Suzanne Surbeck

Joined September 2009

Freelance writer based in New York City. Write about New York, history and politics.

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New York City

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The Swingtime Big Band: It’s All About the Music

They play out of passion, they play out of tradition and they play because they want the music to sound great.  They are the 20 members of Long Island’s Swingtime Big Band.  Their mission is to keep the uniquely American art form of Swing Music alive for generations of concertgoers throughout the New York area. Their method is simple, to recreate the essential sound of each of the great big bands. No rock and roll allowed.   “The essential nature of the band has never changed,” says its exuberant artistic director Steve Shaiman. “It’s about maintaining the authenticity of the big bands and emulating the sounds of their original recordings. Our mission is re-creating all those great hits that people want to hear.”   Founded by saxophonist Bob Rotunda as the Stardusters Big Band in the 1970’s, the Swingtime Big Band now numbers 20 members including two vocalists.  Almost all of them have “...
By on Dec 29, 2015

Reif’s Tavern: The real survivor

As the construction of the Second Avenue subway nears completion, the New York City Yorkville neighborhood is dotted with the small businesses that survived and the storefronts of those that didn’t. One of the most popular survivors is Reif’s Tavern. A local favorite since it opened in 1942, it blends simplicity and authenticity and thrives on being a gathering place for its extended family of employees and regular customers. There isn’t a false bone in its body. “The only reason the Tavern has survived is because it’s never tried to be anything more than what it is,” said Taryn Reif, the Tavern’s current owner and granddaughter of its founders John and Teresia Reif. After meeting her husband Robert Sonnenberg in Reif’s around 2002, she gave up her career as an actress to work full time in the family business. “Every member and child of the Reif family has worked behind the bar so we hav...
By on Aug 21, 2015

Never giving up: The NYC League of Women Voters and affordable housing

One recent June weekend, the New York State Legislature was locked in a stalemate over the renewal of the rent regulations which were designed to help protect middle income housing in New York City. A deal was eventually reached, but only after state assemblymen and senators kept around two million people in limbo for nearly two weeks That same weekend, the League of Women Voters of the City of New York held its Annual Meeting. After the coffee and bagels and before the sandwiches and salads, long-time member Adrienne Kivelson presented the Affordable Housing Committee’s report on their work for the 2014-15 year. During this time, she said, they discussed several key issues regarding the same housing stock that was at the heart of the debate in Albany. After making her presentation, she answered numerous questions from the audience about rent regulations and affordable housing in general...
By on Aug 21, 2015

All the world's a stage, even in a Lower East Side parking lot

On a recent Saturday night, the intrepid thespians of New York City’s Shakespeare in the Parking Lot unpacked their scenery, polished up their lines, and made sure the SUVs were parked before the opening words of “As You Like It.” By the end of the evening the troupe had given new definition to the phrase: “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players” It was the People’s Shakespeare — with a hefty dose of Lower East Side panache. For 20 years the group was located in a nearby municipal parking lot, where Hamlet’s "To be or Not to Be" competed with the sound of car drivers gunning their engines. They moved to their current home, an enclosed parking lot behind the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center, earlier this year after the original site was included in a massive urban renewal plan. Unlike the municipal lot, cars do not move in and out during a per...
By on Aug 11, 2015

Benching Obama and the Democrats lost self-respect

It’s probably safe to say that there is a lot of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning quarterbacking going on within the Democratic Party right now. Adding fuel to the fire is a newly released poll that demonstrates how Democrats could have won had they not dropped the ball during the last two weeks of the campaign. Washington Post political reporter Aaron Blake wrote in “The Fix” blog that according to a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute, a third of those who voted Democratic decided within the last week of the midterm elections. As he writes, The poll shows that 19 percent of Republican voters made up their minds in the final week of the campaign. By comparison, nearly one-third — 31 percent — of Democratic voters say they decided in the final seven days of the campaign (including 10 percent on Election Day). Whatever the Democrats’ game plan was, it very clearly didn’t wo...
By on Nov 15, 2014

The midterm elections, voter turnout and the right to complain

During his press conference on the day after this year’s midterm elections, President Barack Obama addressed the American people directly, saying: “So, to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.” According to the United States Elections Project, the projected national turnout for the 2014 midterm elections was 36.3 percent of eligible voters, the lowest rate since World War II. Even North Carolina, with a critical United States Senate Race, had a voter turnout of just 40.7 percent. Almost two-thirds of eligible voters, 63.7 percent did not exercise their right to vote, a shocking number given the issues facing America today. The exit polls for these elections agreed on one thing. The people who participated in these polls were unhappy about just about everything from the st...
By on Nov 12, 2014

Possessions, millennials and the future of America

One recent Friday afternoon, New York City’s rich elite gathered at a sumptuous garage sale called the International Fine Art & Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory in the heart of the city’s Upper East Side. The show contained everything from a 1770s silver serving dish to a 1960s letter written in French by then-first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Patrons who wanted to pick up a bauble or two could choose among sapphires, diamonds and a pearl tiara. There were even distinguished “antiques” from the 1940s and 1950s for those who were tired of 18th and19th century furniture. There were no price tags on anything. There were, however, occasional free glasses of the best champagne. On the opposite side of the country, Seattle’s millennials are gathering as well, not to buy pricey items, but to pioneer an alternative “few possessions” lifestyle. They are choosing to live in very small apartmen...
By on Oct 30, 2014

Connecting the dots on Governors Island

One day this past summer my friend Paula Lysak and I decided to go on a field trip. It wasn’t to the Hamptons, the Catskill Mountains or the Jersey Shore. Instead we took a short ferry ride across lower New York harbor. In the process, we left behind the skyscrapers of 21st century Manhattan and entered the Governors Island National Monument at the center of Governors Island. As we walked through buildings dating back to the early 19th century and then through a park which only opened this year, we had much more than a routine history lesson. We were able to connect the dots between New York City’s earlier times and those that are yet to come. “Everyone should go there,” Paula said. “While we were there, we learned that history not only tells us about the past but helps us understand the future. It’s a very valuable lesson for everyone.” After first being settled by the Dutch, Governors ...
By on Oct 30, 2014

The Grace Drums concert: Joy, hope and drumming

From left to right: JoAnna Powell, Arlene Hale, Gena Jefferson, Gabriella Dennery, Corey Myers On a recent Saturday morning in New York City the sounds of joy are drowning out the sounds of rain. The women of Grace Drums are rehearsing a number on the top floor of a Brooklyn rehearsal studio for their upcoming November 1st Concert. As they practice different drumming arrangements and choreography, an onlooker is taken on a musical tour from Mali, to Guinea and finally to Haiti. As the beat literally goes on, energy, joy, inclusion, hope, and a little bit of risk-taking fill the room. This piece is more than just a dance, says Gabriella Dennery, the group’s Artistic Director. “It’s about the importance of ancestry and ancestral belief systems in reconnecting with the core of who you are and how necessary that re-connection is to regaining your personal power.” “This,” she adds proudly, “i...
By on Oct 28, 2014

Wanted: Competent politicians

As the midterm elections draw near, it’s not a good time to be a Democrat, Republican or just about any politician. A recent Associated Press-Gfk Public Affairs & Corporate Communications poll showed that only 13 percent of those polled approved of the job being done by Congress. A whopping 86 percent disapproved. Even President Obama isn’t unscathed as most polls show his job approval rating to be below 50 percent, some even closer to 40 percent. Regardless of political affiliation, Americans seem to have lost faith in their politicians. There is no doubt that these low poll numbers reflect an American public still suffering from the Great Recession and inundated 24 hours a day with news about crises such as ISIS and Ebola. Americans are desperately looking for politicians to solve these problems, but now seem to have a deep-seated belief that our leaders simply aren’t up to the task; t...
By on Oct 24, 2014