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Happy Easter From T2C

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The T2C family wishes you a Happy Easter! May you feel renewed, for Easter is the gift of life, of unconditional love and miracles.

This year the time of gathering is still considered unhealthy, so a number of churches and their congregations will conduct and participate in remote or virtual services.

Easter bursts with the news of triumph and joy, especially at this time in our history. Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, shakes our faith, but while there is life, there is hope.

It is in times like this, we need Easter the most. Jesus Christ rose today whether you believe this is the date or not. What he symbolize’s is unconditional love, a belief that someone so cared for each and every one of us, that they put themselves last, so that we may live eternally.

Jesus came into a world full of viruses, loneliness and broken relationships. He came at a time of hardship that makes today look like a piece of cake.

May we lift up our eyes and see that now is the time to draw close and praise his name.

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

Family

Through Director Matthew Heineman’s Award-nominated doc “American Symphony”  Musician Jon Batiste’s Compositional Achievement and His Wife’s Battle to Overcome Cancer are Examined

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In 2015, when Stephen Colbert launched his version of the Late Show — taking over from David Letterman — one of his first moves was to invite musician Jon Batiste and his group, Stay Human, to provide the nightly musical accompaniment. In 2020, he co-composed the score for the Pixar-animated film “Soul,” for which The New Orleans native received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Grammy and a BAFTA Award (all shared with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). He has garnered five Grammys from 20 nominations, including an “Album of the Year” win for “We Are” in 2021. With that under his belt, he left the Late Show in 2022, to develop his “American Symphony.”

That orchestral creation became the basis of director Matthew Heineman’s documentary, “American Symphony.” — released September 2023. This doc records the process of Jon Batiste composing his first symphony while his partner, writer Suleika Jaouad, is battling the return of her cancer. Netflix and Higher Ground Productions are distributing.

Heineman’s inspiration and fascination with American history led him to early success with the documentary “Cartel Land,” which was nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar, a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary, and won three Primetime Emmy Awards.

In 2009, the 40-year-old founded Our Time Projects, Inc., his New York–based production company, which would later release “Our Time,” his first documentary, about what it’s like to be young in America. His 2021 film “The First Wave” received the Pare Lorentz Award from the International Documentary Association, was shortlisted for an Oscar, and was nominated for seven Emmy Awards, winning Best Documentary, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing. “Retrograde,” his 2022 film, was nominated for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directing and won an Outstanding Editing Emmy.

This piece is based on the duo’s appearance at a screening in The Museum of Modern Art.

T2c: Jon, the film is an incredible look at the intricacies of the creative process. What is life like living inside your mind? You hear all this noise, you’re singing, improvising, and then, it just needs a little more than that.

Jon Batiste: Hello. I’m always thinking about things that I don’t know that I’m thinking about. My subconscious mind is always going.

T2c: The known and unknowns?

Jon Batiste: It’s happening and I feel something churning when it really gets going and then it diverges. It’s so hard to make some visuals more than not. Something I can’t explain, but the subconscious is working and there’s things that are happening in the present — and then both are working. They come together in moments and that’s typically where the music comes from.

T2c: Matt, what’s it like to have an artist like Jon as the subject, the protagonist of the story?

Matthew Heineman: I think we all owe so much to them for opening themselves up during such an unbelievably vulnerable and sensitive time of their lives. I’ve always tried to approach filmmaking in a very improvisational way. Every film I’ve ever made is something completely different than when I started. And this film is no exception. It was really fun to apply that ethos of filmmaking to one of the greatest improvisers in history. And to dance with him… in both the macro sense of trying to structure this story and in a micro sense, within each day shooting and within each shot.

T2c: There’s so many moments of profound insight in the film from you, Jon and the people around you — through your relationships with them and your creative process. At one point you talk about genuine acceptance and gratitude which requires so much humility and self-awareness. How did this function in your work?

Jon Batiste: The thought of being great is a dangerous idea. When you’re creating music in the most pure sense, you become a vessel of something that you don’t fully understand and couldn’t ever fully grasp. The music is a way to point at it and share it. That’s always going to be greater than you. Now, if you get used to functioning in that stream of consciousness, that creative place that all the ideas come from, you can start to think that it’s you. That’s where self-awareness comes from. Even though I have so many ideas all the time, and I’m always creating. I’ve always managed to make it happen. I can lose that one day, anybody can, because it’s not me. That’s an important part of the work. That’s how it functions in the work. It’s the most crass and direct sensibility of thinking about how it functions is, you ain’t great, bad. You’re just a vessel. If I can stay in that space then the world will be great.

T2c: Matthew, can you talk about how different it was in making this film from making some of your others. Being an artist yourself, right, and witnessing, filmmaking is really a profound act of witness. Jon’s process and Sulaika’s relationship, talk about what it was like to use your craft to show us their journey.

Matthew Heineman: Obviously, if you look at the films I made, this is definitely different yet in many ways it is the same. I approached it with the same fear, I think, that I approach every film. Am I going to fail? How am I going to do this? We have an amazing team, obviously, making this film. But it was an exorbitant film, and we had to really commit to this process. At first, Sulaika didn’t want to be part of the film, apprehensive of being seen as the sick wife in this story. It took a lot of trust building with her and with Jon to make them comfortable with my very immersive style of filming. We were shooting 12, 16, 18 hours a day, seven days a week for seven or eight months. We shot 1500 hours of footage. It was a real commitment.

After about a month or so, we’d all go over to each other and were like, “If we’re going to do this, let’s really truly do this and commit to this. The thing that probably scared me the most was depicting the artistic process, depicting what Jon just described, this sort of magic that he just channels as a vessel as he said. I think that moment after he dedicates the song to Sulaika, we hold on that shot for 92 seconds or however long it was. In most films, it’s a strange choice to hold in silence for so long. It was like Jon literally writes the story for us. With all this weight on his shoulders, his love for Sulaika, how he’s changed life into art, and art into life. It’s all there on his face, his hands, his left and right hand. I just love telling stories without words, telling stories with emotion — and shooting based on emotion.

T2c: When you talk about shooting and capturing emotion in the film, there’s just so many moments. There’s things that you can tell about couples that typify a relationship, where you can see the relationship without having to describe it. These two are just in it. Everybody knows how much you love your wife, which is really good.

Jon Batiste: That’s one of the things I noticed. I was like, “Man, that’s a good choice. Yes indeed!” I’m always joking around in that situation about the reality of not knowing if she was going to make it. All of the things that were going on outside the hospital and in the hospital room, that element of the relationship is like a force field. I didn’t realize what that would look like and how much that’s something that insulates us from the harsh realities of life. It’s really deep, the certain things in your relationship, value systems, humor, and creativity.

They all become these means of survival. That’s really one of the things that we picked up on and one of the things — from the beginning — that really brought us together and helped us weather a lot of things. I noticed that really did come across, as Matt and Lauren, as filmmakers and the production team, are finding a way to notice that in the footage and then carry that narrative thread throughout. That was powerful, because it also ties into the way that the themes of the score and the symphony tie in with the many themes within the film. It was very powerful to see that depicted through this truly masterful work by this team.

T2c: Matt, it takes 14 minutes before the first few notes of what we will eventually discover is the beginning of “American Symphony.” It’s just so great, it’s really subtle. It really has wonderful touches about the actual concert at Carnegie Hall and what that must have been like. Jon is just getting started and then the power goes out. Only people on the stage realize exactly what is going on. Then Jon literally plays the power back into existence. Jon is literally at the piano and conjures electricity. How did you deal with that situation? What were you doing? You’ve got folks with cameras all over recording it all.

Matthew Heineman: I saw that Steadicam and I was like, “That’s not even sending in the camera to get that shot. I definitely was like, “Wow, this is great.” To be honest, it was very confusing. There’s confusion with Jon and confusion about what is happening. The lights are on, but electronics are not on. Oh, all the recording devices are off. It had been a pretty long battle with the folks at Carnegie and various other entities to get a steadicam on stage. For me, it was really important to see that experience through Jon’s eyes, to hear the creak of the bench, to see the sweat on the brow, to see the crowd from his perspective. That’s the man who literally — I can tell you — walked into Carnegie Hall, and was up there to date. Thankfully, I won that battle. And if it wasn’t for that Steadicam, that whole experience wouldn’t have been recorded. The shotgun mic on the Steadicam is the sound source for that moment and it’s a beautiful moment. It’s so indicative of Jon. He takes a second, breathes it in, and he’s like, all right. Well, I’m impressed. It ties the film together in a really beautiful way.

T2c: Jon, what was that like for you? Sulaika is out in public, for the first time in almost a year, right? You have gotten really tough news about this. You enter the space in Carnegie Hall, and in a way, the entire hall shifts with you. You’re in this resplendent suit. It’s reflecting light in all directions. You walk into Carnegie Hall, all eyes are on you. You’re doing your thing. Then, power cuts out. There’s still this fountain of joy coming from you. You’re talking to all these artists about what we want them to bring to the process. How did you make the decision that we’re going to go on?

Jon Batiste: The great Joe Salem, the drummer who I played with since we were in high school, he’s from Pennsylvania, and wears a cowboy hat. Joe has noticed this theme, it’s almost like a tradition from every show that we’ve played for almost 20 years. Something always goes wrong [laughter]. Something always breaks or somebody’s pants split. The bass drum pedal will bust. Something will happen, the mic will shut. There’s a real beauty to that. Furthermore, I think there’s an actual purpose to that. There’s a divine logic, a cadence that’s meant to be a part of my work.

Often, I’ll create things in these moments within the composition. Nobody on the stage will know what will happen in specific moments. It’s designed for us to show up in a moment together. [So, there are blank bars on the page.] It will be even more abstract than blank. It will be creating a scenario. Sometimes that requires me, with this piece that I did, we had to create a notation that’s different to standard notation of music in order to get everybody to know it. Okay, this is the scenario. Now that we’re in the scenario, let’s see. That was one that I didn’t initiate. But the beauty of it is now that piece that has improvised composition. The spontaneous composition of the moment will now be in “American Symphony” from henceforth. When we perform it again, this piece is now so. This is the beauty of these things, that happens. Discovery is always greater than adventure [applause].

T2c: Your performance is seamless and comforting and yet so profound. It’s really obvious that you as the vessel, like you said, developed from clearly a strong faith.

Jon Batiste: The present is all we have. What we see in the present oftentimes doesn’t indicate the full range and majesty of the truth, of being, of who we are. Many times people see a person, but they don’t tell the good about his color. They see somebody and there’s so much in all of us. I have faith in people because there’s such a transformative power that people have within them. Beyond that, the creator of all things, the God of the universe, has created this planet and life force. This moment in the celestial expanse of time, I have this measure that keeps changing and expanding. It’s un-understandable. It’s unfathomable. That in and of itself gives me faith that we can’t grasp what is, and we can’t know what will be.

What’s left? The transformative power that we have within us, the trust and belief in the thing that created this whole existence as we know it… We can measure it to a limited capacity. What we create and make so infectious, is so inevitable, so true and profound, real and moving. It’s drawing us in and speaking to something greater than ourselves. It’s showing us a way to something else that we can’t even articulate. What a beautiful thing to do, share and be in the world. I could go on and on about faith, but I’m just grateful that God put it in me to share a message that will uplift and help people.

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Astrology

A Solar Eclipse Is Coming to New York

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I am not a big stargazer. Living in New York with all the light pollution, there aren’t many stars you can see anyway. You can see more stars walking the NYC streets filming “Law & Order” episodes than you can see in the sky on a clear night. And I am no astronomer; I can barely recognize the Big Dipper and where is Orion’s Belt; but, there is one celestial event that I am a fan of – and that’s a solar eclipse. This amazing event happens far less often than the proverbial blue moon and one is coming this April very near to New York City.

That is not the moon – Its the sun

A total solar eclipse is when the moon in bright daylight passes in front of the sun totally blocking the sun’s light. It is occurring on April 8th of this year and will be partially experienced by us in New York City. I remember hearing about a solar eclipse in 1970 when I was a young boy and New York went wild with excitement. It was passing through our city and classrooms throughout were taking shoe boxes and cereal boxes and punching small holes in them so children could experience the phenomenon safely. Looking up at the sun during the eclipse will result in severe eye damage but now special eclipse glasses are for sale in areas where eclipses traverse the sky.

Photo of Solar Eclipse at Camp Eclipse in Idaho

In 2017 I was able to experience this miracle of our planet in a cow field in Idaho. I do not use the term miracle lightly. A solar eclipse is a humbling experience and witnessing one makes one appreciate the earth we live on and the awesomeness of our universe. Just think about it… we live on a planet that has one moon that is the exact perfect circumference that lies at the absolute perfect distance between the sun and the planet that when it crosses in front of it totally blocks the sun’s circumference. WOW! That’s more geometry than I ever learned in high school and it is mind blowing.

Get your glasses

It is no wonder that ancient civilizations thought the world was coming to an end or that their gods had become angry with them. Imagine being unprepared and seeing the sun disappear in front of your eyes. What is even more amazing is how this unusual event affects the creatures on the planet. When I witnessed the eclipse in this cow pasture, as the moon slowly passed over the sun, the August temperature gradually cooled and as the light began to dim the cows began to moo and bellow. The birds thinking it was turning to night began to fly back to their nests as bees returned to their hives. When the moon fully blocked the sun and we were fully enclosed in darkness there was an eerie quiet that swept over my campsite of over 300 people as we gazed up with our protective glasses and took in the marvel of what was happening. Although full contact (or when the moon fully blocks the sun) may only last a few minutes, the effect lasts a lifetime. The time it took the moon to pass over the sun was over two hours and I just sat gazing at the entire event from start to finish, in which, on a number of occasions, as I pondered the enormity of this wonder tears did well up in my eyes. How lucky we are to be on this planet.

In Chile the eclipse was witnessed in a remote mountain range

Since then I have traveled to a mountain range in Chile to take in the sight. While still amazing the sun was partially hidden by a peak; but still a tremendous experience. I took a cruise to Antarctica to see the eclipse in December 2021 which took place at 3 AM. Despite it being summer down there the sun was hidden by clouds so we didn’t get the full effect but who can complain when included in the voyage there were PENGUINS!!!

Chili eclipse

This April the solar eclipse passes through much of the eastern part of the United States. We in New York will not experience 100% totality of the sun being covered, we will experience 80-85% – parts further west will experience 100% darkness. For us, first contact of the moon with the sun will occur at 2:10 pm and final contact will be 4:36 with full coverage at 3:25 PM. While 100% coverage will be a life changing experience, even the 80% we will witness is worth taking the time out of your day to enjoy. Buy your protective glasses, punch holes in your cereal boxes, take out your spaghetti strainers (they create an amazing effect of multiple eclipses); get yourself to any field clear of trees and buildings and prepare yourself for a sight you will not forget. – Don’t forget – it’s April 8th!!!!

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Broadway

Julie Benko, Adam Pascal, Tovah Feldshuh, Shoshana Bean, Debra Messing and More The Shabbat Service That was Full Top Capacity

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This past Saturday, January 27th, at the St. James Theater, at 9am, a Shabbat service was held inside a Broadway theater. Underneath a giant, golden Star of David, the songs and prayers were sung by Julie Benko, who sang “Tomorrow” from Annie, Adam Pascal, Tovah Feldshuh sang “Mi Sheberach”, Shoshana Bean sang “Etz Chaim”, Seth Rudetsky, Talia Suskauer, who played Elphaba in Wicked, sang the “Shema”, Jackie Hoffman read the Amidah, the core prayer of every Jewish worship service and Debra Messing read a prayer for the community. Both the songs and the  prayers were arranged by Cantor Azi Schwartz from Park Avenue Synagogue, who is known for setting Shabbat prayers to modern tunes. Adam Kantor (Rent, Fiddler on the Roof, The Band’s Visit), sang a mashup of “Oseh Shalom” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which he said he arranged in the days following October 7th.  Amanda Lipitz, directed and the show was produced by Henry Tisch

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove from Park Avenue Synagogue, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl from Central Synagogue and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum from Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, had their own Shabbat services to lead, but appeared in pre-recorded video segments throughout the service.

The 90-minute service was led by cantors Jenna Pearsall from Central Synagogue and Mo Glazman from Temple Emanu-El, two of the city’s most prominent Reform synagogues. It also included a sermon by Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR Synagogue in Los Angeles, from her new book “The Amen Effect: Ancient Wisdom to Mend Our Broken Hearts and World,” which was read by actress Camryn Manheim.

As peace and prayer are needed Broadway showed the way.

 

 

 

 

 

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Events

A New Year – Bury the Bucket List – Just Do It

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I was walking down the street the other day behind two young women in their early twenties who were chatting. I was not eavesdropping, but my ears pricked up when I heard one of them say, “Yeah, That’s on my bucket list.” It just hit me with the question “Why is someone who is just starting life using the term ‘bucket list’ and why has this become such a widespread saying for people these days”. It’s the start of a new year and I say dump out the bucket list and Just Do It.

The term bucket list is supposed to be for people who are facing their imminent demise so they have things that they want to do before they “kick the bucket.” I had to go on the internet to see when this saying became so widely used. Surprisingly, it arose from the 2007 film that starred Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson called, duh!, The Bucket List. The film about two ailing old men deciding to have adventures before they died only received a 41% on Rotten Tomatoes scorecard. The site’s critical consensus reads, “Not even the earnest performances of the two leads can rescue The Bucket List from its schmaltzy script”. It didn’t break the top 25 box office films of the year that year but somehow this term created by screenwriter Justin Zackham resonated with people and now its part of the English lexicon.  Ironically, the screenwriter invented this term when he was writing his own goal list on which the number one goal was to “get a film made by a major network”. Well, that goal was achieved but was he aiming to burden the world with this annoying misnomer?

I much prefer the tagline for Nike that was coined in 1988 – Just Do It. To me the bucket list is an exercise in procrastination, and it can actually be kind of depressing. As we get older the list gets longer and our time gets shorter. Long lists are overwhelming because you don’t know what to do first and stagnation can result. I’ve heard many people come back from a holiday or doing an activity say,” I’ve checked that off my bucket list” in a very unemotional way. Well did you enjoy it? Was it what you expected? Are you happy you did it? Likewise, I have been in conversations when someone is relaying an experience and a listener responds with –“ Oh! That’s on my bucket list” or “I have to put that on my bucket list”. Really? You just heard someone’s story about something and it’s something you have to do before you die?

Twenty years ago I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro. It had been something I had wanted to do since 1988, coincidentally the year Just Do It came out and decades before the bucket list term came into the public domain. I have relayed my not so wonderful experience of climbing the volcano, getting a form of altitude sickness which caused me to temporarily lose my sight and then blindly walk down the mountain, sometimes just sliding down steep arts on my butt. When I tell this tale to people someone invariably responds with, “That’s on my bucket list.” Why? I just told you it was not worth the pain, time or expense. Go on a safari. And as a side note – none of those people who over the decades have said it was on their b-list has actually climbed Kilimanjaro.

This is why I only have annual goals and as I write down those goals I make sure that they are doable and I will have the time to do them. To be honest I look back at prior year goals and I don’t do them all and in fact I ask myself “what were you thinking?”; but I have to forgive myself for not doing them all. Some contradict each other like this past year – I want to lose 20 pounds and gain muscle mass – hey Craig muscle weighs more than fat – Duh! You can’t do both! Other goals may have been something I wanted to do on January 1st but by June they did not seem so exciting.

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Spiritual

Kindness an Act That Can Change the World

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“Happiness is the new rich. Inner peace is the new success. Health is the new wealth. Kindness is the new cool.”—Syed Balkhi

Kindness (noun): the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate; a kind act.
— English Oxford Living Dictionaries

In a world where we are searching for who and what we are, there is an urgent call for kindness. If we treated others with the kindness we so desperately need, then we could rise above unkindness to be our best selves.

Kindness starts with being kind to yourself. When you treat others with kindness you are taking care of yourself. Be kind to yourself no matter the anger, frustration or disappointment that you really feel deep inside. We are all damaged human beings and when we accept that, we can move forward in love.

We all have challenges, pasts, and problems that we do not let the world know. We hide our pain. When we cut ourselves and others slack, we allow a healing to happen. Compassion can lead us to acts of kindness.

A friend and I every morning rode our bikes to work. We made sure to say hi to everyone we saw. We had been doing this for months and one day we missed our daily routine. The next day, we found everyone saying hi to us first. Our random acts of love had been noticed.  

We may not have control over other people, but we do have control over ourselves. Being kind is a choice that has lasting consequences.

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