Meet The Players: Jay Rattman

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Jay Rattman is an incredible musician in NYC. I found his answers to these questions very interesting and thought provoking. Thanks a lot Jay for sharing!
When did you start playing music/woodwinds? What got you to start playing?
My folks had and still have a piano in their house, and I made up songs on that from when I was very little. So I started taking lessons when I was in first grade, but that only lasted about 6 months. I think learning to read words at the same time as music might have been more than I could handle at the time, so I was pretty discouraged, but I continued playing piano by ear. I started playing clarinet in 5th grade band, but only because that was required before learning saxophone which I got to a few months after that. I wanted to play saxophone because in the area I grew up, Stroudsburg/Delaware Water Gap, PA I had many opportunities to hear Phil Woods. Specifically, his big band came out with a CD, and played at this local jazz festival he cofounded, and I would listen to that album, “Celebration,” every night as I went to sleep that year, and think, “I’ve got to learn how to play the saxophone.”
Who are some of your biggest influences as a jazz player? As a musician in general? 
In Delaware Water Gap is a fairly well-known club called The Deer Head Inn, and for many decades John Coates Jr. was the house pianist there. People who have heard him know that he’s a genius, really one of the finest pianists anywhere. But for many reasons — he’s always been shy, was content staying put and playing at the Deer Head and writing choral arrangements for Shawnee Press across the street from there, etc. — he never gained that much notoriety outside of the area. Now he lives in California, having rekindled a relationship with his first wife from the early 60s. Keith Jarrett was known to go check him out regularly as a young man, and even sit in with him on drums and soprano saxophone. I’ve played recordings of John from the 60s or 70s for people, and they say, “Oh, so that’s where Keith got it from!” Anyway, many of the best listening experiences of my life so far have been at the Deer Head hearing John from the time I was in Kindergarden or so, up until he moved when I was a couple years into college. I also really love Paul Motian and just about everything he ever did. I can’t count the number of times I must have gone to the Vanguard to see him before he died two years ago. I especially looked forward to the couple weeks at the end of summer each year he did with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. I think Motian encompassed all of jazz history in his playing, but with this beautiful irreverence. Nothing was sacred. He edited out every note that wasn’t completely necessary, leaving only the most important ones. And his time was so precise, and his underlying feel so deep, that the notes he did play implied everything that he was leaving out.
Paul Desmond is an influence too in the way he expressed harmony in his lines. A lot of the time, he’s improvising compound lines that imply 2- or 3- or even 4-voiced chorales. And with such clarity of logic. I love improvisors like that! I put Charlie Haden and Coleman Hawkins in a similar circle.
Thelonious Monk, more and more, represents everything I love about jazz: his time feel; the sparseness, but again with the most meaningful notes at the most swinging moments; the experimentalism and modernity, both growing very organically out of an older tradition. Of course, I also love all of the saxophonists who played with him, especially Johnny Griffin and Charlie Rouse. But also, I’ve always loved the way Steve Lacy interpreted Monk’s compositions, among other things.
And I can’t mention Steve Lacy without proclaiming my worship of his and all of our forebear Sidney Bechet. The way Bechet could float over the time and instantaneously snap into the most precisely grooving syncopations and eighth note lines is a thing of wonder. The only other player who comes to my mind who can do that so beautifully is Sonny Rollins.
As obsessed as I am with counterpoint — whenever there’s not music or noise going on, I can’t stop myself from harmonizing little snippets of melodies or parts of scales in my head in 2 or 3 or 4 voices over and over again as a sort of constant and involuntary exercise — I of course worship Bach. As a saxophonist/clarinetist, I am especially drawn to things he wrote for mostly-monophonic instruments, like the cello suites or violin sonatas and partitas, that express many-voiced chorales within a single line — I am sure Paul Desmond had to have spent some time with those. I also love the Trio Sonatas for organ — my girlfriend Janet, who is an organist, and I like to sing through those together at the piano. And of course the Well-Tempered Clavier, The Goldberg Variations, Art of the Fugue, etc. And the Brandenburg Concertos. And the St. Matthew Passion. I think that if I were told I had to choose only one composer to ever hear or play again, it would be Bach. And obviously, he didn’t even write anything for saxophone or clarinet. So that puts me out of a job, but I’m fine with that.
I’ve spent a lot of time listening Bartok. I love his Concerto for Orchestra, with that fugue in the brass in the first movement! And of course the string quartets. From there I got into a lot of Ligeti. I love Messiaen too — I had listened to a bunch of his piano music, and of course the Quartet for the End of Time, but since I started dating Janet, I’ve gotten to hear a lot of his organ music. There’s nothing like hearing that live! One piece we heard at a concert downtown had this “chord of death” in it, symbolizing the crucifixion. It was the most scared I’ve ever been while listening to music. It lasted a good 30 seconds, and you think the world is ending. Every time I closed my eyes while that chord was going on, I had to open them again, it was so frightening. Any composer who can accomplish that must know what he’s doing! Completely apart from that, I love Stravinsky for his cleanness and elegance. “Agon” and “Apollo” are two of my favorite pieces of his, probably because I’ve seen the ballet do them so many times, I can really see what is going on in the music.
I also love the Beatles and Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon. And I guess the Beach Boys too: any time I hear one of these new indie rock bands, as a general rule of thumb, if they sound like the Beach Boys, I’ll probably like them. Like The Fleet Foxes. They’re good in my book for that reason.
When did you get into jazz? Were there any first recordings that really inspired you? 
 I’ve loved jazz for as long as I can remember. I attribute that to my parents taking me to the Deer Head and other concerts from the time I was born. They took me to hear Bob Dorough when I was 10 days old, and they say I was so quiet that they kept taking me to other concerts.
Could you talk a little about your experience growing up near the musically rich Delaware Water Gap? 
Sure. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have grown up there, with the chance to hear so much incredible live music, and in a community small enough that the musicians were all very accessible. Phil Woods and Dave Liebman both mentored me from around middle school age. Another wonderful saxophonist out there named Nelson Hill was my main teacher from when I was in 5th grade until I graduated high school. I took ear training and composition with Caris Visentin, who is married to Dave Liebman, and is a great composer and oboist in her own right. Rick Chamberlain is a trombonist out there, who plays great trad-jazz, plays lead in Phil’s big band, and also is the principal in the New York City Ballet orchestra. He is one of the reasons I got into early jazz, but he also always impressed on me the importance of aspiring to be a solid, versatile, complete musician, who can execute anything on one’s instrument, play stylistically appropriately in different settings, and generally know what’s going on. Pat Dorian taught music at the local university out there, ESU, when I was growing up and he presented a lot of amazing concerts and guest lectures that he made open to the public. And he always made sure the I, and the other young kids out there who were serious about studying jazz got to meet or even get little lessons with visiting artists. Unfortunately with budget cuts coming from the Republicans in Harrisburg, and a new university president who doesn’t seem to get it, there are a lot of changes for the worse going on around there, especially the defunding of the Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection in their library, where all of Al’s materials are, along with a lot of other Pocono jazz-related items. Thank goodness the Deer Head is still is a world-class place to check out a band for three sets in a row in a very cool, small-town, mom-and-pop sort of setting. And Bob Dorough is turning 90 on December 12! But you’d never guess it: he’s still singing and playing piano and leading his band and recording and writing witty, hip tunes, and I expect he will continue in this fashion for another couple of decades at this rate. I love him!
Do you have a favorite performance you’ve done in the last few years?
No one thing springs immediately to mind. I enjoy any gig where the musicians are listening carefully to each other, and anything could happen at any moment. I’ve enjoyed the Aerial Photograph gigs for that reason. I try to steer clear of gigs where I know that won’t be the case.
Do you have any specific practicing routine that you work through?  How do you practice?  Also, I know you compose a lot – do you have any particular compositional approach/process?
I’m constantly adjusting and experimenting with things to try to make my practicing as efficient and productive as possible. I’ve heard it said, and couldn’t agree more strongly with the idea that as long you have good control and mastery of your tone and your time, everything else falls right into place. So a big part of my routine on all of my instruments is long-tone exercises: different ones aimed at evenness of timbre from note to note throughout the entire range; smoothness connecting notes of all different intervals; gradual and extreme dynamic contrasts; intonation of every note against every possible interval with a drone; etc. A similar slew of articulation exercises.
And then for time, I incorporate the metronome different ways into various technical things (scales, arpeggios, tonal and chromatic intervalic sequences that I figure out as a sort of ear training), as well as into improvising, which I’ll go into as briefly as I can manage. I typically don’t use the metronome to click on downbeats. Instead I’ll hear the clicks as occurring on a given sixteenth or triplet subdivision, or as occurring every two, three, four, five, six or seven subdivisions, for instance. Now, there are two camps about metronomes. Some folks love them and say you can’t develop steady time without one. Others say that the metronome becomes a crutch and that you never develop an internal, self-sufficient sense of time if you use one. I think both camps are right. So I like these fancy-pants metronomes you can find now, like Metronomics for iPhone where you can program gaps in the clicks, so that it clicks however many times you want before staying silent for however many clicks you want. I figure that way, you get the best of both worlds as you increase the length of the gaps: you’ve got to provide your own groove in your head while the metronome is silent, and then when it eventually comes back in, it will tell you with brutal honesty just how you did.
Very briefly, as far as incorporating the metronome into practicing things that prepare you for improvising, my philosophy is that I want to improvise with my ears, and not my fingers, so I want to train my ears and avoid forming habits in my fingers to the extent that is possible. To me, that means playing notes only at a slow rate. So I’ll practice playing through tunes, or chord progressions of different types with only quarter notes, or dotted quarter notes, or only upbeats, or something along those lines, but with the metronome playing on all sorts of wacky subdivisions, and in various meters, so that I am forced to select only the strongest — or most harmonically meaningful — few notes in any given measure, all while hearing and playing precisely within fast-moving rhythmic subdivisions. This way I am hearing and selecting the most harmonically evocative notes at any given time, over a very precisely subdivided rhythmic framework, all while playing as few notes as possible, so as to avoid developing predictable habits. In a performance, the subconscious is able to fill in the rest of the connecting notes in the rhythmic framework. And when I practice, I’ll put various obstructions on what I’m doing, like limiting myself to certain intervals, or certain chord tones, or keeping one note the same through different chords and harmonizing above or below it, etc.  I hope that all makes sense.
And sometimes, I do none of this. I got mono and strep throat at the same time last winter, and didn’t practice at all for a month or so, but when I came back to it, everything felt better. So I was forced to realize that sometimes, it can be good to step away and come back fresh. I’ve realized that sometimes, maybe even frequently, the best thing you can do is not practice, and just listen extremely closely to some good recordings instead.
As far as my compositional process, I write down little ideas or parts of things, and then come back to them when I’ve got to finish something for a deadline, self-imposed or otherwise. I find that my most successful attempts at composing result from singing melodies, or improvising two-voiced melodies at the piano, and then harmonizing them after the fact. I usually record myself doing these things, and then go back and transcribe and edit and tweak after the fact, so that whatever I write is coming from a spontaneous, improvisatory process to start with. I find that makes a big difference for me in the naturalness of the phrasing, pacing, and rhythm — it’s very hard for me to just write something down that doesn’t sound contrived. But sometimes for melodic material, I’ll start out by musically spelling words or names or numbers that hold some significance or curiosity for me, and then I’ll develop it from there. Usually those things end up so buried or mutated, you’d never know they were there, since ultimately I want the melody to be strong and singable above all other considerations.
What have you been listening to these days? 
The last few days, I’ve been going through Sibelius’s symphonies, because they are beautiful and I feel like I should know them. I don’t believe in any historical inevitability in the progression of music or anything else. For instance, Schoenberg followed a natural progression through Beethoven and Brahms and Wagner and Debussy and all the rest, but what he arrived at, as wonderful as it was, was certainly not the only possible result, despite what he or others might have believed. At any given time, history could have progressed in a different direction, changing everything after it. Sibelius represents to me just another possible direction things could have gone at the end of the 19th century, and the fact that he took that path after the beginning of the 20th had already intervened makes it all the more interesting to me for that reason.
I’ve also been trying to stay more on top of all the cool new jazz out there, especially that of my peers. I love listening to Lucas Pino, especially his nonet, and Jonathan Ragonese, and Alex LoRe, and Anna Webber. And it’s been great to hear Paul Jones throughout the year in your band! There are so many others. Bobby Avey, who I grew up with out in PA is writing some incredible stuff.
Do you have any book recommendations?
My all-time favorite book is John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. And it just flies by! I also recommend Thomas Mann’s “Doctor Faustus” and “Magic Mountain.” A day didn’t go by that I didn’t think about something in those books for a good three months after I finished reading each of them. I’m gearing up to read “Buddenbrooks” soon — those books are long and fairly dense, but rewarding.
What are some of your musical goals?
To surprise myself more of the time.

Air Mail

 

 

 

City of New york 2013 – In august I wrote music based on conversations with veterans. I happened to be be at a flea market early in that month and came across someone selling letters that had been sent home from soldiers during WWII, and later.  One of the veterans I spoke with talked about how important it was for him to get mail from home – how it was “euphoric”. I ended up writing a piece called “Air Mail”. Here are some images of the letters/envelopes and an audio clip of a veteran speaking about receiving mail while in Iraq.  

 

 

 

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Religion in NYC

Writing music based on religious believers this month. I’m wondering if the religious populations in NYC are the same as in 2001.

from wikipedia:

As reported in 2001 the religious affiliations of the people of New York were:

6% of the people surveyed refused to answer.

City of New York, 2013 & Kickstarter

Hey all,

This is a note about the Kickstarter campaign I’m doing to raise some much needed funds for the “City of New York, 2013” project.  The goal is to raise $12,000 by April 19th. We have about $3000 pledged with a little over two weeks to go.  If the goal isn’t reached, no money changes hands, and the project doesn’t receive any money.  It’s a manic existence for my wife and I! We receive a pledge and think “Yes, we can do this!” or a day goes by and the project receives nothing and we glumly think “Well, we tried.” But when I look at the Kickstarter website and see things like this getting pledges (ahem), I can’t help but feel certain that we will make it!

$12,000 is the lowest possible amount to fund this project every month. Between 10+ professional musicians, 2 talented recording engineers, other recording costs, materials for monthly CD booklets, and a bunch of other smaller expenses – and all of this happening every month for the rest of the year, I think $12,000 is pretty reasonable. A deal, actually.

So the remaining $9,000 seems really daunting right at this point. Would you consider helping? For just $15 you can preorder all of the music from the entire year. There are a bunch of other rewards for pledging that a lot of people have been interested in. And for those of you who have already put some dollars toward the project, thank you. I (and my wife!) really appreciate your generosity.

Here is the link:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cityofnewyork2013/city-of-new-york-2013

Thanks for reading.

fingers crossed,

Matt

Addiction

Hi all, 

I’ve been reading a lot lately about drug abuse, addiction, recovery, and how all of these things relate to our society. This month I am writing music based on conversations with individuals who have overcome drug and alcohol addiction – the recovery process is a brutal experience for a lot of these people, but ultimately one which is often filled with profound hope and gratitude. 

I came across these eye opening facts about addiction from the website for The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University – It’s worth a read if you have a minute. Some of it really surprised me. 

Talk soon,

Matt

A child who reaches age 21 without smoking, drinking or using other drugs is virtually certain never to do so.
Teens who have infrequent family dinners are more than twice as likely to say that they expect to try drugs in the future.
Teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to have used tobacco; almost twice as likely to have used alcohol, and one and a half times likelier to have used marijuana.
5.7 million (26 percent) of public school students ages 12 to 17 say that their school is both gang- and drug-infected (drugs are used, kept or sold on school grounds).
Teens who attend schools infected with both gangs and drugs are five times likelier to use marijuana; three times likelier to drink; twelve times likelier to smoke; three times likelier to be able to get marijuana within an hour or less and five times likelier to get it within a day or less; and nearly five times likelier to have a friend/classmate who uses illegal drugs like acid, ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin.
Teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco or marijuana; more than one and a half times likelier to use alcohol; and twice as likely to expect to try drugs in the future.
Teens who have seen their parent(s) drunk are more than twice as likely to get drunk in a typical month, and three times likelier to use marijuana and smoke cigarettes.
In 2009, more than one third of teens (8.7 million) said they can get prescription drugs to get high within a day; nearly one in five teens (4.7 million) could get them within an hour.
70 percent of abused and neglected children have parents who are risky drinkers or use other drugs.
Half of college students binge drink and/or use other drugs and almost a quarter meet medical criteria for alcohol or drug addiction.
Forty-nine percent (3.8 million) of full time college students binge drink, misuse prescription drugs and/or use illegal drugs.
1.8 million full-time college students (22.9 percent) meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and addiction.
In 2001 there were 1,717 deaths from unintentional alcohol-related injuries on college campuses.
In 2001, 97,000 students were victims of alcohol-related rape or sexual assaults on college campuses.
In 2001, 696,000 students were assaulted by a student who had been binge drinking on college campuses.
25.9 percent of underage drinkers meet clinical criteria for alcohol addiction.
Each day more than 13,000 children and teens take their first drink.
Children and teens that begin drinking before age 15 are four times likelier to become alcohol addicted than those who do not drink before age 21.
If a teen is drinking, the odds are that teen is getting drunk – and teens who get drunk are much likelier to try marijuana and hang out with friends who are misusing prescription drugs or using illegal drugs.

Crime

1.5 million of the 2.3 million inmates in the U.S. meet the DSM IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction.
458,000 inmates have histories of substance abuse; were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime; committed their offense to get money to buy drugs; were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug law violation; or shared some combination of these characteristics.
Only 11 percent of all inmates with substance abuse and addiction disorders receive any treatment during their incarceration.
In 2006, alcohol and other drugs were involved in 78 percent of violent crimes; 83 percent of property crimes; and 77 percent of public order, immigration or weapon offenses; and probation/parole violations.
Alcohol is implicated in the incarceration of more than half of all inmates in America; illicit drugs are implicated in three quarters of incarcerations.
Only two percent of all inmates are incarcerated for marijuana possession as their controlling or only offense.
Eighty percent of the nation’s adult inmates and juvenile arrestees either committed their offenses while high, stole to buy drugs, violated alcohol or drug laws, had a history of substance abuse/addiction, or shared some mix of these characteristics.
Only 3.6 percent of the 1.9 million substance-involved juvenile arrestees receive substance abuse treatment.
At least 30 percent of adults in prison for felony crimes were incarcerated as juveniles.
Ninety-two percent of arrested juveniles who tested positive for drugs, tested positive for marijuana; 14.4 percent, for cocaine.
Four of every five children and teen arrestees in state juvenile justice systems are under the influence of alcohol or drugs while committing their crimes, test positive for drugs, are arrested for committing an alcohol or drug offense, admit having substance abuse and addiction problems, or share some combination of these characteristics.

Cost to Society

Substance abuse and addiction cost federal, state and local governments at least $467.7 billion in 2005.
For every $100 spent by state governments on substance abuse and addiction, the average spent on prevention, treatment and research was $2.38; Connecticut spent the most, $10.39; New Hampshire spent the least, $0.22.
For each dollar in alcohol and tobacco taxes and liquor store revenues that federal and state governments collect, $8.95 is spent on shoveling up the consequences of substance abuse and addiction.
Almost a quarter of a trillion dollars of the nation’s yearly health care bill is attributable to substance abuse and addiction.
Of every dollar government spends on substance abuse and addiction, 96 cents goes to shovel up the wreckage in crime healthcare and other social costs; only 2 cents goes to prevention and treatment.
90 percent of homeless have alcohol problems; 60 percent abuse other drugs.
Underage drinkers and adult pathological drinkers account for at least $48.3 billion and as much as $62.9 billion in alcohol sales in 2001.
Alcohol abuse and addiction cost the nation an estimated $220 billion in 2005 – more than cancer ($196 billion) and obesity ($133 billion).

Women and Girls

Girls and women become addicted to alcohol, nicotine and illegal and prescription drugs, and develop substance-related diseases at lower levels of use and in shorter periods of time than their male counterparts.
Fifteen million girls and women use illicit drugs and misuse prescription drugs.
Thirty-two million girls and women smoke cigarettes.
Six million girls and women are alcohol abusers and alcoholics.
Girls and young women are likelier to abuse substances in order to lose weight, relieve stress or boredom, improve their mood, reduce sexual inhibitions, self-medicate depression, and increase confidence.
High school girls drink, smoke and use illegal drugs as much as their male classmates.
At the same level of exposure to tobacco smoke, women have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than men.
Teen girls are more likely than boys to use over-the-counter drugs to get high.
Nearly one-quarter of all girls report beginning to drink alcohol before age 13.
Alcohol is involved in as many as 73 percent of all rapes and up to 70 percent of all incidents of domestic violence.

Marijuana

In 2007, approximately 204,000 high-school seniors used marijuana on a daily basis.
Almost 10 million 12- to 17-year olds can buy marijuana within a day, and almost four and a half million can buy it within an hour or less.
Since 1992, there has been a 175 percent jump in marijuana potency.
Scientific research suggests possible associations between marijuana use and schizophrenia, other psychotic disorders, and other mental health problems.

Tobacco

12- to 17-year olds who smoke are more than five times likelier to drink and 13 times likelier to use marijuana than nonsmokers.
61 million Americans are hooked on cigarettes.
Smoking at a young age is related to panic attacks, general anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Illegal Drugs/Rx Drugs

The number of illegal drug users has risen to 20 million in 2005.
Since 1992, the number of teen illegal drug users has more than doubled to 2.6 million in 2005.
85 percent of Web sites selling controlled prescription drugs do not require a prescription.
From 1992 to 2003 the number of Americans abusing controlled prescription drugs jumped from 7.8 to 15.1 million.
Prescription drug abuse is the most rapidly increasing drug abuse among teens.
Five million teens can get prescription drugs to get high within an hour.

Alcohol

1 in 4 Americans will have an alcohol or drug problems at some point in their lives.
The number of alcohol abusers and addicts holds steady at about 16 to 20 million.
Half of college students binge drink and/or abuse other drugs and almost a quarter meet medical criteria for alcohol or drug dependence.
Forty-nine percent (3.8 million) of full time college students binge drink and/or abuse prescription and illegal drugs.
In 2001 there were 1,717 deaths from unintentional alcohol-related injuries on college campuses.
Each day more than 13,000 children and teens take their first drink.
Underage drinkers and adult pathological drinkers consume between 37.5 percent and 48.8 percent of the value of all alcohol sold in the United States.
Six million girls and women are alcohol abusers and alcoholics.
The incidence of lifetime alcohol abuse and dependence is greatest for those who begin drinking between the ages of 11 and 14.
90 percent of homeless have alcohol problems; 60 percent abuse other drugs.

What did you learn from your grandmother?

Hello from cold and rainy NYC!  

The last few days I’ve been reaching out to various senior centers, senior services organizations and the like. I’m hoping to get the opportunity to speak and interact with more older New Yorkers for this project. I really love hearing stories and insights from those who are much older than myself. These folks are humbling, opinionated, inspiring, really funny, thought provoking and often don’t give a @#$% about what anyone thinks of them. It’s really refreshing! 

From the time I was 11 until I went to college when I was 18, my very large family lived with my grandmother, who we all called Mema. She passed away when I was in college at the age of 89. Spending these last few days speaking with, and thinking/reading about the seniors in NYC has brought back a lot of nice memories of living with her. I cherish those times and still miss her often. 

I have a ton of stories I could share here, and maybe I will at some point. That would be fun. But when I’m thinking back now and remembering the things I most enjoyed about my grandmother, it was really just hanging out with her and spending time together.  She had a chair she always used in her side of the house and I would sit on the couch near her, and we would just talk about nothing really – cooking, the weather, my grandfather, the family, the lawn…what was for dinner. Dinner was always a popular topic. 

So, to finish this up, there are two things I’m thinking about now. One is that I feel blessed to have had the experience of growing up with a very loving grandmother as a part of my life. And the second is how strongly I feel that the development of young people can greatly benefit by spending time with seniors  – people who have lived through life’s changes, and know the ups and downs of life.  

So what did you learn from your grandparents? Or anyone else of an elevated age. And thanks in advance for sharing! 

 

My Grandmother