Sunday, June 8, 2008
Making the American Dream an East European Reality?
The other day, I accidentally came across a selection of demos from years ago that had been sent to me by my former U.S. agent in the early days back when I still lived in Russia. The compilation included original songs by the likes of Denise Rich, Andy Marvel, Peter Zizzo, etc. I am always staggered by the power of music and how a mere 3-4 min song is able to untangle such a variety of memories, including the most vivid images, scents and the most trivial, minuscule details... Incredible but true.
I had barely turned 15 when my manager at the time, Yegor Shishkovsky (see: "A Voice on the Radio") sent me a casual email from a holiday resort in New Zealand to let me know that he had just met a vacationing couple from NY who happened to be in the same industry... "And guess what? One of Peter's artists has just recorded a new EP which also happens to include a rendition of 'The Way He Makes Me Feel'!" Being a huge fan of Michel Legrand and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, this song was one of the very first studio recordings I had made. Yegor happened to have a copy of my version with him in NZ and the managers swapped CDs on the spot before parting ways.
As it happens, a couple of months down the line, after exchanging numerous emails and phone calls, Peter and Yegor decided to work out a co-management deal and Peter flew over to London for 24-hours during my promotional tour for a quick meet 'n greet.
A few weeks later, I was on my way to New York to perform at the Alan & Marilyn Bergman tribute show - an unbelievable dream come true for a Soviet teenager who grew up loving the Bergman songs and adoring their collaboration with a true idol and childhood icon, Barbra Streisand.
Shortly upon my arrival, I met my vocal coach, Danny Madden who trained me throughout my trip and rehearsed "A Piece of Sky" from "Yentl" during the initial period at the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center... I was getting so carried away, I was living a dream - and it was just he beginning!
Within days, I was working with Mike Renzi, the legendary pianist (Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, etc.) at the ASCAP Headquarters in NY...
On Friday, 9th of June, I stepped into the ASCAP building yet once again for another rehearsal; however, it turned out to be a rather extraordinary one. While I was belting out one of the highest notes of the song, a tall, slim man opened the door and came in quietly. He remained silent throughout the rest of the song.
I felt my hands sweating as I realized that Alan Bergman himself - the same Alan Bergman in all the Streisand photos, videos, etc. - was present in the room. After I sang the song, Mr. Bergman gave me warm applause along with a few sweet comments and some very constructive suggestions. We had a very long conversation about various topics, from modern artists (fascinating!) to the family in California (see: YouTube video "A Piece of Sky" rehearsal.) He even sang several of his songs me and my parents, who, as always, were there to share that very special moment with me. I could hardly believe it, honestly!
The preparations for the tribute show were in full blow! The icing on the cake was a late-night phone call from Peter Herman... I almost fell off the bed...
"Sorry to wake you up, just wanted to let you know that Marvin Hamlisch will be introducing you to the audience tomorrow night!"
Oh my GOD!
As I stood onstage at The Pierre Ballroom and pronounced the opening remarks and thank-you's, I still couldn't believe my eyes... Everything inside me was trembling and I still managed to keep myself composed "Can't mess up now!" I thought... The funny thing is, thanks to my amazing dad, the video of the event is actually on YouTube, so every time I look at it, I relive the moment. It was one of those moments when you so want to stop the hands of time and keep turning them backwards! I was so blown away... And meeting all these heroes of mine after the performance was all the more exciting... For a teenager, it was quite a challenge to be handled with care :-)
I was so thrilled to hear from Marilyn again when I joined ASCAP a couple of years ago. It's so rare when people of such caliber touch your life so deeply - nothing can erase that, I swear.
A couple of days later, I found myself at the home studio of Denise Rich who was mega popular at the time - everyone who was anyone in the modern pop world had a Denise Rich song under their belt. I was rushed into the studio to record one of her songs co-written with Peter Zizzo and Andy Marvel (clips from the recording session are also on YouTube!) called "Everything". It was fun to meet Denise, she came to hear the comp on the last day and I still remember bringing her a Faberge souvenir from Russia (mind you, the Bergman's got a painting from my dad with a special dedication - can't beat that!)
At that point, I was so blown away by the whole experience of the 2-week trip, I was beginning to lose the plot, literally! It's so easy to get used to everything at such young age. I actually think by then I had start to take it all for granted!
The Bergman show was followed by proposals to get into the whole Broadway scene, including the suggestion made by Marvin Hamlisch to Peter Herman. I was reluctant, even though I had been in love with this music all of my life.
One night I went to see "Cabaret" with my parents and spent some time backstage... I was so disappointed in the "theater life" - maybe it was a bad night - but I really didn't enjoy witnessing the ins and outs of it, I thought I was too young to dive into that world and I felt I wasn't ready to give up my "pop" dreams... I wanted to learn to write, work with specific record producers and funny enough, by the end of the trip, I did not want to live in NY and instead chose to move to London.
It's quite bizarre but I believe that anything that comes too easily can't be appreciated half as much as when you've actually "fought" with all your might and effort for that dream. There were a lot of "politics" mainly on the personal front (still within the musical scope) involved in making my decision to move to London, and to be honest, I did regret making that hasty move too quickly on a teenage whim at first, but now that I find myself living and making my dreams come true in the same NYC and mingling and collaborating with the people I could have only admired from a distance, I'm really, really thrilled. It took so much time, effort and sweat to get from A to B, but I do appreciate and value the experiences along the way. I had to go out of my way to get back on track with the same people that were pretty much hand-delivered to me on a silver plate initially, but there is a strange thrill of "self-realization" when you achieve those bits and pieces by yourself.
The initial NY trip was magical and I am grateful for every single memory and experience that I derived from it... And yet, I had to learn the hard way, and I do honestly feel so blessed... Not meant as a cliché, I promise - I guess it's all a learning curve... As long as one remains true to himself/herself - not an easy task in this industry, and probably everywhere else in this day and age.
And by the way, teenagers can be such spoilt brats :-) Maturity can be so helpful, and what a shame it only comes with age...