Since April is Jazz Appreciation Month in the U.S., it got me thinking about sounds.  Hip hop. Heavy metal. House music. Heavenly harmonies. Music adds rhythm to any event. It gets things moving.

Imagine some events without music. Could a bride make that walk down the aisle without music? What would a fashion show be like without those syncopated beats for models to strut down the runway?  Could a birthday party be happy without the titled song? How can holiday parties or festivals be festive without the signature sounds—Christmas carols, African drums, strolling mariachi bands, or Chinese cymbals and gongs. Imagine a U.S. sporting event starting without the singing of the “National Anthem”; or the President of the United States entering a room without playing “Hail to the Chief.” And a New Year beginning without “Auld Lang Syne,” leaves you wondering if the old year really ended.

Music sets the mood of so many events.  Music ignites memories of forgotten moments. It stimulates the soul. Keep that in mind when you plan your next gala, party or get together.

If you’re in Paris or New Orleans at the end of the month, stop by these musical events.  April 30 is International Jazz Day and the official kick-off is on April 27 with an all-day program at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris and a performance by jazz great and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock, who established that day.  Hancock will begin the April 30 celebrations with a sunrise concert in New Orleans at Congo Square, the birthplace of jazz.

Confucius said, “music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” Music may be just the touch to guarantee a good time.

It’s spring.  Spring is when a slew of new books are released.  That means book signings are hot springtime events.

Basically there are three types of book signings:  in-store, in somebody’s home or in some unique space such as a museum or gallery.  Lately, I’ve been going to less in-store signings, maybe because there are less bookstores.  House parties and museums are popular locations nowadays.  With everyone writing a book from actors to artists to TV anchors and animals—signing events are the best place for authors to push their passions and sell books.  Really, how can you not be seduced into buying an autographed book after meeting and hanging out with the author, hearing her reading, eating the food and drinking the wine?

In the last two weeks, I’ve gone to two book signings in the Greater Washington area.  One was a fabulous Maryland house party for my long-time friend, Sheila Banks, whose debut novel, Bittersweet, came out this month.   The chocolate and champagne themed 3-hour signing was the perfect outing on a weather perfect Sunday afternoon. Champagne  flowed, chocolate was abundant and the guests were a wonderful mix of old friends and new fans.  Although more than fifty guests attended, the spacious, art-filled home exuded a warmth that created a very intimate event and wonderful feelings.   The local bookstore providing the books, Politics and Prose, sold out of all they brought and easily could have sold more.

This photo shot by Marc Silber of www.silberst...

This photo shot by Marc Silber of Annie Leibovitz is one of the most famous photographers alive today. She shoots for magazines, was Rolling Stone's photographer, and has made images of many of the world's most famous people. Español: La fotógrafa estadounidense Annie Leibovitz posando ante el retrato de Demi Moore en su exhbición "Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005" en San Francisco, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A week later, I attended another Sunday book event given by the Corcoran gallery and billed as a graduate symposium on creativity with celebrated photographer Annie Leibovitz.  Despite the rain, a standing-room-only crowd packed the auditorium to watch Ms. Leibovitz’s visual discussion of her latest book, Pilgrimage.  Although the crowd made the activity appear less intimate, Ms. Leibovitz provided a certain intimacy to the event through her personal insight into how she sustained her creativity overtime and why she photographed certain photos, “it was a renewal.”   She gave us two hours of her time, leaving just before the reception began in the Corcoran’s atrium.  Wine and a mix of cheeses, fruits, and sweets were served to a hungry crowd of Corcoran students and patrons.  Pre-signed books were for sale.  Most sold.  But maybe the $25.00 charge for attending the event and the early departure of the author missed selling out.

Hmm…..are signing events passé as e-books replace books?

Wedding dress of Grace Kelly

Wedding dress of Grace Kelly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April 18, 1956, a major world event happened—the civil marriage of Academy Award-winning actress and Hollywood’s princess, Grace Kelly, to Prince Rainier III of Monaco.  The next day, a spectacular, star-studded religious ceremony, dubbed “the wedding of the century,” took place at the Cathedrale de Monaco.   Kelly wore a gown by Helen Rose, the MGM costume designer, that took six weeks and three dozen seamstresses to complete.  A luncheon reception followed at the Palace’s Court of Honour  with a six-tier wedding cake that the bride and groom cut using the prince’s sword. Six hundred guests attended the religious ceremony and an estimated 30 million people watched the television broadcast.  It was an event to remember.

The couple met while Kelly was filming Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief in the French Riviera.  It wasn’t love at first sight, but Prince Rainier pursued the actress and, on this day 56 years ago, Grace Kelly became Princess Grace of Monaco.  She retired too soon from acting at age 26, had three children and, sadly, died at 52 years old in a tragic automobile accident.

Brides from Princess Diana to Kim Kardashian have taken a few queues from this famous fairy tale wedding.  Nothing beats a beautiful event.  And we love weddings.

Hello 2012.  We’re ready to enjoy a new year of new events.

From film festivals to fashion weeks, from movie to music awards shows, from the Olympics to elections, this year will be full of eventful activities filled with special twists we find so appealing.  First up, the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.  Next,  the movie awards season launches with the Golden Globes, SAG, and People’s Choice Awards.   This summer, we can’t wait for London to light the Olympic torch for the games—and the parties—to begin.  Our politically active self  is thrilled about all the political parties and presidential elections taking place throughout the world this year from Senegal to France to our own U.S. presidential election in November.

Our world is full of life and life is full of events.  Those that have twist are the ones we’ll find in 2012.

Life is full of events.

The right lighting adds a certain feel to any event.  Last night, I went to see Sting in concert  at Constitution Hall, a moderate-sized place for a cozy concert.   As usual, Sting kept things simple—and pure.   This concert oozed with intimacy as though he and his friends were performing in a studio with a few onlookers.   While the music and musicians were the stars, the surprise performer sharing the stage was the lighting.    No fancy red or blue lights.  No disco balls.   A beam of white light awaited Sting’s arrival on stage.

Basic beams of white lights introduced each song then melted into the background as the master musician and his music took center stage. White lights adjusted our mental moods for each melodic movement from country to Caribbean to the pure sound of Sting’s voice. Lights flowed in at the appropriate moments, raised our energy levels when expected and cooled us down when least expected.

Was that a halo?  Hmmm…the event did have an aura about it.

November conjures up falling leaves, bare trees, and the year easing to an end.    November is multiple shades of browns.   Burnt sienna, mocha, mahogany, terra-cotta, cocoa, umber, hazel, cinnamon, hot chocolate, sepia—the color comes in many names.  It releases one sensation, earthy warmth.  What comes in brown? Anything you want.

The Wedding Dress

The Invitation

The Flowers

The Cupcake

Joe Louis, The Brown Bomber

Red Rooster Harlem Entrance

What can make eating out a memorable event?   Plenty of great food. Inviting ambiance.  A chef who greets you at the door.  Friendly service. And enjoying the meal with a fun crowd.   I experienced all that and more at Red Rooster Harlem.  Last week, I took a quick trip to New York for a board meeting.  After the meeting, the board members headed uptown to Harlem for dinner.

Before entering the restaurant, the huge sign with the proud red rooster tipped me off that something hot was happening inside.  I knew I was about to experience a treat.    The moment I walked in, I felt the pulsating vibes emenating from the wall-to-wall people laughing and having a great time around the big, curved bar.   As they say, “the joint was jumping.”    Award-winning Chef Marcus Samuelsson, the owner, happened to be greeting guests at the door.  Naturally, I took a picture with him.   It was easy to feel the vibrations and vitality in the place.   I immediately loved it and I hadn’t had my first drink or tasted the food.

Red Rooster Harlem Downstairs

Here’s the back story.  The original Red Rooster was the name of a legendary 1900s Harlem speakeasy located at 138th Street and 7th Avenue where big time neighborhood folks—entertainers, politicians and everybody who thought they were somebody—hung out.   Its nickname was the Stork Club of Harlem.  Back then there was the Sherman Billingsley Stork Club in midtown Manhattan where cafe society gathered and there were clubs in Harlem for African-Americans.  The original Red Rooster owner, George Woods, patterned his place after Billingsley’s Stork Club by allowing only who he wanted inside. Generally, they were the elites of Harlem such as Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Duke Ellington and the like.   In the Sixties, writers and photographers hung out there before heading down the street to grab a meal.  By the 1980s, the original had closed.

Fast forward to today.  That distinctive spirit that oozed through the place back then, does so now with a new hotness.   Chef Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem welcomes a truly diverse crowd—neighborhood families, downtown business owners and uptown artists of all colors and ethnicities.  Hints of the past speakeasy times comfortably mix with modern touches such as Samuelsson’s creative twist on southern comfort foods:  traditional dishes with an international flair.

Red Rooster Harlem Menu

Our large group dined in the “downstairs” space along side the wonderful art.  In the future, that area with its own bar will include a stage for more entertaining possibilities.  Anyway, we ate and ate.  We had corn bread with honey butter and spiced-tomato jam.  We had huge pieces of fried yard bird—Harlem for chicken—along with great greens. We ate uptown steak frites, creative dirty rice with shrimp, and blackened catfish with black-eyed peas.  Our vegetables included hearth baked squash and yams and sweet potato puree.  Desserts were sweet potato doughnuts with cinnamon sugar and a luscious spiced chocolate cake with sherry sorbet.  For drinks we had wines, and I capped the evening with a soothing Darjeeling with lemongrass and jasmine tea.

Dining at Red Rooster Harlem was an event worth repeating.  Thanks, Chef Samuelsson for making the old, new again.

Red Rooster Harlem Downstairs Bar

Red Rooster Harlem

310 Lenox Avenue

New York, New York                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

The Black List Invitation

Black was bountiful at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. for the opening reception of “The Black List: Photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.”  When I received my chic, square, oversized  black invitation with its custom stamp, I knew a hot event was on the horizon.    AT&T, sponsor of the special exhibition, spared nothing enlisting the creative talents of event designer André Wells and The Caraway Group, one of D.C.’s hot PR firms, to execute a stellar evening.   Here’s the rundown.

5:45 p.m…..doors opened…friendly greeters dressed in black met arriving guests, who heeded the invitation call to “wear something black,” and checked them in at black draped tables decorated with exotic flowered centerpieces…yes, the color of the night was black to amplify The Black List exhibit featuring large-format fine-art photographic portraits by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders of 50 present-day extraordinary African-Americans from the arts, politics and beyond.

The Black List: Toni Morrison

The Black List: Melvin Van Peebles

The Black List: (l to r) Producer Tommy Walker, photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, fashion designer Patrick Robinson

6:00 p.m….evening started upstairs with the special guests and media given an hour of private time to view the exhibit, meet and interview the photographer as well as many of the people celebrated in the portraits..The Caraway Group worked out a few extra perks for the press including the Smithsonian’s approval to use flash to take pictures, always a major no-no in the gallery…I’m wasn’t sure who was more excited about taking photos of the real people next to their iconic images—the press or the people…Oscar-winner Lou Gossett, Jr. posed next to his bigger than life portrait…across the room was actor Hill Harper taking pictures with friends with his portrait as the backdrop…hot author Zane took dozens of snapshots surrounded by her excited children next to her image…at every turn I saw the poser and the portrait side-by-side perhaps thinking “is that really me.”

The Black List: Lou Gossett Jr.

The Black List: Author Zane with children

The Black List: Actor/author Hill Harper and friends

7:00 p.m…all guests allowed in…black-dressed power brokers, entertainers, fashionistas, elected officials and socialites from across the country filled the gallery…they were overwhelmed, proud and thrilled about what and who they saw.

The Black List: Debra Lee, BET, Chair and CEO

The Black List: National Urban League President/former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial

The Black List: Environmental activist, Majora Carter

8:00 p.m…everyone directed downstairs to the reception….wow, wow, wow amazed me…the National Gallery’s atrium was transformed from ho-hum to hip with creative lighting and AT&T’s logo stamped on the walls…I entered the atrium greeted by a line of black-suited waiters holding black trays with “The Noir” signs and offering glasses of champaign, sparkling water, and wine…a long bar lined one side of the space where “The Noir,” a vodka mixed drink, was served…eating stations filled with various foods and desserts were sprinkled throughout…high tables and chairs intermixed with cozy cushioned ottomans supplied comfort and extended intimate conversations…no detail was overlooked…even the hand towels in the bathroom were inscribed….naturally, entertainment was by the electric violin sounds of a duo called the Black Violinists.

Greeter Waiter

The Noir Ingredients

White-cushioned seating


Hand Towel

8:30 p.m…against a backdrop of the 50 portraits, a brief program included the mayor of D.C. presenting a proclamation declaring it “The Black List Exhibition Day”…a few remarks from AT&T, Congressman James Clyburn, a tribute to Black List participants by actor Forest Whitaker, and thanks from photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders…all nice and short.

Actor Forest Whitaker

D.C. Mayor's Proclamation

9:00 p.m….back to eating and drinking…and when guests left, each received a black shopping bag with a gift—The Black List 110-page book.

AT&T combined art, awareness and an awesome evening to deliver an amazing A-list event!

Soup Station

Southern Food Menu

Desserts at Black List Reception

The Black List: Chris Rock

Something for your Halloween party….

  • Vine and Leaf Carved Pumpkin Centerpiece via Martha Stewart Oct 2010

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

Zen Master Thich Naht Hanh Image by Geoff Livingston via Flickr

Not all events are launches, openings, award shows, parties or weddings.  Here’s a twist, a lecture event.

Yesterday, I attended a lecture that was the ultimate Zen event in a city known more for zealots than Zen.   Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh delivered the Annual Walter Capps-Bill Emerson Memorial Lecture, before a capacity crowd of members of congress, their families, congressional staff and others linked to the Washington, D.C. world of politics.  It was co-hosted by The Faith & Politics Institute and the United States Institute of Peace.   Yes, Thich Nhat Hanh is the same Zen master and peace activist who Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 and he was on the Hill talking about mindfulness and peace.

Closing Song Sung by Nun

From the moment I walked into the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress and saw the 84-year-old Zen master center stage meditating with other brown-robed nuns and monks, I felt transformed to another space through the aura of calmness that permeated the place.   I knew this was not a typical Capitol Hill activity.   The room exuded an uncommon trait for a Hill event, there was an authentic warmth, a sense of peace and mindfulness, no visible stress, black and grey were replaced with soft browns and tan colors and no checking Blackberrys or cell phones.   Naturally, Thich Nhat Hanh’s presence along with his talk, “Path Toward Peace: Cultivating Clarity, Compassion and Courage in Political Life,” and his soft, unhurried voice set the tone for the relaxing Zen experience and for bringing the “miracle of mindfulness to Capitol Hill.”    By the way, the next day the Zen master was offering the practice of mindfulness with members of congress during an overnight retreat with the idea “that a community of mindfulness practitioners is very well positioned to engage in the type of quality-focused congressional outreach that we know is most influential.”

Thich Naht Hanh at Library of Congress

Calm became cool for one evening on Capitol Hill.   That’s unique.   It would be wonderful to see more mindful conversations in Congress.    That might take some courage.   But Thich Nhat Hanh did say, “courage is power” so the powerful may consider the option.

This Zen experience proved that all events don’t have to be loud to have deep impact.  Creating the right atmosphere and adhering to good intentions make all the difference in producing the outcome you want for any event.