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Guitar porn.  That’s where it all started.  When some (perhaps most) men of a certain age awake in the middle of the night and have trouble falling to sleep again, they “surf the net.”  Me too, but my focal net surfing interest since 1983 (when the internet came into view) has been vintage guitars.  It only took me until October 2005 to find the one I absolutely had to have.


It was listed on the vendor’s site as “1987 Monteleone Django Style Selmer Design, Serial #125.”  In case you don’t know, Mr. Monteleone (John from now on) was and still is one of the most well-respected luthiers in the world.  The extended description on the vendor’s site claimed that John had made the guitar with help and wise counsel from Mario Maccaferri.  I mean THE Mario Maccaferri (hereinafter, “Mario”), the man who designed and supervised the making of  the famous Selmer-Maccaferri model guitars sold between 1932 and 1933 (see “The Story of Selmer Maccaferri Guitars), by Francois Charle”, 1995, 2008 eds).


Fast forward to 2005.   How did John, who lived in New York, and Mario, who reportedly lived in France, work together on Monteleone Hot Club Django Ser. No. 125 in New York in the mid-1980s?  Ever the skeptic, I called John and asked him (long story there too).  He told me he’d heard that Mario was living in New York then, too.  Sure enough, he found an entry for “M. Maccaferri” in the phone book, called him, and the two of them started what became a wonderful friendship.  As it progressed, John told Mario he’d always wanted to build a Selmer-style gypsy guitar for himself, and asked Mario if he’d help.  You know the result --- it was the 1987 Monteleone Django Style Selmer Design, Serial #125.”


Fast forward to 2023.  I now own  the 1987 Monteleone Django Style Selmer Guitar, Serial #125.  I also now own and operate Blue Night Records (BNR).  One of my former students in De Paul University’s MBA Program is BNR recording artist Dario Napoli, a world-class gypsy guitarist now living in Milan, Italy.


You can probably guess what came next.  With the two other members of his group Dario Napoli Trio, Tommaso Papini - Rhythm Guitar and Tonino De Sensi - bass guitar, Engineer Andrea Lambertucci, photographer Fabiana Toppia Nervi, myself, and the guitar that has now been officially dubbed as the HOLY GRAIL we began recording Holy Grail (BNR-231) at Blue Spirit Studios in Milan on September 26, 2023.  I should add that Dario composed all eleven of the instrumental tracks on the project, including Mario’s Dream (dedicated to Mario) and The Chisels Are Calling (dedicated to John).


Far from being finished, the rough masters were sent electronically to the U.S., where sound engineer Steve Rashid and I mixed all of the tracks at Woodside Avenue Music Productions in Evanston, Illinois.  It took us three days.  Steve then sent the mixed music files to Engineer Eric Uglum at New Wine Sound Studios and Mastering Lab in Apple Valley, CA.  After mastering the project (e.g., adding BNR-issued ISRC codes, putting the tracks in the sequence BNR established, rechecking volume levels, etc.), Eric sent the mastered music files to Bison Disc in Orlando, FL for manufacturing.


Meanwhile, our Milan, Italy designer Gustavo Messias worked with the technicians at Bison and me about various design matters.  Milan photographer Fabiana Toppia Nervi was heavily immersed in those discussions as well.  All three of us proofed the project several times, including John’s liner notes, my liner notes, and the many gorgeous photographs (some of John and Mario together in the 1980s, some more contemporary shots of John in his studio, and even some of Mario playing various guitars in earlier days). The digipak features a 16-page booklet inside --- which we also had to proof many times.


So now (May 2024) we’re in the manufacturing process at Bison, and we expect to have the finished product here at BNR Central in Illinois in a couple of weeks, ready to ship or otherwise provide for the downloading and streaming of HOLY GRAIL to you many sophisticated audiophiles out there.


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all there is to it!


Warmly,

Steven

Sometime in the early 1970s, a couple of “Wild Oats” bandmates of mine (Ron LeGrand – banjo; Mel Durham – bass) and I decided that it might be fun to play music for some of the folks living in Orange County CA convalescent homes. I was in my early 20s, Ron was in his mid-30s, and Mel was in his mid-50s. Of course, Ron and I felt obliged to tease Mel about the risk he’d be taking — what if they wouldn’t let him leave? The three of us also joked privately about the fact that we’d be playing for a captive audience that couldn’t escape the banjo. Those tasteless jokes aren’t so funny anymore. I’m 75, and both Ron and Mel have since passed on.


Anyway, after about three years of playing those unpaid “gigs” nearly every Sunday afternoon, the three of us realized how much fun they were, not only to us but to the “old folks” as well. One particular Sunday, as we had just finished our set, a sweet old lady rolled up in her wheelchair and said she had something to tell me. It went something like this: “Son, I remember you from when you were here two years ago. I was feeling pretty lonely and missing my family, and you sang that song about being on your Grandma’s farm and sleeping in her great big feather bed. I did that too.” Both of us had tears in our eyes. She followed that with “Now, whenever I feel old and sad about not having any family left, I just replay that song in my head. It always makes me feel better.” What a wonderful thing the music had done. A mere song had been her go-to elixir for two years! From that moment on I understood that music is therapy. It can make folks feel better — both emotionally and even physically.


A few weeks ago some new friends of ours asked if they could stop by for a visit. My wife Barbara and I were delighted to welcome Jonathan, his wife Robin, and her 96-year-old mother, Rhoda, into our home a few days later. Jonathan and Robin asked to see the upstairs master closet. Wisely, Rhoda begged off because of the stairs. I thought she might be tired too, and I was happy to stay put and keep her company. When we were “alone at last”, I asked if I could sing her a song. With a wry grin, my new 96-year-old friend said, “Sure”. So I grabbed a guitar, pulled up a chair, and kicked off “My Blue Heaven” (Gene Austin, 1927). At first, Rhoda grinned from ear to ear, then she began to shuffle her feet in time with the music, then she began clowning around, moving her elbows up and down like a duck, and when I got to the next chorus, Rhoda sang with me. What a joyous moment!


After 60 years of playing the guitar and singing, I had finally realized how therapeutic music can be. And now I’m ready to “share the wealth.” If any of this little blurb has piqued your interest in the therapeutic value of music, get a copy of The Music Therapy Studio: Empowering the Soul’s Truth, by Rick Soshensky (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021). Carve out some time for contemplation, pair it with the right music (perhaps the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites by Edgar Meyer), and let the resulting therapeutic vibe empower your inner core.


Warmly,

Steven

Having spent 40 years standing in the front of university classrooms (1974 – 2014), and having read a boatload of graduate student papers (my favorite topic was “What Grade I Deserve in This Course and Why”), I have been compelled to tell many smart, ambitious young adults they couldn’t write.  I didn’t say it that directly, of course, but it was part of my job to help them grow as wordsmiths and effective communicators.  I was gentle about it.  Still, I know I hurt many feelings and ruffled many feathers in the process of trying to help my students put their best foot forward in organizational life.

 

My official job title is now Professor Emeritus (translation: “out to pasture”).  I took early retirement and left a profession I loved.  Happily, I love running Blue Night Records and Blue Night Soundscapes (bluenightsoundscapes.com) just as much.  I still occasionally hurt feelings and ruffle feathers, though.

 

Songwriters, composers, and performing artists regularly submit their music to me. They’re looking for recording or licensing deals.  What should I tell them when the music just isn’t good enough?  Unfortunately, the norm seems to be “Nothing, just don’t respond.”  That’s unconscionable.

 

Maybe I’m wrong about this, but anyone with the ambition and confidence to send me music they’ve created deserves a response.  It’s not always the one they want to hear, but if I care about their well-being and growth as artists (I do), they deserve honest feedback.  I need 40 more years to get better at it, though.

 

None of us like to get negative feedback.  Most of us hate it.  For example, in a guitar workshop a couple of years ago I was playing and singing with Uwe Krüger, one of my favorite performers.  Uwe is also one of the most gentle, sweet guys on the planet.  We wrapped up the tune, and I waited for him to tell me how well I had done.  He just looked at me, in front of about 30 of my fellow “advanced level” guitarist classmates, and said “You play too loud.”  I wanted to crawl into my guitar case, and my feathers were definitely ruffled.  Since then, especially when jamming with today’s guitar luminaries (I know, it’s a tough job), I remember Uwe’s sound advice (no pun).  I still “play too loud” sometimes, but I hear it and “cut ‘er back some.”  So thanks Uwe, for caring enough about me and my playing to be honest.

 

To all of you who have and will send me music for recording and/or licensing consideration, if I reject it, I’ll tell you why.  Because I care.

 

 

Happy Trails.

 

 Steven

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