Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Getting Near to Holly Near: Performing This Saturday at First Acoustics (with John Bucchino and special guest Linda Tillery)- Plus Notes on Empire

“Somewhere there’s music- - - how near how far. . . .*”

(* Lyric from “How High the Moon”)

The music is very near indeed!

We are back to the subject of local music again to let you know how near you are to your chance to hear Holly Near this Saturday, October 1 (with John Bucchino and special guest Linda Tillery) in a return engagement at First Acoustics. (The performance is at 8:00 PM, box office opens at 7:00 PM, doors open for seating at 7:30.)

Ms. Near and the performers opening for her are the second night in the new First Acoustics 2011/2012 season. If you want fill out your calendar* for the rest of the season, here it is (apologies that we didn’t provide advance notice of the Sept 17, First Acoustics Spirit Ensemble performance, also a return engagement which was reportedly a lot of fun.):
Oct 1, 2011: Holly Near, plus John Bucchino and special guest Linda Tillery

Oct 22, 2011: Gathering Time, plus Kim & Reggie Harris

Nov 19, 2011: The Kennedys, plus Debbie Deane

March 24, 2012: Sloan Wainwright, plus Sharon Goldman

April 21, 2012: Seth Glier, plus The Antivillains

May 19, 2012: Stefan Bauer, plus Wendy Russell

June 2, 2012: Brother Sun (with Pat Wictor), plus The Yayas

(* Why is it good to put dates in your calendar now? Tickets are usually a little cheaper if bought in advance. Depending on the performance you are seeing and whether or not you get your tickets at the door tickets range from $25.00 to $35.00.)
Near is known not only as a singer-songwriter (and an actress and teacher); she is also identified as an activist for social change. The “activist” description is front an center in the biography on her website. That might be reason enough for Noticing New York to diverge from its more typical focus on development in New York City and associated politics to mention Ms. Near and the other musical performers listed above, but there is a longer story about why local music garners Noticing New York attention (some of which is still being written). Some of it can be found via the segments linked to below:
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Another Insert into the Music- Hands Joining Across Eras: Brooklyn Heights Unitarians and How a Historical Landmark Saved the Past For the Future

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
An Insert Preview - Music Superstar Ethics: How Completely You Can Sell “You can say what you say, but you are what you are.” Jay-Zzzzus!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Adding A few More Off Topic Notes (Or Are They Really?)
The "Boardwalk Empire" Strikes Back?

(Picture above: Abbot Genser/HBO)

When it comes to local music opportunities here is something exciting that was totally off my radar screen: Local New Yorker and Brooklyn resident Vince Giordano is performing a key role in generating the period music for HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” When I heard this I quickly checked in with my Tivo to catch up with some of music I was missing. Last year’s season closer ended with a beautifully resurrected, stunning and languorously philosophical George M. Cohan song (performed by Stephen De Rosa) to which I had not previously paid attention: “Life's a Funny Proposition After All” (from “Little Johnny Jones” the same show as “Yankee Doodle [Dandy] Boy”). To imagine that he could write it is a whole other window into who George M. Cohan was.

Here are some interviews and stories about Vince and his contributions to Empire’s music:
'Boardwalk Empire': Meet the man behind the music, Published: Sunday, October 17, 2010, By Tris McCall/The Star-Ledger

The sounds of 'Empire': Vince Giordano leads the band on 'Boardwalk' series: Sep. 23, 2011, by Chris Jordan

Vince Giordano Talks "Boardwalk Empire Volume 1 — Music from the HBO Original Series", Working with Martin Scorsese, and More Mon, 12 Sep 2011, by Rick Florino

Playing a Bandleader and Keeping It Real, by Charles McGrath, September 3, 2010

Boardwalk Empires, Mockingbirds, Concertos & Rocket Science: Conversations with The Jayhawks, Bela Fleck and Vince Giordano, 9/23/2011, By Mike RagognaRadio Personality on Solar Powered KRUU-FM, Music Biz Vet
Here is an L.A. Times article with a lot of information about and praise for the music that somehow doesn’t mention Vince. It does mention music supervisor Randall Poster who worked with Vince on "The Aviator" which is part of the story of how they came to be working together again on "Boardwalk":
What 'Boardwalk Empire' really does right: American pop's salad days, September 21, 2010
The "Boardwalk Empire" music in its early episodes uses authentic music from the time just when the 1910s were becoming the 20s. The first episode of the first season includes a scene with a bandleader played by Vince screaming that “PROHIBITION” had just taken effect (1919)*- - Director Martin Scorsese had Vince scream out the word for so many takes Vince's voice was about to give out entirely- - and last season ended with the November 2, 1920 election of President Warren G. Harding. This music is on the cusp of the transition from ragtime to modern jazz, a hybrid form which the New York Times Charles McGrath interview above has Vince calling “Rag-a-jazz,” and the Artist Direct interview labels “Ragged Jazz.” Vince tells Rick Florino in the Artist Direct interview above that in the upcoming season the music “gets jazzier, hotter, and the tunes get a little nuttier.”

(* Note that the Ken Burns "Prohibition" documentary with period music performed by
Wynton Marsalis and his band will premier on PBS on October 2nd.)

If you missed the music in the early episodes or want to hear it again you can now get a lot of it, including the new Stephen De Rosa version of George M. Cohan’s song on Boardwalk Empire: Volume 1, Music From the HBO Series.” Rick Florino says “Due to Giordano's diligence, it's one of the best soundtracks of the year.” It is certainly hard to find a anything better than this ever.

Among other things the soundtrack has Nellie McKay going even more retro than her Doris Day tribute album, “Normal As Blueberry Pie.” Ms. McKay singing “Wild Romantic Blues” channels Jane Green, a Broadway star of the 1920s who tragically just disappeared mysteriously.

You may also notice some coincidental overlaps or near overlaps with First Acoustics. The "Boardwalk Empire" volume has songs by two members of the Wainwright family: Loudon (Wainwright III) and Martha. Previously, Vince and the Nighthawks (and Randall Poster, the music director on "Boardwalk Empire") worked with Rufus Wainwright on the soundtrack for “The Aviator” when Rufus performed “Stairway to Paradise.” As you see, Sloan Wainwright will have a March 24, 2012 performance. (Family tree-wise, Sloan is the sister of Loudon Wainwright III. Rufus and Martha are the children of that Loudon and singer Kate McGarrigle of the McGarrigle Sisters.) Another overlap: Leon Redbone, who previously did a First Acoustic Performance, is on the album performing, “The Sheik of Araby.” When Redbone performed at First Acoustics Vince backed him up playing bass. Funny how overlaps accumulate: "Boardwalk Empire" star Steve Buscemi had something of a breakthrough role in the 2001 movie “Ghost World” for which Vince and the Nighthawks provided a significant portion of the soundtrack.

Other vocalist performers on the "Boardwalk" album include: Regina Spektor, Catherine Russell, Kathy Brier, Lauren Sharpe, and Amber Edwards plus there is some ragtime piano by Mark Shane.

You can download the “Boardwalk Empire” soundtrack (and some of the others) from e-music, but here is an even better idea: It’s really easy and much more fun to go see Vince Giordano and his eleven piece Nighthawks two nights a week (Mondays and Tuesdays) at Sofias Italian Restaurant:
Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks
Monday and Tuesday Nights
Sofias Italian Restaurant
221 W 46th St # 1, New York
(212) 719-5799
Seeing Vince and the Nighthawks has got to be one of the best bang-for-your-music-buck deals in the city. You will probably feel still flush enough upon departing to add several CDs to your collection on way out and Vince will probably be happy to autograph them.

Vince and the Nighthawks do three sets starting at 8:00- I would arrive and get settled ahead of time and then stay to get full value until they finish the final set around 11:00 PM. Requests, especially from the 20s, 30s and sometimes 40s are very possible. The audience tends to be filled with appreciative folk from the music industry so you might see someone like Michael Feinstein when you go. Vince usually welcomes his industry guests from the stage. Sometimes some of the visitors join in and perform. Who knows who you might hear? (You can see Feinstein performing at the club with the band in “Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook” a PBS Series for which you can probably pick up the DVD on your trip. The song?: “Stairway to Paradise” again. See image below.)

Door cover is $15. Food (and drink) is reasonably inexpensive and pretty decent.

Did I forget to say that there is a dance floor and there are usually some very good dancers doing some vintage steps from the period. With a little imagination you can pretend you have walked into a scene from Scorsese's “The Aviator,” one of the several Woody Allen films of which Vince and company have been a part, Coppola's “The Cotton Club” in which Vince also makes an appearance or Babette’s Nightclub in 1920s Atlantic City (in "Boardwalk Empire").

“Empire” as a State of Nefarious Mind

Before we leave the subject of where music and "Empire" conjoin, let’s bring the subject around to some more typical Noticing New York themes. And it will be appropriate if people Googling for music albums with “Empire” or "Empire State" in the title find this post.

"Boardwalk Empire," which takes place in the safe, far remove of a past era, is about power-grabbing, politically-connected, law-breaking gangsters. Many will find it a tough ordeal to sit through its violence though in a fault-finding New York magazine article this week by Emily Nussbaum paradoxically suggests the flaw of the series is that the “beautifully portrayed” major characters in the series are all “suspiciously contrived” to make them too nice: “a violent twist on what Internet discussion groups call a `Mary Sue': the character who is better than everyone else—more sensitive, more traumatized, more brilliant.”

(In a backhanded way Nussbaum does acknowledge the strength of the music in the series: “There’s a limit to how many old-timey songs can be used for ironic purposes, as piquant scoring for a bloodbath or an orgy. And the historical reveals (a few episodes in, someone says, “This is Eddie, Eddie Cantor!”) have begun to feel like highbrow pop-up video.”)

But if you want your bad guys pure and straight up bad in their “empire”-building we suggest you direct your attention where gangsta-rap music star Jay-Z directed his attention this week: Atlantic Yards, the Bruce Ratner mega-monopoly. Jay-Z has been given a small piece of the action in Ratner's mega-monopoly to act as a front man dutifully providing ripped-off-the-Teleprompter PR statements centered around unbelievable stories about job creation and similar fictions. Talk about “contrived.”

The problem is that the bad empire-building behavior Jay-Z is supporting is not happening at a safe remove in a by-gone historical era. The damage he is contributing to is going on now in real time. The only good thing good about the fact that it's happening in real time is that this means a conscious and objecting public has options to do something about. Insisting that Ratner's monopoly be broken up and bid out to competing developers would be a good first step in the things to be accomplished. Ensuring that subsidies are fair and minimal with diminished density would be some other good things to accomplish.

Jay-Z has a new song with the title: Empire State Of Mind.”

The title obviously references Billy Joel'sNew York State of Mind.” It also, perhaps unwittingly, echos the name of New York’s “Empire State Development” agency just recently known better as the “Empire State Development Corporation” and long before that known as the “New York State Urban Development Corporation” the name enshrined in the statute that created it, when, in theory, the agency was supposed to help the poor. Instead, in Brooklyn, the state agency has earned its new “Empire” name by selling out and devoting itself to the premier objective of seizing land and overriding laws and procedures to build developer/subsidy collector Bruce Ratner a super-sized 50+ acre mega-monopoly.

Jay-Z showed up at the press event this week to announce that the Ratner/Prokhorov basketball team, the New Jersey Nets now in New Jersey are being renamed the “Brooklyn Nets.” The team, of course, along with jay-Z, have are being used to justify Ratner’s land grab, receipt of huge public subsidies and override of laws and the community.

But the only elected representative at the event was Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. All other politicians stayed away, although Ratner is still very much reliant on the Bloomberg and Andrew Cuomo backing he gets in the background.

In theory the event was surely supposed to be the kind of victory celebration where people could feel good about themselves. But was that the case? Atlantic Yards Report’s Norman Oder noted the peculiarity of how Markowitz had to congratulate (buck up?) the masquerading AstroTurf folk attending, “for accepting money from Forest City Ratner to [ostensibly] represent the community in the Community Benefits Agreement?” Markowitz expressed the congratulatory thought in these commiserating terms:
. . . thank you for keeping the faith. Thank you for keeping the faith," he said. "I know the taunts that you receive, and that's saying it nicely. I know. You kept the faith and you realized what this would be for the future of Brooklyn and New York. And I congratulate each and every one of you.
(See: Monday, September 26, 2011, The Jay-Z media event: an anticlimax for news (Brooklyn Nets, concert), but a chance for TV coverage; also, Ratner, Markowitz make some curious claims.)

Empire building for Bruce Ratner may be getting uncomfortable. Jay-Z only stayed long enough to bequeath a less-than-a-minute statement of support before he headed into a waiting limousine and while he was there, he and fellow Ratner/Prokhorov henchman, Prokhorov/Ratner (“Barclays”) Center CEO Brett Yormark, were photographed looking rather tense. See Tracy Collins photo below.

So, if you are interested in a real celebration and some sweet song provided by a dedicated activist for social change I remind you that Holly Near is performing this Saturday night. And if you want an evening away from empire-building gangstas, both today's real life variety (pretending to be nice and community-supporting) or the allegedly too-nice violent 1920s variety on HBO you can settle down and enjoy the same sort of superb vintage music live with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks two nights a week at Sofias in Times Square.

As Vince Giordano says at the end of every evening: “Support live music.” And how nice when live music is near. Hurray for local music!“Somewhere there’s music- - - how near how far. . . .”

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