This hue begets a host of symbolic impressions, depending on the context & Green can represent money, envy, growth, freshness, or youth. It also stands for nature/the environment, and brings to mind chlorophyll-producing plants and algae. In a performance context, the term ‘green’ may describe a person lacking in experience or polish. Kermit the Frog famously remarked ‘It ain’t easy being green’ which may well be the less-than-ready, immature performer’s mournful reality.

How to avoid being viewed as ‘green’ (in the inexperienced sense) by one’s peers? Pursue study and practice, of course, and always show up fully prepared for each performance. I find that even experienced performers sometimes find themselves feeling a sense of under-readiness when returning to literature they have not performed in several years, or returning to a performance schedule after a long hiatus. In those times, it is imperative to do the necessary preparation ‘in spades’ months before the concert date.

I once heard a wise counselor remark that green is also a color of growth & reminiscent of the pale, almost yellow shade characteristic of early springtime leaves. I have noticed that master performers are always seeking growth: growth in technique, growth in repertoire, growth in performance authenticity, growth in stage presence and poise, growth in confidence, growth in artistic awareness. Without continuous growth, careers and voices stagnate. If one is to cultivate an enduring career with stamina and strength to see one through during the tough times, growth that can best be described as ‘sacrificial’ becomes necessary. By sacrificial, I mean sacrificing time- and energy-wasting activities as well as toxic situations for the good of one’s mental and emotional health. I also mean giving up certain things like dairy, caffeine, alcohol, junk food, and loud party atmospheres to pursue a lifestyle that will better care for one’s vocal health. Singers often have healthier hearts and lungs than their peers due to the consistent, strenuous exercise that high-level singing requires, but this of course demands discipline and daily commitment. We also have less time for TV and internet surfing than many, having to carve out time for dedicated practice, physical exercise, meditation, mental practice, performance preparation and other career-oriented disciplines. Pursuing the life of a professional singer means making tough choices and seeing them through every single day.

In an effort to remain ‘green’ with continuous growth, I am endeavoring to attend more live concerts in the coming year than ever before. How wonderful would it be if more artists replaced television with attending high quality live performances?! Perhaps we would see our cognitive abilities enhanced rather than deadened, our mental sharpness become keener, and our motivation boosted by taking in more inspiring performances by those around us also seeking continuous artistic growth. Long live the ‘green’ artists who habitually seek consistent growth as a lifestyle choice it is these whom I aspire to emulate until the day I am forced to lay down my conductor’s baton, my microphone, my composer’s pen, and my choir folder at my final bow.


A Tisket-A-Tasket

Last week I had the time of my life singing a centennial tribute performance honoring the great Ella Fitzgerald. What a special moment in the career of this singer to formally and publicly pay tribute to the one performing artist who had provided the greatest inspiration… who served as the primary model after which my own voice developed. To say that I grew up listening and singing Ella’s songs would be a gross understatement. Most jazz vocalists have several influences. I had Ella. While yes, I was also enjoying the beautiful radio voices of Olivia and later, Whitney, my truly formative years were spent learning every nuance, pitch, smear and syllable sung by the First Lady of Song herself.

In preparing my show last week, I dusted off several transcriptions of Ella’s arrangements that I had written very early in my career. Those were, after all, the first songs I wished to learn how to transcribe when I was a jazz arranging student. I have been singing them in public for so many years and they never get old, because, well, let’s face it–the music of Nelson Riddle and George Shearing is timeless. So those transcriptions will be used again and again, long after I’m gone, I am sure.

I also ventured to create a few new arrangements, plus one that was essentially a note-for-note transcription of Ella’s original recording of “A Tisket-A-Tasket” with the Chick Webb Orchestra. This was her first big hit with the band, and it made her an instant international star. I was a bit surprised that the entire audience (as well as the band) did not know the parts in which audience participation was traditionally included (“So do we, so do we…” and “Was it green? Was it red? Was it blue?”) It is hard to remember sometimes that my obsession with Ella dating back to the 1970s was not shared by American youth’s cultural consciousness… I did not hear this song on the radio–I heard it because I FOUND it and listened to it tirelessly for years and years… So again, I was surprised that my fascination with Ella actually set me apart from the band and the audience last week to a certain degree. Of course I knew the songs very well because I had prepared to perform them…for several decades, in fact… but why didn’t they?

There is one aspect of this song that I find somewhat confusing. The poem reads “I sent a letter to my Mommy and on the way I dropped it.” Later the text says “a little girlie picked it up and put it in her pocket…” Still later, Ella complains that she wonders about the whereabouts of her “little yellow basket” and hopes the girl will bring it back. The letter or the basket? Didn’t she drop a letter on the way to the post office? What’s this about dropping a basket? And how can a little girl put a basket in her pocket? This ambiguity really sets me off. How can I properly prepare a performance when I can’t even ascertain what the song is about? A lost letter or a lost basket? What happened to the letter? Did it ever get delivered? Isn’t that more important than stewing about an over-the-arm, wicker, letter- carrying basket? Sometimes I just don’t know…

Well, I have accepted that I may never learn the secret to the letter/basket question. The answer, like a host of other ambiguous song lyrics, is probably blowing in the wind.


For the latest news and updates, subscribe below: