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Landscape artist Mayita Dinos sings jazz

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    Posted: 18 May 2020 at 7:23pm

"Go to a garden. Just stand in it. Breathe in the air, the fragrances, the light, the temperature, the music of the different plants, insects, birds, worms, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and butterflies." - The Science of Beauty, 1862

After a decades-long career as a landscape designer, MAYITA DINOS is now releasing her debut CD, THE GARDEN IS MY STAGE. It's not that she hasn't been singing in public for many years, but the stars finally aligned with the opportunity to record her silky, warm, and highly appealing voice.
Dinos' approach to music, the arts, and life in general is the product of her mixed heritage. She was born in Puerto Rico to a Puerto Rican mother and a father of Greek and Turkish ancestry. Music has always been part of her life, and she fondly remembers singing with her grandmother, who taught her songs in Spanish. "I loved singing with my grandmother," says Dinos. "But she was strict. I couldn't just sing a song. She made sure I was singing it with feeling."
The family moved around a bit. She spent time in Spain, where she learned to love flamenco, and she also spent some time in Greece and Turkey where she was imbued with the sounds of Middle Eastern music. The family eventually moved to New York City and lived in Parkway Village in Queens, which was built to house United Nations employees and delegates. She was fascinated by the exotic cultures and customs that surrounded her.
She was trying to decide what she wanted to do with her life when she had an epiphany. The family had a small plot on which her mother grew vegetables. Although Dinos wasn't into gardening at all, her mother asked her to plant a couple of fruit trees. Dinos relates, "Something deep and spiritual happened to me when I saw these plants growing and maturing. It was my 'aha' moment, and I knew I wanted to work in the garden."
Dinos studied landscape architecture and design in colleges in New York and Madison, WI, where she met her husband, an aspiring actor. The couple eventually moved to Los Angeles so her husband could pursue his acting career. As it turned out, Dinos, who had no real interest in being in front of a camera, wound up getting television gigs. She had begun working as a designer specializing in sustainable landscape design. Landscape design requires more than just a knowledge of horticulture, because a beautiful garden is like a lush symphony composed of colors, shapes, and textures. Dinos' lovely work attracted the interest of a television producer, and she spent the next five years as a landscape expert on various shows on the HGTV and DIY networks. Although she felt totally unprepared for on-camera work, she was lucky to be married to a trained actor, who coached her.
Her husband is also a jazz fan and liked to go to the World Stage, a popular jazz venue in the heart of Los Angeles. One Tuesday, they went to a weekly vocal workshop hosted by the late Howlett Smith. Dinos' husband knew how beautifully she sang and encouraged her to get up and perform. It took all her courage, but she did it, and it changed her life. Smith was so impressed by her singing, he became her mentor. Dinos studied privately with Smith for five years until one day he said, "I taught you everything I know. It's time to cut the cord."
Dinos was singing in various venues around Los Angeles, including at jam sessions hosted by CATHY SEGAL-GARCIA, the prolific singer, recording artist, and impresario, when Dan Davilla, a local patron of the arts, approached Dinos with an offer to executive produce a CD for her.
Segal-Garcia, who has produced a number of CDs for vocalists, became her producer and brought on board guitarist DORI AMARILIO as her co-producer and primary arranger. Dinos relates, "We spent hours before the actual recording process talking about my musical influences. I had painted illustrations, which I included in the CD package, that really helped Dori understand what each song meant to me. As a result, I feel that each song, as well as the CD as a whole, carries my DNA! I hear tinges of flamenco, birdsong, rain, and the longing for reconciliation with nature in Dori's instrumentation, pulse, and harmonic choices."
Southern California is rife with talented musicians, and Segal-Garcia and Amarilio brought together some of the best, including BILL CANTOS and RICH EAMES on piano; GABE DAVIS on acoustic bass; HUSSAIN JIFFRY on electric bass; MICHAEL HUNTER on trumpet and flugelhorn; ALEX BUDMAN on flute, clarinet, and soprano sax; STEVE HASS on drums; TIKI PASILLAS on drums and percussion, and Amarilio on guitar.
Each of the songs that Dinos chose relates to the natural world and the music she hears in it. She opens the CD with Charlie Parker's "Ornithology," for which she wrote original lyrics. Stevie Wonder's "Come Back as a Flower" reminds us that a human lifespan resembles the lifespan of a flower -- short but sweet. Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica" is a tribute to his patron, Pannonica de Koenigswarter. Her father, a botanist, named her after what most considered a butterfly, but in fact is a rare species of moth.
In "Woodstock," Joni Mitchell urges us to get back to the garden. "Lullaby of the Leaves" is a gentle swing tune in which Amarilio's arrangement captures the dance of the leaves as the wind blows through the trees. "Un país con el nombre de un río," written by Jorge Drexler, is about the strong connection people have to their native soil. "Little Sunflower" is a metaphor for a flower seeking light in the darkness - certainly an apt metaphor for today's times. "Double Rainbow" is a song about how a garden awakens all your senses."La Lola" was composed by Dinos with lyrics by Frederico Garcia Lorca. She is accompanied only by bass, capturing the ethereal nature of Lorca's poetry. "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" isabout the seductive power of flowers to attract pollinators. Of course, there is a rose in "Spanish Harlem," a song about how beauty thrives even in challenging environments. "Willow Weep for Me" is about the solace we find in nature. In "Agua de Beber," Jobim uses water as a metaphor for love, for our need for love is like a flower's need for water to survive.
Dinos created gorgeous, evocative composite art for each song, included in the booklet accompanying the CD package. Listeners can enjoy the florid images while taking in her dulcet and smoky voice through which she expresses her introspective nature and the profundity of her attachment to the natural world.
THE GARDEN IS MY STAGE is the fruition of a project by an artist fully engaged with the sounds and sights and textures of our beautiful world.
THE GARDEN IS MY STAGE will be available on May 30, 2020 online and everywhere.

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