Rockin’ Grandma Lynda Kraar Shares Six Ways to Get Out of a Musical Rut

Rockin’ Grandma Lynda Kraar Shares Six Ways to Get Out of a Musical Rut

Interview by Rew Starr; Edited by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

One possible silver lining to the last two years is the surge in creativity. Many of us learned new skills, played new instruments, and made new Zoom friends we otherwise wouldn’t have met. Yet it’s hard not to feel the latent effects of stress that’s embedded itself into our collective psyche.

Bass player, guitar player, songwriter and cool rockin’ grandma Lynda Kraar is one person who truly exemplifies the idea that it’s possible to thrive, creatively and emotionally, during difficult times. The last two years have brought her tremendous joy to offset big challenges, and 2022 is shaping up to be pretty sweet: Over the last year, both of her daughters — Miriam and Yona — had babies! But good things didn’t just come magically to her. 

In this month’s interview with Rockmommy contributor Rew Starr, Lynda shares six “lessons learned,” as she embarked on new opportunities even when the challenges seemed unsurmountable. Her stories and experiences are truly inspiring to me, and will no doubt inspire others. 

#1: Move to where your “people” are

 “In the fall of 2020, Jaime Valentine and I got married. We were living in his house in Valley Cottage in Rockland County, New York, a beautiful, scenic place … with a high concentration of artistic and friendly people who live in the area. I have a friend in Phoenix who calls Rockland ‘the Laurel Canyon of New York.’ And I think she’s right! Soon after we moved to Toronto on January 2, 2021, Jaime set up his recording studio in the house, and I started to consider a music course in jazz bass, just to keep fresh and learn a few new things. We are now rehearsing a new All-Stars band in Toronto.”

#2: Don’t be afraid of branching out

“During the pandemic, we were able to find vehicles for our music, such as your pandemic Zoom [open mic], which was a real godsend. We met fabulous people because of that. What happened, as a result, is that a lot of people met other people, and today you will find a variety of New York talent performing on the Jerusalem Folk Evenings Zoom, The Growler People Zoom (an outgrowth of the Growler & Gill in Nanuet’s Open Mic) and others scattered around the globe, including in England, Scotland, Ireland, and the local Metro New York area. There’s even one in Massachusetts and another one in Phoenix that seems to be attracting some of the same people from this scene who just want to get their music out there and want to be in this nascent international music community. Will it keep going? Who knows? But it’s fun as heck for now.

Linda Kraar

#3: Embrace the challenge of doing unexpected musical projects

“We did some translations of pop hits into Yiddish. We did a version of Don’t Fear the Reaper that we shared with a few members of Blue Oyster Cult. It included a flamenco guitar solo given to us by my friend Lulo Reinhardt who sent it from Koblenz (Germany) and a searing violin solo by Daniel Weltlinger, an Aussie who lives in Berlin. Super good friends of mine for many years. Jaime was a champ in assembling the track — here it is. It gave us purpose and optimism to do this. We did some picture-in-picture videos. We continued to perform from our base in Rockland County.”

#4: Invest in Continued Education

“I did a ton of business and non-profit executive courses online including a few at Harvard, Wharton and other great universities around the country, just to keep my skills sharp while I was on furlough. Berklee School of Music created a “Bass Hang,” so on Thursdays I would spend three or four hours with the crème de la crème of the bass world, listening and learning from all the greats – Steve Bailey, Victor Wooten, John Patitucci, plus so many others it was incredible. Marcus Miller. Ron Carter. They were regulars! I discovered that everyone was in the same position – no work; no inspiration to play or even practice…lots of time spent with family…so this was a real therapy session every week for around 800-1000 of us around the world. The Berklee Bass Hang was a real game-changer for me.

By the time a real gig rolled around, an in-person playing situation to be taped for Pittsburgh Fashion Week, I was ready. I credit Berklee for that.  I’m so glad that I got involved – I made a donation to the Bass Department in honor of its three key educators – Steve Bailey, Victor Wooten, and John Patitucci. I suggest that every musician be generous to at least one cause – as much as they can. Every little bit helps to water the spiritual garden.”

#5 Travel far and wide with music

I’ve played everywhere from Russia to Poland to Israel to St Maarten to all over North America and even on the high seas. One big adventure was when I had a hospital gig in central Israel where I played in the brain surgery ward, where there were Israeli and Palestinian kids and their parents. That was so tough – but when the parents saw the kids were happy, the parents were also happy. That experience made me grateful. I understood that I must not waste the gift of my music. It helped me later in life when I became a music volunteer for Musicians on Call, an organization that coordinates musicians to sing at the bedside in hospitals and other health care facilities.

One of my other fondest memories is when my late husband, Marty Kraar, insisted that I go to Djangofest in Samois Sur Seine (France). He bought me the ticket, and, in the summer of 2010, just a few months before he passed away, I went off to France.

Yes, I cried the whole time in the plane. But when I got to the airport, I met up with the guys who had convinced me to come – Alain LeGrand from Dundee (Scotland) and his Hot Club. They drove me to the campground, an hour north of Paris, and brought me to my host, Menno van der Reijden, one of the most beloved and well-known unofficial “fathers” of Djangofest. From that moment on, the guitars came out and the jams were literally all night long. Hundreds of people from all over Europe and beyond, the Reinhardt family members, the Manouche and Sinti Gypsies who drove over in their caravans and were so warm and friendly. Everyone and their kids were excellent musicians. 

Most of the Gypsies I befriended were children of Holocaust survivors. Some brought along their parents who had numbers tattooed on their arm from the camps. Between their German, Dutch, Romani, and French and my Yiddish, we made out amazingly well, sharing so many stories and songs. We’ve all stayed friends and have even visited each other. It was magical. I would love to go back!

#6: Go back to the experiences that brought you joy

[My husband] Jaime is working in the studio on some new material that sounds KILLER! And in our band project, we are actually making ‘old’ music. We have revived the Palisades All-Stars in Toronto (our band from New York) and we are sticking to a song list that only goes up to 1978. We share the vocals, and I am mostly playing my seafoam green Jimmy Vivino Custom Shop Fender Esquire with the Bigsby arm. These are the songs that resonate with our audiences, young and old. And we love playing them. So it’s a win/win. And there’s this: I’ve started playing music for the grandbabies, which is a real joy, to be in a place where you can see the full circle coming around. 

Rew Starr is an actor, musician, and mother who lives in New York City.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

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