about their favorite team or the sport as a whole. But Eddie had the entire sports gamut covered—baseball, basketball, football, you name it. He rooted for the Aggies and grumbled (just like a true Ag) if they weren’t playing up to their potential. His memory was phenomenal, matched only by his passion for life.

His razor-sharp wit also matched his memory during the best days of his life. He loved to watch all the major horse races on television and whenever he had the chance to visit horse racing tracks with friends during the height of racing season, he was front and center. One thing that made him so proud was when his dear friend named a thoroughbred race horse in his honor.

The other thing Eddie loved, as much as he loved Virginia, was something they loved together—great live music and dancing to it. When I say, “good dancers,” I’m not exaggerating. It was like watching Bryan-College Station’s version of Fred and Ginger. Country-western, their beloved 50s doo-wop music, no matter the genre, they glided around a dance floor with the greatest of ease. That was always so wonderful to see—like a master class in “how it’s done.” Then when they weren’t dancing, they were listening.

Locally, Eddie and Virginia were first to arrive and last to leave when live music of their choice was happening in town. One of their favorite musicians was pianist D.A. McDowell, and if he was at Christopher’s, they were too, and there was a mutual admiration society there. Other local bands knew the Gilmores as part of their supporters and encouragers of long-standing. They’d seen great performers who had launched their careers here before leaving town for bright lights and record deals.

The couple loved jazz and especially going to hear bands plays the blues. Eddie would always announce that Virginia’s favorite song was Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” and he’d make sure whatever band was performing in a club or other venue, that they played it for her if they took requests. That was a precious memory for sure. Another was Eddie’s love of lyrics, and he knew them all, which meant you might also find him singing a chorus of “Cherry Pie” with two other friends, on special occasions like a special birthday celebration for a friend who shared his June 24th birthday. It’s poignant that he “waited” to turn 82 before letting go the good fight.

The couple traveled extensively with dear friends over several decades, coast-to-coast, on land, air, and even by the sea. More recently, there was the fun of cherished annual trips to “wine country” in Napa Valley, California with friends and Eddie brought prized “souvenirs” back home and enjoyed the process of selecting favorites.

Golf was another of Eddie’s loves. First, he played regularly at Briarcrest Country Club, and then when beautiful Miramont Country Club was built, Eddie and his cart could be found as soon as the greens were open. He loved that course in particular. I believe he even played at St. Andrew’s in Scotland at least once.

The core travel group included four musketeers among the men and their beloved spouses and what was so nice to see was how well they got along for decades, an accomplishment of its own accord. Ultimately, at one point, a few years back, Eddie had a health challenge that separated him from more frequent contact with his dear friends, but as I learned recently, they didn’t separate from him.

When he was in his prime here as an investment broker, Eddie balanced work, family time, friends, and fun in a very special way. He made time for you if you needed to talk, and he was a loyal friend who could maintain a confidence. His friends and Virginia were his family and he cherished each one of them like they were precious jewels. He also cared very deeply about children. One of Eddie’s favorite local charities with whom he was a very active volunteer was the Boys and Girls Club of Bryan.

He was an active participant and volunteer and he was honored in his lifetime for his service to this outstanding local organization. He maintained memberships in other organizations as well (if memory serves, he was a proponent of the downtown Bryan boxing club), but he was pretty private about his volunteering. He had a heart the size of Texas, though, even though he tried to keep that fact to himself. You could just tell that about him.

In his final years, Eddie struggled with memory issues, and yet, his dearest friends visited him faithfully and helped him remember and filled in the gaps that they could, for as long as the memory would hold the facts. In recent years, I didn’t have occasion to see him, but I understand from one closest to him that his years of faithful friendship to others were the best investments he’d ever made in his life, as they were there faithfully with him and for him.

In life that’s really all anyone can ask for, to be remembered well, even if you can’t recall it. It’s knowing who your real friends are, when the chips are down, and to know they’re the ones who won’t give up on you, even if you have lost the sense of who you are, or who you used to be. In the family room of the home of one of Eddie’s best friends is a pillow embroidered with the phrase “Old friends are the best friends.” I believe this to be true.

When the day and time comes that we can no longer be ourselves, or recall the most important parts of our lives, we rely on those friends and loved ones who comprise the fabric of our lives, who will forever be our memory for us. They’ll help us remember when. They’ll have scrapbooks full of pictures and go over them with us, and help us remember who we were and who we are. They’ll play the songs we love, sing the words to us and with us and for us. Most importantly of all, they’ll grace us with their presence, simply being there with us.

They pray for us in good times and in bad. And that, undoubtedly leads to the greatest gift that one friend can give another—the gift of time. Eddie Gilmore gave his generously to his friends, always, unconditionally. His love for Virginia was unceasing and remains timelessly intact. He will always be there to watch out for her, so she need not fear a thing.

Godspeed, Eddie, and please scope out the best music venues for the rest of us, will you? We’re counting on you to save the best table for us. And there, the bands will play on, where the music and the dancing never ends, where love—like good music—overflows. The song written by your life here on Earth will play on forever, in the minds and hearts of all who were fortunate enough to know you.

Edward C. Gilmore

June 24, 1935 – June 27, 2017

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Conductor Larry Blank Leads Christina Saffran, Valerie Perri, and Kiki Ebsen: Delivers Great American Songbook Classics in Pasadena Symphony POPS Opener

Across America, where great symphony orchestras struggle to find and maintain adequate funding to support the sharing of classical music and music classics with the public, the stellar Pasadena Symphony Orchestra is a priority to the leadership of the City of Pasadena, California. Clearly, the PSO is now flourishing in both audience and patronage, thanks to a dedicated Board of Directors and staff executives, whose commitment of time and resources underscores its value.

Bringing vibrant entertainment and sharing important music from the Great American Songbook and favorite Broadway tunes is the overall emphasis of the general Pops programming. The City of Pasadena has enthusiastically committed time and resources for this annual free concert, their gift back to the community. Each year the attendance has grown even larger and represents highest and best use of public funding as evidenced by Saturday night’s crowd. Organizers were heard to call it a “new record-setting audience,” of at least 5,000 enthusiastic music lovers.

The Pasadena Symphony Orchestra -- Friday evening before the concert, a special opportunity to watch the dress rehearsal provided a unique perspective about the hearts and minds of the talented vocalists, above and beyond the music. They are each gracious and humble about their individual talents, and their ability to blend their magnificent voices on the duo and trio numbers was seamless. Conductor Larry Blank knows the Great American Songbook intimately, and chose perfect songs for each singer, individually and together.

Dress Rehearsal -- There's extensive planning that goes into operations (marketing and fund-raising) behind the scenes, the logistics of symphony operations and then the music programming is an entirely separate but massive operation. Most of us don't see any of that but we're all certainly happy to show up early, park our cars conveniently, and sling portable chair bags over our shoulders, knowing we’re going to have a great time and hear beautiful songs. It's easy to overlook the hours of preparation that go into making an unforgettable evening.

Suffice it to say that if this was the first time you heard each of these ladies in concert, you'd be hard-pressed to find three more affable singers whose personalities blended as beautifully as would their harmonies the following night. What a concert performance doesn’t reveal is the generosity and genuine spirit of harmony in the exchange of ideas in rehearsal, nor does it show the brilliance of the conductor in crafting the program set list and order. Rest assured all elements are there and the conductor is the air traffic controller to create the magic of Music Under the Stars.

Preshow, Saturday, June 3, 2017, at Pasadena City Hall (TCVMedia), Conductor Larry Blank (Photo: Larry Blank Music).

Pasadena Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Affiliations -- Approximately 26 members of The Pasasdena Symphony Orchestra not only played their instruments beautifully, they brought such a magnificent uplift to all the songs. Evening formal attire adorned them perfectly as they played million-dollar notes for the singers to sing. Although each musician was outstanding, principal percussionist Theresa Dimond was brilliant as was keyboardist Alan Steinberger, and the horn section was outstanding. The skilled PSO members who were gathered for this POPS concert were well rehearsed for their performance. The sound company stayed busy in their preparations for the big show to come.

Special kudos are due to the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) Chorus and the Donald Brinegar singers, who combined to provide the tremendous background voices on selected numbers that so greatly enhanced the performances. Mr. Brinegar directs both vocal groups and combined their ranks to create the perfect accompaniment to many key songs.

Before the Concert -- Late Saturday afternoon, the audience built exponentially as early concertgoers were treated to plenty of interesting activities. A musical petting zoo was available to inspire children to want to know more about classical music, and a series of food vendors satisfied the ever-growing crowd. It was about sunset when the program began promptly. As the orchestra warmed up, some young 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds were spotted up front (with their parents) dancing when they heard musical snippets. At some point, you never know where the next harpsichordist, the next pianist, percussionist or virtuoso string player will emerge from the inspiration they see in the “grown-ups” at work. More than one youngster has wanted to become a conductor, by watching the masters at work.

Welcome to Music Under the Stars --

To open the evening, Lora Unger, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association thanked primary supporter, Bank of America, and the Los Angeles Arts Commission, through the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, who provided funding for the evening’s free concert. In symphony circles, it’s well know that CEO Unger has skillfully steered the PSO through challenging financial times over the past decade. With the help of a truly engaged Board of Directors and a dynamic Gala coordinator, Rebecca Shukam, only great times ahead are due for the PSO. (Pictured: Lora Unger, CEO, Pasadena Symphony Orchestra and POPS)

Remarks from PSO Board Member Maryam Shah Hosseini, also of Bank of America, focused on the importance of supporting the arts and Bank of America’s history of commitment to this group.

In turn, Pasadena Vice-Mayor John J. Kennedy echoed the value of the PSO to the City of Pasadena and likened the direction of the city to a musical score as he brought greetings. He also announced funding from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, made possible through the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors. Together they made possible a free concert for thousands, so their support is especially appreciated by the audience who benefited. If you live in a culture-rich, arts-laden community, be grateful every single day. Pasadena residents are truly lucky.

As Concertmaster Aimee Kreston was introduced, Director of Choruses, Don Brinegar, opened the program with “The Star Spangled Banner,” which featured the combined JPL Chorus and Donald Brinegar singers, with the audience following enthusiastically. The American flag blew lightly against the gentle night breeze that was forming as the evening began its natural temperature descent. Seasoned concertgoers were prepared with blankets and wraps, and the newbies made mental notes for next year but the excitement and pace of the music kept everyone warm.

A few introductions for those who were hearing these talented musicians and singers for the first time. Orchestrator and arranger Larry Blank always delivers a beautiful program for his annual “Music Under the Stars” concert for which he serves as resident conductor among other concerts in the Pasadena Symphony and POPS series.

Talented and gracious, Blank has conducted opera stars, Broadway and television favorites, and rock stars, including Jon Bon Jovi, Robert Goulet, Johnny Mathis, Beyonce, Josh Groban, Harry Connick, Jr., Antonio Banderas, Christine Baranski, Nathan Lane, Marvin Hamlisch, Lucie Arnaz, and Kelsey Grammer. Equally well known in England, on stage Blank shares delightful vignettes and back stories on the songs he’s chosen. Especially relevant is the fact that so many of the arrangements he prefers are those written by his mentors and friends, which adds lovely dimension to the music.

The Pasadena Symphony Orchestra benefits from having two outstanding conductors, Michael Feinstein and Larry Blank. Mr. Feinstein has a passion for and commitment to preserving and expanding the reach of the Great American Songbook throughout every concert he designs, one that stems from his early career experience with Ira Gershin and his lifetime fascination with the songs of “the Greatest Generation” and the one that preceded it.

Mr. Blank is renowned for programming the perfectly paced evening to delight audiences, and of course for conducting the orchestra when Mr. Feinstein in singing. As orchestrator and conductor, Mr. Blank has worked with singers who are concurrently stars of screen and stage and is entirely unflappable as he immerses himself into the music, bringing out the very best in every singer who is backed by ‘his’ orchestra. It’s truly a match made in paradise.

(L to R: Larry Blank, Kiki Ebsen, Valerie Perri, and Christina Saffran, Photos courtesy of Pasadena Symphony Orchestra)

Larry Blank--One by one, Conductor Blank introduced his vocalists for the evening—Christina Saffran, Valerie Perri, and Kiki Ebsen. Christina and Valerie are Pasadena POPS audience favorites in recent years and the 2017 concert marked Kiki’s debut with this symphony. The music, he said, “would focus primarily on George Gershwin,” with some Ella Fitzgerald classics and a few surprises to boot.

Kiki Ebsen--In her Music Under the Stars debut this evening, the stunning redhead, Kiki Ebsen, returned to her original roots of classical voice and vocal performance, from college days. The independent beauty won a national collegiate competition for original songwriting, so Kiki left opera waiting in the wings, choosing adventure as offstage keyboard player and MIDI tech for iconic band Chicago. The next 20 years, she spent internationally, on keyboards, backing and lead vocals, and songwriting. So, it’s possible you forgot that theater, jazz, the Great American Songbook, and symphonies are “home” for Kiki.

Valerie Perri--A dynamic, beautiful brunette with a smile to match the light in her eyes, Valerie Perri is equally at home on a Broadway stage or any other stage as Eva Peron in “Evita,” but she’s also been known to become Dolly Levi with panache. Equally at home on a TV soundstage, Valerie’s screen credits are impressive. Her indefatigable optimism is contagious, and she is equally introspective when focused on her music, allowing the conductor to guide the music effortlessly with her.

Christina Saffran--The lovely Christina Saffran with the long blonde tresses made her fourth “Music Under the Stars” concert appearance this evening. The Broadway star is a diverse talent who has performed in numerous national symphony orchestras as well as in her own show in Las Vegas. Plus, she’s a frequent vocal talent in Disney animation projects. Christina has a special countenance, onstage and off, which allows her to immerse herself fully in the music and bring audiences great joy as she sings delivers the music of the Great American Songbook.

The Music Begins "Fascinating Rhythm"––Valerie Perri

Opening the program was Valerie Perri, skillfully singing “Fascinating Rhythm,” by George and Ira Gershwin. Who doesn’t remember the amazing Fred and Adele Astaire in Broadway’s “Lady Be Good”? That song prepared the crowd beautifully for the evening ahead, which would be filled with great music, grand memories of the first time you’d heard the songs, and reflections on why Gershwin songs truly make up such an important part of the “Great American Songbook.”

"Where or When"––Kiki Ebsen

Rodgers and Hart (1937) created this song for the musical “Babes in Arms” and the first performance was noted as 1937 by Ray Heatherton & Mitzi Green. This song has endured for eight decades and takes on new life, with Kiki Ebsen's soulful delivery.

"Someone To Watch Over Me"––Christina Saffran

From the musical “Oh, Kay!” in 1926, with British star Gertrude Lawrence, this has been called “one of the great love songs in American musical theatre history.” Christina’s version was nothing short of magnificent, even in this abbreviated video snippet.

"A Tisket a Tasket"––Kiki Ebsen

Van Alexander, a good friend of Mr. Blank's who passed away just a few years ago, gave the world a marvelous arrangement of a song that he co-wrote with Ella Fitzgerald. Her breakout recording, when she was only 19 years old, was with the Chick Webb Orchestra in 1938, but on Saturday night, 79 years later, it returned. Kiki’s version swings with joy, as she much fun singing it as Ella did delivering it. The horn section answer, following the conductor’s lead, reminds you of the grandest days of supper clubs, black tie and great entertainment nightly.

"How Long Has This Been Going On"––Valerie Perri In 1928, George and Ira Gershwin introduced this song, and it’s been recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Julie London, Judy Garland, Lonette McKee, and Cher, among the myriad of singers who’ve offered their talents. Valerie Perri easily shows why it's one of her best songs.

"Ridin’ High"––Christina Saffran The ebullient talent Ethel Merman brought this Cole Porter tune to life in 1936, and Ella Fitzgerald recorded it in 1956, Peggy Lee in 1959, Doris Day in 1961, and Cleo Laine in 1971. Yet, Christina should think about recording it, as she owns the stage with the orchestra and chorus undergirding her lovely powerful vocals.

"Summertime"––Kiki Ebsen

From “Porgy and Bess,” this instantly recognizable melody from George Gershwin has two credited lyricists: DuBose Heyward (the man who wrote the novel, “Porgy”) and Ira Gershwin as well. In 1960, Leontyne Price sang it, with legendary Herbert von Karajan conducting. Naturally, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded it on the Verve label. The first time I heard any non-Broadway version of this song was in 1967 when The Buckinghams (Chicago pop rock group) recorded it for their inaugural Columbia album, “Time & Charges,” in 1967. Kiki brought her own beautiful interpretation to this treasured song.

"Conductor’s Surprise"––Morton Stevens (composer)

The theme song to this TV show was written by Mort Stevens, a “prolific, Emmy-award winning film and television score composer,” and a good friend of Larry Blank. Hint: It was for a show that ran on CBS from 1968 to 1980, starring Jack Lord and James MacArthur. The show was revived by CBS in 2010 and has remained a strong part of CBS’ Friday night primetime lineup, starring Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan. Pretty sure you know what it is? In introducing the song to the audience, all Mr. Blank would say as a hint was in sharing a story about his friend “Mort,” and asked the audience if they could guess the name of the song the orchestra was about to play, noting, “As Mort’s BMW license plate read, “EEGBAE.”

Mr. Blank was delighted that most of the audience was stumped as the percussion and trumpets moved right into the powerful rhythm of the opening of Morton Stevens’ fantastic song, ultimately recorded by The Ventures. Ready? Set? Book ‘em, Danno! By the way, Mr. Stevens also composed themes for other police procedurals including “Matt Helm,” and “Police Woman,” as well as being music arranger for 12 episodes of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Mr. Stevens knew exactly what made great law enforcement themes!

"But Not For Me"––Christina Saffran

George and Ira Gershwin introduced this gem in 1930 in “Girl Crazy” and it was performed by Ginger Rogers in the musical. The beloved tune has been recorded by Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra but it was also a favorite of Ella Fitzgerald’s, as she won a Grammy for this song in 1960 for Best Female Vocal Performance on her “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook” album. Actually, Ella won 14 Grammy Awards, including “one for Lifetime Achievement” in 1967, in large part due to her interpretation of Gershwin songs among others she made her own.

"Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off"––Valerie Perri and Kiki Ebsen

First known as a song strongly identified with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (on roller skates) in the 1937 movie, “Shall We Dance,” this George and Ira Gershwin song was another favorite among Ella Fitzgerald recordings, as she lent her own inimitable style to create her own hit song. Valerie and Kiki have much fun with this tune and agree to “call the calling-off off”—there’s something special about the beauty of musical treasures--they're simply timeless.

"Somewhere over The Rainbow"––Kiki Ebsen

Kiki Ebsen’s magnificent rendition of the Harold Arlen classic from “The Wizard Oz” (1939). It’s been a favorite for 78 years, but most relevant is that it was chosen by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) as the “#1 Song of the 20th Century and by the American Film Institute (AFI) as “the Greatest Movie Song Ever.” Beyond this accolade, it’s a poignant song for Kiki and holds very special meaning.

"The Man I Love"––Christina Saffran This song has a fun history thanks to Ira Gershwin’s “Lyrics on Several Occasions,” which noted that the song ‘almost’ made it into several shows it was planned for. The original version, “The Girl I Love,” has been recorded by Michael Feinstein, and the best-known ‘next’ version, “The Man I Love,” (from web site,

“…the refrain of "The Man I Love" began as the introduction or verse to another, never completed song, a song that he can't even recall, a song written, according to George's notebooks, between April 4, and April 24, 1924. The music for this verse had, as the brothers both recognized, such an "insistent" quality about it that they agreed it should be used for something more than just an introduction. In other words, it was too good to be just a verse, so it was converted into a refrain, the main portion, for a completely new song that turned out to be "The Man I Love." (That this happened was proved when Michael Feinstein, working as an archivist for Ira Gershwin in 1982, found George's manuscripts for the song in a storage facility in Secaucus, NJ.)”

Not only did Ella Fitzgerald, Sophie Tucker, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughn record this song, in 1999 Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell also recorded it! Christina’s version is show-stopping of its own accord.

"Time Heals Everything"––Valerie Perri

This is a Jerry Herman song from the musical “Mack and Mabel,” that Valerie has sung before and it’s clear why it’s “her song,” as her delivery and interpretation are powerful and convincing. Not only has Michael Feinstein recorded the song, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli, and the iconic Eydie Gorme (whose version was previously my favorite, until hearing Ms. Perri sing it) have made it their own. That’s one of the exciting things about Broadway musicals; each performer brings their own style to create an entirely new song.

"Boy What Love Has Done To Me"––Christina Saffran, Valerie Perri, and Kiki Ebsen

This George and Ira Gershwin song has resonated throughout the decades as the different combinations of hearts and minds seek and find one another to come together as a couple, no matter how unlikely the pairings. The trio was charming in their trading verses and blending on the chorus. These dynamic singers can deliver upbeat fun verses with equal panache. Although it was the final song, clearly no one wanted to go home, so Mr. Blank and the orchestra delivered the perfect encore song to cap off the evening’s selections.

"I Got Rhythm–-Encore"––Christina Saffran, Valerie Perri, and Kiki Ebsen

The finale to this resplendent program was this final George and Ira Gershwin song, from “Girl Crazy,” launched in 1930. “When George Gershwin conducted the music at the premiere…the orchestra, the Red Nichols Band, among others included Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Dorsey, and Gene Krupa.” The Pasadena Symphony POPS did the masters proud under Larry Blank’s baton. That’s the true measure of music excellence when a song can endure for decades and be a solid rock hit as well (remember the group The Happenings (1967) recording? It sold over 1,000,000 copies, and is still one of their most popular songs in concert today as they continue to tour. Check out this evening's rendition and hear how the chorus brought added charm to the performances. Especially in the rhythm section did the orchestra shine brightly. The three vocalists clearly enjoyed this song as they combined their exceptional voices on the final notes, bringing the crowd to another standing ovation as another great Music Under the Stars program was "one for the books."

(L to R: Valerie Perri, Larry Blank, Kiki Ebsen, and Christina Saffran, photo from on Kiki Ebsen's Facebook page.)

More Music from These Artists

If this was your first introduction to these beautiful, talented singers, you can hear more from them. Check out Christina Saffran’s “Temporary Insanity” on Amazon, and enjoy “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and the title track, among many others. Valerie’s CD, “Sweet Conversation” is available on iTunes and includes “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” and “Almost Like Being in Love,” among some of her signature songs. Another personal favorite is her version of “Secret o’ Life.” Kiki’s CDs, including her most recent release “Scarecrow Sessions,” are all available on her web site. On “Scarecrow Sessions her version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is magnificent, as is her take on Cole Porter’s “Easy to Love.” Larry Blank’s recordings can be found here, and his conducting calendar can be found here.

Special Thanks Are Due

The outstanding pre-concert publicity (thank you to the tremendous marketing and PR by General Manager, Drew Flaherty and Marisa McCarthy, Director of Marketing & Public Relations) was responsible for the record crowd, as far as the eyes could see. They proved a fantastic audience, attentive during the music and expressive only in their rousing applause for the selections during the evening. That is not always the case when thousands are gathered as I’ve experienced, more times than I care to recount, at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, Texas.

The Los Angeles Times and other area publications were filled with beautiful reminders, from the very earliest times, so people had this date circled on their calendar for over a month. No maximum capacity crowd generates on its own accord—it’s dedicated professionals working behind the scenes to make the magic happen.

Coming Up Next — Tickets & Gifts of Love

The Pasadena Symphony and the Pasadena POPS are the inaugural part of the full POPS subscription season, with concerts taking place typically at the L.A. County Arboretum. This summer, music lovers can expect nothing but great music all summer long. The 2017 Sierra Summer Concert Series runs from June 17 – September 9, starting with “Broadway: The Golden Age” with honoree Liza Minnelli and soloist Storm Large, conducted by Michael Feinstein, Principal Pops Conductor and holder of the Tom and Erika Girardi Chair. “Live at the Arboretum” with Leann Rimes on July 8 The Midtown Men (Music from Jersey Boys and Beyond) July 15, conducted by Larry Blank, and Michael Feinstein Sings & Swings” on July 29th, conducted by Larry Blank.

If you’re anywhere near Pasadena, California this summer and year-round, get your tickets early. Visit for information, and please consider a donation to their Annual Fund in honor or memory of someone you love, because there’s nothing quite like the gift of music, particularly for the person who has everything.

In all, it was a very special evening for the audience from the vocalists, the choralists, the Pasadena Symphony POPS Orchestra, conductor Larry Blank, the City of Pasadena, the Bank of America and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission through the L.A. Board of Supervisors.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Long, Long Corridor to Delivering a Message of Love

Yesterday, June 5, 2017, marked the 102nd anniversary of the day my “buddy” Mildred Kennedy was born. I’m sure there were fireworks the day she entered the world, even if it wasn’t a national holiday. If there weren’t, there should have been.

Having been out of town on business on her actual birthday, I wanted to visit Mildred today, since it had been Valentine’s Day since I’d last visited. Each time for the past several years when I’ve visited her, Mildred has been sitting upright in her wheelchair, serenely, whether watching the endless loop of CNN News on the TV screen or in the community dining room of her senior residence here in Bryan.

Mildred had “introduced” me to a new friend many years ago. As she is a private person, and would likely not speak to me if she saw her name in my blog, let’s just call her Redbird because that was the thing that Mildred knew we had in common.

All my life, beautiful songs of the cardinals floating through the air seemed to underscore my life’s journey. Whenever I look around during special times, I see the redbirds so fancied by many for the same reason. There’s legend or myth that says that the presence of a cardinal is akin to an angelic presence of a loved one around you, a sign of sorts that someone in Heaven is thinking of you.

About 10 years ago, Mildred told me she had a friend who wrote beautiful poems—loved, loved, loved—cardinals, and was a true friend of faith to her in a Women’s Bible Study group that Mildred attended across town at another church. Understand that Mildred didn’t drive after a certain age, but she never failed to have 10 or more people fighting over giving a ride to her, so there wasn’t any place she could not find her way to reach. Faithfully she attended the Bible Study, and it was there she made dear friends with “Redbird.”

However, lest you think it was devoted friendship at first sight—forget about that. Mildred was, and could be, the inspiration of terror and fear, if you thought anyone knew the Bible better than she did. Mildred knew the Bible better than some ministers, because she studied it a bazillion years, and the ministers took her corrections in good humor (most of the time). So, too, did her Bible Study partners.

When I was in Bible studies with Mildred in our home church, I wasn’t intimated by her. I already knew I had minuscule knowledge compared to hers, so it was natural to defer to her as the go-to resource. But now the Baptists knew it, too, ha! It just took a while for people not to be afraid of being corrected by her. Once they got used to her shaking her index finger to make a point now and then, all was well.

One year, Mildred gifted me with a copy of a Christmas poem that Redbird had written, and it was so beautiful it moved me to tears. I thought, “Gosh, what a great writer and poet!” Mildred said, “One of these days I’ll introduce you to her.” That happened about two years later when our church had a “Candlelight to Bethlehem” function near Christmastime. Mildred hosted a table and invited “Redbird,” me, and five more friends. The two of us were not sitting directly next to each other so it was not then that we began talking. It was just the first introduction.

In fact, it would be another 10 years before another conversation. When Mildred’s health had reached the point that she was formally admitted to Hospice care, I called Redbird to let her know what I knew early, as the Methodists were not as prompt as the Baptists when it comes to sharing information as a caring community and reaching out so all can know, love, and pray. Twenty years ago, I’d have put our prayer chain calling group up against any church’s but almost all those former members of the prayer chain (save for Mildred and another best friend) have gone on to their Heavenly reward. So, I called to make sure she wasn't last to know.

In these past seven months that Mildred has lived in the state of Hospice care at her nursing home, her transition has been a graceful and gentle decline. In the past year, because I saw her every week of my life for so many years, I found it harder to get over there to visit her at her nursing facility. With a great internal argument about how hard it would be on me to see her “like that” it was easy to find four months flying by. Seems the fear of saying goodbye, even if she was over 100 and the logic that tells us her time would soon be ending, remained strong, I really had to talk myself into it hard, harder, hardest.

Of course, after I arrived, with lots of cupcakes or flowers for the staff and fellow residents in the dining room area, I just beamed to see her doing better than I’d ever envisioned—Christmas 2016 and Valentine’s 2017. But, I skipped St. Patrick’s Day and Easter this year, telling myself that I had too many things to do. I actually did have too many things to “say grace over,” but in my heart of hearts, I knew I was nothing but a big chicken and simply couldn’t face making time to see her because it could be “the last time.”

Time passed…until yesterday. On Mildred’s actual birthday, in an early morning stroll up a steep hill I was unfamiliar with, I found myself taking smaller steps and not going that fast as I made continued deliberate progress. My walking partner could have left me in her dust, but she kept pace with me and stopped when I stopped, all along the path, without calling attention to that fact. I looked up and said, “Sorry to be so pokey.” She said, “No, you go at your own pace. I’ll wait for you.” I smiled, rested, and got back on the path.

Last week, I’d checked in with Redbird a few days ago and we’d made plans for lunch today. It almost didn’t happen because of crazy schedules, but I had really hoped we’d keep the time as planned. As our lunch concluded today, I said I was heading over to see Mildred, asking if she’d like to come with me. She looked up and immediately, without realizing it, said, “Yes, I would, but I don’t know exactly where it is, and I’m dealing with a knee injury and not able to walk long distances without a cane right now.”

I said, “I know where she is, why don’t we go together?” Certain that she was facing the same level of mixed emotions at what visiting Mildred could be—for the last time—I said, “It will help me if we go together this time.” I meant it, plus I had really wanted to bring Mildred a special present—“Redbird.” It’s one of those instincts I had, can’t explain it, but I knew full well that the labyrinthine layout of the nursing/rehab/caregiving multiplex makes it a true barrier to want to go visit anyone there if it’s just you alone.

Delighted at her acceptance, we made our way over there and after one false start, located Mildred in the room she shared. She was fast asleep. Redbird said, “Don’t wake her up, let her sleep” and I said, “Nope, just give her a second, she’ll sense we’re here and as we speak a little, she’ll hear our voices.”

Bravely, Redbird said, “Mildred, it’s ‘Redbird,’ your Bible study friend,” and that was all it took. Mildred’s eyes opened, she turned her head left (and I was on the other side) and smiled when she saw a friend smiling back at her. She couldn’t speak in words, but her eyes spoke volumes. Redbird continued, “I’m here with Dawn, another of your friends; we’re here to tell you Happy Birthday!”

As Mildred continued looking left, I got up and said, “I’ll come over so you only have one place to look.” Gently, Redbird reached over and touched Mildred’s shoulder gently. She gently shared with Mildred many of the fun, wonderful memories of Bible Study together and reminded her of all of the verses that Mildred had given her through the years. “I’ve marked my Bible “MK” with each of the verses you’ve given me.” I didn’t add it but I remembered the wonderful volumes of faith that she’s gifted me with through the years.

We searched her walls to see what was on display, looking specifically for pictures of angels that Mildred loved and collected. There weren’t many, perhaps a likely indication of her inability to recognize and appreciate their significance, although there are at least two there on her corkboard frame. Redbird added, “I remember how much you love your angels.”

On the table nearest the end of the bed was a beautiful bouquet of flowers with red roses included. There was also an unlikely faux-jeweled crown, fit for a princess, on the table next to the vase of flowers. No doubt a souvenir of a formal celebration yesterday on her “real” birthday.

The one-way conversation continued between Redbird and Mildred. Soothing tones, sweet words, and lots of love and caring in the emotions that flew by in just a few moments. Suddenly I announced, “I brought you Redbird as your present, Mildred, so let’s sing you Happy Birthday!” Without missing a beat, we broke into song and Mildred paid careful attention, and we also found a snippet of another song to sing her. Deciding to take our show on the road, or, leave Mildred to rest, we concluded our visit. I snapped a few photos and am only sharing one, preserving Redbird’s love of privacy yet showing the look of love in Mildred’s eyes. I was delighted that I found the perfect birthday present to take Mildred, literally.

Then we said our final goodbyes, knowing that in fact and for certain that it would likely be our final goodbyes. There being no outward sign of that forecast, it was just a sense of finality that overwhelmed me as we left the room she shared (separated by curtains) with two other women).

The joke of the day was on us, however, and that was the fact that whomever designed this healthcare metroplex was either a blooper or purposeful to prevent easy escape for the residents; either way, it was a complex design of architectural mystery. You enter the building, walk a little, get on the elevator, go up one floor, then you go down the hall a little way, then ‘round the corner and…that was just to get in. However, to leave, there’s a problem if you don’t retrace your steps exactly. We didn’t. That was the problem.

No one felt worse than I did when I realized that we were in a state of “lost” that would require 15 minutes and the guidance of at least five employees helping us find our way. There are at least two-and-a-half entrances over there. But recall, my friend Redbird was nursing a recovering knee injury and walking long distances is not on her “to-do” list for recuperation.

As we walked hopefully down hallway after hallway, she’d pause and say, “I need to stop for a minute,” yet she was the best trooper. Rather than giving me “what-for” not knowing the way out, she was regretting slowing me down. I said, “There is no need to apologize, as I really understand the need to find your own pace. Believe me!”

Just 24 hours earlier, I was on the other end of my fading strength, being encouraged and uplifted by a trusted friend saying I could do it. Eventually we made it to the car, cranked up the AC to combat the 95% humidity that was classic Texas style. I really admired my new friend for persevering beyond her knee pain to share her love with Mildred.

Lessons from the day, then, were numerous. First, whenever we face a difficult task, one we fear, such as saying a potential final farewell to a dear, dear friend, we need not be alone when we do it. The presence of a trusted friend, whether brand new or longtime BFF, gives you the strength you need when you need it most.

Second, never fear saying goodbye. Instead, say “I love you” and don’t worry about how much time a person you love has left on Earth. Don’t project the “We only have X more years left on the planet.” Instead, just show love every day and the rest will take care of itself.

Third, there is no better present one friend can give to another than time. Fact. No Neiman-Marcus box or Tiffany bow carries the value outside that a loving heart of a faithful friend carries inside. It’s true that one day, Mildred won’t be among us anymore. That’s a fact, too. But, in the meantime, it’s a good thing to remember that we, on this side of the labyrinth of life, still have the freedom to navigate (successfully or otherwise) on “this” side of the small bed reined in by sliding curtain and drywall with a corkboard frame on the wall.

And yet, without a word today, Mildred was a living lesson in faith to two friends who’d come to sing her into her 102nd year. Gosh, she’s good! Then again, never underestimate the power of love.