Year-end-year-ahead Conundrum

Gotham City Conundrum by the Gipsy GeekDecember 31, 2018. New York, New York. So here’s something to end the year with…and ring in the New Year. (I’ll spare explanations of why I’ve been tardy in posting regularly in this space….but in a nutshell – Life and Procrastination. And travel. Lots of it…..to Zurich, Bombay, Baroda, London, Edinburgh, Barcelona, Toulouse, Bordeaux in that order just in the past three months alone. And earlier in the year, time spent in New York, short stints near Chicago and briefly Montreal and Toronto.)

In early fall, before the mid-term elections, I was proud to give a speech for women’s rights and a call to political unity among liberals at Union Square, NYC, as the gathered throngs chanted in unison against the political and environmental degradation in this country, as we marched from Union Square to Times Square; And earlier in spring I joined many, many of my fellow women architects (including many older women architects I’ve long admired as inspiring icons) at the annual AIA meeting in New York to make the voices of women architects heard and to demand equity, visibility and due credit for our work in our very sexist profession. If anything at all, it is always cathartic to speak up…to speak up FACTS, that is.

Many of my stronger opinions and political views were shared with friends on my personal Facebook page (which is why, perhaps, I am guilty of not posting here), even as I continue to maintain another page on this link (this one is public and not related to my personal FB page) –  https://www.facebook.com/DonaldTrumpShutUp/  – can you believe it will be 9 years since I started it?!! It was the first of its kind on social media, before pages like that sprung up aplenty in 2017.  However, I can say with certainty that early-a**hole-personality-detection runs in my DNA. My maternal forefather – a leader in European politics – had written a book, a scathing critique against fascism –  years before the Holocaust foretelling that Hitler was a grave danger – at the time when people thought he was good for the economy.

End rant.

On to reflection.

As every year ends, as we grow another year older, and often another year sadder or wiser, or for some – especially for those whose neurotransmitters+receptors (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins) are working in a balanced and healthy way – another year happier – we get into that time when we reflect on what we’ve gained and what we’ve lost, the past that cannot be changed and the future that is yet to unfold, the conundrum of the choices we’ve made or are to make, unsure at times if they are the right ones……..even as we try to keep Hope and Optimism alive as we always do when we step into something new – like a new year; in this case, the last of the teens of this century, before the start of a new decade (2020).

So to end this year, and ring it in with some New York jazz from New York – the city where I live and which is closest to my heart – here’re two videos that I edited for a very dear person and his jazz trio. If you like their music, give their official facebook page a “like” to keep up with their upcoming concert dates – https://www.facebook.com/alexskolnick/

The name of the album is Conundrum. Regarding its name and content, says Skolnick:

“It represents the sense of confusion many of us are feeling in the midst of the strangest sociopolitical upheavals of our lifetimes….This album captures many styles in an effort to channel that angst into art and inspire others to do likewise.”

The album, released in September went on to No.2 on i-tunes jazz charts on the very week of its release, preceded by Miles Davis (Kind of Blue) at no. 1 and followed by John Coltrane (the Best of Coltrane) at no. 3.  Not bad company! ;-) Of course,  the greats who always are at the top 10 soon took over their original positions but the exhilaration to see its rise upon its release was nice. If you want to support independent artists, please buy their albums – don’t stream on youtube, unless it’s a promo video – such as these ones :-) (Links to purchase are found underneath the videos on youtube and on the fb page, but as a repeat here they are as shortlinks: https://amzn.to/2Qjk1Qz  and https://apple.co/2Napfw7 )

Enjoy, expand to full screen and turn the volume up! The first is of the complete album excerpts; the second of possibly the liveliest tune of the album. (Videos edited, along with additional videography, photography, album design etc. by yours truly – Maddy, the Gipsy Geek.)

Here’s saying goodbye to 2018….and reflecting on the conundrum in the year that was and the year(s) to come…..and, in the process, using music as therapy.

The 2nd video is the full performance of a lively song “Culture Shock” which has received thousands of views and is one of the album’s favorites…the music combines eastern (you can hear the Oriental and Middle-eastern melody) and western (jazz and Americana) styles, along with a dash of southern bluegrass and blends them into a harmonious whole. The title of the track also loosely references Herbie Hancock’s “Future Shock.” The guitars used are a semi-hollowbody-acoustic & a vintage telecaster.

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Album Release

New York, New York, 11/11/2014. “Planetary Coalition” – a world music album I feel very happy to be part of officially released today! This date also marks the centenary celebration of the end of World War I.

As I often say here – Make Music, Not War.

Planetary Coalition’s musicians represent over two dozen countries and five continents and numerous ethnicities.

From its inception in Union Square on summer solstice day, June 21st, 2012 – Planetary Coalition has now grown into a truly global music project.

A collective of diverse musicians from all over the world, Planetary Coalition is driven by the acoustic guitar of Alex Skolnick, whose work spans jazz (Alex Skolnick Trio), metal (Testament), and world music (Rodrigo y Gabriela).

In the virtuoso’s own words from the upcoming album’s notes:

“It started with a lone, handwritten sentence on a notepad, describing a musical vision: “An ethnically flavored collective of musicians from all over the world, driven by acoustic guitar and bringing together inspirational melodies, in-depth improvisation and the passion of the musical styles of Gypsy, Middle Eastern, Indian, Latin, East Asian, Mediterranean, Balkan/Eastern European, African and other indigenous lands.”

The reality: coordinating over two-dozen musicians from five continents.

Yet despite the numerous logistical challenges, Planetary Coalition has been guided by a single hope: that by weaving the threads that connect musical expressions with regional identities, we can bridge the gap between diverse cultures and people, and increase awareness of the ecological and social issues facing the planet, our island in the sky. And I must confess that with respect to all prior musical collaborations, this is the album I feel most proud of. It’s hoped that in the future, these pieces can be performed not just in concert venues but as audio-visual presentations in galleries, museums and classrooms.”

Alex Skolnick's Planetary Coalition

“I am grateful to all the incredible artists who eagerly took part, some from across the world, others a few subway stops away; some eluded by mainstream recognition, others who worked on their parts in between sold-out concerts and national television appearances; a few from regions that have long been politically at odds yet refusing to let politics or ideology dictate art, music and humanity; and all of whom are the type of musicians I’m most inspired by – master players for whom technical virtuosity exists, but never at the expense of artistic expression, emotion and collaboration……”

We are grateful to all who have contributed, supported and appreciated this project. Please support the Arts by getting your copy of the album today and/or spreading the word to your friends and families.  Here’s a sneak peak into some pages from the album. All artwork, designs, documentaries by yours truly. Enjoy!


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Make Music Not War – III

New York, August 31, 2014. Continuing from Part I and Part II, this is the third segment of the project Planetary Coalition’s musicians’ series that I’ve showcased here. This video features two-time Juno award winning Indo-Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia rehearsing with Alex Skolnick on a new tune, along with acclaimed tabla virtuoso Nitin Mitta, who, among many other projects, is also a part of American jazz pianist Vijay Iyer’s trio “Tirtha”. This tune developed by Alex is termed “Passage to Pranayama.” (For geeks, here’s an article on Pranayama – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pranayama , and on Patanjali – the founder of the Yogasutras: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patanjali)

If you are curious to get a glimpse of how a tune develops, behind the final 5 minutes of audio that you hear on a finished CD, then this video gives a pretty good idea.

August has been one of the most depressing months in recent times, as far as news events were concerned around the world. The savage killings by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, more conflict in Israel and Palestine, an ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine, racial conflict, riots and shootings in the southern US state of Missouri, the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, and, as a final unfunny joke – one of the most beloved comedians and genius actors of our time – the effervescent Robin Williams – killing himself due to depression: sad news even in the usually escapist world of entertainment.

Here’s to the end of an angsty August, and hoping for a more serene September.

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Suddenly September

New York, September 15, 2013. It seems September slithered in all too soon, and summer passed by e’er so quickly. But amidst the incipience of the tender-crisp Autumn air that wisps in hesitantly unto the city streets and parks this week, it gives me great pleasure to announce that a new exciting world music project is afoot, and it needs the help of those who like exploring new cultural soundscapes and landscapes. 

This new project is called “Planetary Coalition.”

Alex Skolnick Planetary Coalition

(1) What is “Planetary Coalition?”

Conceptualized by versatile guitarist and writer Alex Skolnick, Planetary Coalition is an ethnically flavored collective of diverse musicians from all over the world. Its mission is to tie together the virtuosity of jazz, the power of metal and the passion of the musical styles of Gypsy, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Indian, Asian, African, Latin and other indigenous lands. Through the universal language of music, Planetary Coalition intends to bridge the gap between different cultures, increase ecological awareness and explore the threads that connect musical expression with regional identity.

But there’s more, as people from all over the world can participate, either by being directly involved in the project as supporters or producers, and/or by sending in essays, artwork, postcards etc. It is open to all. I’ll let the man himself explain in detail:

(2) What are some of the sounds and textures of Planetary Coalition?

Besides Skolnick, other global musicians will include several well-known instrumentalists from different regions of the world. These will include, for the first CD, artists from Mexico, Turkey, Argentina, Iraq, China, Cuba, India, Ghana, Ireland, Palestine, the Canadian Arctic, and other places. The following video gives an idea of only some of the sounds and “feel” of the project. (And yes, the piece “Sleeping Gypsy” is composed for yours truly as outlined in an earlier post on this blog). There is a separate video (available for participants only) which explains the process of composition of the tune.

(3) How can I participate in the production as well as experience of Planetary Coalition?

To be a participant and get personal access to the artists and to the creative process, go to the project on ArtistShare.com http://artistshare.com/v4/projects/experience/325/439/1/6

You can participate at various levels up to being an Executive Producer.

As well, as explained in the Welcome Video, you can participate in other ways by mailing in your letters, essays, experiences, photographs, artwork, which will be included in the final multi-media presentation.

Tune in for updates at http://planetarycoalition.com/  or follow us on Twitter and Facebook, as seen on that site.

Depending on the participation level, you can have access to the artists through in-depth interviews, videos made especially for you, or direct personal contact with them in the recording studio, during their music sessions, VIP access to their shows, personalized music lessons and much more. Each level explains what the participant can get access to, including credit listing in the final CD of the project.

There are many short films and mini-documentaries that are regularly sent out to participants – some outlining great world music inspirations, others’ on the composers’ creative processes. This one is a trailer of the music writing process of the project creator, showing a tiny glimpse of a mini-series.

For those curious to know more about Sklonick and his background, you can read his memoir “Geek to Guitar Hero,” which as outlined by many amazon reviewers is very inspiring and revealing, whether you are a musician or not. The story of a shy, awkward, geeky kid of Ivy League parents who ended up being, to quote Guitar World Magazine editor-in-chief Brad Tolisnki, “one of the most remarkable guitarists in hard rock history.” Few (and especially his metal fans who often see the “rock star” persona) know that in his private life, he is an avid classical and world music listener, and his mornings almost exclusively begin with Bach, Mozart, Debussy et al playing in the background, while his evenings are filled with jazz and world music. He is also a long time avid book reader, with Vonnegut, Hesse, David Foster Wallace, Chuck Klosterman, Dan Gilbert and many, many others practically spilling out of the shelves of his Brooklyn home.

Many of the intimate views participants will get through Artistshare include the behind the scenes glimpses into the lives of the musicians involved in the project.

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Planetary Coalition Alex Skolnick

Planetary Coalition represents a global collective of musicians, listeners, artists, architects, ecologists, researchers, writers and everyday citizens coming together for the sake of our own planet Earth.

We hope you’ll join us! Also, spread the word around to friends you think may be interested.

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(p.s If there is a glitch in the project link on artishare and it takes you to Maria Schneider’s project instead, click of the Planetary Coalition project videos on the sidebar. http://artistshare.com/v4/Projects/Experience/325/439/1)

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Rest in Take 5 Heaven

Goodbye to another legend, this time in Jazz. Rest in Take 5 (and much more) harmony. Dave Brubeck (December 6, 1920 – December 5, 2012)

There is much about Brubeck out there of course, but two interesting trivia facts – he was initially training in veterinary science, and later when he left it to pursue music, one of his professors nearly expelled him because they discovered he couldn’t read notes in music. (Paul McCartney, too, btw never learned to read musical notations.) But then several of his professors  came forward to support, arguing that his ability with counterpoint and harmony more than compensated for his inability to read music. The college was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and agreed to let Brubeck graduate only after he had promised never to teach piano.

Ha! Little did they know, right?

Dave Brubeck

Dave went on to have not only one of the most successful careers as a jazz musician, but led a happy life with his wife, children and several grandchildren. Shy and introverted, he was also ‘bothered’ that Time magazine featured him on its cover before featuring composer, pianist and big-band leader the mighty black Jazz legend Duke Ellington.

Goodbye, Dave Brubeck…..Thank you for your genius and sharing your gift with the world.

Here’s Brubeck ‘taking the A train’…

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And Oscar Niemeyer, too….(15 December, 1907 – 5 December 2012)

And while I was writing this, I found that one of the luminaries of modern architecture  the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer had  passed away just a few hours ago. He was 104….married to his first wife for 76 years till her death, and then marrying his long-time aide at the age of 99.  Another accomplished life,  filled with innovation, going against the grain and a full, dynamic spirit. He leaves behind five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and thirteen great-great grandchildren.

Oscar_Niemeyer

For a period in his life, Oscar was forced into exile in Europe and his office pillaged during the time of the  military dictatorship in Brazil due to his fiercely leftist views.

Here are some quotes and interesting facts about Oscar:

Niemeyer had always claimed to be a staunch atheist, basing his beliefs both on the “injustices of this world” and on cosmological principles: “it’s a fantastic Universe which humiliates us, and we can’t make any use of it. But we are amazed by the power of the human mind […]. In the end, that’s it – you are born, you die, that’s it!”. Such convictions never stopped him from designing religious buildings, which spanned from small catholic chapels, through orthodox churches and large mosques. He was also sensible to the religious experiences of the believers who use his buildings. In the Cathedral of Brasília, he intended the large glass openings “to connect the people to the sky, where their lord’s paradise is.”

and:

Niemeyer was most famous for his use of abstract forms and curves that specifically characterize most of his works; he didn’t stick to traditional straight lines, for unlike many modernists of his time he was not attracted to straight angles or lines but rather captivated by ”free-flowing, sensual curves… [like that] on the body of a beloved woman.”

I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein.”

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Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro

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museum-oscar-niemeyer.

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oscar-niemeyer-ibirapuera-pk-sao-paulo

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Niemeyer

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Cicillo Matarazzo Pavilion in Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo, 1954

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Centro Cultural Oscar Niemeyer, Asturias, Spain

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For a great photo-gallery of Niemeyer’s work in the UK Guardian, click here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/gallery/2012/dec/06/oscar-niemeyer-life-architecture-pictures#/?picture=397995668&index=3

For some stunning black & white photographs of his work by Marcel Gautherot, click here:  http://tinyurl.com/ahkxkz8  

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Other posts on jazz and  architecture & sensuality:

Star Trek Jazz: https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/star-trek-jazz/

Sex and the Starchitect: https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/04/03/sex-and-the-starchitect/ 

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1.1.’11

A year goes by. A New year comes. Every 365.2425 solar days.

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Two leaves and Marley’s tail. 2nd Avenue, New York, NY.

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A gentle little bunny rests on my lap.

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A fly rests on the corner of a horse’s eye in a farm in Wisconsin

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Jazz quartet with Charles McPherson at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, Chicago

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Flanked by the great jazz saxophonist Charles McPherson and drummer/neuroscientist  Dave Johnson. Charles is an architecture enthusiast and a brilliant conversationalist

Charles’ music : here; On wiki: here. More: here

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My favourite patio at a secluded location where I’ve enjoyed many a meal and sunset staring out into the ocean in solitude. South Florida.

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Bass guitarist Norbert Marius strums at an instrument he custom-built himself. At Jules Bistro, West Village, New York. (Norbert has also done custom-built installations for Roger Waters’ studio in New York.)

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Moi, dressed as some space-age devil during Halloween, New York City.

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A street light seen from the back of my car seat. I took this photo after it was irreversibly broken after a near-death accident I had while driving it last summer.

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Sunset on a lake in Woodstock, NY.

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A view of the Chrysler building, New York.

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How do you define a Year in your life? Time? Age? Memories? Milestones? Life? (Did you know the Latin word for year is “annus”?) Or  a fixed period on a calender set this way: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year ?

Or a new dose of hope for eternal optimists?

Happy 2011!

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Memories of Montreal – un petit film

Montreal, Canada. 10-10-’10. I have been busy with my travels these past  several days and shall be traveling for a few more to come…..and Internet access has been sporadic and minuscule, at best. One of the joys of traveling and reconnecting with old friends and places in general is the humane factor of touch, sight, sound and smell which the virtual world, no matter how rich it can be, can never equal. The virtual at the end, serves only as the medium – the conduit through which the essence of the real can be captured only in bits and pieces on a two-dimensional plane.

So until I find the time to write a more reflective or analytical post, I’m re-posting an older article and video which had been, in essence, a quick ode to a city that has always remained dear to my  heart. On this trip, as I packed up the remnants of my existence here and found closure on many levels, I understood with some poignancy that it was indeed “Goodbye Montreal” and “Hello New York” for good. Time flies, people change, precocious girls we knew from our work days get married, have children; men we knew who carried an intense fire for living look beaten and broken in the grind of work life and compromises….those who thought they would live a ‘James Bond’ existence wake up to a reality of  ‘The Office’ (ah! mid-life crisis, or should I say mid-life acceptance, for many a man.)  A girl who was a sworn spinster is now married in a big Greek wedding with a baby on the way. A good architect friend who had the worst year of his life in 2008, is now not only on his best year but has become a successful theatre-actor on the side. Another who I thought would forever remain timid and servile has broken free and has his own firm.  A man who I thought had crazy intensity  ended up truly being intensely mentally crazy when I saw him again after two years. A girl I thought would never lose her integrity, I found, has now sold her soul in the name of society’s cliched definition of success……

We meet many, we lose a few, we remain static with some, we grow for, with and at times, away from others.  And for some like myself, sometimes looking back I have to confess (as a private joke that a few friends will understand) by fluke, I certainly was ‘Saved by the Bell’  in October 2008 in Montreal. Had it not been so, I certainly might not have perhaps found myself in Cambridge and subsequently in New York City. Thank you, Antonio Stradivari!

Life goes on, time never waits and all that is left behind are memories…….Yet for some places and people looking back at them never quite brings clarity – like looking at one’s past and hoping to get a balanced vision – yet instead it feels akin to when you open an old book and find inside its pages a pressed exotic flower from long ago and its faint scents and faded colours prevent detached objectivity.

But: We move on, thus. We must. We look back – sometimes with 20-20 vision, and at times with visions still blurred and foggy. Yet we move on. Or at least try our best. Or hobble on. Or, if we are lucky, sail smoothly away.

And oh yes – one more thing – xkcd-style. Just for the heck of it (or maybe it’s just all these cafes selling baguettes here.)  Either way:

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MÉMOIRES DE MON MONTRÉAL

(originally posted on May 25, 2010)

This is a short and quick film I made to capture some moments at my favourite city where I lived and worked for many years as an architect. I made this to celebrate both Montreal’s unique poignancy AND vibrancy.

Location: The film is based on my photographs through my years in Montreal. The apartment featured is on Ridgewood Avenue where my balcony and windows opened out into the forest of the Mont Royal Summit, behind the gigantic St. Joseph’s Oratory featured both in the early part and in the closing shot of the film. The ‘summit forest’ is the highest point of the city at the bifurcating median of the eastern traditionally ‘French side’ from the western ‘English side’ though of course in reality the city is entirely mixed and diverse. My apartment’s location enabled an incomparable view of the surroundings as well as the seasonal changes of the magnificent trees in its forested backyard. I lived in two different apartments over the years on the same street though I lived in other areas of the city as well, including the Plateau Mont Royal neighbourhood, in downtown Montreal, on the east side near the Village and also in the historic suburb of Vieux Longueuil. I’ve had 7 addresses during my years in the city.

The office featured in the film is of my architecture mentor Dan Hanganu on Rue Dizier.  Its arched windows looked out into the art galleries of Rue St. Paul. The three friends in the ‘four architects’ photo are Anca, Lucia and Athena (and no, we are quite the opposite of the self-absorbed, shoe-crazy, man-hungry, navel-gazing ‘sex and the city’ hyper-materialistic girls.) I met them while working at the historic multi-disciplinary and multi-national architecture firm Le Groupe Arcop one of whose founding fathers had a fellowship in his name at McGill university which I had been awarded more than a decade ago, not knowing then that some day I would go on to work at the firm he had founded. There are other pictures here of friends who are dear to me. I have added quite a few well-known streets and landmarks of the city as well as those places that are personally meaningful and memorable.

The repetition of the sunflowers in the clip is not just a reminder of the lively kiosks and flower shops dotted around the town (and the little herb and flower corner of my balcony), but also a representation of the human potential and inclination to seek and search for joy in life despite how gray the skies may become at times and…….well, because sunflowers are my favourite blossoms. I always say that no matter how sad a moment may be, looking at a ‘happy sunflower’ brings back the smile on my face. They just seem to be such sprightly optimistic flowers, following the light of the sun….

Music: The featured musical pieces on this video are ‘Oblivion’ (violin – Joshua Bell; bandoneon – Carel Kraayenhof) & ‘All of Me’ by Jazz great Lester Young (tenor sax), Teddy Wilson (piano), Jo Jones (drums), Gene Ramey (bass). Since I wanted to capture the paradoxical ‘poignant joyousness’ of the city, the first half of the film includes a heartfelt piece ‘Oblivion’ played by the versatile virtuoso Bell (whose movie The Red Violin’s ending culminates in this city and who I met in Montreal, so I thought it would be appropriate to place his rendition.) The second half of the film picks up the tempo, rhythm and joie-de-vivre unique to this belle ville and reminiscent in a very jolly 1950s tune ‘All of Me’ (composed by Gerald Marks & Seymour Simons) played by the jazz legend  Lester Young – which captures the spirit of the famous International Jazz Festival that Montreal hosts every summer and also the ambiance of its many cafes, clubs, youth culture, its ‘book capital’ status and bicycle and pedestrian-friendly street life.

Additional photography: Almost all the photographs used here are my own. The ‘night vision’ shots though hazy, I felt captured the lights, music and movement better of the city’s nightlife and festivals than clean ‘perfect’ ones taken with a camera stand. There are around 5 pictures featured here taken from Montreal tourism. And out of the total 160 photographs used here – 12 are from the collections of two friends who are extremely talented professionals and have their own studios and should be credited – Jessica Petunia and Robin Cerutti who are both Montreal residents

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/jessicapetunia/popular-interesting/

http://robincerutti.com/

The music in the video is beautiful when heard through the right speakers since a tiny mono speaker of a laptop cannot do justice to a big jazz band nor to a 1713 Stradivarius.

This is just a little personal ode to a city that has meant so much in my life and where, in many ways, an integral part of my mind, heart, soul and body will always remain, always belong, and live on through its multifarious memories.

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