Sitting in Central Park this past Tuesday night, listening to violinist Lara St. John and an ensemble including Pianist/Composer Pablo Ziegler perform the music of Astor Piazzola, reminded me once again about one of the things I love best about the summer. There are so many great, free, outdoor live concerts to see between June and August in New York that I can’t possibly fit it all in.
My earliest memories of hearing live music began with the many outdoor classical concerts my parents would take the family to hear in NYC parks. Prospect Park was a favorite. Dad would pile Mom and all us kids into the family station wagon and drive from Flushing to Brooklyn to hear the free symphony performances. I have memories of lying on a blanket on the hillside as the lush strings washed over me. Couldn’t tell you what I heard but the music definitely made its mark.
Jump ahead to this year on June 20th, when I got to hear Philip Glass in Rockefeller Park playing a number of early compositions with his ensemble. http://rivertorivernyc.com/node/1145 This perfect, sweltering night of music started my summer off nicely. The Philip Glass Ensemble’s performance intricately swirled around us as the sun set behind us over the Hudson River. Then, the next evening I participated in NPR Music’s acapella performance of a new choral work by Glass smack in the middle of all the Times Square bustle, joining an impromptu ‘Flash Choir,’ as they called it. http://www.npr.org/event/music/156493791/a-flash-choir-sings-philip-glass-in-times-square What an exhilarating experience! I can’t really read music but I can follow a score well enough. It was wretchedly hot—over 95 degrees—but I had a blast singing for the first time in ages. Surprisingly, my husband Peter, who works at the NY Times, brought home a picture set to run in the next day’s Arts section –and there I am right down in front left with the sopranos! (Peter honestly had nothing to do with them running the picture!) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/arts/music/the-new-rule-at-make-music-new-york.html?_r=1
The following week, I got to see George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars play, once again in Rockefeller Park downtown. http://rivertorivernyc.com/node/1143 Got my friends Jason and Ed, longtime P-Funk fans, to join me from work. Can’t believe I’d never seen Clinton perform before! Jason said it was once of George’s best performances in a long time. He said they sounded sober and had rehearsed a bit. The music was one hour+ of non-stop groove. I definitely got the funk! The only thing missing was The Mothership.
More outdoor music kept coming—and I’m not even counting the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals we just returned from. (I’ll post another blog about that.) Saw the Guthrie Family reunion at Central Park Summerstage as couple of weeks ago, which was a hoot! http://www.arlo.net/ Each of Arlo’s daughters did an opening song, my favorite of which was Cathy Guthrie’s “Shit Makes the Flowers Grow,” from her group Folk Uke. http://www.folkuke.com/index.html. Cathy said their songs were kind of inappropriate. Then Arlo played some of his father Woody’s songs in celebration of his 100th birthday, along with some of his own gems. I went home with a warm glow.
Unfortunately, this year I’ve managed to miss most of the other concerts at Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn (life just gets in the way sometimes.) I was in Newport when Sigur Ros played Prospect Park, but I thanks to NPR Music I can still hear it. http://www.npr.org/event/music/157422851/sigur-r-s-live-in-concert-from-celebrate-brooklyn And through the end of this week Lincoln Center Out of Doors ramps up with a number of great concerts. I’m especially looking forward to a Laura Nyro tribute on Saturday Aug. 11th. The season isn’t quite over yet!
Lara played on, attired in her gorgeous red gown overlaid with black lace. The concert, put together by St. John, is a recreation of a concert Piazzola staged in Central Park’s Naumberg Bandshell 25 years ago—the very spot they performed this concert from. (WQXR also broadcast the concert live: http://www.wqxr.org/#!/programs/live-broadcasts/2012/aug/07/) Tango-ing were St. John on violin, Pablo Ziegler on piano, guitarist Claudio Ragazzi, bandoneón player Héctor Del Curto and bassist Andrew Roitstein. This ensemble got to the heart of Piazzola’s very precise music beautifully with great passion and skill. They finished with a favorite, “Libertango,” and a very spirited encore—the perfect end note to my summery Tuesday.
When I was a kid, I literally stumbled over a portable radio in a brown cardboard box (most likely stolen) stashed in the bushes near my home in Flushing, NY. My mom wouldn’t let me bring it home (maybe she thought I stole it?), so I hid it in another spot for a month or so and she agreed to let me bring it in the house. The radio had AM, FM (which our family really didn’t listen to much) and two shortwave bands. That radio opened up a huge world of listening for me at an age where I was extremely impressionable. The further away the signal, the more likely I was to keep coming back. Loved those drifty BBC stations, lots of foreign languages hitting my ears in staccato, numbers and morse code signals, and FM radio which was in its heyday. WABC-FM (which became WPLJ), WOR-FM, WLIR and WFMU became signals I regularly tuned to. So much music and experimentation!
Jump ahead many years, after stints in high school and college radio and today I’ve become what I admired most— a program host and radio mix engineer. For more than 25 years, I’ve been hosting programs on WFMU, one of the oldest surviving Freeform radio stations in the USA. An for the past 18 years I’ve been employed at WNYC, one of the oldest radio stations in NYC, as a mix engineer, and most recently as the technical director for the wonderfully eclectic Soundcheck. Since WNYC is an NPR station it’s the closest job I can get with a freeform bent.
Getting back to WFMU, the station has such a rich history that its story really needs to be told. Many people have tried, filming tons of footage to go along with it. I attempt to document events with photos I’ve taken and posted on Flickr here:
We now have a chance to tell the story of WFMU in the form of a documentary film. It will be called “Freeform or Death,” and documentarian Tim K. Smith has come the closest to completing such a film. A few of the live music sets from my show were filmed and might be used in the film. Tim began a Kickstarter campaign with our blessing to get things going: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/timksmith/freeform-or-death-a-documentary-about-wfmu
FREEFORM OR DEATH follows Ken Freedman, the manager and leader of the world’s oldest freeform radio station, WFMU, and his fight to keep the station afloat through an economic collapse, in a dying industry, with an increasingly Internet-addicted audience. At 51 years old, Ken’s whole life is strapped to a station that faces crumbling infrastructure, encroaching institutional forces, and internal generational conflicts. Will his 25-year effort to keep WFMU alive be enough?”
If you can find it in your heart to contribute to our amazing story, please visit our kickstarter page, where you’ll find more info on the project and thank-you gifts for various donation levels.
Freedom is Freeform!