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Work Samples

Mark Me by Sandy Asirvatham

Demo recording (piano/voice only) of one of the originals I intend to produce (with full rhythm section, horns, background vocals, etc.) for an album to be called INNOCENT MONSTER.

excerpt from PLAY IT BY EAR.pdf

[from PLAY IT BY EAR: AN AMERICAN ANTHEM (memoir), Chapter 2 "Heroes"] If I let myself slip back to my teen years in the early 1980s, I can get overwhelmed with memories of music. At first it’s just a hint—a few lines of lyric or an instrumental riff—but then, rushing headlong, there comes a whole synesthetic embodiment of vibe and emotion, an endless loop of colors and lights sliding by like the reflection on the inside of a windshield, car in motion, heading slowly back up the Garden State Parkway from the shore. I hear the sweet, sweet piano and harmonica opening of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and I am there again, in the back seat of some friend’s vehicle (American-made muscle, two long heavy doors, sticky vinyl interior—borrowed from an older brother or maybe a mother who will spend the day holding her breath until we all get home in one piece). I am gritty from hours at the beach, comfortable in my heat-soaked skin, reaffirmed for a moment in my shaky sense of belonging, as I and my girlfriends all smile and wave out the windows at some cute older guys in a Jeep stuck in traffic next to us. Under the highway lights their smooth tanned hides shine like diamond dust.

PDF icon excerpt from PLAY IT BY EAR.pdf

Blue Traveler - Sep. 23, 1998 - Baltimore City Paper.pdf

Wealth and power inequality are hardly new stories. When I wrote this travel comment 10 years ago, I didn't realize how much historical resonance I'd be experiencing in 2018. Ancient dynamics are still in force throughout the world--ascendant, in fact--even in this country where we thought democracy and the rule of law would protect us from the entitlement and rapaciousness of the global billionaire class. Other than the dangerous amount of carbon in the atmosphere, there is truly nothing new under the sun.

PDF icon Blue Traveler - Sep. 23, 1998 - Baltimore City Paper.pdf

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About Sandy

Baltimore City

Sandy Asirvatham's picture
When I die and my ashes are shot beyond Earth’s atmosphere by a colossal space cannon, my virtual tombstone should flash STILL RESTLESS. "Rest In Peace" will never apply. It takes most of us a long time to become exactly who we are. In my case, I've had to work and wait and work some more to understand that my comfort zone is actually a no-comfort zone. I searched for years for my supposed one true path before recognizing that there was no such thing for me.  Most of my peers were still young... more

personal memoir: PLAY IT BY EAR: AN AMERICAN ANTHEM (excerpts)

COMPLETED PROJECT, IN SEARCH OF PUBLICATION: Manuscript complete, after over 10 years and probably seven full rewrites. I am currently making some additional cuts for narrative pacing, and am seeking an agent. Among the chapters excerpted here, some tell stories related to various songs posted under my music projects.

The child of financially successful but damaged (and damaging) parents, I tried to heal childhood wounds, forge a stable identity, and become a happier, kinder mother than my own--all through music. PLAY IT BY EAR: An American Anthem, is the story my alternately joyous and painful quest, sometimes successful, sometimes laden with emotional traps. The book's voice is of a mature woman listening back on several decades years of her life to hear its themes & variations, the underlying rhythms that have driven her.

PLAY IT BY EAR is also a timely story about race and citizenship. Born here in 1965—same year that the USA stopped deliberately blocking non-white immigrants—I was the arts-obsessed daughter of Indian doctors. Unhappily married, steeped in their own bad families-of-origin, my mother and father were often verbally abusive and emotionally irresponsible. My mother grew up penniless, my father grew up rich, but from both I got the poisonous message that a child’s only real worth is measured in dollars earned and class status attained.

Fired up on radio hits, rock anthems, and Broadway showstoppers, I wanted no part of this perverse value system. I was an American girl: brash, loud, opinionated. I’d become a singer, actor, writer, star. Auteur, even. My relatives belittled me because I didn’t conform to Indian good-girlhood or the extended family’s fundamentalist Christianity. I also refused to go to medical school. Why be rich-and-miserable like Mom and Dad? But friends, teachers, other Americans understood. It was my citizen’s birthright to do what I loved (and eventually some money would follow….right?)

I lived this credo in my head but didn’t get very far in the world. I was hampered by pain, rage, and the paradoxical help/hindrance of upper-middle-class privilege. Successful as a journalist, I tried writing novels but hit emotional and technical roadblocks. During a terrible infertility struggle, I went into near-suicidal crisis, almost upending my marriage and abandoning the entire idea of motherhood (something I'd been ambivalent about anyway). I desperately feared getting lost in the same household misery I'd known in my youth.

What saved me was a late-blooming, serious return to music. In my mid-30s, with a certain amount of chutzpah, I willed myself to become a professional pianist and singer. My depression abated; I regained youthful confidence, found marital balance, and became a much better mother than my own. My newfound obsession with improvisational jazz—where listening and empathy are foundational skills—plus the instant bond with my adopted infant son, together unearthed a capacity for unconditional love (as well as a surprising new knack for writing original songs).

There were ironies, though. Yearning for the spotlight, was I just reinforcing my parents’ self-absorption and neediness? Turning my passion into a career, had I merely found another way to equate personal value with dollars earned (CDs sold, gigs booked, MySpace fans added…)?

As it turned out, this reduction of self-worth to net worth was no mere immigrant mindset but a deeply, darkly American one: an ascendant force that had perverted our sense of commonwealth, damaged our self-image as a nation of immigrants, and landed us a financial con artist as president. It was the culture in which I too--despite my surface rebellion--had been helplessly steeped since girlhood.

PLAY IT BY EAR is thus both a deeply personal story and one that's been shaped by the same large cultural, economic, and historical forces that have left so many Americans bewildered and destabilized. I think many readers--artists or not--will relate to its ups and downs.

  • PIBE opening sequence.pdf

    We—the band—had not invited requests, but still someone decided to shout at us from the bar:
    Do you do any Sinatra?
    I glanced toward the voice and saw a slope-shouldered, balding middle-aged white guy in wire-rimmed glasses—a man whose entire mien screamed I AM A DEPRESSED GOVERNMENT FUNCTIONARY—sitting alone with his hands choked up around a glass of red wine. With somewhat forced enthusiasm I pulled “Fly Me To The Moon” out of my vocal fake-book.

    PDF icon PIBE opening sequence.pdf
  • PIBE early marriage chapters.pdf

    My husband hated the beanbag chair but I loved it. Normally we were in synch about most everything. But this piece’s sloppy bulk offended his preference for right angles and rationality. The black vinyl behemoth covered a significant portion of the living room floor and aesthetically overshadowed the much nicer leather couch next to it. It was not utilitarian. It was hard to get into, hard to get out of, a space-hog only big enough for one person at a time. You couldn’t even have sex in it, not that we’d tried, but it clearly failed the thought experiment.

    PDF icon PIBE early marriage chapters.pdf
  • PIBE motherhood and songwriting.pdf

    I swear, if the baby dies up there I’m going to sue the pants off this Doctor Marc Weissbluth! I was on the kitchen telephone with Patrick. Our boy, at that point just 4 months old, was crying in his crib upstairs. Wailing, actually. We’d been following the protocol in a book called Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, which was even more hardcore than Ferberizing. The cry-it-out method was mildly controversial, but based on the book and my son’s temperament, it felt like the right choice. Contra the attachment parenting gurus, Weissbluth argued that young ones had to be taught how to fall asleep on their own, in much the same way as they eventually had to be taught to brush their teeth and use the potty. Once their brains had developed to receive and enjoy stimuli like parental attention, there was too much fun to miss and they’d resist their own tiredness. A parent was to spend the child’s earliest weeks and months being insanely vigilant about the signs of impending tiredness—to get to know your baby’s circadian rhythms as well as you knew your own. It was a different form of extreme attachment: emotional/intellectual rather than physical. I gave myself over to him and this process with the earnestness of a hard-science graduate student, literally charting my son’s alternating periods of wakefulness and exhaustion on square-ruled graph paper.

    PDF icon PIBE motherhood and songwriting.pdf
  • PIBE Kreation chapter.pdf

    The man actually bowed to me when our mutual friend introduced us. He had dark brown skin and a stocky but fit build. He was wearing a small hat of kente cloth and seemed young despite his gray-dotted black hair and beard. This was backstage immediately after my 2009 Artscape triumph so it felt appropriate, if slightly embarrassing, to be treated like a minor celebrity. He introduced himself as Kevin Robinson and spoke excitedly about how much he’d loved my music, and wanted to get together to play and maybe do some recording together. I hedged.

    PDF icon PIBE Kreation chapter.pdf

CD in progress: INNOCENT MONSTER (2019-2020 estimated)

IN PROGRESS. Most demos done. I'm still writing/arranging a few more songs. Estimated studio production, fall 2019.

INNOCENT MONSTER
All honest creators look back on old work and see flaws. Sometimes there's an embarrassment or even grief when dwelling on the fact that with a little more time, effort, skill, development, etc. you might have done better work. So next time you aim higher. The problem is how to get from the finished here to the dreamed-of there.

Most of these songs were written in a prolific flurry ten years ago or more, shortly after I released my debut disc, MEMOIR. I knew immediately that these were stronger compositions, with better hooks, more visual narratives, and a cohesive thematic vibe holding them together. (I suppose you could call that vibe..."If Carole King were a world-historical pessimist"....?)

My piano skills had improved quickly, but my voice....oh, that voice...I knew it was not sounding as good as it should, or could become. There were problems with intonation, a lack of resonance in places, and a kind of underlying ill-confidence that might make some listeners uncomfortable even if they can't pinpoint why.

Mostly, I had just thrown my fledgling effort out there into the world without much caution--a perfectly fine approach for a debut CD of the very first songs I'd ever written. I hesitated a long time before making my next move (and even conceived the massive Pink Floyd collaboration, MOBTOWN MOON, as a sneaky way of stalling my own individual progress, I suspect...). But now I was ready to achieve some new self-awareness and maturity as an artist.

As luck would have it, in 2018 I began working with vocal coach Pete Strobl, a fantastic musician who had recently moved to Baltimore County after decades in the LA rock scene. Pete has a deep background as a trained opera tenor, a longtime bassist and musical director for various touring rock bands, a recording studio manager, and a producer. But his true calling is as a mentor and coach: teaching musicians, including ones already working professionally, how to sing in a no-bullshit, scientifically grounded manner, how to create the most beautiful and authentic sounds they can.

Within a few weeks of our first lessons in February, Pete had retrained my breathing mechanics, helped me shed bad habits, strengthened my range, and uncovered better, more beautiful and powerful sounds. A few more months went by and my voice was cleaner, purer, and more "me" than it had been since grade school. The difference between my speaking voice and my singing voice almost disappeared.

Pete has recently agreed to help me produce my next album within a year or so. The seven tracks in this playlist--old songs that have been much improved by the work we've done together so far--will form the core of the new project, along with new material I'm working on now.

Along with the current demos I've posted ten-year-old live video versions of the songs "The Neighbors" and "Petting Zoo," performed at Jazzway 6004 with the stellar band of Frank Russo, Amy Shook, and Chris Kennedy. These were well-received in the moment but even then I knew I had better inside me, if only I could figure out how to access it. If you contrast these videos with the new demos in the playlist, I think you'll hear the stark difference right away. Less force, less pushing, less strain, less trying....more breathing and singing, breathing and singing, breathing and singing. It's that simple, or should be.

soundtrack composition: THEO AND JOHN TALK NONSENSE (2018)

COMPLETED PROJECT

For the NYC-based novelist, playwright, and filmmaker John Reed, I composed and played a piano score on his quirky character study called Theo and John Talk Nonsense, starring character actor Theodore Bouloukis. The film was created from outtakes of three of John's previous projects in which the actor had appeared. Between takes, in conversation or just riffing on his life, Theo proved to be a charmer, often confident and self-aware, occasionally anxious and self-involved. He's a guy many of us artists can relate to.

I was proud and excited to be a part of this project. John requested something in the way of "ragtime" or "oldey-timey jazz." I suggested that those types of motifs should be counterbalanced with more modern sounds, so as not to sonically ridicule Theo in any way. There are subtly funny moments throughout the film but I didn't think we wanted to underscore the humor with music that sounded like a circus.

I first came up with a set of short melodic/harmonic themes to fit various parts of the film. (See the Soundcloud playlist for the "rough drafts" I demo'd on my home piano.) The goal was to prepare this basic material and some preliminary time cues in advance, but to otherwise to improvise my way through the film scene by scene. (I did a lot of 'shedding in the key of Db to get that lefthand stride bass-line up to tempo.) We did the shoot/audio capture in a lovely studio room at Opera America in midtown Manhattan. I'd had trouble sleeping the night before--two mewling cats at my friend's apartment proved unhelpful--but some coffee and donuts helped with that. In general my piano work that day was solid, or at least imperfect in just the right ways. John later made a few timing adjustments in edit, but for the most part this was my live, in-the-moment response to Theo's off-the-cuff commentary. A fun day and a fascinating project.

  • Theo and John Talk Nonsense, a film by John Reed (2018)

    A film of outtakes by novelist, playwright, and filmmaker John Reed. I composed/improvised the piano score and John filmed me syncing my sounds to the film. Then he went back in and cut me, and my hands, into the final edit--I appear in occasional footage starting at 47:15. He said he wanted to show how all aspects of a creative work like this involved collaboration.
  • Theo & John Talk Nonsense (demo themes) by Sandy Asirvatham

    Rough tracks I recorded on my home piano, just to let director John Reed hear the themes I was developing for his film.

studio CD and major concert: MOBTOWN MOON (2013)

COMPLETED PROJECT

“Wildly eclectic, yet consistently absorbing.” ... Baltimore City Paper

Mobtown Moon studio CD (released May 2013) is a new interpretation of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon album, co-produced by me and ellen cherry with the participation of 40 outstanding Baltimore-based musicians in rock, jazz, classical, hip-hop and other styles of music.

Our genre-defying version of this classic album highlights the lyrical and melodic beauty of the original, by taking the songs out of their stadium-rock context and reconsidering them from a grown-up, singer-focused perspective. Baltimore CityPaper called it "wildly eclectic yet consistently absorbing," while both CityPaper and Baltimore Magazine awarded it their respective "Best of Baltimore" honors. The CD has received coverage in many music blogs and we’ve been interviewed by several Internet and terrestrial radio stations around the nation. So far, we have been overwhelmed and grateful for the positive response to our venture.

We're especially proud that we were able to create a beautiful, unique, meaningful music product showcasing the tremendous talents of our friends and colleagues here in Charm City. Already, this project has spawned all sorts of new partnerships and creative ideas.

ORIGIN

I conceived the project in 2009 while listening to the original Floyd recording, which remains very moving and relevant four decades after its release. 2009 was a dark time in the country: we were reeling from the aftershocks of a global market meltdown and the beginning of an endless recession; we were still at war, still paranoid, still so at odds with each other politically, still in denial about things like growing income inequality and potentially catastrophic global climate change.

Personally, I was feeling the weight of unhappy current events, and also suffering my own private confusions. Listening at this time to Dark Side was a source of comfort and connection. It reminded me that every era of human history has been dark, has been filled with war and want, one way or another.

MUSICAL MISSION

As a jazz person, my inclination was to take this beautiful, sometimes sad, sometimes angry music and respond to it with meaning, in the same way that master jazz composers responded to Tin Pan Alley favorites or great European classical composers responded to the folk songs of their childhood: by revisiting, reinterpreting, and reinventing.

What I also wanted to do was avoid the traditional “tribute” album that simply recreates the original songs in the same form but with different players. There are already way too many Pink Floyd cover bands in existence and I have no interest in that kind of shallow mimicry.

I had a demonstrated knack for making interesting arrangements, but this kind of project was significantly more ambitious and potentially tricky. After all, many millions of people love the original album, which is still a perennial bestseller. To "mess" with these beloved songs was to take some amount of personal and professional risk, for sure--especially because it represented a fairly great leap compared with my earlier work.

COLLABORATIVE EFFORT

In 2010 I spoke about the project with my friend, award-winning singer-songwriter ellen cherry, who immediately loved the idea and met it with a vision of her own: to make a true Baltimore collaboration that demonstrated the depth and breadth of musical talent we have in this town. We created a partnership to make this dual vision happen, and then set to work: making two demo song recordings, fundraising through individual donors and grantmakers, partnering with local nonprofit collaborators (especially the Hearing and Speech Agency and MammoJam), developing a production and promotional timeline (we were determined to release the record in spring 2013, close to the 40th anniversary of the original recording’s release), recruiting and scheduling many busy musicians (which occasionally felt like herding cats), and doing all the executive work required to put together such a massive collaboration.

As the chief arranger, I was directly responsible for the arrangement/instrumentation/sonic details of 10 of our 12 tracks, and indirectly for 2 more done in collaboration with the instrumentalists who played on them. (ellen took over the arranging for one track entirely, and she is also fully responsible for art-directing our beautiful album cover and for our entire project “look.”)

MUSICIANS ON THE ALBUM

Andrew Grimm (banjo)
Ben Frock (trumpet)
Brian Gundersdorf (vocals)
Brian Simms (piano, organ, accordion, vocals)
Bryan Young (bassoon)
Christian Stengle (drums)
Craig Alston (saxophone)
Cris Jacobs (vocals, guitar)
Dave Hadley (pedal steel)
David Ross (spoken word)
ellen cherry (vocals, cello, synths)
Eric Kennedy (drums)
Femi the DriFish (spoken word)
Frank Russo (drums)
Jake Leckie (bass)
Jeff Reed (bass)
Jen Smith (cello)
John Thomakos (drums)
Kate Zahradnik (viola)
Katie Graybeal (vocals)
Lea Gilmore (vocals)
Matt Everhart (bass)
Mike Gambone (drums)
Nick Currie (violin)
OrchKids choir (10 students with director Dion Cunningham)
Patrick Klink (vocals)
Russsell Kirk (saxophone)
Sandy Asirvatham (vocals, piano, synth keyboards)
Tim Anderson (cello)
Todd Marcus (clarinet)
Scott Smith (guitars, percussion, recording engineer)
Vincent Stringer (vocals)
Warren Boes (guitar)

CD RELEASE PARTY

We were thrilled to present our premiere performance of MOBTOWN MOON at the Kraushaar Auditorium in front of more than 800 fans. We had an incredible cast--not everyone from the album, but close. Thirty of Baltimore's finest musicians in rock, jazz, classical, hip-hop, gospel, bluegrass, and opera/choral music were crowded on that stage together, making music and listening to each other as the audience of 700+ watched in wonderment. By the time the Baltimore Choral Arts Society came on for the last two songs, there were 50 of us on that stage. The communal feeling of the event was palpable. People cried at some of their favorite old Pink Floyd songs, reinterpreted here and presented by some of their favorite local artists. It was a thrilling and moving evening for all of us.

ellen has been in many big shows, but this was a personal milestone for her in terms of the size, ambition, and authority she had over the performance details. I handled pre-show stuff like press and finances. By the time we started actually playing music, most of our hardest work was well behind us, and while we had some musical duties, we also had the opportunity to relax a bit and enjoy our incredible musical friends doing their thing.

I would have to rank 9/28/13 as one of the best days of my life, along with marrying my husband and adopting our son.

Getting to sing my version of "The Great Gig In the Sky" was also simply a 30-year dream-come-true.

But really the most satisfying thing was this: After the show, so many of our stellar musicians--Jen and Scott Smith of Naked Blue, Jonathan Gilmore, Brian Simms, Warren Boes, Andrew Grimm and Dave Hadley of June Star, Dave and Femi of the 5th L, Jake Leckie--so many of these fine and highly experienced performers said to us:

"That was one of the best shows I've ever been in, in my life."

AND:

"When can we do it again?"

That was the REAL dream come true: the joy and respect of peers.

  • Breathe, arranged by Sandy Asirvatham

    Breathe was the first song I arranged for MOBTOWN MOON, a massive 3-year project co-produced with ellen cherry. This is our "world premiere" performance at Kraushaar Auditorium in Baltimore County. Such a thrilling way to start off one of the best evenings of my life.
  • Us and Them, arr. by S.A.

    In a way, this song was the kernel of the whole project. I used to play this arrangement and sing it myself in my quartet years ago, but for Mobtown Moon it was really an ideal vocal number for ellen's gorgeous plaintive sound. Hear it and try not to weep, people.
  • Brain Damage, arr. by S.A.

    Jonathan Gilmore takes the lead at the Mobtown Moon premiere performance September 28, 2013 at Kraushaar Auditorium
  • Any Colour You Like, arr. by S.A.

    I had fun taking the spacey guitar-jam elements of the original track and transforming them into a post-bop vehicle for the wild improvisations of Todd Marcus (bass clarinet), Derrick Michaels (saxophone), and Ben Frock (trumpet).
  • The Great Gig In The Sky, arr. by SA

    The single most challenging vocal performance I've ever allowed myself to do. I had some melodic ideas worked out based on what I'd done for the recording, but I wanted to allow for improvisation, too. It just kind of happened, and felt so easy, especially with the incredible support of the audience and the stellar playing of the band behind me. A profoundly meaningful personal moment. And also the only time when I really had to work hard during this show--otherwise, everybody else was doing all the heavy musical lifting.
  • Eclipse, arr. by S. A.

    Jen Smith, Pat Klink, Brian Simms, and ellen cherry lead off the vocals, and then the Baltimore Choral Arts Society (director Tom Hall) blows the roof off
  • Money, arr. by S.A. and the band

    Andrew Grimm (of June Star) takes the lead at the Mobtown Moon premiere performance September 28, 2013 at Kraushaar Auditorium
  • Time, arr. by SA and the band

    Brian Simms (of Speakers of the House) takes the lead at the Mobtown Moon premiere performance September 28, 2013 at Kraushaar Auditorium
  • On the Run, arr. by ellen cherry

    ellen's terrific reimagining of what originally was an electronics-only track. She likes to call its sound "banjo whales." That's the famous Grimm on banjo and Dave Hadley on pedal steel--both of June Star.

early published work: short fiction & "Underwhelmed" essays (90s-early 00s)

"Sheath" is one of the only short stories I've ever completed (I'm built for long work!). It was published in the Berkeley Fiction Review in 2000. The other pieces are more along the lines of personal essays, originally published under the column banner "Underwhelmed" at Baltimore CityPaper. In some ways, all this early work together can be taken as precursors to/practice for my finished memoir, PLAY IT BY EAR.

collective improvisation CD: PANORAMIC PATHS (2009)

COMPLETED PROJECT

Kevin Robinson is a composer, bandleader, and reeds player who specializes in collective improvisations based on very minimal preplanned or composed material (sometimes called "free jazz"). He's a Baltimore native and I was lucky to play and record with him for a few years before he made a permanent move to California to study with Wadada Leo Smith and further his spiritual/musical explorations. The members of his band KREation could fluctuate from gig to gig, but his players were always phenomenal listeners and great on-the-fly compositional thinkers. A kind of throwback beatnick scene all around. It was probably the most fun I had in an ensemble ever, even better than playing my own compositions with my band. We almost never got paid but I'd follow Kevin almost anywhere to get a chance to be a part of his group again. (And I don't enjoy following anybody ever, so....)

Here's a disc of some of our spontaneously created recordings. This includes some of the best (craziest, loosest, freest) piano work I've done.

By the way, this is wholly Kevin Robinson's project on which I participated--don't let the Soundcloud verbiage "by Sandy Asirvatham" distract you. It happens because I've loaded the CD to my site.

Please also see the chapter of PLAY IT BY EAR entitled "Conversation With The Trees" all about my collaboraitons with Kevin Robinson.

Personnel:
Kevin Robinson, woodwinds & bandleader
Sandy Asirvatham, piano, keyboard, & vocals
Vattel Cherry, bass
Chris Taylor, electric guitar & percussion
Nathan Epstein, drums
Jeff Swiss, spoken word

novel in progress: A TYRANT FALLS IN LOVE

IN PROGRESS: The story is a vivid, detailed dream in my mind, but I've only just begun to sketch the characters, structure the plot, do helpful reading/research, and write a few test pages. Given how busy I am with smaller intermittent projects and obligations, I suspect this epic-length concept may take me 10 years to draft in full.

I used to be a journalist, i.e., a purely deadline-driven writer. In 2017-2018 I finally taught myself the practice of sitting at your desk for several hours every day, without fail, in order to let the world of the book envelop and contain you...even if nobody is waiting for it on any particular date. But only by this total immersion was I able to let my best and most cohesive work emerge. Having finished a memoir--autobiographical, yes, but built scene by scene, with a real narrative engine driving it--I'm now getting flooded again with the same kinds of big, bold novel ideas that descended on me regularly in my (far less productive) youth. At this point, time and distraction are my only enemies.

A TYRANT FALLS IN LOVE will be a mock-epic, fake-historical novel inspired, indirectly, by the shock of Donald Trump's ascendance to the presidency in 2016. (Some of its roots, however, are much older than that and grounded in a certain sensitivity I've always had to issues of wealth and power--see "Blue Traveler," the 1998 piece I've also attached here.) Like so many Americans, I have been appalled and chastened to watch a classic authoritarian peresonality rise to power here. Trump is new on the local scene, yet by global standards, he is a walking cliche. The narcissism, corruption, and comical self-glorification are straight out of the dictator playbook. Even his quasi-incestuous relationship with his daughter echoes ancient and premodern imperial history. I see A TYRANT FALLS IN LOVE as a tragicomic fable about human behavior: the perpetual dialectic between power-sharing and tyranny, freedom and repression, love and hatred, peace and war, selflessness and greed. The omniscient narrator will indulge in occasional anachronisms for humorous effect and to create a certain mythic resonance.

This will be a massive project to pull off, but I am braced for the long haul.

  • A TYRANT FALLS IN LOVE preplan.pdf

    In a long-ago empire of unspecified time and place, Robard, the imperial Master Builder, pursues a lifelong dream. A natural egalitarian who rose up from humble roots, Robard wants to provide all citizens rich and poor with running water and indoor plumbing as good as the system he and his fellow elites now enjoy. 
    Over the decades of Robard's brilliant career, his dream is stymied again and again by other professional obligations, by courtly machinations, and by wars and instability fostered through three generations of a fractious, incestuous, glory-mad ruling family.

    PDF icon A TYRANT FALLS IN LOVE preplan.pdf
  • Blue Traveler - Sep. 23, 1998 - Baltimore City Paper.pdf

    Wealth and power inequality are hardly new stories. When I wrote this travel comment 10 years ago, I didn't realize how much historical resonance I'd be experiencing in 2018. Ancient dynamics are still in force throughout the world--ascendant, in fact--even in this country where we thought democracy and the rule of law would protect us from the entitlement and rapaciousness of the global billionaire class. Other than the dangerous amount of carbon in the atmosphere, there is truly nothing new under the sun.

    PDF icon Blue Traveler - Sep. 23, 1998 - Baltimore City Paper.pdf

debut CD: MEMOIR (2007)

COMPLETED PROJECT

MEMOIR (2007) Debut CD of almost all original songs. Jazz with eclectic influence. Honored as a Best Jazz Debut in The Village Voice by jazz critic/historian W. Royal Stokes. This disc contains 9 originals that were essentially the very first songs I'd ever written. I suppose there was a certain chutzpah involved in making this project....and yet I stand by these fledgling efforts, even more than a decade later, when I could probably arrange and execute them much more skillfully. The Downbeat-poll-winning bari sax player Claire Daley said this sounded like music that I simply had to create. It certainly felt that way to me at the time.

big new dream project: ACCIDENTAL TRIO (indie film idea)

LONG-TERM AMBITION: I'm on a soft ten-year plan to become an independent filmmaker. It's a bit crazy to think I can develop good work in yet another creative endeavor, but that has never stopped me before.

ACCIDENTIAL TRIO is something that began as a book in my mind, until I realized it would make much more sense as a movie, particularly because of the musical elements. More than that...I dream of producing, directing, and composing the soundtrack for it. I've got some prior production experience and some as well as a few supporters in the indie film business who think it's not out of the question. Maybe I'll be able to pull it off in fifteen or twenty years. (Funding is always a challenge, but time is the only real enemy. )

The attached treatment-in-progress is very unfinished, as you'll see. I am showing you a bit of my midstream mess, revealing the process. But the first act description should paint a picture of the time, place, and characters. As they say in the brick-and-mortar world, pardon my dust.

Intermediate action steps/very vague work plan:
1) I already have some TV commercial production and writing experience (and even an Emmy for a spot I co-wrote and helped direct).
2) I plan to develop my screenwriting skills by working on shorter ideas and novel adaptations.
3) When I complete some studio tracks for INNOCENT MONSTER in 2019 or 2020, I have ideas for videos I'll be able to shoot/direct on my own with a few hired crew.
4) I have mentors inside the independent film world (in Baltimore and elsewhere) who have already expressed willingness and enthusiasm to guide me.
5) With any luck, my cumulative experiences in music, writing, and video production will give me just enough needed clout to work my way in.

  • ACCIDENTAL TRIO treatment in progress.pdf

    ACCIDENTAL TRIO (indie drama) In late 1970s New York, a cult-figure punk rocker—the estranged daughter of a famous civil rights attorney—learns of his unexpected death and abruptly quits the music scene in grief. Slowly she finds solace in music again, via the beautiful upright bass she has inherited from him. She’s helped by a mysteriously accomplished old woman pianist next door and a trumpet player who’s been stalking her.

    PDF icon ACCIDENTAL TRIO treatment in progress.pdf

occasional nice things in the press

“When it comes to crossing over invisible musical boundaries Sandy Asirvatham is an innovator.”

— Michael Buckley, The Capital (Annapolis MD)

“…she walks a fine line between singer/songwriter and jazz chanteuse with some Tin Pan Alley in the mix, smartly turning phrases and crafting peculiarly appealing melodies…poetic, personal lyrics richly underscored by her idiosyncratic piano playing and tasteful accompaniment…”

— John Lewis, Baltimore Magazine

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