Our Block Party Talent Show (a review)

I live on a wonderful city block in Seattle, Washington, USA. It is full of artists and musicians, and sometimes in summer, with people playing or practicing their instruments, the cacophony of music drifting from open windows along the block resembles a conservatory. For many years we have had the tradition of a loosely organized talent show as part of our annual block party. It is a great way to honor and appreciate the artistic side of the individuals who live close to us, and keep tabs on what the neighbor kids are into (musically speaking) as they grow up before our eyes. Mostly everyone has at some point in time shared something, whether it was a song, story, joke, game, or “other”. One year a group of 10 performed an awesome dance to “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. Other highlights were Devon, a shy boy on the block, who astounded us with a cool beat box routine, and  my personal favorites: Dorothy, the strutting six-year-old girl, who sang “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” while twirling a towel, immediately followed by her eight year old sister, Winnie, delivering a heart wrenchingly beautiful version of “America the Beautiful” on her flute. In the past, we have often augmented the festivities with a pet show and/or square dance, but this year’s program had so many stupendous acts that nothing more was needed. Here is an overview:

Prelude: The racoons on our block (a mother and 3 teenagers) were a lively topic of discussion as people told stories of finding the furry prowlers in their kitchens and living rooms looking for food, on one occasion facing off with a desperate naked screaming human yielding a squirt gun filled with ammonia, with no animal rights activist in sight.

The show lineup:

1). Sally- as a certified “Laughing Club” Instructor, she engaged the crowd with some very silly but fun icebreakers.

2). Ella and Johanna- mother and toddler/daughter sang the chestnut “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”

3). Teo’s Acrobatics- 10 month old Teo performed a balancing act on his dad’s hand and lived to tell the tale (if only he could talk)

4). Kota the Cubano Canine- the little doggie performed many captivating tricks wearing his “SUPERSTAR” sweater

5). Effie- played rousing clarinet selections like “When the Saints Go Marching In”

6). Anna-danced hip hop moves to a pop tune played on a cd player

7). Yonah- performed a 10-second daredevil skateboard routine

8). Wiebke- displayed her beautiful and whimsical hand-made recycled clothing

9). Robin- read selected accolades listed in her newly released “Trauma Handbook”

10). Allison- told a riveting eagle story with yoga moves

11). Leah and Bill- a very accomplished teenage fiddler and her guitarist dad played a hoedown

12). Conor and Claire- small children who enthusiastically accompanied Effie’s clarinet with their plastic horns

13). Dina and Frank- wife sang a humorous sing-along while her husband played guitar accompaniment

14). Stewart- taught us a hilarious game which we played by shooting Q-tips at each other through plastic straws

15). Dyan-gave her final speech as out-going block captain and a new successor was installed (me)

After the show, everyone ran home and got their potluck dishes, returned to the street, and we all ate, drank, shmoozed and made merry (including scooter rides up and down the block for the kids) until past dark. A fabulous time was had by all, and the evening was declared another success in block party history.

Billie Holiday

My favorite Billie recording is “Live at Storyville”, an out of print vinyl album that I found in a discount bin when I was age 16. I played that lp until the scratches were louder than the music coming out of the grooves. There is always a strong reaction to great art: you either love it or hate it. In Billie’s case, I loved it. Her singing grabbed my attention, stood me on my ear, and got me thinking outside the box. She was a true original. She swung like mad. She bled her heart out with raw emotion. She dug deep into her well of joy and pain until both were undeniably palpable. That edgy, wiry voice was well-suited to her horn-like phrasing. She had a knack for convincingly hammering home a lyric by repeating a single note through several measures of chord changes with such impeccable musicianship that it sounded effortless and natural and right. Her singing style influenced greats like Anita O’Day, Peggy Lee, and countless others. Billie was the ebodiment of a jazz vocalist: intelligent, free and swinging.

Dina Blade, vocalist
Joyswing Records
Seattle, Wa. USA

Pool Jazz

As I was sitting on a stool singing for swimmers recently at the Rainier Beach pool (you’ve heard of “Birth of the cool”? Welcome to “Birth of the pool”), I was observing all the different age groups, colors, shapes and sizes of the patrons, and digging the whole scene. The word “LIFEGUARD” was printed in 7 different languages! What a treat for me it was to have tiny children come up and wave, clap or dance, and there was one lady in a shower cap bobbing in time to the music like a grinning mushroom when we honored her request of “God Bless the Child”.  Afterward, when several women in saris smiled and thanked the band as we were on our way out the door, I felt very honored to be part of something that was able to transcend language barriers and make someone’s day a little lighter.

The “Go-To Girl” for Love Songs

The “Go-To Girl” for Love Songs

I sing songs that were mostly written in the 1930’s and 40’s. Every year around Valentine’s Day, to my surprise and delight, my calendar thankfully fills up with requests for concerts of love songs from that era.  A typical day of performances might look like this: I will sing for an hour long set at a ladies’ luncheon, followed by an all-ages concert at a local public library, break for dinner and wardrobe change, then end the day swinging with my quartet in a jazz club or at a dinner-dance. This may sound exhausting, but it’s more like a vacation. As I deliver each song designed to carry the audience away on a magic carpet of melody and wordplay, the transcendental power of this wonderful music never fails to relax and delight me.

This year I did 12 shows. It was a fantastic run, and I got to sleep in my own bed and see my family besides. On this latest local “tour” of love songs, I witnessed grown men cry as the lyric moved them, as well as two different male audience members reach for their wallets during “Big Spender”. I saw a toothless guy grin widely with such joy as I sang to him that his face will forever be imprinted in my memory. People blushed when they told me the names of their first “crush”, even if it was over 70 years ago! In general, it was great practice at working many kinds of rooms, but mostly the greatness, sweetness and depth of this music is a powerful tool for connection. I even learned something about technique, finding my way around the highest note in “My Funny Valentine” which I never used to be able to sing the way I wanted to, but finally today I found the right combination of air and shape to make it work suitably. Success!

My repertoire reflects a time when songwriters went to their offices every day and, with a high level of caring and craftsmanship, churned out songs that were mostly about falling in and out of love. Many of these melodies found their way into our psyches, and we hum and whistle them even if we don’t know the words. During a performance, I watch as people reach for each others’ hands or put their arms around one another. Something stirs inside them and they smile, or wipe away a tear as the lyrics unfold to reveal the emotional landscape that is the human condition: longing, euphoria, pathos, lust, and humor are all topics covered in the course of exploring that weighted goldmine of a theme: love.  We come in all shapes and sizes, why not love?