I Want What All Artists Want
My career as a recording artist started in 1976. I was 16. Already a classical piano prodigy playing Beethoven Concertos with symphonies my piano teacher Ralph Zitterbart, a professor at the school of music at Carnegie-Mellon University, saw something in me that was more than reading and playing classical music from the pages someone else had written. I think it’s because I used to babysit for his twins Katie and David and I left my journal at his home and of course being the character that he was, he read my journal and found my thoughts, my lyrics, my hopes, my pain, my complicated home life, and my authentic self. Ralph found me before I found me.
His solution was to take me to see his dear friend who was the artistic director of the Pittsburgh Symphony – Andre Previn, who was also a prolific jazz pianist and composer/arranger. I was star struck. Andre took on coaching me for competitive performance and we became humans to each other in many profound ways. Perhaps not as deep as my relationship with Ralph Zitterbart – who was also an amazing concert pianist and teacher but there was sincere depth in the relationship.
Ralph schemed. Andre agreed. So in 1976 they walked me into Columbia Records and signed me to a little artist development deal as a singer songwriter. I had only written three songs at that point – I remember some of the lyrics I had written with my Uncle Perry’s musical friend Bert (who later died by suicide). I barely remember those early songs. I truly had no real skills as a singer songwriter and Columbia had no idea what to do with me.
But I had my first taste of the recording studio, my first taste of hearing one of my original songs recorded. My first taste of working with producers and professional musicians. I loved it all. And I was too young and I literally had no idea what I was doing.
The deal lasted two years with little output and Columbia dropped me as well they should have.
By the end of the Columbia Records deal I was attending the University of Chicago studying Animal Behavior and feeling the first of many separations from my musical authentic self. Everything was to change when my father disowned me – the first time – making it impossible for me to keep my scholarship to the University of Chicago and causing me to drop out of this esteemed university, move up north and get a job as a cocktail waitress with a fake ID at the original Kingston Mines Blues Bar.
At the Kingston Mines, the famed blues tenor and guitar player Jimmy Johnson took me under his wing, protected me from the crazy blues guys and taught me how to sing the blues, literally driving me home on his way to Harvey, Illinois after work as he was a house man at the Kingston Mines. How many times can you sing over and over Stormy Monday in an old black Cadillac? He used to call me up to sing in between slinging drinks and that is when I learned to really perform. I also made excellent tips during that time. I dove into blues records at the library during the day and at night would study up on all the singers coming through until the blues inflection and scales were deep in my blood. To this day there is always this blues “Rootsy” inflection somewhere in my vocal delivery – now we call it Americana music – at the time it was just what I knew to be true.
Years have passed and I can’t remember every event and every person I experienced during that Chicago period. I will likely talk about it more in coming journal entries. But what I know is how this artist Lara Lavi evolved, came from a very core place with music, starting at three years old and now re-emerging in many ways at 60 in 2021. I never stopped writing or recording. Periodically I even gave a few performances – all went well and all did not get the full chances they deserved.
At this point, I am embarking again into what feels like familiar and unfamiliar territory.
What I do know is “I want the same things as every artist – the freedom to just create at will whenever, however I can.”
And so it begins……………… again.