Category Archives: education

Life-changing teachers #6: C.K.Chu


ChuThe first time I saw someone practicing tai chi, I had no idea what they were doing. It was sometime in the 70s on the Boston Common, and I thought, “What on earth is that?” In later years I took a keen interest in Asian culture, and learned about martial arts, although I had no interest in studying them at the time.

Sometime in the early 90s when I was living in New York, I was visiting my step-father George in Connecticut and he was doing some exercises that looked like tai chi. I said, “George, is that tai chi?” And he said, “No, not really, I just made it up.” Well, I thought that was pretty resourceful of him, and I mused, “That looks like fun. Maybe I’ll take some classes.”

So I did. I found Korean teacher and joined a beginner class in Yang form tai chi. It was interesting and fun, but I found that I couldn’t remember the moves. This teacher used to demonstrate them in front of the entire class and we would imitate him—that was it. After awhile, I felt I was making no progress, so I started asking around about other teachers. One of the students in my class asked me if I’d ever heard of Master Chu. I said I hadn’t, and she gave him such a glowing recommendation that I decided to go see him. She had observed one of his classes and had also decided to study with him.

I was surprised the first time I entered Chu’s spotless studio in Times Square to watch a class. The students weren’t all lined up doing the same moves. Instead, they were working individually on different moves, and Master Chu and his assistants would move among them, making corrections. I liked that approach, so I signed up right away.

In the beginner class, Master Chu taught a modified version of the Yang Short form. I joined the class, and it didn’t take long for me to discover that I was remembering the postures easily. Master Chu, a diminutive man dressed in a navy blue silk uniform, would watch the students, then help them with their moves. He was very demanding, but never intimidating. He’d constantly say in his halting English, “Tuck! Tuck”—meaning to pull in our behinds, since most of us had a tendency to stick them out!

I loved Master Chu. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and was always so relaxed…he seemed very comfortable in his own skin. He treated me kindly and always gave me a generous discount on classes, which meant a lot to me. He was genuinely interested in all his students and their progress. I’ve missed those classes since I move to Rio de Janeiro, but I’m glad I have his DVD, because I have never been able to find a tai chi class or teacher here that really suited me. It might be because Master Chu had such a profound influence on me and I can’t seem to enjoy other styles as much as his.

About Master Chu

Grandmaster C.K. Chu (1937-2013) was one of the great tai chi masters of the twentieth century. Born in Hong Kong, Chu was educated in martial arts and calligraphy as a child. He came to New York in the 1960s for college and graduate studies. He earned a masters degree in physics from Queens College and completed graduate work for a Ph.D. (ABD). Chu always said he began teaching Tai Chi to further his own training. His books were among the first books published about tai chi in English. During his 40 years of teaching Taoist arts in Times Square, Master Chu touched thousands of lives for the better.














Filed under education, my history, tai chi, Uncategorized

Life-changing teachers #5: Frank Foster

FosI met saxophonist Frank Foster (known as “Fos”) in the 80s at the Jazz Cultural Theater, a performance space founded by pianist Barry Harris. Harris gave classes there, and there were also classes taught by other musicians, including Frank Foster. I used to spend quite a bit of time hanging out there. I liked the vibe—it was funky and casual, and there were usually a couple of strung out musicians stretched out on the raggedy sofas in the entryway.

One day I saw a flyer for a class Frank was giving. It said “If you must scat, be relevant.” Well, that cracked me up and I thought, I have to meet this guy. Of course I knew who he was, and that he had played in and written and arranged for the Basie band, so I cornered him one night and asked him if he was going to give any arranging classes at the JCT. At the time, I had just formed my ten-piece band, Brass Tacks, and was taking a stab at writing some arrangements of my original tunes. But since I had never studied arranging, I really didn’t know how to put anything down on paper, and I needed some practical help.

JCTFrank said yes, as a matter of fact, he was starting an arranging course the following week, so I joined up right away. Everything was fine at first, but then new people kept showing up every week and he’d go back to the beginning and start over. Also, he wasn’t teaching how to get the stuff down on paper, so I grabbed him after class and told him that the class wasn’t working for me and what I needed. He said, “Why don’t you come out to my house and I’ll give you a couple of private lessons.” Well, I was thrilled at the thought of that, because then I could have him all to myself and ask him all of my specific questions.

So that’s what I did. I took the train out to the burbs to Frank’s house and he explained all the tricks of writing a band chart. It only took two lessons. That was the extent of the “course,” but it was all I needed. I actually didn’t want someone to teach me how to arrange—I wanted to learn it by trial and error and follow my nose. After all, I was arranging my own material, not someone else’s, so a lot of the rules wouldn’t apply.

I’m forever grateful to Frank for giving me exactly what I wanted. I felt it was very generous and humble of him. I went on to write a bunch of material for my band, and we played some gigs around New York, including The Blue Note (back when they would let “unknowns” play on Monday nights), and The Knitting Factory.

I kept in touch with Frank, so he knew what I was up to. When I recorded a demo tape of the band I gave him a copy. I was deliriously happy when he told me how much he liked it.

I was working as a journalist when Frank won one of his Grammy awards, and was sitting in the press room when he came out on stage to make his little speech. He saw me sitting with the other journalists, held up his award, pointed at me, and mouthed: “You’re next!” Well, that never happened, but I was thrilled by his vote of confidence.

Years later, after I had moved to Rio de Janeiro and we had been out of touch for a long time, Frank and I met up on Facebook. We had some great chats, and he had me in stitches a lot of the time. Not long after, he passed away. What a great guy. I sure do miss you, Fos.

About Frank:

Frank Foster (September 23, 1928 – July 26, 2011) was an American tenor and soprano saxophonist, flautist, arranger, and composer. he joined Count Basie’s band in 1953, and contributed both arrangements and original compositions to the band, including the standard “Shiny Stockings”, and other popular songs such as “Down for the Count,” and “Blues Backstage.” Later on, Foster formed and led several groups, most notably Living Color and The Loud Minority. In June 1986 Foster succeeded Thad Jones as leader of the Count Basie Orchestra. While leading the Basie Orchestra, Foster received two Grammy Awards.






Filed under education, jazz, music, my history, Uncategorized

Life-changing teachers #4: Charlie Banacos


Charlie with my friend Joan Hill

I am struggling to find words to describe the remarkable teacher and individual that Charlie Banacos was. Let me try.

I can’t remember how I first heard of Charlie, but it must have been from some musician I knew who had studied with him. I soon discovered that his students spoke of him in almost reverential tones, and that he had a two-year waiting list to study with him.

At that time, in the middle 70s, Charlie was teaching in a studio in Brookline, MA, not far from where I lived. He arrived at his studio early in the morning and taught all day long, every day. When I met him, he was no longer performing, and even though he was an accomplished pianist, he had no interest in putting his work “out there.” Teaching was his mission.

I got on Charlie’s waiting list, and eventually rose to the top of it. I called him and set up a class. I took the trolley to Brookline and knocked on the door to his studio. The door opened, and there was Charlie—younger than I had expected, wiry, with dark hair and eyes that sparkled with amusement and an intense energy that I could feel before he said a word. I felt at home right away. Little did I suspect what he would put me through!

Charlie treated all his students as individuals, so after listening to me play, he gave me what he thought would help me the most. We started out with exercises on “Autumn Leaves” that took me through 12 keys and every possible chordal and scale combination. And that was just the beginning—before long he had me transcribing complex solos by jazz greats like McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans. I worked as hard as I could so I could hear him say, “That stuff is cookin’!”

Even though Charlie was always affable, very funny, and almost childlike, he meant business. I had to practice five hours a day to be able to go to class and not make a total fool out of myself. I couldn’t help laughing, though, when I’d sit down at his old upright piano to show him how I’d done that week. He’d stand over me with a hammer in one hand and a screw driver in the other, with a fiendish grin on his face!

All of Charlie’s lessons were handwritten, and he’d punctuate his almost illegible writing with humorous cartoons. I was always dumbfounded by how he could be so funny, open, and relaxed with everyone and still command so much respect. I guess it gets down to the fact that he was simply a genius, and I don’t use that word lightly.

Charlie died way too young, and left countless students who genuinely loved him, including me, in mourning. What a great spirit he was!

Here’s a video clip of Charlie speaking, from his student Dave Askren. Thanks, Dave!

About Charlie:

Charlie Banacos (August 11, 1946 – December 8, 2009) was a pianist, composer, author and educator, who focused on jazz. He was the original author of a number of original music theory and ear training methods. His students and musical associates included Mike Stern, Danilo Perez, Jeff Berlin, Garry Dial, Michael Brecker, Jerry Bergonzi, Marilyn Crispell, among others. He performed with Roy Haynes, Charlie Mariano, Jerry Bergonzi and others in both jazz and classical idioms. He served on the faculty of New England Conservatory of Music and Berklee College of Music in Boston.


Filed under education, jazz, music, my history, Uncategorized

Life-changing teachers #3: Ray Santisi

RayI was living in Boston in the 60s and 70s (except for two years in Brazil in the late 60s). I don’t remember exactly when or how I first met jazz pianist Ray Santisi, although it was probably at what was then known as Berklee School of Music, where he was teaching. I didn’t have the financial wherewithal to enroll, so I would go over there and hang around, hoping to get to know some musicians or find a jam session.

In any case the upshot of it was that I met Ray, and after I got to know him, for some reason unknown to me, he took me on as a piano student and never charged me a cent. He also encouraged me to write a few of little arrangements, and then had his students play them back for me. Not only that, but he saw to it that I could get into the Boston jazz clubs without paying a cover charge.

Ray had a reputation for being a bit intimidating, and even though I was easily intimidated back in those days, my hunger for jazz and to get what this remarkable man had to offer won out. I’m glad it did. When I first started studying with Ray, my piano playing was pretty basic—tunes from fake books, simple improvisations, playing in the “easy” keys. He helped me take a step forward, with different kinds of songs, and music theory that attuned my ears and fingers to more possibilities in improvising.

Most of all, though, I was absolutely stunned by Ray’s generosity. I was just a young housewife and mom, and felt that I was a mediocre pianist, but apparently Ray saw something there that he thought was worthwhile. I ended up learning a lot with him, and we also had fun together. He had a subtle, wry sense of humor that used to crack me up.

Many years later, long after I had moved from Boston and finally ended up here in Rio de Janeiro, I looked him up and sent him a copy of the CD I had recorded here in 2002. He was very pleased to hear from me, and congratulated me on the CD. He was one of the key figures who made it possible for me to finally put a band together and record, and I’m forever grateful.

About Ray:

Ray Santisi (February 1, 1933 – October 28, 2014) was an American jazz pianist, composer, arranger, recording artist and educator. He played with Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Mel Torme, Carol Sloane, and many others. Santisi was professor of piano and harmony at Berklee College of Music in Boston where he taught from 1957 until his death in 2014. His students included names such as Diana Krall, Makoto Ozone, Joe Zawinul, Keith Jarrett, Gary Burton, John Hicks, and Danilo Perez. Fourteen of his students received Grammy awards.




Filed under education, jazz, music, my history, Uncategorized

Life-changing teacher #1: Emily Brady

EmilyIn my previous post, I said that I would write about six teachers who had changed my life. I’m going to do this in chronological  order, and this is the first one (the only one still living):

I was barely 18 years old when I entered Boston University as a liberal arts major. At that time I rather pretentiously thought of myself as smarter than most people, and quite the little intellectual. I had read widely, and English was my favorite subject.

Imagine my chagrin when I arrived in Boston (from Connecticut, where I grew up) to discover that I had been placed in the “dummy” English class! I was furious, so with more feistiness than trepidation, I stomped over to the office of the head of the English Department, Professor Link, and stated my case. I told him I wouldn’t, couldn’t stay in that class! He looked slightly amused, checked my records, and said, “But you did poorly on your entrance exams.” I’ve never been particularly good under pressure, so I told him, “Yes, but did anyone even bother to look at my straight A record in English in high school?” Professor Link could see that I wasn’t going to back down easily, so he said, “All right, I’ll have you switched to Emily Brady’s advanced English class.”

I left his office with a feeling of triumph and exhilaration. I couldn’t wait to start Mrs. Brady’s class.

Nothing, however, had prepared me for the tall, willowy goddess who swept into the classroom sporting a long black cape and dark brown eyes as big as saucers. She was gorgeous—black hair in a bob with bangs, and a smile that lit up the room to the last student in the back row. All the boys developed instant crushes on her, and I guess I did, too. She was quite the dramatic figure, and I loved that she drove around in a dumpy woodie station wagon.

Emily immediately put us to work reading important novels by authors I had never heard of, and having us write essays about them. This was right up my alley. I became and avid student, and did everything I could to please Emily and make her see how smart I was. She noticed, and gave me the attention I had longed for during high school, but never got. She encouraged me, said I had talent as a writer, and even urged me to send some of my pieces to a few literary journals. I did, and was thrilled when I finally got a personal, rather than an automatic rejection letter that was kind and encouraging.

Never particularly self-confident (although I did a pretty good job at faking it), with Emily’s care, attention, friendship, and engaging sense of humor, I could feel a true sense of worth growing in me. I truly came to feel that I was a writer because of her. I only studied with her for that one year, but we ended up becoming friends. I’m a jazz pianist, and she used to come to my gigs. Even after I got married and had my first child, our friendship continued. I have never forgotten her, and a few years ago was able to find her online. She was (and is) still teaching at B.U. I wasn’t sure if she’d remember me, but she did, and was surprised and pleased that I had contacted her. During the time I knew her she had remarried, had a child, and then her husband suddenly died of a heart attack. After that we lost touch, and at some point she married again and became Emily Dalgarno, the name she still uses today. When I contacted her, she told me she was now single again and had never been happier.

About Emily:

Emily Izsak Dalgarno (formerly Brady) graduated Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude in English, and has an international reputation as a teacher and scholar. After graduating from William Smith she attended Brown University, and in 1962 completed her Ph.D. in English literature. 

Since 1959 she has taught thousands of students in a variety of courses in literature at Boston University and has published in numerous literary magazines. She has written two books on Virginia Woolf: Virginia Woolf and the Visible World and Virginia Woolf and the Migrations of Language.

Next: Sam Rivers





Filed under education, my history, Uncategorized

Teachers who are life-changers


Learning-FeaturedMost of us have had at least one teacher in our lives who has left a lasting impression. I’m going to devote my next six blog posts to the teachers I feel really changed my life in a significant way.

Sometimes we encounter a teacher we love while we’re still in grammar school, but we can also meet up with a life-changer in our adult lives. I met most of my favorite teachers when I was already grown up, married, and a mother.

World Teachers’ Day isn’t until October 5, but I like to strike while the iron is hot…I started thinking about my beloved teachers yesterday, and so let the commemoration begin!

I have six favorite teachers in my life. I’m not sure how fast I’ll be able to get them posted, but stay tuned…

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Is disease “awareness” a good thing?

breast-cancer-ribbonScientists, philosophers, religionists, psychologists and even the ordinary man on the street seem, these days, to be more and more willing to openly acknowledge the power of thought. “You are what you think” is becoming even more popular than “you are what you eat,” and at least some people are taking the time to consider the possibility that life is more subjective than they thought it was.

People who know nothing at all about quantum physics (like me) are familiar with the now proven fact that phenomena changes according to who is viewing it.  And yet, with all these hints, most people still don’t bother to try to manage their own thinking, or to consider the effect that the thinking of other people might have on them.

One all-pervasive example that comes to mind are the numerous “breast cancer awareness” campaigns. The name alone should alert us, shouldn’t it? What is “awareness,” after all? One dictionary definition says “having knowledge or consciousness.” So, the obvious result of these campaigns is that they make us think more about breast cancer. Is this helpful? I don’t think so. Also, the color pink is always associated with these campaigns, so when we see pink, we think (consciously or not) “cancer.”

Some might argue that this “awareness” brings in more money for cancer research. But there is no proof that the medical establishment is making any progress in finding a cure for cancer, and is all this “awareness” really worth the price we may have to pay?

It is my settled conviction that these and similar campaigns do more harm than good. If something, anything, is repeated again and again to our thought, we end up embracing it and it becomes part of our mindset. How many jokes do you see on Facebook or get in your e-mail about the so-called unavoidable decrepitude of old age? Do you really think this stuff is funny? I love humor and laughing is one of my favorite pastimes, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to laugh about decrepitude and deterioration and turn it into an inevitable in my thinking and experience.

It is proverbial that people who think the least about negative things have a more positive life experience. Countless old people are in great shape and we could hardly say that every woman gets or will get breast cancer. Why is this so? The medical establishment has all kinds of theories about it, but more often than not people’s mental states are shunted off into the vapory realm of “alternative” approaches to well-being and not taken seriously.

The idea of positive thinking has been around for a long time, but I believe we’re reaching a point in history where not only do we have to be more alert to what we’re thinking and what kinds of thoughts we’re being exposed to, but that it’s time to start thinking of the source of good, healthy, positive thoughts as being universal and spiritual, rather than personal and material.

I propose that we use our awareness to look inward to who we really are and outward to what we really love. Then let’s devote our thought to that instead of wearing pink ribbons that make us think of ourselves and others as perishable and destructible.


Filed under education, spiritual, Uncategorized

Stroking the underdog

When I was a little kid in school back in the middle 40s, I can remember being rewarded for doing good work. I loved it when the teacher stuck a gold star on my paper or workbook, and it made me want to do even better.

I also remember that we had reading groups, and they were divided according to ability. If you were in a lower group and your reading improved, you’d get moved to a higher one.

But over the years I started to notice a change in this merit-for-excellence system. Teachers started giving poor performers more attention, and even rewards, so they wouldn’t feel bad about themselves. I thought, why should an under-achiever get a reward? It didn’t make sense to me. Encouraging and helping someone do better is one thing, but I came to believe over the years that stroking the underdog doesn’t help anyone.

I remember a situation many years later when I started to attend the workshops of a well-known jazz pianist in New York. He would sit at a grand piano in a big loft and young musicians — mostly pianists — would crowd around him at tables, waiting eagerly for their chance to perform. After each one finished, he would critique them in front of the audience.

After I’d gone a few times I started to notice a pattern. He would be kind and complimentary to the mediocre ones and critical, sometimes verging on harsh and cruel, to the really talented, accomplished ones. I questioned some of the musicians about it, and they said he did this to encourage the not-so-good ones and to make sure the really good ones wouldn’t get a swelled head and would work harder.

I just don’t get that. Not that I think he should have trashed the struggling ones, but there was certainly no reason to be so hard on the ones who obviously had talent and had worked hard to develop it. I stopped going to the workshop. It all just felt too personal. Some people became his “pets” (usually the not-so-good ones) and that really bothered me.

So today when I see, for example, a group of children competing in some kind of game, and when it’s done the teacher or adult in charge gives all the kids a prize so no one’s feelings will be hurt, I really think that’s a mistake. It gives kids the idea that they don’t have to work hard to get a reward, and breeds complacency and mediocrity.

Kids who are having a hard time need a helping hand to get better, maybe to change their habits so they can develop their abilities and talents. I say this because I don’t really believe there’s any such thing as a “dumb” kid, or one that has no special abilities and talents. But the way to discover these abilities is to help the kid learn how to bring them out, not by stroking him or her when they’re not even trying. By doing this, underdogs will always be underdogs, because they’ve learned that it’s rewarding.

What do you think?


Filed under education, individuality, my history

What is school really for?

Stop and think about it sometime. What did you really learn in grammar school, middle school and high school?

Maybe you learned a lot. Maybe you can still do algebra and geometry problems. You might even actually remember what you did in chemistry class. But what about history? Do you still remember all those dates and battles? And when was the last time you wrote in cursive, except to sign your name on a document?

I have to confess I don’t remember much. OK, so I learned how to spell “eschew” and “egregious,” and I did have one or two English teachers who inspired me. And being who I am, I loved art and music in school. But most of the things I really needed to live my daily life I learned outside of school.

Did I learn how to balance my checkbook or do my income tax in school? Did I learn how to buy a home or how to take care of a baby? We had home ec classes in high school, but we girls mostly just stood around giggling and burning things. My mother taught me how to cook at home.

I’ve often thought that the educational system in the USA (and probably many other places in the world) needs to be completely revamped. It needs to be more practical, but it also needs to have more respect for kids as individuals and help bring out their unique talents and abilities. Even if classes are large, they can be divided into groups, and the kids can help each other. In fact, I’ve always liked the concept of the little country school, with kids of different ages working together.

What is school for, anyway? Is it just a place for kids to be dumped while their parents go off to work? Sometimes it seems that way, but it could be so much more.

How do you think schools could be improved? What is school really for?


Filed under education, my history