Last week, on Aug. 25, Google’s jazzy, animated banner doodle featured a young musician mastering his art and achieving notoriety and success. That musician is world-renowned American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, who died in 1990 — the cartoon commemorated his 100th birthday. Events across the world are likewise paying tribute to Bernstein this month, including the release of a memoir by Bernstein’s oldest daughter, Jamie Bernstein. She will be giving a reading from her book, Famous Father Girl, at Back of Beyond Books on Wednesday, Sept. 5.
“[It’s] extremely well written,” said Andy Nettell, owner of Back of Beyond Books, of the memoir. “Its a very intimate portrait of who her father was… On one hand you hear the very personal stories of when they would go out as a family and go dancing and attending the family parties with all these literati and notables. And then on the other hand, seeing her dad on the world stage, whether in Berlin when the wall was coming down, or in New York, or wherever he was performing. Especially as a young girl, she would tag along with him to a lot of these events, and she had the opportunity to travel the world… so she was introduced to an amazing host of people. She got to go see the Beatles as a youngster, got to go backstage.”
The Bernstein family is connected to Moab through the Moab Music Festival, which was co-founded by Michael Barrett, who worked with Leonard Bernstein throughout the last eight years of the composer’s life. Barrett, a conductor and pianist, was a student of Bernstein and went on to become his assistant. “He was an amazing human being — he was a genius,” Barrett said when asked to describe his mentor. “He could speak five or six languages… he loved words, he loved literature. But most of all, I think he loved music and people.”
Barrett first visited Moab in 1990 as a brief stop on a road trip between Logan, Utah and Santa Fe. He was awed by the spectacular scenery. Barrett remembered, “It was so beautiful, I thought, ‘I’ll definitely be coming back here.’ ‘Cause I’d found the holy spot, you know?” Barrett did return with his wife the next year. The two of them had been planning to launch a music festival, and they chose Moab as the location, even though it was, in Barrett’s words, a “ghost town” in the early 90s.
The Moab Music Festival is now in it’s 26th season. “The town’s been really behind it,” said Barrett. “We have so many friends here, and volunteers. And people who have been with the music festival from the very beginning. It’s been a really big success story… and an important part of Moab’s development.”
Jamie Bernstein has attended nearly all of the festivals. “She loved us from the beginning,” Barrett said of Jamie Bernstein, “and she’s been one of our best friends ever. She still is in my innermost circle of best friends.”
Jamie Bernstein will be participating in this year’s festival, which began Aug. 27 and will continue through Sept. 13. She will be narrating a concert called “We Are Women: A Bernstein Cabaret.”
“It’s a review of Leonard’s music that Jamie and I concocted about a dozen years ago,” Barrett said. “It’s a rather beautiful piece.” The concept of the concert is a mother giving advice to her daughter on navigating relationships with men. “We Are Women” will be performed at Star Hall on Sept. 7 at 7 p.m., two days after the author reading at Back of Beyond.
The concert will have a formal structure, but the author reading is an opportunity to interact with Jamie Bernstein in a more familiar setting.
“She’s hilarious,” Nettell said of Jamie Bernstein. He’s known her for several years from her past visits to Moab. “She is lively, funny — you know, she’s from New York, and she talks like she’s from New York. She tells great stories about her dad and just living in that whole society of musicians and artists and authors.”
Back of Beyond Books hosts author readings at least once and month, and Nettell feels the experience brings a unique richness to the featured books.
“It just makes it so much more personal. And to be able to ask questions — I mean, so many people, especially with Bernstein, they know his work. And to be able to be in an intimate setting with his daughter and to hear these stories — it just makes it alive, it makes it real.”
Jamie Bernstein will read from her book Famous Father Girl, which recounts the family life of Leonard Bernstein
When: Sept. 5, 7 p.m.
Where: Back of Beyond Books, 83 N. Main St.
“…it just makes it alive, it makes it real.”