Open-Ended Autobiography

 

Arlene Corwin’s Poetry

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Arlene Corwin’s Open-Ended Biography

(10.3.2007 updated 10.24.2007 updated 1.3.2008; updated December 15, 2009, October 2010 )

Arlene Corwin (born Arlene Faith Nover) is an American jazz singer and pianist, poet, teacher and practitioner of Yoga. Born November 8, 1934 in the Williamsburg Maternity Hospital, Brooklyn, New York. She has two children. Jonathan Eric Corwin (born July 24. 1956 and) Jennifer Nover Council (born February 2, 1964). Mother Margy Lillian (born Brown). Father Albert S. Nover. Both were hairdressers, owning a beauty salon together. Everyone was musical on both sides of the family.Mother sang, could play some piano. Father was a gifted sculptor and wood carver, played a little harmonica and mandolin. The family is Jewish.

Early Life
Started studying piano age 8. Studied voice at the famous 1650 Broadway with ‘coach’ Matty Levine. Did a little recording at aged 10 in Nola Studios. (The record has since disappeared) At 12 she started studying harp with Meyer Rosen (Julliard and NBC Orchestra) and the occasional piano lesson with an NBC pianist who taught her how to read chord changes, seeing at once that she was not interested in learning classical piano.

As a child she had already sung at weddings, bar mitzvahs and for the USO, raising bonds for the war effort. At 13, having a boyfriend who played the saxophone and who listened to Symphony Sid, jazz disc jockey whose late night show originated from Birdland, she awakened to jazz, listening to the late night show “under my blanket”. “A turning point”, she says. (Well before “Lullaby of Birdland” was put to words Arlene had written a lyric of her own – a lyric she still sings today) At 14,she was playing for a dancing school once a week. Then she got an accidental job (“slipping in on a banana peel when the singer got sick”) in a Brooklyn nightclub singing with a group. “Mom and dad chaperoned, of course”.1950s 

She began to sing regularly when again, out of the blue, an agent rang offering a job for a hundred dollars a week to play at the Mayflower Hotel in Manhattan. It was a restaurant owned by Bob Olin, a former light heavyweight world champion. “I was so naïve I played the whole evening without ever taking a break. Who knew about breaks? Why they kept me I’ve no idea.” But they did and the steady salary of $100.00 a week (which she gave directly to her mother, any other choice never occurring to her) and the experience of having to make a varied program led to her singing to the piano, and eventually to playing to the singing. At this time she was still in high school as attending the prestigious High School of Music & Art as a harpist.She graduated from Music & Art getting a scholarship to Hofstra College as a music major.

Then in 1952, while still at Hofstra College (now university), she was playing on the weekends in a Hempstead, Long Island nightclub-restaurant when Slim Gaillard, who’d come to see Jack Teagarden (also working there) began to take notice of her. He started showing up regularly. There he met Arlene’s mother Margy, and the two eventually opened a jazz nightclub, the first to cater to blacks and whites. It was called The Turf and it, like Birdland had its own radio show, for which Arlene wrote the theme song “The Slim Gaillard Show”. Now she was standing as well as sitting, getting a chance to sit in and sing as often as she chose. The die was cast. It was jazz, cool jazz.

Early Influences
In 1954, on the day she ought to have been attending her college graduation, she married Bob Corwin, a 21-year-old jazz pianist with the Don Elliot Quartet. Because Bob toured, Arlene began her new stage of education: listening to Don’s group while they played on the same bill as the jazz greats of the 50’s. There was Helen Merrill at George Wein’s Storyville in Boston, Terry Gibbs and Illinois Jacquet in Detroit, Bill Evans, Cy Coleman, Bernard Peiffer, Tal Farlowe,Johnny Smith John Mehagan and Billy Taylor (who had also performed at the Turf) at the sophisticated Composer owned by jazz lover and connoiseur Willie Short in Manhattan. ” It was also a chance to see and listen to other singers of the day. New York was marvelous in those days. I saw Peggy Lee at Basin Street, became friends with Blossom Dearie at Trudy’s in the village, Oscar Peterson, Marian McPartland at the Hickory House, Sheila Jordan, Morgana King. It was THE university for me. I was introduced to and mentored by Tony Fruscella, the tragic, unsung genius of the trumpet, ‘who I took on my gigs, but to whom I was actually the apprentice’ – and through Tony to Morgana King and Beverly Getz, the talented [and equally tragic] wife of Stan Getz. I feel blessed to have experienced jazz at that time. The guys would gossip about who played ‘behind’ or ‘ahead’ of the beat, bass lines, good changes, bad changes. No Music & Art or Hofstra did that. I learned almost the whole of what is now called The American Songbook. And I, I was sounding like Sarah Vaughn with a little voice.”

 

Hanging Around Manhattan; Not This, Not That…
Living in New York, and looking for a niche she spent time, as other musicians did, at the Musicians Union Local 802 or Charlie’s Tavern where jobs could show up. In this way, there were weeks and weekends away with big bands: Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra under the leadership of Warren Covington, Claude Thornhill and Larry Sonn.

“When you hang around New York all kinds of opportunities show up”. And so, she got a leading role in a B film called “Jukebox Racket’, wrote the score for another B film called, at the time “She Should Have Stayed In Bed”, later to be called ‘1,000 Shapes Of A Female: see IDMB (the company, called Exploit Films was owned by Errol Flynn “tall, big in every way, veins on his face, but exuding old world charm” He was quite, quite overwhelming.”

Then there was a bit part in John Cassavetes “Shadows”, followed by the lead in what has become a cult ‘beat’ musical called “The Nervous Set” by Fran and Jay Landesman where she introduced the now-standards “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most and “Ballad Of The Sad Young Men”, both subsequently recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Bassey and numberless major artists. She studied acting with Joshua Shelley. “It was a time to find out who and what I was. “I was definitely not an actress. I was too introverted and none of those clothes fit” she says.

More Influences and more Not This, Not That…
In 1959 she met Johnny Burke (Burke & Van Heusen) who took her under his wing, taking her to Hollywood to demonstrate his show “Donnybrook” for Rosalind Russell and husband, producer Frederick Brisson “It was a glitzy time. I stayed at Bob Hope’s house in Palm Springs, met Frank Sinatra and his then fiancee Juliet Prowse, Jerry Lewis, Marlene Deitrich, had my own suite in Las Vegas , traveled first class, but was so introverted I always kept to myself, never saying much, definitely not participating in any of these scenes. Those clothes didn’t fit either.”

All the while she returned to the intimacy of New York supper clubs. They were the bottom line, singing and playing.

It was during the supper club period, she met Al Weissman who became her manager. She was signed to the Joe Glazer Agency and began to tour with her own trio. “Wherever I went they’d say, “You know, there’s just been a girl here who sounds like you. Her name was Barbra something. I suppose we had Brooklyn Jewishness in common. ” (She too was signed with Glazer.)

Although published by Frank Publishing (owned by composer Frank Loesser) years later she asked for the songs back because “nothing happened.” “It was a period of promise, a period I was not equipped to fulfill”.

1960s-1970s
In 1962 it was back to Hollywood with Al Weissman and high hopes. “I had some jobs, but never in my genre.” Back to New York. A little jaunt of songwriting with singer Dick Haymes. A short marriage of four months to Richard Robin Palmer.

Greece, Lebanon, Greece, Oxford – Yoga & Jazz

In 1966, by way of Paris, Greece (where she and husband Jim Council were neighbors with Leonard Cohen and Marianne) and Lebanon, “where I actually managed to do some television, singing jazz”, she settled in Oxford, England for the next 18 years, teaching yoga,(“lectured and demonstrated in what must have been a hundred Women’s Insitutes, posed for one of the very first health magazines called Health & Fitness, wrote articles on nutrition, had a weekly radio spot on a little radio show for BBB Oxford actually doing Yoga on radio while describing each pose with a microphone up my nose, did a tape on meditation – it was a lot of Yoga”) and singing and playing, being voted Best Jazz Singer in the Midlands 1972, appearing at Ronnie Scott’s three times. She did 3 television shows; a late night BBC jazz show called “In The Cool Of The Evening”, radio for BBC overseas, was invited over to Amsterdam to do Dutch radio, sang at universities around England, (“one night opposite Pink Floyd, “who were just starting out, I suppose”), the American air bases.

She appeared several times at The Stables in Wavendon (run by John Dankworth – now Sir John Dankworth – and Cleo Laine -now Dame Cleo Laine – while at the same time giving weekly yoga lessons to a group there, (which included Dame Cleo – “a wonderful yogin”). The Wavendon All-Music Plan, later known simply as WAP “was the most stimulating and original enterprise I’ve ever encountered, pairing all kinds of musical genre. I even played on the same bill as Vladimir Ashkenazy.”

Starting in 1969 and all during the 70’s fate gave a push to the yoga side of things and Arlene was teaching yoga classes in doctor’s offices for hyper-tense, cardiac and overweight men. teaching regularly at conferences for IBM. She gave demonstrations, lectured all over for the Women’s Institute, posed and wrote for Health and Fitness Magazine (summer issue 1982) a book called The New Manual Of Yoga by Karen Ross (1973) wrote articles on nutrition, made a cassette called This Is Meditation. It was a full double life with Yoga taking half the time and singing the other half.

1980s to now.
In 1983 she once again ran into Slim Gaillard – this time in London. He asked her to appear on a television show he was producing that was to star himself, Kai Winding and Wayne Shorter. It was the last appearance she ever made in England.In 1984, finding Sweden fertile ground for singer/pianists, and meeting and falling in love with Kent Anderson, she moved to Sweden where she lives until today, performing, and writing regularly for “Live With Good Intentions” an online magazine.
Still growing, still changing
The latest news – 2009 and 25 years later, aged 75: a cd of her own songs for Imogen Records produced by George Reece, a concert of Johnny Mercer to commemorate his 100th birthday, poetry grown to 2000 poems (see Arlene Corwin Poetry).

2009 finds her favorite project on Google called Arlene Corwin’s Poetry, a project that started in 1949 or about 2,000 poems ago.

2010 landmark:  First published book of poetry, “Circling Round Time” comes out in September “To The Child Mystic” the second due to come out in December.

2010-11  Circling Round Time and To The Child Mystic.  The Processes: Creative, Thinking, Meditative . Regular contributor  to online magazines ElderwomanSpace; Jerry Jazz Musician; Elderwomanstorytellingplace; 

2012 More books!  Circling Round Woman; Circling Round Our Times, Our Culture; Circling Round Vanity: Vaguely About Music and Circling Round Eros + 2.  Publised by Xlibris.

2013-2014 More & more! Circling Round Yoga, Science, War & Cats; Circling Round Nature; God Book; in the works A Sense Of The Ridiculous.

Music career took an upswing with performances and concerts – an intimate series of composer-of-the-month programs based on the best of American popular composers.

And, of all things, at age 77, the start of yoga teaching in Härryda, Sweden.  

Arlene Corwin is, as at this writing, 80 years of age. Over 3,000 poems.

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I Cannot Stand To See You There 1990 1993

        I Cannot Stand To See You There: A Temporary Aberration

I cannot stand to see you there.

I cannot stand to see your face.

A person always in despair

Is hard to bear, so hard to bear.

And scarcely easier the space:

The place you take of pasty waste.

I cannot stand to hear your voice –

Opinionated New York voice:

That mass of uninformed ideas

Expressed unasked; that mass of fears

And vulgar views; contempt, disdain

For other views, and plainly

Those with godly hues.

I cannot stand to hear you speak.

Each talk demands one turn one’s cheek.

You turn all conversation round

To talk about yourself instead.

You run all sound ideas to ground:

You’ve never read a book.

And drag about that sad, filled brain.

You’re seldom cheerful. You complain.

You alternate complain/demand/

Complaint again, your days like sand.

Your stays in bed are days in bed.

You lie about, get up to pee.

You think your thoughts in secrecy.

There’s nothing in you to agree.

Black’s always white. Simplicity

Has left you. Stiff, probably

A long, long time ago there was

A flexible persona there;

A dare I say it, vulnerable child bare.

But now the openness is less.

How silly of me to suggest

An open word like openness.

It’s angst to see you at the door,

And dull to fix your meals, for

There’s no appreciation seen,

Just an indifference to what’s been.

A candle or a flower wasted,

Fine, brewed coffee hardly tasted.

Instant is as good to you.

Why bother, when it’s all the same?

A stew, a brew – just change the name.

As for dinner conversation:

Cynical and silly words,

Repeated, hackneyed little turds;

Dogmatic, slanted, un-thought through;

Self-centered clichés only you

Can see.

If only you could trust in folk.

You simply can-, will not agree

With him or her, or them or me

About the slightest, lightest joke.

You never get the point!

Each issue, like a tissue crumpled,

Torn de-valued, thrown away.

Where the hell’s your sense of play?

Contentious always, and yet yellow,

Formula for living hell, you

Make our dining times an effort,

Pleasant conversation, indigestible sensation.

When it comes to giving credit,

You have done it, seen it, said it.

Since your every word gives pain,

I can’t stand you near again.

If only you’d hold in those good

Suggestions: food,

Ideas, including portions I should cook,

How the size itself should look.

I think, until the day we die,

I will try and cry and sigh. You’ll vie.

Have all those meaningless days’ “Why?”

And I’ll just have to learn to try

That bit more to interpret

Your behavior as a debt

That I must pay in order that this small disjointed,

Small dis-joy-nted soul gets whole.

But God, it’s hard to be a loving, peaceful child

To one whose conflicts drive me wild,

Whose every statement gets me riled,

Whose thinking circles around ‘me’.Blindness or stupidity?

You interrupt and never listen,

Never shift from a position.

Whether stated or negated

Every tiny point’s negated,

Almost hated, never sated.

Worst of all,

one feels so sorryFor a woman of some charm.

Still, I’d like to break your arm

For marching, army-like upon

Your daughter and your murdered son.

You never hesitate, you tank!

How I’d love a mom to thank.

How I’d love to thank you but

To be quite frank, I can’t. The hurt

Is much too much twixt twisted you

And direct me. A blindness or stupidity?

An eg-or-eccentricity?

Writing it, is therapy,

A never-ending poetry.

I’ll have to fight to not re-write

(Which could go on indefinitely )

Playing the sage,

Expressing innocent and guilty rage.

This poem has got to stop,

Attention turning to my pop,

My dear Alzheimer losing dad,

The dad who’s losing all he had.

Besides, the anger’s petered out,

So why more meter?

Of course, there are some signs of change,

The range minute and bound to teeter.

Any change is better

Than that set, depressive crater.

Dare I say, it’s bound to be

Resolved one day,

In poetry

Or not.

 

©I Cannot Stand To See You There 93.6.20/90.12.21

Love Relationships; Pure Nakedness; Mother Book;

Arlene Corwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back From Brooklyn 1990 2007

              Back From Brooklyn

I find the world an evil, unreliable place:

Its pace, its face – I can’t find my space,

And the whole human race is falling apart,

Diseased at its heart.

 

‘Race’ verb, ‘race’ noun –

Full-blown its weakness,

I groan as the town crows

And cry as the town groans,

The how of tomorrows

Stressed, mussed up and trussed;

The now of tomorrows pretentious.

 

I’ve thought it before

And

I’ll think it again:

Anything built upon quicksand

Falls in,

And

I’ve been

There and walked there and talked there

And seen

And

When unreliable worlds carry on

Bonfires double so hot as the sun

Leave a few of us here

And

The most of us gone.

 

Thought it before.

Think it again:

Anything built upon quicksand falls in –

Given time.

©Back From Brooklyn 90.11.13/rev07.9.3

Our Times, Our Culture;

Arlene Corwin

 

 

 

 

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