Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Speaking via Stones

Before I ever started playing with drummers, guitarist/ingenious Tom Gavin fashioned a "drum set" for my first album's opening track Muscles of Mine from half-filled plastic water bottles.  The song is written in memory of my adorable Grandma Yetta and a day my Mom slowly massaged her sore calves, releasing stories from her past. 

I chose this song to perform in a concert commemorating the Giornata Internazionale Contro La Violenza Sulle Donne (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women), in the nearby town of Monselice.

Roman ruins have recently been discovered two floors below where we played, in the Complesso di San Paolo. We tiptoed on glass over the ancient beige structures.

A few weeks each year the show's director Alessandra Gelsetti replaces her directing cap with a big, furry one to work a booth at one of Padova's outdoor Xmas markets. Two winters ago, when I swung by to tell her I was "in cinta!" (pregnant!), she immediately left her stand, grabbed me by the arm and said "I have a gift for you!"  Two booths down, a long-haired woman behind a table of stones-for-everything handed me a beige one on a string, saying "this will help you speak with your baby."

So that night, lying on flowered sheets ironed by my mother-in-law, I gingerly began speaking to Giordano via the stone placed on my exposed belly.

My one discomfort during the pregnancy was not having control over what my husband Finni and I were making.  With everything else I've ever created, I've had the joy of obsessing over it - deciding each note and harmony, each instrument, each word, each punctuation mark.  I had urges to sculpt this baby's personality, looks, like how I would a song.  But minus some sweet words through a rock and some preggie swimming classes, I just had to lie back on pressed sheets or in cool water in dolce attesa (sweet waiting), and trust.

Of course, the person we made is more beautiful and soulful than anything I could have ever, ever dreamed up.  And this lesson is reflecting back now into music, as I feel myself loosening my grasp.  I let the energy of a concert just be whatever it's going to be, without trying to force a mood.  With my video project for the album, animators and video artists have free reign to create whatever inspires them. Remixers are taking the song and running with it.

On that note I'm thrilled to announce *TODAY'S RELEASE* of London's acclaimed Roshi Feat. Pars Radio's gorgeous remix of PlexiLusso's opening track-to-be, Emma. The remix features Rob Schwimmer on theremin, Julia Seager-Scott on harp, and Jimmy Weinstein on drums.

Please enjoy! 

A trio-version of Emma initiated the first of my fall concerts, in Rome!  Matt Renzi and his wife Visia Tartaglione curate a great series called Esplorazione at Teatro Keiros.  Visia is a lioness with a head of wild curls and the kind of Roman confidence you want to stick in your pocket for later when you need it.  And Matt's winds created a mane of color over Jimmy Weinstein's always deep-feeling drumming.  Besides a vocal mic we weren't amplified, and the whole vibe in the room was really natural and easy.

Here is a song from that night:

With chestnut tortes and puntarelle (a new-to-me Roman salad that's amazing with garlic and anchovies) stuffed in a paper bag, I rode back to Padova in anticipation of getting to play with Jimmy and Matt later again that week.  Xmas lights, cushioned chairs, lentil soup, and Jimmy and his wife Lilli welcomed an enthusiastic audience for their inaugural house concert.  Jimmy, Matt and bassist Stefano Senni treated us to the improvisational closeness caught on their album 4 Stories, recorded in 2011 in the very same room

Matt Renzi / Stefano Senni / Jimmy Weinstein: 4 Stories

In describing the album, All About Jazz speaks perfectly to what we got to hear in the cozy concert as well:

The improvisational stories unfold patiently and organically, stressing a calm and intimate atmosphere, where every breath, phrase, touch or beat counts. There is no sense of urgency nor any attempt to feature any kind of virtuoso playing, just total commitment to in-the-moment musical creation.

At the end of the set I was invited up to play a few songs with Matt and Jimmy -  a preview to our concert two days later at the Mestre jazz/blues club Al Vapore (Steam).  Talk about steam, I was stuck under a towel with a cold the whole day of the show. That, combined with the owner of the club thinking we were going to be a bebop act, led to a less-than-perfect concert. But!  I sat back in musical dolce attesa, loosening my grip, and some nice things happened anyway.  Matt and Jimmy's playing lifted the night as usual, and a lot Venetian and Padovan friends showed up unexpectedly, including Tomaso with a big "Bravo!!" 

Jimmy and I ended the string of shows at the beloved Carichi Sospesi in Padova (thanks to Mirko Di Cataldo for the great sound!).  Here, Jimmy and I play on our own "suspended carriage" (my hairdryer). 

Unlike Chicago where my undried hair always turned into a head of icicles, in Padova you just can't go out with wet hair or you get chased down by women wielding hairdryers.  Luckily I've been following the rules, because Monday's Antidanza movement workshop asked the group to move without lifting our heads from the floor.  Antidanza is led by the innovative Fabrizio Turetta in a  small studio nestled in a mall, and always gets me looking at life from a new perspective, literally. 

Last March, Fabrizio asked me to lead a workshop using my accordion to explore musical textures and silences in the body, with the theme of In-Stallo (being stalled). 

I was going through quite a stalled phase at that time - the exhaustion of new motherhood made it often hard for me to finish a thought, let alone invent a full night of movement exercises!  But In-Stallo broke my stillness, and we lifted each other in the air as if we were accordions, vibrated into each other's skin with sound, and broke a sweat, stopping and starting our movements a bellows to songs from my soon-to-be released album.

These expressive dancers were the first to hear the completely mixed, mastered songs, other than Giordano who had accompanied me in utero to every mixing session at Max Trisotto's studio (another way to speak to your baby is to force-feed him the same song over and over).
Soon after Giordano arrived, the album masters arrived from Istanbul. Pieter Snapper, my music technology professor from Oberlin, now runs the world class Babajim mastering studio there. 

Those precious days, when I wasn't dancing to the masters, I was dancing with my new partner to Tin Hat Trio's Bill from The Rodeo Eroded, which was on a lullaby mix-tape my aunt and uncle made:

And now I'm dancing on the front page of my new website, also arriving soon!

The photo session this September with music photographer Merri Cyr and makeup artist Kyriaki Savrani in Greenpoint had me jumping up and down hundreds of times 'til I almost landed with my head on the floor, not on purpose!

I was originally fixed on a turquoise theme for the album's artwork/makeup, but just days before the session my Mom spotted a marshmallowy white dress by Swedish designer Nelly Johansson in a Chicago store window, and I found a book called Colors: What They Mean and How to Make Them by Anne Varichon on her shelf.  It spoke of the fertility and power of yellow.  My whole concept shifted, and I suddenly envisioned a bar of yellow across my eye. 

Then, just weeks ago, I was wowed to find this yellow eye-bar in a Venice Biennale sculpture by Dutch artist Mark Manders:

Now the album is in the hands of the trusted designers.

On Sunday Giordano crawled through a tube in a gym as a reindeer in the asilo nido (little nest daycare) annual holiday recital

…and these days we're planning our next trip through the wormhole, a move from Noventa Padovana back to Brooklyn, where we wish to start a puppet company on the foundation of two shows we've written: The Orange Teardrops for PS 10, and a 2nd, a commission this summer from friends Courtney and Marty for their children's co-birthday party!

The Giant's Bracelet arrived via a straight-line wind that had just blown above and around my family's summer house in Michigan, miraculously not damaging it but practically tearing down the surrounding forest. 

We watched from the upstairs window as unhelmeted, cigarette smoking tree cutters led by their brazen leader Bob made the forest safe again with their chainsaws. 

As Bob went up and up…

…I went down, down to snap shots of Aquaphor on the bedroom table for my new record label logo

…with Finni following me to use his "mini chain saw" birthday present (electric razor) which came wrapped in stubble. 

Once the forest quieted, I sat in front of our new sunset view, and with a Guide to Trees and my accordion "Bob the Tree Snob" came to life: 


Soon a brother and a sister, modeled after birthday girl and boy Hayden and Declan, skipped stones into the lake from the long expanse of sand so luminescent, it could have been the bracelet of a fancy-schmancy giant, which she unclipped from her wrist and laid out flat in her drawer. 

While the story was unfolding, Giordano was busy making discoveries in nature


…and Finni was sawing fallen stars and fallen trees from plywood on the unscratched porch below. 

Back in Chicago, my Mom, who was once an art teacher, helped Finni paint the set


...and it was time to party!

Giordano played MC, introducing the show from atop the wooden set-piece, with Finni moving his arms and speaking for him, ventriloquist-style. 

"Now close your eyes…
open your ears…
and enjoy the show!"

Now months later, Giordano is starting to talk on his own: "Mamma!" "Pasta!" "Luce!" "Gatto!" "Book!"  His favorite book, Giordano del faro, is filled with drawings of cloud-fish and shell-stairs.  It's about a boy named Giordano who lives in a lighthouse, sending bottles across the ocean to a girl named Paloma. His beach is filled with stones, one with musical notes on it:

and every time we turn to that page: "Sassi! Sassi!" (Stones! Stones!).

So now Giordano is speaking via stones, like me. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Italy turned purple by the time I got back from my 2 weeks in New York - bulging with glicini, fragrant flowers that surge like water out of thick, thick vines. You'd never know these vines had such enthusiasm, so brown and normal most of the time. Now I know their tough grips around porches and gates have just been anticipation for their few weeks each year to let go and be their true, wild selves!

In English, they're Wisteria - it makes sense. Their short-livedness fills you with wistfulness. Makes me more aware how precious this pregnant time is. My belly is popping with boy-flowers. 

Armando my neighbor's been adding some sparkly materials to his house and keeps insisting that I visit the woman next to the Municipio who sells tote bags with my cities on them, "New York!" and "Chicago!" 

Moved out of Brooklyn on my trip, after 16 years in the same apartment across from the women's shelter. Usually the women trade curses on a regular schedule, but this time there was straight silence. Felt like a mourning for the end of something. But once the piano rolled out the door on it's side,

and every last music business book and Main Squeeze Accordion Orchestra mermaid costume was taped up and sent packin', I gave the apartment a hearty thank you for my beautiful years there, locked the door, and felt the waters (of time!) dripping down my back, so cathartically. I put aside my prettiest dresses to bring to Italy, 
and my mics. 

I've been sentimental about closing my teaching business though. I gave my beloved first accordion ever, bought my first year ever in New York, to my beloved first piano student ever: Annabelle.

And she gave me this adorable one for the bambino in return:

Besides moving, the goal of the trip was to record my New York band for my 3rd album, Plexi Lusso. The name is inspired by a plexiglass table in my childhood livingroom (when you got on your knees and looked through the sides, you could see yourself in infinite reflections) and the name of the finish on my accordion ("Extra Lusso"). Early March, following a gorgeous winter concert at spring-named movie theater ("Teatro Primavera") in Vicenza, 

Jimmy Weinstein and I ventured out to Udine again to record the 2nd round of piano and drum tracks to form the foundation of the album. The studio is regarded as one of the best for jazz in Italy, and the endless Fazioli plays like a gold river. 

Giacomo engineered great. He told us his last name means "homeless guy."

Our little casa was a musical candystore in prep for NY, adding organ, saw and harp to Heartache is an Orange, electric guitar and oboe to Linguaglossa, and a new happy R&B-ish ending to L.E.D., my song about my palm-size square light that changes colors. Everything got stuffed on a hard drive and as close to me as my Passport, as Becca and I (my childhood friend who was in Italy for the Bologna children's book fair) hopped on the plane, first! (I've never seeeeen such an eyeroll as when I asked the ultra mascara'ed woman at the gate if pregnant women can board early. I think her eyes actually took a flight and then returned!)

The first bagels were bought for the session at NuNoise, my I'm in Crinoline co-producer Joe Mardin's studio in Chelsea, where the elevator opened to Julia Seager-Scott's borrowed harp. 

Julia and I met at one of my favorite places in the whole world, Interlochen National Music Camp in Michigan. One year after we were too old for camp, Julia came to visit me in Chicago from Toronto, and we toured the Lyon & Healy harp manufacturers, and watched them cover the instruments in delicate gold leaf. We wore matching sweaters and did Italian mud masks from a jar.  

I had written Julia a harp part for Linguaglossa, my song about aeroacrophobia in Sicily, but she said "why don't you write me some parts for other songs too, since I'm flying in?" So Emma and Heartache is an Orange got spruced up, and Julia just *sparkled* on all three. 

Tom Gavin arrived to bless the album with his thoughtful and bombastic guitar playing. 

The next morning, drummer Jeff Davis and I puttered past the city skyline out to Tedesco Studios in Jersey, where we pulled up my first home demo of Everyone's in Love (always had something about it that made me smile), adding drums to lift the energy even higher for the record. 

And this silhouette of skyline’s 
not sweet blades of grass you can 
settle right up to your mouth?
Blow through - 
make a purified sound? Ah…

We pounded out a few more songs, and downed some Greek veggie sandwiches with our engineer. Met up with Jeff again after a weekend and two rivers, in Williamsburg, where he laid down vibraphone at Vibromonk. 

Trumpeter Greg Glassman arrived to blow us away...

then Peter Hess, to add gorgeously layered saxes, flutes, clarinets...

and Matt Renzi, who happened to be in from Italy like me, languished us on oboe.  

Back at NuNoise the next morning to add glowing harmonies by Nicole Scheller 

and more Tom on guitar, including my three favorite intertwining lines on the gentle song, Chris. The afternoon brought in the lovely Karen LeBlanc wrapped in a fantastic beige and bulbous coat with her musical saw peeking out. Here she is playing on Heartache is an Orange. 


The night was lit up with a surprise ticket to witness my friend Raul Midon absolutely bring the house down at Joe's Pub. He played my favorite song, Sunshine, while the waiter brought me extra-bright non-alcoholic pineapple drinks. 

The next morning I chatted with a sassy gold-panted Jersey resident on the bus from Port Authority before arriving for the string session Kaledoscope Sound Studios. 

Uber-kind Randy Crafton engineered the most hardcore of all the sessions, 

with me conducting Mary Rowell, Cenovia Cummins, Kenji Bunch, and Mary's sister Frances. 

Frances brought a cello chair that she invented! 

I finally got to hear the string parts on Lucertole - until now they were just wispy computer strings - but these serious cats engorged every harmony. The song compares Italian tile floors embossed with lizard images to a magic square puzzle, and talks about an untrustworthyness I felt my first full summer in Italy, running outside in my American gym clothes, practically killing all the scurrying lizards, and learning about acquaintances who slept with prostitutes. As the floor tiles move, they click into trysts to cover inner loss, and by the end, they form an image of myself. I question my own trustworthiness in this new place. 

The sessions finished with a big sigh... 

and some Cuban food with my then-pregnant friend Monika (welcome Zachary James!) in a Hoboken joint spiraling with festive Cuban melodies. The rest of the trip was just easy-goin' bubble blowin', with a bubble-maker designed by Annie and Maisie for a Sunday brunch with close friends. 

No rolly-eyes on the way back to Italy, where I found myself playing one of the best concerts of my life, sold-out at Teatrino Zero in Spinea.

I was joined by Jimmy Weinstein and Matt Renzi (who got back to Italy around the same time as me!). 

There was an enormous candy truck camped outside after the show, with gummy lizards and gummy teeth. 

Jimmy and I recreated L.E.D. with a gummy bear.


On Saturday Finni and I are going to the funeral of his young relative Elisabetta, married only 2 years, who started getting strong headaches about a year ago and recently discovered she had brain cancer. Looking outside, the glicini look more purple, cascading with the drenching spring sky.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Signorina to Signora

Exactly a year after Claudio "Finni" turned me upsidedown while babysitting and asked "do you want to married me?" we spontaneously decided where n' when: Italy (his folks don't fly), and soon -
3 Settembre, 6 months away.

From the moment I turned rightsideup, I knew where to find my dress: Vwidon in Chicago. Carla Hwang had designed my sister Liz's wedding dress 9 years earlier, and when it was my turn, the first one I stepped in was just it. The organza layers made me feel like a cloud. A Jewish cloud, with covered shoulders ready for the Catholic service with an ultra-hip priest who let me sing Free to Be You and Me on the altar.

The same art-deco livingroom floor that staged full-on choreography forced upon Liz to "When Doves Cry"... held piles and piles of family photos. Finni and I would choose and use them to bring our Chicago and Busa families a little closer - connecting grandparents to nonni, great-grandparents to bisnonni. 

My Grandpa Ned "All Dressed in Yellow":

and his love, Grandma Ruth "Here Comes the Bride":

We melted her wedding ring to make ours, thanks to Michael at Fitzgerald Jewelry in Brooklyn. 

Chicago brought the first sparks of the explosive-wedding-to-come, at a celebratory dinner my godparents threw for us in their stunning home. Opening his-and-her robes a little too enthusiastically, the pink tissue skimmed a candle and burst into a crazy flame. Squeals from my Mom: "ooo! ooo! ooo!", and before I even registered what was going on, Finni somehow grabbed the fire like a football, barreling into godparents on the path to the kitchen sink.

Here he is guarding my wedding dress at the airport

Liz asked me what my wedding colors were (!), so I quickly found some at Pearl Paint back in NY, and commissioned my students to use them to compose pieces for our wedding. 

My student Leo wrote:

Nature's Wedding Song

Apple trees bloom in a pretty way,
and it is Amy and Finni's wedding day!

Fish swim in a special way, 
especially when it is Amy and Finni's special day!

Grass is usually very green, 
like the most fun wedding you've ever seen!

The wind is very very strong
There's lots of love in this wedding song!

A visit to the Italian consulate for pre-wedding papers, and a "Parting Gift for the Tastebuds" on "clouds of chantilly" from our close friends...

...then Buon Viaggio! (first Finni with the dress, then me with my accordion a week after). 

Arrived in Italy to a bunny (in Italy they call dust-bunnies: "cats!"), 

two eggs, 

 and the same neighbor from last summer, our lovable "Gaudi of Dolo," Armando.

Now it was time to go through Finni's family photos:

(his Dad Mario being silly)

and start doing hardcore, I-can't-speak-Italian-but-I'm-going-to-attempt-to-plan-a-wedding-with-expressive-hand-motions wedding planning.  Actually, if you want to learn Italian, I highly suggest planning a wedding. There's nothing like an ugly chair cover being forced upon you to make the words start flowin'. 

The confetti lady (Italians traditionally hand out almond candies at the end of weddings) asked me if I was from Texas because of my wedding color palette. ?! What followed made the road from Signorina to Signora so much smoother: 

2 intense months of loving, home-centered, tactile wedding prep. Finni's Mom Maria Teresa offered to sew the confetti bags herself from fabric we picked out, 

while I tied the confetti in tulle.

Maria Teresa had once worked in a shoe factory, specializing in the tops of shoes and bows. She tied all of the bags with such care, taking nights and nights. 

                                                                          photo by Elisa Caldana

She also handmade me a silk shirt to wear at our big Feston' (party for all of Finni's friends the day after the wedding), to match the Miu Miu tutu of my dreams, 

and kept my veil, wrap and bow laying crease-free on Finni's childhood twin bed.

 Mario cut our chuppah from cloth made by hand on a loom by Claudio's Nonna Ina, and Bisnonna Angelica in the 1940's, and embroidered our names in Finni's favorite color.

Finni traced the outline first. 

Once I found a red wooden kaleidoscope for Finni at a great store in Padova called DaFrom (which I think means "From From"). For placecards, we picked up a ton of them.

They reminded me of a ladybug birthing center we found.

We made up melodies for each person's name and attached them to the kaleidoscopes. Most of the guests were Italians (Finni has a big family), and their names are molto musical to start, so it was easy. 

Right after we first met, I signed off an email with an xo. Finni said "what's an xo?" "A kiss and a hug!" We started making xo's for each other out of everything we could find, passing them across the ocean via photos and videos. So I relabeled some wine from the Cantina Sociale with xo's.

 Then designed menus,

     photo by Courtney Doyle

table numbers,

and programs
 (the octopus drawing is from one of my favorite childhood books, Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip),

drew goodie bags for the kids, 

                                                                     photo by Courtney Doyle

and for the adults, 

did the seating chart, 

finished a cookbook for the American guests,

 wrote some Eucharistic Music, eventually arranged for piano, guitar, flute and bassoon,

and arranged One Hand, One Heart from West Side Story for the processional.  Finni had to take the role of musical assistant - because my Italian was so so-so, he single-handedly had to put together the choir + ensemble, at a time when practically everyone was far-off in Puglia etc. on their August-vacation (Agosto, non ti conosco!), while organizing venues, hotels, buses, flowers, bands, Biennale tickets and beer taps. We spent mornings and mornings in bureaucratic circles, from Questura to Prefettura, Prefettura to Questura, to be sure all our wedding papers were in order, and got tips from girlfriends on wedding aestheticians.

Of the hundreds of xo's we have,

 I realized I never made one out of music. So whenever Finni stepped out of our little house, I'd switch on the keyboard and write a few measures of a secret "xo" song.

In the midst of all this, before the marriage, we got married. A small ceremony with the vice-mayor of Vigonza, who kept calling me not only by my middle name, Ruth, but by "Ruthie" which was her endearing nickname (I loved it, because the gold that would be uniting us was hers).

Isacco and Sanz were our witnesses.

After the small ceremony with my bursting "Si!"...

 ...a few bottles of Prosecco...

...a little shoe shopping...

...and some silly dancing at Sanz' place...

we jumped in the local pool! "Viva i sposi!"

All the while, my parents were packing for their trip to Italia for the big day, and making xo's via Skype:

This first Thanksgiving in Italy,

 I'm grateful for this years' homemade, heartfelt, hard-workin' love from my bigger, USA-BUSA family.

Stay on the Road-to-Signora in my next Papershade,
where 3 American wedding guests visit the ER and a refrigerator sings!

                                       photo by Elisa Caldana

p.s. My Plexi Lusso CD + International Music Video Project campaign in its final stage. Click here to see the cute video, and read about all the rewards. Be part of the miracle we need at this point to reach our goal in the next 19 days!!! 

*WIth a minimal economic effort, you'll be an impresario on an enormous artistic creation, sustaining the unbelievably creative, unusual work of these artists and musicians from around the world, and lifting their work, and my music, to the next level.*