Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mission "Make Music to Raise Money for Organ Donation Awareness" Moving Right Along

Some of my family members and friends were surprised that this musical project to donate money to the National Kidney Foundation and Donate Life campaign came out of nowhere, but the response has been positive and supportive.

As I type this, I'm listening to my entire music catalog dating back to 2002. Over that time I can't even count how many songs I've written. Heck, I started this whole songwriting for fun hobby back when I was 12 so that was 11 years ago.

While I've had dreams since that time of being a world-renowned top 40 Grammy award-winning rock star, I've got to do what I can while I can still do it. That's why all of my gigs in the foreseeable future will feature new recorded material for purchase. The proceeds from those sales will be donated in honor of my father (a heart transplant recipient) to the National Kidney Foundation and Donate Life Illinois.

I will continue to perform live from our Nation's capital as often as possible in order to generate as much proceeds for donation as possible. And -- I assure you -- over 50% of the proceeds made will directly go toward the donation. So please spread the word, tell your friends and co-workers, and get them in on this.

My upcoming shows include:

The Columbia Heights Market Place, 7/3 @ 1 pm
Mid City Caffe on U Street, 7/6 @ 7 pm
Tonic Lounge Jam Sessions on G Street near GWU, 7/24 @ 8 pm

As the list continues to grow, I will keep you updated.

Final prices of the albums going on sale are still being compiled but please keep in mind that the money's going to a good cause so hopefully that gets you out to the shows to not only enjoy quality live music from a soul who genuinely enjoys performing for a crowd but to donate to a life-changing cause.

Donate life!

In Sunday's Paper: 6/27/10

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Blue Moon of Kentucky, Keep on Shinin'

The first time I ever learned anything about Kentucky I was in the third grade. My teacher at the time, Mrs. Olswang, was a Kentucky native. Like me, she was short in stature, huge in personality, and I really looked up to her – both literally and metaphorically.

Back in school, I was what some might call a “brown noser” or a “teacher’s pet,” but that’s not how I saw it. My fascination with learning started at a young age. I was three when I first learned how to read. It was a steady sailing ship from there. Reading, writing, classes – learning was what I loved.

When it came time to pick what state I would write my third grade American history state report about, the choice was simple. I would do Kentucky because that’s where my teacher was from – that and … it was the only state not taken already.

Fast forward to my junior year in high school – my best friend thought he was a cowboy. Some think that’s strange. I however loved it, still love it, and it is one of my prized memories of my first 18 years of life spent in Chicago.

You see, my friend Brad’s dad was from Kentucky. Brad and I were of the “less popular” crowd. We liked loud music and were slightly “out of place.” So we confided in each other along with our friend Claire for what turned out to be a pretty solid trio of friendship for many years. During that time, I rode around in Brad’s Jeep while he wore the boots, Wranglers, the hat, spoke with a slight drawl on occasion for fun, all while blasting Charlie Daniels Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Bill Monroe throughout the downtown streets of Chicago.

Yup, we were definitely out of place. But we loved it.

Brad outside of Claire's house in 2005

Claire and me in Dublin, Ireland in 2004

Brad went on to school in Lexington, Kentucky at the state university there. Claire went on to a multitude of things, but continues to ride horses throughout the country. I am in our Nation’s capital, but tomorrow I make the trip to Kentucky.

It will be my first time there and I’m going on business (also a first for me as a young working woman).

You better believe I’ll be thinking of the good old days of high school the entire time. I always thought my first time in Kentucky would be with Brad and Claire. Oh well. I’ll just have to take a lot of pictures so I can show ‘em at our five year high school reunion in the fall.

And now – as a gift to all of you and myself – I leave you with the top five country songs our trio from high school relied on to make us smile while cruising down Lake Shore Drive:

5. "Mississippi Kid" - Lynyrd Skynyrd

4. "Long Haired Country Boy" - Charlie Daniels

3. "Simple Man" - Charlie Daniels Band

2. "That Smell" - Lynyrd Skynyrd

1. "Blue Moon of Kentucky" - Bill Monroe

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reel Journalism: "State of Play"

...featuring moderator Nick Clooney with special guests Meet the Press executive producer Besty Fischer and host David Gregory.

...more to come on this story later, via The Washington Examiner. Stay tuned.

Exclusive Q & A with Nick Clooney: Reel Journalism "State of Play"

I've never met a man who liked to talk more than Nick Clooney. The best part is, if he were to read that statement he'd probably laugh and say "I know there was a compliment in there somewhere." Rest assured he was one of the finest professors I've ever had the privilege of working with.

AU SOC post-graduation celebration, 2009.

In fact, he'll admit he does enjoy a good long winded answer. My favorite quote from last night the was, "You ask with a two word question and I answer with a three page answer." True enough.

Nick and I got to catch up for a few minutes and talk journalism with his wife Nina along to listen in last night before the Reel Journalism's final installment of the 2010 season with "State of Play".

Here are a few highlights from that conversation:

Rachel: This is your second year moderating the Reel Journalism series. How do you think it’s going so far under your watch?
Nick Clooney:
Actually it’s not just my watch, which I should make that perfectly clear. This is a corporate effort from a lot of us. Putting it together, trying to find the proper mix, trying to find the kind of person who loves movies and loves news. Not always that easy to find. But I really feel that its holding up well as to content. As far as my performance is concerned somebody else will have to judge that ..whether I’m running out of gas or not at this age.

I must say that this year has been a remarkably interesting year and some of them have been serendipitous in the sense that we ended up with Brian Williams on the very day that the Haiti story broke.

He … I have to salute him. He stuck it out. He promised he would be here and he was here and then left immediately to head down to Haiti that very night from this very Newseum. So you know, it’s been interesting.

We’ve had a great time. And all of them have been great. We put our toe into Tabloid lastweek or last time rather and that turned out very interesting … very firey, so it was good.

R: Are there any specific one’s that stand out in your mind as being – besides the Brian Williams one because I was there for that one and I saw you know the context. Everything, it was breaking and that was the fun part about being there because you actually got to see the news side of what we were talking about in the series which is the whole point of having a series like this is to make people you know more aware of the news and what’s going on and get them excited about it again. That’s why movies are fun because you’re like “Oh yeah, journalism you know that’s fun they do it in the movies but it’s also real life.” But are there any ones that stick about besides that one.

N: Oh yes, yes so many of them .. some of them not as well known perhaps like Frank Mancowicz coming and just .. You know his uncle wrote “Citizen Kane” and his telling first person stories about the young 25-year-old Orson Welles appearing at the door of his uncle’s house, no wonder he drank. It was just a remarkable time and wonderfully told byFrank who has had such a background in news and with of course NPR he was an absolute giant in rejuvenating NPR, making it something special and so that was a very important one to me. When I first heard we were going to do "Citizen Kane" I wasn’t sure how we weregoing to do that so I think eventually those who decided how to do this, it was not I in this case, but they got Frank Mankiewicz and then they got Tom Shales. So Tom gave us the critical take on where "Citizen Kane" fits in all of the film. So it was an interesting time.

But you know, everyone of these as I look back on them … then I remember when Carl Bernstein was here for “All The President’s Men”, and I’ve just been very lucky to be able to sit across from these folks and listen to their stories, Bob Schieffer, Susan Zirinsky .. She was so funny describing with Bob … I was shocked that Bob liked "Broadcast News". I would’ve thought that would’ve been the last film he would’ve enjoyed because it’s the one that causes news, particularly anchormen to have to answer embarrassing questions, “Are you really just an automaton with somebody talking into your ear everything you’re supposed to say,” so it’s great.
And all of them have been interesting in one way or another whether Cokie Roberts or any …it’s been very instructive to me.

R: How so?

N: Because I now see how my contemporaries, my colleagues, the folks that I worked with or around all that period of time, how they really felt about it at the time contemporainiously. We didn’t.. I did not know that exactly how they viewed what their job was whether it was really vitally important at a very dangerous time or were we just voyeurs on the passing parade. And vary views of those some of those didn’t think we didn’t a very good job at what we did.

R: Are there plans to keep the Reel Journalism series with you on-tap going through the next through years or what are the plans for that?

N: That’ll be of course up to the Newseum but we are now planning for next year, but we are planning for next year if that’s your question. We are indeed. We had a planning session today.

R: Any changes to the standard set-up that we have here, you know the typical Q & A and the film and that stuff or any new additions or something like that?

N: Well I think we will look at it each time there might be a little … might address some changes both in the kinds of people we bring in and what the films might be and how else we might approach the film and news, that intersection, but I think generally speaking were pleased with the way they format has gone so far.

We have an awful lot of people interested in news coming to this as you know, you have been there and are one of the people who have asked some of these questions and we illicit some questions particularly from this community that are, I mean, very professional. These folks know what they’re talking about and so it’s great stuff.

R: Yeah, I would say the audience each time … I’m trying to keep track of the demographics of the audience and I feel like it’s been pretty steady you know there’s a whole lot of AU students and then just general news consumers from throughout the city. What would you think … are there any other people you want to try … not to target people but people you want to encourage to try and come to these kinds of events.

N: You bet. No, I can’t think of anybody I wouldn’t encourage to come to this.

R: Right because it’s our responsibility as people in this country to actually know what’s going on in the world.

N: Yes, and if we can walk around town with a town crier’s bell and go up in each neighborhood and say that loudly and clearly, you know “it is your job.”

R: As you know, I have an American University background, I was a print journalism major and I find that you know D.C. has turned into a giant convergent media hub. This place is running rampant with new blogs every day. Neighborhood blogs, D.C. blogs, community blogs – this is basically where things are going on – and D.C. is a unique spot because you know people from all over the world and this entire country kind of stakes its claim right here. Do you think that this an example of what’s next in news … what’s happening here in D.C.?

N: I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t want to pretend. I don’t want to pretend that I know what’s next in news. What you have just said to me however is very interesting bc what you’ve described is new media as being a stepping stone to a position in old media. That’s what you just described a moment ago. So what you’re saying to me is the new media quite properly is using old media as … to disseminate the information or to gather the information and their using them as their news source. Question is how do we sustain the old media so that it will be there so that you will have something on which to lean or from which to launch. So it will be very interesting to see .. maybe that’s one of the things that people will be looking at … some kind of a marriage between the old and the new and trying to sustain the old in order to nurture the new.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chicago to DC Shout-Outs: Donate Life IL

Just a few days ago I ran a post about my two new albums set to release soon and how a percentage of the proceeds made off those albums would be donated to the National Kidney Foundation and the Donate Life campaign in honor of my late father and heart transplant recipient Steven Levitin.

Little did I know that anyone would ever find the post, let alone read it, and the re-post it on Twitter.

It would make my dad so proud that my efforts were acknowledged no matter if I end up generating any revenue to send off as a donation.

My father Steven Levitin at the Transplant Olympic Games

So please help keep my dad's spirit alive and well by supporting organ donation and purchasing my albums at my upcoming shows (which will be posted soon).

Also, if any of you are interested in obtaining the albums (which are currently in the process of being produced), I'm willing to negotiate shipping terms/prices.

It's simple to get in touch, just send a message to

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stephen Strasburg's Major League Debut: June 8, 2010 at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

Midnight Spin on ESPN2 - Webgems

I've seen Midnight Spin perform live in the District four times now -- twice at the bullpen, once at the Velvet Lounge, and once at The Rock & Roll Hotel. They've been great every time and they just keep getting better.

Here's a nod to a band I have high hopes for in the coming years. These guys will be big -- I've got a feeling.

One of These Things is Not Like The Others: Why I Love DC and the MLB Equally Right Now

Stephen Strasburg will make his second Major League start and his road debut today. As I write this, Sports Center is taking about Strasburg live and I myself have just come back from a morning spent reading The Washington Post and USA Today with coffee in hand.

Growing up with baseball in your life, especially loving a team that is the physical definition of underdog (aka the Cubs -- and don't worry, I'm not disillusioned, I know their horrid this year. Let's not discuss it further), is what got me into the game.

That's why this morning was so much fun.

I walked into Starbucks on New Mexico Avenue near American University in a Nationals shirt (this is my first real Nats t-shirt with a player's name on the back ... I bought it on Strasmas Day, but I promise my next Nats shirt will be Josh Willingham to hand next to my new Strasburg prize). The barista and I proceeded to have a semi-lengthy dialog about how the Nats are so fun this year. She asked if I was going to the game today.

All I could do was smile.

I refrained from mentioning the fact that I follow the team daily as part of my tenure as one of two Nats beat writers for We Love DC. I stuck to the always believable and undeniable truth that I am a baseball junkie and knew they were playing in Cleveland today. The exchange was fun though. Nice to hear even the least sporty of folks talking baseball on a Sunday morning in NW DC.

Now to get to the photo that started off this post -- this is the true purpose for posting. Does that photo not scream CHICAGO TO DC? The only thing that would scream it louder would be a photo of Stephen Strasburg with Jim Riggleman and Kerry Wood at today's game in Cleveland.

That would be my best convergence off all things I now love -- Chicago, DC, the Cubs, the Nats, and Major League Baseball as a whole.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Album Announcement: "Bourbon Taster" EP and sophomore release "Between Timid and Timbuktu" Coming Soon

Motivation is consuming me. With that in mind, I've decided to embark upon an exciting and unique opportunity combined with music.

Due to some unforeseen events, my second album "Between Timid and Timbuktu" will finally be released in the coming weeks. The album was recorded in January 2008 but the original mastered copy was misplaced. My hard-drive crashed. I lost my copies of it. Lucky for me I burned a friend a copy! Now -- thanks to him not deleting it off of his iTunes -- my sophomore recording will finally see the light of day.

It is in vain of the "Between Timid and Timbuktu" (which is a nod to Kurt Vonnegut and his second novel Sirens of Titan) release that I've decided two big things:

  1. I'll be releasing a "Bourbon Taster" EP featuring my self-decided "single of choice". The song is my latest and favorite track to play live on stage entitled "Bourbon". The "Bourbon Taster" EP will feature several recordings from earlier this year. Paul Derlunas of Springfield, Va. was kind enough to do the production for me. It's top notch in my opinion considering we had to rig together the microphone stand in his bedroom as we tried to capture the best possible sound from inside a Virginia community apartment. To make it even better -- the "Bourbon Taster" EP will be a limited edition issue and will look just like an old vinyl record ... thanks to the fine folks at Best Buy who sell CD-R's that look like vinyl records. Way to keep it classy, right?
  2. A percentage of the profit made off of these two new albums will be going to the National Kidney Foundation and the Donate Life campaign in honor and memory of my father Steven Levitin who received a heart transplant on New Years Eve 1999. My dad passed away on January 17, 2009 while waiting for a second heart and a kidney. I attended the 2002 Transplant Olympic games with my dad at Walt Disney World, and I can say with complete confidence that organ transplantation is a gift to people all over this country and the world. And -- in my opinion -- it is not discussed nearly enough among the general populous. The conversation needs to be had. People need to know how much donating an organ can enhance the lives of families and individuals by literally donating life.
I look forward to sharing these new albums in addition to my debut album "Come As You Are" (2005) at my upcoming shows in July. For a full listing of my shows this summer, visit my MySpace Music profile.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Welcome to NatsTown, Mr. Precedent

I almost didn't buy a ticket to Stephen Strasburg's Major League debut, but I sure am glad I did.

What was stopping me? As a rookie sports reporter for the Washington Nationals/We Love DC, I've been to every game this home stand and will be at tonight's game as well. The sheer saturation of baseball I've been doused with has been heavy. But that's exactly why I celebrated Strasmas last night at Nationals Park. Had I missed that singular game, I would have kicked myself in the you-know-what over missing you-know-who pitch the most stellar game in modern baseball history here in the District.

Some Nationals fans still don't understand what it means to contribute to a a club as a fan in a true baseball town. Little things like staying until the game is over is lost on a majority of folks who attended Strasmas. A flurry of folks fled the Navy Yard once Strasburg was pulled for the game. Had they stayed they would have seen a 17 K game featuring a Clip 'N Save, which is likely to be quite the dominant force in the MLB for the remainder of the season pending any unforeseen injuries or blown games.

Fans cheered for every strike -- exciting but still a bit much. It felt like Wrigley Field lite with all the flashes going off with every Strasburg pitch and at-bat.

Stars like Ryan Zimmerman reminded the over-sellout crowd of 40,315 that the face of the Nationals is still very much active among the ranks of Saint Strasburg. In fact, I think it was Strasburg's confidence and execution on the mound that boosted the adrenaline in the heart of the Nationals batting order. Zimm, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham went long, providing the run support needed to steal a 2-1 victory away from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez even knocked a couple hits after coming off the DL just yesterday in order to catch young Stephen for what is now in the books as his first career win with 14 K's and no walks.

That's right. He didn't walk anybody. Not a single Pirate.

My experience in the stands of this game was exceptional. As predicted by many, my jaw hit the floor with each strikeout. I was dumbfounded by how nasty Strasburg's pitches were. But then again, I wasn't alone.

Each fan in attendance, those watching on televisions nation-wide, members of the press, everyone's talking about it or writing about it. The media overload associated with this game was and is unprecedented.

Here's to many more solid games in the District. Welcome to NatsTown, Mr. Precedent.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Stephen Strasburg: The Factor That Will Unite D.C. As A Baseball Town (A Personal Story)

I get excited about baseball games pretty fast. The prospect of seeing a knock-out starting pitcher or a veteran in the field gets me going. Mix that with one of the game's top sluggers and I just lose it.

Baseball -- to summarize -- makes me happy. It reminds me of summer, which reminds me of my childhood, which reminds me times were simpler once. They were good. And -- they can be again -- every year, once summer returns.

Summer is when the kid in me stakes its claim in my personality for a few month stint. Baseball does that to me. I get eager, over-enthusiastic, and somehow always end up cheering for any and every underdog.

Please blame my love for the underdog on being raised blocks from Wrigley Field.

It's no secret how much I love the Chicago Cubs. They are my life-line. I love them dearly because Wrigley Field and the team played host to many of my most treasured childhood memories.

With that said, I am pleased to announce that my love for baseball transcends my love for the Cubs. I'm proud of this fact and to prove it to all who might have doubted me in the past, myself included, I have purchased a ticket to the over-hyped and much-anticipated debut of the 21-year-old phenom Stephen Strasburg versus the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday, June 8 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

As some of you may or may not know, I have been covering the Washington Nationals this season for We Love DC. It has been an honor and a privilege to not only attend games and watch as a team troubled with a five-year losing reputation make a run at being a successful ball club.

Stephen Strasburg coming into the mix will surely be a turning point in their season, not because of his alleged greatness but because of what he's doing for D.C. in terms of transforming a town of folks who only cheered for their home baseball teams into a town that will defend their Washington Nationals at a bar over drinks or at the airport while traveling.

Strasburg isn't the reason D.C. will become a baseball town, but he is a definite catalyst. Ever since the buzz started generating over when the young'n would make his MLB debut last year when he was a first-round draft pick, there's been a slight increase in ticket sales at Nationals Park. Not a huge uptake, but an increase for sure.

Now, once he takes the stage on Tuesday, people will want to see him -- whether he plays well or not. The numbers are in his favor but he's still young and has learning to do at the Major League level. The pressures are different, the stakes are higher, and Strasburg will learn to cope with these additional mental games as time proceeds.

What I'm excited to see is NatsTown rally around this young man, and by the fault, their team.

I will be present for his first attempt at a Major League win in his Major League debut. But quite frankly, I could care less if he wins. All I want to see is this city do what I've been hoping and wishing it would since I moved here for college five years ago -- become a baseball town.

As a kid growing up as close as I did to Wrigley Field and living the life of a die-hard baseball fan, it's hard to leave that for a town that doesn't understand your passion. Now they will. I'm looking forward to it.

Why I Think D.C. Will Be The Next "True" Baseball Town

"Strasburg's arrival: Is D.C. now the next true 'baseball town'?"
via The Washington Examiner's Local Opinion Zone

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jazz Isn't A Genre, It's A Way Of Life

I learned a valuable lesson last night -- Jazz is more than a genre of music, it's a way of life.

Growing up, I took every Jazz history course I possibly could. I would stare as if into oblivion when our grade school music class got to watch a video about the Big Band era. Heck, I even spent four months of my life during high school devoted to studying Jazz and playing Jazz every waking moment at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Traverse City, Michigan.

College was no different. The reason I decided to attend American University is still one of the easiest choices I've ever made -- Jazz Director William E. Smith told me I could play trumpet in his Jazz band. How could I turn down the offer? I couldn't. I didn't. And as they say, the rest is history.

While I don't remember the exact stories, I do know that young players often got their start as one of the big names in the genre by the older players asking the rookies to take the stage. It was never pre-announced. The kids had their horns ready hoping for a shot to cause musical commotion with the players creating a new genre of American music, but the kids also knew that showing up with your horn or axe was no guarantee for playing time.

It's like riding the bench of a major league sport. You suit up, bring all your equipment, and then keep your fingers crossed that you get tapped on the shoulder by the manager to take the field ... or in this case the stage.

It's a right of passage for a Jazz musician to take the stage after being called up, just like when Stephen Strasburg will take the mound for the Washington Nationals next Tuesday for his Major League debut. That's how it's been since the early days of Jazz over a century ago, and lucky for me it hasn't changed.

Jazzer's take care of their own. It's a family within a community based off a sub-culture of American music. I wrote an article for We Love DC last week about Buddy Bolden's (one of the text book originators of Jazz as a genre) great-grandson who is now the leader of a Jazz-Funk-Rock fusion band called Big Sam's Funky Nation.

I interviewed Sam over the phone and instantly felt a connection for two very music related reasons:

1) He's a trombone player. Which means he's a brass player. As a trumpet player, I can dig it.
2) His family might be rooted in Jazz history, but he is definitely the future if he keeps tootin' his horn like he knows how to. I'm all for that.

At the end of our phone conversation, Sam told me to bring my horn to the band's gig in Annapolis, Maryland (which was last night). Of course, I said yes right away but I knew getting there would be a slight problem considering I live in DC without a car and there's no easy way of getting to Annapolis by foot.

The fates were in on this one -- my sorority sister and her fiance drove me to Annapolis out of the kindness of their heart as I toted my trumpet along hoping and wishing to get a big break and jam with some truly talented musicians.

I didn't see it coming, but in the middle of Big Sam's set their manager tapped me on the shoulder. "He's calling you up," he told me as I watched Big Sam gesture at us.

I was shaking (in a good way). I didn't let the nerves get to me. This was it. My big call-up. Now I know how rookies in the bullpen feel before their first big league outing in front of a sell-out crowd.

Was it my finest performance to date? Not by a long shot. I hadn't warmed up, I didn't do a sound check, it was really hard to figure out what key the song was in, but I stepped up to the plate and you better believe I knocked it out of the park.

And yes, it felt amazing.

The following is a video from last night's performance:

It's nice to see that Jazz is a community. We're all looking out for each other. You better believe I'll pay it forward the next time I have a show and a rookie is waiting in the wings. It's my responsibility to do so. After all, we're just one big Jazz-loving family.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Wise Words, Compliments of Disney ... and Louis Armstrong

Two of my favorite things: childhood and good old Sachmo.