My Gig With Helen Merrill

I was 24 years old in December of 1982 and thought I knew pretty much everything I needed to know. The legendary singer Helen Merrill was 52 and politely begged to differ when I was lucky enough to play with her at Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club. Ms Merrill taught me so much from this experience, and I feel immensely grateful that (decades later) a recording of our gig was discovered (albeit in fairly Low Fidelity). Here it is:

Bountiful, Indeed

This post won’t be an easy one to write, but I think that it’s worthwhile. So I’ll soldier on.

Mariana was rarely comfortable with having her capabilities brought into the spotlight, so she’d probably be pissed at me for doing so now. Nonetheless, I think that the onset of her final chapter is amazing and fascinating on so many levels. Her potential annoyance from the Beyond won’t dissuade me.

Mariana and Showbiz had a mutual parting of the ways when we had kids. She loved to rehearse, and she enjoyed the performances to a somewhat lesser degree, but she really disliked the relentless self-branding and soul-crushing lack of return from auditions, so she took a signal from the Universe and put her energies into being a great Mom.

When the boys wanted to participate in their elementary school’s Theater Club, Mariana volunteered to help with costumes and sets. This continued into the boys’ middle school years, where Mariana eventually became the full-time Costume Designer. But, it went beyond that. She had never lost her passion for the process of making theater (now rekindled), and she had strong opinions about pretty much every aspect: casting, directing choices, set design….you name it. And she had the professional resume to back them up. I’m guessing that not all of her opinions were welcomed with open arms. She was very fond of her co-workers at CAST (the middle school theater program), but she didn’t mind ruffling an occasional feather if she disagreed with certain decisions. Being right without always being nice brings to mind a certain character in a certain play. See below.

A CAST production began rehearsing in May, 2016, but this one had no middle schoolers in the show. Rather, it was meant to showcase the adult staffers, and they chose Horton Foote’s “The Trip To Bountiful”, with Mariana cast in the lead role of Callie. It was her first substantial acting gig since the 1980’s. The task of learning such a huge part was a daunting one, but Mariana’s old muscle memory kicked in as she methodically set to work, despite occasionally uttering variations on the “Why the hell did I agree to this? I have no business trying to pull this off” theme.

As the rehearsals progressed, Mariana’s insides decided to declare war. And, one by one, foods that she had always enjoyed began to disagree with her in a big way. We both attributed it to the stress of her having accepted on this huge undertaking. After all, she was genuinely concerned that she no longer had any acting chops and didn’t want to disappoint anyone who had never seen her on stage before.

In hindsight, the stress of playing the lead role after a prolonged absence was NOT the cause of her discomfort. It was ten years of cancer, chemo and radiation finally catching up to her. Her organs had begun to shut down, and this process took another seven very unpleasant months to complete. In the meantime, she strategically located her proximity to bathrooms wherever she went. And, when she was onstage for prolonged scenes, she (in addition to doing all the acting stuff to her liking) would hope to make it to her exit without soiling herself. (Sorry, Mariana…..I’m sure that you consider this to be Too Much Information, but I think that this makes what you did all the more impressive.)

There’s no way of knowing how Mariana interpreted this particular set of ailments, and there’s no way of knowing whether aspects of the plot of “Bountiful” (trying to maintain dignity in one’s final chapter; enduring what what must be endured; making a last visit to an important aspect to one’s earlier life, etc.) informed her approach to the portrayal of this character. But it certainly adds all kinds of layers to this play that already has plenty to begin with.

Mainly, though, I’m so happy that Mariana got to sink her teeth into this art form about which she cared so deeply. And I’m so happy that there is documentation of her performance (linked below).

Here are the links:

Act 1

Act 2

Solo Piano in Poland

The Jazz Institute of Chicago was kind enough to include me in their annual trip to Posnan, Poland for the “Made In Chicago” Festival (May, 2016). One of my gigs there was recorded: this solo performance (in a piano store) of songs written by Chicagoans:

1. Stella By Starlight
2. Detour Ahead
3.’Deed I Do
4. It Had To Be You/I’ll See You In My Dreams
5. Quiet Now
6. Born To Be Blue
7. Blow Up
8. As Long As There’s Music/Never Never Land

Back to the Oak Park Arms: Jazz pianist Kahn, guitarist Brown return to familiar venue

Originally Posted HERE

Myrna PetlickiPioneer Press

Performing close to home is a real treat for jazz pianist Jeremy Kahn but the Oak Park resident insists that’s not the only reason he loves doing concerts at the Oak Park Arms.

“The people who come to my performances are very appreciative of what I have to offer,” Kahn said. “They show that by their enthusiastic responses. They listen quietly, which is not always the case at my other performances.”

The Jeremy Kahn Duo, featuring guitarist Andy Brown, will perform a Monday Night Concert at the Oak Park Arms on June 25. Kahn estimates that this is the 30th time he has performed at that venue.

The playlist hadn’t been set, but Kahn reported that they will follow a still-to-be-determined theme.

“There are all sorts of themes,” he said. “But they’re mainly based around songs that are by the master composers of the Great American Songbook, either by Richard Rodgers or Cole Porter, Irving Berlin or George Gershwin; or some of the jazz masters like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk or Antonio Carlos Jobim.”

The pianist noted that they try to make the majority of the songs recognizable to the audience.

“We’ve seen a lot of the same faces over the years, and we know what they respond to,” Kahn said. “We’ll take requests from the audience if it’s something we know how to play.”

Sometimes, the duo will invite certain people onstage to sing a song.

“People get a kick out of that because it’s someone most of them know quite well,” Kahn said.

Kahn has performed with a who’s-who list of celebrities.

“I had the thrill of playing for Joni Mitchell. That was pretty amazing,” he said. “I played with Dizzy Gillespie when I was in college, and I got to be part of an orchestra that backed up Aretha Franklin.”

For the last six years, Kahn has played every Wednesday night at Andy’s Jazz Club downtown with the Andy Brown Quartet. (Brown doesn’t own the venue.)

“I love everything about playing with Jeremy,” Brown said. “He’s a fantastic all-around musician, master of the piano, and a great person to make music with. We have a lot of the same influences and same things we love about jazz and music in general. He’s such a phenomenal musician, it’s always a lesson for me to get to play with him.”

Brown has performed as a sideman with a number of internationally known jazz musicians, including Anat Cohen and Kurt Elling, as well as working with such Chicago jazz luminaries as Don Stiernberg, Bobby Lewis and Judy Roberts. He also accompanies many Chicago vocalists, including his wife Petra van Nuis.

Brown praised the Oak Park Arms as “a great outlet for jazz musicians. I’ve been playing there in different configurations for a couple of years. Last year, I had a series of different duet partners there, and Jeremy was one of them.”

Brown noted that playing in a duet with Kahn is very different from when they perform together in the quartet.

“There’s more freedom, more openness, more spontaneity,” he said. “In that duet setting, it’s more adventurous.”