May 2015


Embracing a Brace of Women on Violin


When you think of the violin, it’s usually in terms of something classical, something staid— even to the point of being stodgy—melodious, though somewhat somber, and often evocative of a lament in the key of bittersweet. For me, something along the lines of “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Unger from the hit 1990 PBS mini-series “The Civil War,” readily comes to mind. (Was that 25 years ago already?). All in all, a beautiful instrument to behold, especially when beheld by a virtuoso who can make even an Alpha male weep.


On the other end of the scale, associations might be in the context of bluegrass or hoe down music, and at such times, thought of as a fiddle. Is there a difference between a violin and a fiddle? Not really, though it is a subject open to much discussion, debate and lots of wry commentary. A few one-liners I ran across on line …


.• When you are buying one, it’s a fiddle. When you are selling one, it’s a violin.

.• $125 per hour and a tuxedo.

.• You can’t play a violin barefoot.

.• A violin has strings, and a fiddle has strangs.

.• You’ll never find a violinist with a mullet.

.• A violin sings, but a fiddle dances.

.• It’s a matter of style. If you have style, it’s a fiddle.


And the people playing it? We tend to think male, with hall-of-fame names like Isaac Stern, Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin and Itzak Perlman. In short, we think of violin players (though not fiddlers), as being of rather serious temperament and often rooted in European and “foreign” traditions. What you might call your father’s or grandfather’s violinists. That has changed.


Nowhere is that more in evidence for me, than with two violinists on the New York scene these days, who are turning the instrument and their performance on it, into something that shatters the glass of any stereotypes and preconceived notions.


No, Deni Bonet and Annette Homann are not your father’s fiddlers.

As one music critic noted on a new generation of violinists in this mold, “they are on the whole, female, ultra-virtuosic, career-focused and glamorous besides.” To which I would add specific to these two women, possessing a sense of total performance—including everything from the addition of body movement and choreography, to their banter in between pieces—wit, irony, and sexy besides.

Deni Bonet is a classically trained violinist, whose rather impressive “liner notes” from her website read:

She has recorded and performed with Cyndi Lauper, R.E.M., Sarah McLachlan among many others…

…performed at Carnegie Hall, the United Nations, and just recently at the White House for President Obama and the First Lady…

Her music has been featured on HBO, NBC, American Airlines, several film and modern dance projects, and has been described by the Wall Street Journal as “like Cheryl Crow meets the B-52’s.”

Her unique style is fully on display in a video produced for her single One in a Million, that was released along with her latest album It’s All Good.

I caught her at a gig at the Rockwood Music Hall in downtown Manhattan last month, in a night paying homage to “The Musical History of the Lower East Side.” Deni made even a Stephen Foster medley sound hip. And I had the pleasure over a year ago, of performing a spoken word piece in tandem with arrangements she composed and played specific to a collaboration entitled “Unrequited Love.”



Annette Homann, born in Germany and also classically trained, has been performing since the age of six and has toured throughout Europe, China, Central America, Canada and the U.S. And as further noted on her site…

… at various venues including Carnegie Hall, Avery Fischer Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Symphony Space, New World Stages, and Brooklyn Bowl…

…her extended techniques, and singing combining elements of bluegrass, blues, pop and classical with a theatrical vibe—the violin used in non-traditional ways, often replacing the guitar, and sometimes percussion—are in evidence on her recent CD, “
Heimatgefühle” (German for “feelings of home”).

I got to see her live last month at a private art gallery event in Chelsea. Her performance in covering Adele’s Skyfall, the theme song of the 2012 James Bond film of the same name, was at once both sexy and witty (and barefoot, defying a previously noted one-liner). It brought down the house.




And while I have not caught a live performance of so called “hip-hop” violinist Lindsey Stirling, whose Crystallize video on YouTube has gotten an unfathomable 119,000,000 views since uploaded in February of 2012 (is that a misprint?), Deni and Annette are every bit as good and dynamic in my book. (And Muse-Letter). And does Lindsey Stirling drop by McSorely’s Old Ale House on a rainy spring afternoon, take out her violin in the backroom and play? Annette has.

I wonder what Itsak Perlman thinks about all of this sort of thing






Quote of the Month










Sinatra Has A Cold


In writing about Sinatra: American Icon at Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts last month, I noted that there would be other retrospectives on Sinatra as the year went on. I also mentioned that if one wanted to get a full view of Frank, warts and all, this exhibition was not the place.

Sure enough, in less than a couple of weeks after the opening of “American Icon,” HBO offered a four hour documentary that did flesh out that Sinatra—wives and all. A frank viewing of a Frank less saintly. A Frank who could be petulant and given to anger at the drop of a fedora. Which triggered a remembrance of Sinatra Has a Cold— a 15,000 word piece written by Gay Talese for Esquire magazine almost fifty years ago— that did a similar thing. At the time, Sinatra was on the brink of turning fifty. I have that original April 1966 issue (remnants of an old magazine collection), and went back to re-read it. It was as riveting as I had remembered.


And why shouldn’t it be? It was hailed in literary circles, and “became one of the most celebrated magazine stories ever published, a pioneering example of what came to be called ‘New Journalism’—a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction.” (


“New Journalism” was coined by Tom Wolf who was considered to be the father of this genre. Though it had other practitioners, who in addition to Talese, would include most famously Norman Mailer (Armies of the Night, The Executioner's Song), Truman Capote (In Cold Blood), Joan Didion (Slouching Towards Bethlehem), Joe McGinnis (The Selling of the President 1968), Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream) and others.


When Talese went to LA to do that Sinatra profile for Esquire, Old Blue Eyes was unwilling to be interviewed. Instead, Talese wound up speaking to over 100 people who knew Sinatra in various capacities and through various associations. Coupled with his own observations of the dynamics between Frank and his extended entourage… voila! Talese produced a New Journalism masterpiece.


He had me at the first sentence:

FRANK SINATRA, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something.

And after deez following coupla’ paragraphs, fuggedaboutit:

…he was worried about his starring role in an hour-long NBC show entitled Sinatra -- A Man and His Music, which would require that he sing eighteen songs with a voice that at this particular moment, just a few nights before the taping was to begin, was weak and sore and uncertain. Sinatra was ill. He was the victim of an ailment so common that most people would consider it trivial. But when it gets to Sinatra it can plunge him into a state of anguish, deep depression, panic, even rage. Frank Sinatra had a cold.


Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel -- only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.

And an ending that is sublime in tying up no loose ends, but leaving it to reader interpretation, much in the way that a poem might:

Frank Sinatra stopped his car. The light was red. Pedestrians passed quickly across his windshield but, as usual, one did not. It was a girl in her twenties. She remained at the curb staring at him. Through the corner of his left eye he could see her, and he knew, because it happens almost every day, that she was thinking, It looks like him, but is it?


Just before the light turned green, Sinatra turned toward her, looked directly into her eyes waiting for the reaction he knew would come. It came and he smiled. She smiled and he was gone.

So in search of another side of Sinatra, I rediscover instead, another side of what makes for great writing. And in the process, am reminded of another Italian-American-local-boy-makes-good story. Also a guy from Jersey, though Ocean City not Hoboken.


Vanity Fair did a piece on Talese last year. By no means anything resembling New Journalism, it was simply titled “What You Should Know About Gay Talese.” It’s brief and more or less focuses on his current life style at age 83. “Casual Fridays are an unfathomable concept to him: ‘I don’t own a pair of blue jeans. Even when I’m working I wear a jacket and tie.’”


And presumably, if he had a cold, there would be no great implications.








When the flight is over
               the six hours up


the quirky quilt
                of land traversed


East to West—
               a crayon tracing


the parabola
               of the sun—


First Class and Coach
               are enjoined as one.


Headless horsemen
               at a horseless carrousel


stand awaiting the outcome;
               a death by infinity.


A place where baggage mingle
               and name tags dangle


from leather handles
               and big toes.


                        —Ron Vazzano






A Gala Preview for the New Whitney Museum



With much fanfare and anticipation, the Whitney Museum hosted a gala preview on the night of April 24th, to celebrate its move from the dark-stone monolithic Breuer Building at a rather stodgy 75th and Madison Avenue address, to a light infused architectural splendor in the vibrant Meatpacking District, adjacent to the High Line and Hudson River. (“Location! Location! Location!”).

The evening had all the vibes of an Oscar red carpet event, as we were swept away upon entering into a photo op area, where a Paparazzi-like frenzy ensued. With their cameras incessantly clicking and stopping us from moving along as they requested still a few more shots (no Brain Williams exaggeration), I wanted to say, “guys, we are nobody.” But I was rudely interrupted by my ego. Oh the hardships a museum goer sometimes has to endure for the sake of art appreciation. And what would one have done on this crowded night without those flutes of champagne doled out for sustenance?

Though the place reopens with a broad retrospective of American art under the title America Is Hard to See— culled from its extensive collection which was often kept under wraps in Whitney’s past for lack of sufficient space—the throngs that have gathered on this night, are really here to check out the newest creation by superstar architect Lorenzo Piano.

With an inclination towards excessive punning, and to cut to the proverbial chase, I’m inclined to say Piano has hit all the right keys. It really was his night. America Is Hard to See can wait another day for casual scrutiny, though two iconic Whitney pieces did shine through all the hoopla in their new brighter environs: Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning and Calder’s multi-material sculpture, Cirque Calder.

There are, and will be, many articles detailing Piano’s design for this museum so I won’t dwell on them here. Of course, Lorenzo Piano (a name in itself with all its own artistic flair), has become especially known for his museum commissions what with 25 such, including 14 in the U.S. alone. His most famous, a collaboration with a former partner, being the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (1977).

Regarding the Whitney, Architectural Digest called it “…a game changer for the museum, providing the large adaptable interiors… it had craved with roughly twice the exhibition space of the Breuer building and more than 200,000 square feet in total…” and went on to refer to his reputation “…for conjuring flexible light-filled spaces that offer ideal conditions for exhibiting art.”



Light-filled indeed. At certain seasons and times of day, one will need sunglasses when coming here. Set right off the Hudson River— in itself intended to be a piece of transformative art, as evidenced by couches set before it for comfortable viewing through a large expanse of wall-to-wall glass—the sun was at times blinding. As it also could be on outer terraces on several floors, designed for New York cityscape viewing. In time, I suppose window shades will have to be drawn. Though as a bonus on this night when the sun did go down, the Empire State Building was alit with the Yankees-Mets colors, as they were beginning their “Subway Series.”

One is reminded of how much a museum structure can (and should) be an extension of the total art-going experience. You also see and feel that same sort of thing at the Getty in LA; one that begins from the moment you begin that slow silent ascent via a train coasting on a cushion of air, to the top of a mountain where it majestically sits. Having been there also on opening day in ‘97, and returning on various occasions thereafter, it has long since become better known for its architecture (by Richard Meier), gardens and views overlooking Los Angeles, than the art housed within.

The Whitney has been considered a “fourth-place destination” for New York museum-going, ranking behind the Met, MoMA and the Guggenheim. And all gala preview night giddiness aside, that is not likely to change. But one is also reminded of that catch phrase born of the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come.” And through the imagination of Lorenzo Piano, the Whitney has built it. And they will come. And in a spirit and a mindset, that had not been associated with this institution before.





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