Not Your Next American Idol

I work in a fairly buttoned down profession. Many of the people who do what I do are straight-laced. Occasionally you meet some people with flair and talents well outside our line of work. For example, one former co-worker had been a professional dancer of the Lord of the Dance variety.

And then there was Joey.

I am not sure where we found Joey. Rumor was that a gaggle of my co-workers were in a bar one night and they met this strange man-child who asked what we did and whether there were any openings. Next thing I knew there was Joey showing up for work.

JoJo, as I started calling him, was a good employee. I was a seasoned pro when he started and he was one of the new guys. He learned quickly, did not let his lack of prior experience in what we do get in his way and he did good work. But really who cares about Joey as a worker bee.

We care, and you should care, about Joey the singer. Now JoJo was not your next American Idol. He was not a rocker, an R&B guy and not even a little bit country despite his Virginia roots.

Nope. Joey sang Barber Shop. You know, striped pole. Quartet. Music Man.

He had a group of his own but also sang in a large chorale groups. He competed in real competitions. I am ashamed to say that I never got to see JoJo perform in his groups. The closest I came was his last night when a bunch of us went to a karaoke bar (I did my best Elvis imitation. True story.)

Joey left our Chicago office and moved to Atlanta to be marry a woman whose smile could light up a dark room. Good move on his part. But contact slowed to a crawl.

Today Joey called to see how things were going. We caught up. His family is good, beautiful wife and two young children. Work is good. But he has not sung in a group in quite a while. Fortunately for the world, or the three readers of this blog, he was caught on video and stored on YouTube.

Here he is with his group the Pinstripes. (JoJo is the handsome one in front of the mike. BTW Joey, the music is much better than the comedy. Where did you get your routine? An old Red Skelton show?)

Here he is, my fav barbershop singer, Joey.

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Bye Bye Birdie

My son finished his successful off, off, off  Broadway run in Bye Bye Birdie. These are a few of the videos we took with our cheap digital camera (which is my way of making excuses for the quality).

These videos are from the March 21 and 22 productions. They speak for themselves.

Chévere de Chicago

chevere1Think Latin Jazz ensemble with a Jewish harmonica player as the front man. What more is there to say?

Lots.

I enjoy Latin music and my wife is a big fan.  It was her birthday, we took a chance. We do not go to many concerts or visit the almost infinite number of music venues in the Chicago areas. We both enjoy music but I am an early guy and headliners in clubs usually start too late (for me).

The opportunity to do something a little different presented itself. The venue was newly opened, not far from the house (though in a rough neighborhood) and the music started at 8. Even I could handle that.

I had heard of the group but knew little about them. What a discovery! Turns out they had been playing together for over 20 years. Nine members. Three percussion, one piano/harmonica, one bass guitar, a lead guitar, an electronic keyboardist and two horn players (one sax and flute, one trumpet.)

First the visuals. With no one on stage, the instruments were imposing. In rows. Row one. Piano stage left, moving right to 3 large congas with silver chimes, on to a drum set connected to a set of bongos and gold chimes longer than the silver ones. Finishing off the front row are stands with sax and flute, then trumpet, the kind with the horn extending skyward. The second row was rhythm guitar, bass and two electronic keyboards forming a right angle—the word Moog (as in synthesizer) written on the one facing the audience. Finally in the back was a full drum set complete with large cymbals.

On came the band members. Only the three percussionists looked as if they belonged in a Latin jazz band. The others were standard white guys. Interesting set of shapes. Two were short and round. Howard Levy, the harmonica-piano guy is long and slender. The others were average height mostly slender. Trumpet-flute guy was the only one who looked unhappy to be there. The others wore expressions ranging from modest amusement to joy.

Last of the memorable visuals. The Blur. We were close enough to have see hands fly. Whether Howard on piano, Joe Rendon on congas or Ruben Alverez on bongos the speed of fingers and hands were amazing. Blurred motions leading to a cacophony of individual sounds.

Yes finally to the sound of Chevere de Chicago. As you might expect a heavy dose of percussion. Percussion in extreme varieties of rhythms, tones, volumes and combinations. The horns, guitar, bass, piano or the occasional vocal would join in. The numbers were long, would wane and wax and were joyous. The only negative part of this wonderful, new room was that there was no dance floor. The music made you want to dance. The penultimate piece was not as lively but extremely beautiful. It was a tango written by the band leader Alejo Poveda for his daughter.

One last thing about the music. I have heard for years about the harmonica skills of Howard Levy. I am accustomed to the harmonica sounds of the blues. A few individual notes wailing perhaps but mostly chords. This was the first time I had ever experienced the harmonica as an instrument of melody. Crisp individual notes as beautiful as a piano.

I wish I had not waited twenty years for my first Chevere experience. It will not be that long until the second.

Listen to the rhythms here and the Latin jazz here

 

Enchanting

I bring home take out for D and two friends. I can tell they are about to put on a movie. An action flick? Some sophomoric comedy, perhaps?

No. The Disney movie Enchanted! And this is not the first time.

I asked D why that movie. “Never underestimate the power of a beautiful movie.”

I do not understand 17 year old boys.

 

Ain’t Misbehavin’

The last play of the season at the Goodman Theatre is typically a musical. This year is that celebration of the Music of Thomas “Fats” Waller, Ain’t Misbehavin’.

I had very high expectation for this production. I love this music. It was a good but not awesome production.

Admittedly I was exhausted as I often am on a Friday night. The means that all stimuli must pass through a thick morass of a filter in order to get to my conscious thought.

Still it was not just not me. My wife agreed that given all the available musical talent, the singers were just good. During the first act in particular the songs really stretched the singers. Some were clearly outside of their competence zone. In the second act there seemed to be a better match. Either that or they became more relaxed.

Clearly much of the rest of the audience was having a great time. The show has some good dancing, broad comedy and even a bit of audience participation. The woman next to me laughed out loud regularly. I did not quite see what was so funny but I am admittedly a tough audience.

All in all it was amazing just to be in downtown Chicago being entertained two nights in a row.

p.s. I have a record, yes vinyl, of a Clark Terry led group playing many of the same songs. The first song on side one is the Jitterbug Waltz. This version is strictly instrumental which after hearing the lyrics is the way to listen to this song. This particular recording to me is one of the most sublime, beautiful pieces of music of all time.

Wisdom Of the Music Man

“You pile up enough tomorrows and you find you’ve collected nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.”

To some extent that could be about me. Whether or not it is, I like the statement being made. From some wise, classical philosopher I have dubbed the music man because of his lyrical musings on the great thoughts of our existence? No. It was said by Prof. Harold Hill to Marion the Librarian in Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man“. To my mind one of the most entertaining musicals coming out of the 1950s.

The lyrics are clever with a bit of double entendre. The music is at times catchy and at other times stirring. The story is about the con man turned good by the pure of heart woman he falls for but until the transformation his cons entertain. They don’t get written like this anymore. The total package is pure pleasure.

We live in an entertainment world comprised of blood, gore, sex, destruction, or filled with high tech imagery often for no other reason than to show it can be done. Something that merely intends to entertain is rare. That is probably why I rejoice in pre 1965 movie musicals. The infectious joy that Robert Preston brought from the stage to the movie version carries me away. Shirley Jones was lovely, there was a very young Ronnie Howard, Buddy Hackett– OK who cares about Buddy– and the phenomenal barber shop quartet the Buffalo Bills. What more could one want.

BTW. The follow-up line to the quote at the top is “I don’t know about you but I’d like to make today worth remembering.” Words to live by.

BTW2. A prize to anyone who knows which song from this show was covered by the Beatles.

Now Robert Preston at his best.

Thriller

thriller.jpg

I just came across an ad for the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s sixth solo album. Did I miss something a few months ago? The release date was 11/30/82. I guess this MJ does not get the press he once did.

Amazing how much changes in 25 years. Forget the world at large (no PCs, mobile phones, Internet, Clinton or Bush presidencies). Just think about how different Michael’s and my life are now vs. then. He was actually famous for his music. Well, enough about him. Let’s get to me.

It was close to half a lifetime ago. I not only had a young constitution—I was young. Lighter, faster. Single, no children. Early in my career. Runner, not biker. Living in my first apartment with Eric the cat. Out drinking on a Friday night with Dave. Not a woman in sight.

Michael Jackson and I crossed paths soon after Thriller was released. Actually, I crossed paths with Thriller. I was doing what I did for many of my early, single vacations. I went to an all inclusive, singles oriented warm locale in the winter. The year before had been Hedonism in Jamaica. This year was the Club Med in Cancun.

At that time Cancun was not built up like it is today and the Club Med sat at one end of the beach not very near much else. That meant that entertainment in the late evening was reduced to the Disco at the Club. In early 1983 disco was just about dead everywhere but Club Med. The DJ had limited music choices. My dancing skills had limits. I could be not embarrassed if I jitterbugged which at the time I liked to do to 1950s and early 1960s Rock and Roll. I had no moonwalking capability.

It seemed that 90% of the songs played at this disco were bad disco music (is that a redundancy) or songs from Thriller.  Thiller, over and over again. Night after night. One night a bunch of us were just standing around. Listening to Thriller. Not dancing, standing. I asked the DJ if he had any Rock and Roll. He did.

For the next 15-20 minutes the dance floor was packed as we danced to music we enjoyed. Then he ran out of songs or just needed another Thriller fix. Moments later the dance floor was empty again. You would have thought he might get the hint. No way.

Its been 25 years so I guess I can listen one more time.

‘Cause This Is Thriller, Thriller Night
And No One’s Gonna Save You From The Beast About
Strike
You Know It’s Thriller, Thriller Night
You’re Fighting For Your Life Inside A Killer, Thriller
Tonight

Here is 8 minutes worth. Feel free to play it over and over.