Do you ever feel like the little voices in your head are so powerful that they’re yelling at each other, “Yes you can,” “No you can’t,” “Yes you can,” “No you can’t”? The title says it all – believe in yourself – but somehow we continue to doubt our god given talents. It can really debilitate you. It feels as though you’ve fallen into a deep well, and you’re trying to climb out. If you yell loud enough, someone might find you. Or else you just toughen up and climb out!
I recently felt this way trying to decide whether or not to do a performance. It had been a couple of years since I had done one of just ME, so I was feeling overwhelmed, and the voices were telling me that I wouldn’t be ready. But once I quieted my brain from the craziness, I was able to come up with a story of what I wanted to present. I knew I didn’t want to just get up and play standards. And I didn’t want to learn new songs. My concept was to play ME.
My first set was about the pianists that inspired me the most, such as Jimmy Smith, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Monty Alexander, Ahmad Jamal, George Shearing, Bill Evans and Gene Harris. I played the songs I learned from either listening or actual transcriptions. It was great fun, but even more, I had some great stories to tell about either hearing my dad play these songs, or learning about them in college, or actually meeting the pianists. Those experiences gave me a nice palette to use to create a story about me.
The second set was about composers who have inspired me. I started with Billy Strayhorn, playing my favorites, such as “Isfahan,” “Lotus Blossom,” “Star Crossed Lovers,” “Lush Life,” and “Take the A Train. It was very fun to turn these five songs into a medley. I talked about how new and exciting Strayhorn’s writing had been to his listeners because of his lush harmonies and melodies. I love playing all these tunes, because Strayhorn’s music hits me at a very “soul” level.
Next on the program was the music of Michel Legrand and his collaboration with the Bergmans. Michel has a wonderful way of composing the most interesting and haunting melodies. When he started writing with the Bergmans, it was an instant match made in heaven! My friend Sandra Dudley sang “You Must Believe in Spring,” “The Summer Knows,” and “Summer Me Winter Me.” Again, I weaved these songs into a beautiful medley.
I think I may have surprised everyone with the next composer, Jimmy Webb. He is the one who inspires me now. I seriously didn’t know about him until Sandra said we should do a whole project of Jimmy Webb. So I started doing the research and couldn’t believe how many songs I DID know. I just hadn’t put the name with the songs. Webb’s songs are very soul bound with beautifully written lyrics, which, of course, catches my ear! I invited Christina Watson to sing “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” and Joe Freel to sing “If These Walls Could Speak.” I also played a solo piano version of “Didn’t We.” All these songs beautifully ran together in a nice presentation.
I ended the program with the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. He has been the biggest influence on me, because this is how my writing really began. When I first met Roger Spencer (my husband), he turned me on to some wonderful Brazilian music. We would listen for hours to many different artists, but it always came back to Jobim. I have an entire CD of original bossa novas and sambas totally inspired by Jobim and a few others. We performed “Samba da Avaio” and “Zingaro” and ended up with “Chega de Saudade.”
It felt really great to play, but more important, it felt great to be loved by so many people. I pretended the audience was simply in my living room, so I wasn’t nervous except in a few spots. The songs I played were comfortable because of the life stories that went along with them. I think the audience liked the honesty and the way these songs had become part of my life story.
A few days before the concert, I just believed that everything was going to be okay, the music was there, the stories were there, and I finally believed in ME! And I told the voices to Shut the Hell Up and let me play!