Marsha Malamet – Music Legend

Marsha Malamet with brick wall backdrop
photo by Gene Reed

On a warm summer day, ABILITY’s Geri Jewell and David Zimmerman arrived at songwriter Marsha Malamet’s quaint bungalow, which boasts a view of the world-famous Hollywood sign. The host and her tail-wagging pups, MacDougal and Mikey, greeted them. As they settled in, Zimmerman pulled out his notes for the interview as if he’d been studying up!

Marsha Malamet: You have notes!

David Zimmerman: We’ve got notes!

Geri Jewell: (to Marsha) How did you and David meet? I never asked.

Malamet: I watched a video that he was in with Roslyn Kind. This fellow on this web show, Tony Sweet, interviewed you and Rozzie, and you spoke of your project.

Zimmerman: My Next Breath.

Malamet: Right. After that I looked you up online. I remembered Stanzi [Stokes] had pictures of you on her Facebook page. So I said, “Well, he can’t be all bad if he’s friends with her.” I knew I wanted to get involved with that project in some way and connect with you. And then I saw Geri, and said, “Oh, my God, Geri Jewell, are you kidding me? I’ve got to connect!” I told David: I’m newly disabled, and I have to be a part of your project.

Jewell: Oh, wow!

Zimmerman: I went, “Oh, my God, she’s messaging me!” Because I knew your work.

Malamet: I forget that sometimes people know me. And of course I knew of Geri’s work. Who doesn’t know Geri Jewell? I was so excited that she reached out to me via Facebook. So here it is, the triad.

Zimmerman: You said you reached out, in part, because you were newly disabled…

Malamet: I was diagnosed in January 2015 with early stage Parkinson’s, and then a year later Lyme disease, with co-infections. The doctors said my Parkinson’s symptoms are due to the Lyme disease, and that Lyme disease mimics neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, MS, Alzheimer’s, and even ALS.

So I didn’t know what to pursue as a treatment, Parkinson’s, Lyme… In the last two and a half years I’ve been going back and forth. The Parkinson’s symptoms are much worse, as you can see. I have good days and bad days. The good days I can get up from a chair, if I concentrate. But on bad days I can’t, and [my caregiver] takes care of me. If I was 50-percent disabled before, now I’m, like, 75-percent disabled, because I need a 24-hour caregiver. But I’ve got my eye on the prize. I’ve found a great doctor, and I know I can reverse the symptoms.

Zimmerman: Yes, you will. The power of the mind is so amazing.

Malamet: The power of the mind is key.

Jewell: Absolutely.

Malamet: Managing stress and maintaining a peaceful mind is also important. Stress is a killer; it makes all your symptoms worse.

Zimmerman: Being so connected to music as a songwriter seems like it would be healing for you.

Malamet: Yeah, for sure. I’ve been blessed to have many of my songs recorded in a spiritual context. I feel very lucky and grateful. And one of my faves being my Streisand cut.

Zimmerman: Yes! “Lessons To Be Learned!”

Malamet: “Lessons To Be Learned,” which I co-wrote with Allan Rich and Dorothy Gazeley. This is a cute little story: In 1995 I wrote a song called “I Am Blessed.” It was recorded by an English group called Eternal. They were popular like the Supremes in the 60’s. But I didn’t know what had had happened with the song. Remember, this is 20 years ago, and the Internet was in its infancy.

One day I called an English company about a business matter. I said, “Hello, Ma’am, I’m calling from Los Angeles, could I please be connected to So-and-so?” She gave me the worst time, put me on hold, and then came back and said, “Who are you?” I said, “Ma’am, my name is Marsha Malamet. I’m with Famous Music. Could I get some assistance?” Then she put me on hold again.

Zimmerman: Not again!

Malamet: And then the light bulb went on, because I knew my song was making waves in England. So when she comes back on, I say: “I have a top 10 song in your country right now.” And she said, “Oh, what is it?” I said, “ ‘I Am Blessed’ by Eternal.” And then she said, “Oh, my goodness! It’s all over the papers!” I said, “What?” She said, “The Pope requested them to sing that for a private audience with him, and then in a concert for Christmas at the Vatican.” I said, “Well, if it’s all over the papers, could you fax the articles to me? So she faxed me from, like, 10 papers. And there it was…the group Eternal in the company of Pope John Paul II. How many songwriters get to experience that?

If they only knew that two queers wrote it, the Vatican would be turning in their robes right now! (laughter) Two gay people wrote the song that the Pope requested personally. If that isn’t spiritual in a way—

Zimmerman: Oh, my goodness, yes!

Jewell: All your songs come from the heart.

Poster for Lincoln center with Malamet with Eartha Kit. CD of Eternal In frame, Record cover art of a boardwalk scene.
Malamet: Thank you. Remember, now, I don’t write many lyrics. It’s my music. It’s my chords. Some songs I write the melodies. Other songs I’m just writing the chords and the arrangements. But the vibe is there. And my collaborators are all sensational. They write great lyrics. It’s my path, what I pre-birth decided, would be my path.

Jewell: How old were you when you realized that you had a special talent for music?

Malamet: I used to visit my paternal grandma every Sunday. She had a piano, and I’d make a beeline for it, and I’d sit there, fiddling around and coming up with little melodies. I must have been all of 7 or 8. My parents never noticed it. They just went into another part of the house, while I’d sit at the piano, improvising.

Fade out, fade in and I’m like, 10, 11. My father has an accident in a taxicab in Brooklyn. There’s an out-of-court settlement, so he has extra money. His brothers, who were in the house hearing me tinkling the ivories, called him and said, “Lou, with this money you must buy Marsha a piano. She has some sort of talent. You must.” 

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Jewell: Oh my goodness!

Malamet: They intervened because my father was a gambler, and they were afraid that he’d lose the money at the track. So he actually bought me a piano. After I got it, I was in the house 24/7, playing it.

Jewell: Did you have lessons or were you self-taught?

Malamet: I was self-taught to a degree, but I had a piano teacher, too. Her name was Mrs. Lefkowitz. She looked like a fat Julia Childs.

Zimmerman: (laughs) I love it!

Malamet: She was like, “Oh, Marshaaaa! !” And she walked at an angle. She had these bosoms, and they tipped her, it was so funny. Every time she’d walk in a room, I thought she’d fall. She used to come once a week. But I never practiced, because I was so advanced I didn’t need to. She just sat down and I did whatever she wanted or I made up things.

(laughter)

So anyway, one day she spoke to my mother, and when she left that day, my mother said, “Marsha, why don’t you practice?” I said, “Mom, I don’t need to. I got this.” And she was just following what Mrs. Lefkowitz said, trying to get me to practice. I said, “Ma, this is first grade. I’m in graduate school already. Stop it,” and that convinced her. But the main moment that really changed my life forever, as far as being a songwriter is concerned, came when I watched The Garry Moore Show. It was 1962, and I was 15.

Jewell: Ah!

Malamet: There was a strange, intriguing, brilliant woman named Barbra Streisand, who sang a song, and I became obsessed. I wanted to know everything about her. She inspired me so much, and that’s when I started writing and singing melodies.

Zimmerman: What was it about her that inspired you?

Malamet: Emotion. Pure, unadulterated emotion. I never heard a voice emote lyrics so perfectly. It was amazing. And her look, her sound, those fingernails, it was the most intriguing, unique thing. She hit a chord in me, literally and figuratively.

Jewell: Did you try to contact her immediately?

Malamet: Not at first. For four years, I bought those movie magazines. She may have had a little article. I think she was doing Funny Girl or I Can Get It For You Wholesale. If she was on TV, I had to block everything else out… And in 1966, I was writing songs and I wanted her to sing one, that was a given. At the end of that year, in December, she gave birth to a son. I had this idea to write a lullaby for her to sing, so my lyricist at the time and I wrote this lullaby.

Zimmerman: “For Jason.”

Malamet: “For Jason.” I recorded it in Brooklyn. It was on a 45 record. I tried getting it to her. Nothing happened. So I just put it aside and that was it. And I told this in an interview for All About Barbra magazine: Forty-five years later, I’m sitting in Jason’s kitchen, drinking tea, working with him, and I brought the lyric, the original lyric of this lullaby.

Jewell: Oh, wow!

Malamet: And I sang it to him acapella. And it was one of the most incredibly moving moments of my life. How do you write a song in 1966 and then in 2011 have the chance to sing it in person to the one who inspired it in the first place? He was moved; it was a magical moment.

Zimmerman: And you were writing songs for him at the time?

Malamet: Yes, he asked me to work with him when we met at a Marianne Williamson lecture. You see, spirituality follows me and follows everything that I do. And I was there, and I was not having a good day, until Jason passed me. In 1995, his mother recorded my song.

Jewell: The lullaby?

Zimmerman: “Lessons To Be Learned.”

Malamet: “Lessons To Be Learned.” So this is like 16 years later, and he’s walking towards me, and as he passed, I said: “Hi, I’m Marsha Malamet. Your mother recorded my song, “Lessons To Be Learned.” He said, “I know you.” Then he told me that he needed a coach. He wanted to write songs, and asked me to help him. And I’m thinking, I’m talking to Barbra Streisand’s son.

I gave him my number. He said, “I’ll call you at noon.” Wouldn’t you know, at noon the phone rings? It’s Jason Gould. And for those couple of years, we worked together, and I’m very proud of our work. I introduced him to my collaborators, I found him a vocal coach, and a producer, Stephan Overhoff, who I worked with exclusively. Recently, Quincy Jones came on board and now the record is ready.

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Zimmerman: The new one?

Malamet: Yes. Hopefully, it will find a home and be released this year.

Zimmerman: Now, the first song that you wrote for Jason was called “Morning Prayer.” How did that come about?

Malamet: My fabulous lyricist Liz Vidal, Jason, and I were in my house writing, and we clicked. He had written a part on the piano that he already liked, and I liked it too, so we used it. And we were off to the races. But this is another amazing thing: That I was such a fan of his mother’s, who would have thought that years later, I would record with him, and it’s the first cut on the EP! The first thing you hear is my piano. It’s like Pinch me! And he’s actually quite a beautiful singer himself, a great guy, and so gifted.

Zimmerman: Such a beautiful voice.

Malamet: It is! It was great working with him.

Zimmerman: Do you see a connection between your life and the music that you make?

Malamet: The intensity and the passion, the force and the love that I put into my music has helped me in my illness, I can’t even explain it.

Jewell: I do know that music is the only thing that requires both the left and right brain to work together. There’s nothing else that can do it.

Malamet: That’s a good point, Geri.

Jewell: It’s a high spiritual vibration—if it’s good music.

(laughter)

Malamet: Music is part of my soul, and this illness has made me more compassionate. My heart is open. I cry at the drop of a hat for other people’s suffering, so this illness was the perfect solution to my self-centeredness. Okay woo-woo moment: I choose this to evolve through reincarnation. We all do.

Jewell: I was just going to ask you that… Continued in Marsha Malamet Part 2

marshamalamet.com
youcaring.com/malamet

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