At The Movies

At The Movies

 

I was looking through a list of past gigs on my web site recently and was surprised to realize that almost 15 years has passed since I was part of a vocal quartet called At The Movies.

Three of us — Nina Vansuch, Michael Ricca and I — had attended a week-long cabaret symposium at the O’Neill Theater Center on the Connecticut coast of Long Island Sound in the summer of 1999.

Our teachers included musical luminaries such as Margaret Whiting and Julie Wilson along with Broadway actress Sally Mayes and a slew of other generous (and mostly inspiring) experts from the worlds of musical theater, jazz and cabaret.

We came back to Boston fired up and ready to sing.

I don’t remember who had the idea that we three would join forces — maybe Nina and/or Michael and/or Brian will weigh in some day with THEIR memories of how we got started using the comments section at the end of this blog post.

I’m pretty sure, however, that it was Nina who brought another wonderful singer AND pianist AND arranger — Brian Patton — into the mix.

Bay Windows Reel One

For four years we met after work — usually at Nina’s place in Belmont or Brian’s place in Jamaica Plain — to eat dinner and make song choices and work on arrangements and write patter and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

I remember many delicious meals cooked by Nina — and also a lot of patience from Brian as we fine-tuned our harmonies.

I had forgotten, however, how much publicity we got.

Thankfully Nina scanned some of it and included it on her web site.

Herald At The Movies

Gradually we added some outside eyes and ears to our creative process, bouncing rough drafts of performances off local directors and working for a while with a warm and loving choreographer/director named Marla Blakey who lived on Martha’s Vineyard.

At one point in her career Marla had worked in this capacity with Bette Midler and also with the vocal group The Manhattan Transfer.

So we were honored and excited to learn from her AND to hear some of her stories about how show business unfolds behind the scenes…

As you can see from the media clippings and hear from the recordings I have included in this blog post, we had a lot of fun together.

BelmontAtTheMovies

Most — or maybe all — of our great photographs were taken by a very talented friend of Nina’s named David Caras.

You can visit his web site by clicking here if you are curious to see more of his work.

After we had sold out Scullers Jazz Club  (thank you for booking us, Fred Taylor!) a couple of times, we decided to record a CD, which can still be purchased at CD Baby by clicking here.

Improper Bostonian Reel One

 

We recorded it at Doug Hammer’s studio north of Boston along with additional musicians Gene Roma (drums), Chris Rathbun (bass), and Spartaco John “Sparkie” Miele (saxophone).

In addition to the songs I have included in this blog post, you can find other songs from our CD — “Journey To The Past,” “Wives & Lovers,” and “That’ll Do” — in the right hand column of this blog.

My memory is also hazy as to why we decided to focus on songs written for or performed in movies…

GlobeAtTheMovies

There are so many great songs in existence — just waiting to be sung! — that we probably knew that it would be wise to narrow our focus a bit.

It may also have been related to Michael’s somewhat savante-like knowledge of movie history.

We performed at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (where I then worked) and also at the Boston Public Library as part of First Night; participated in John O’Neil’s wonderful CabaretFests in Provincetown, MA, Newburyport, MA, and Newfound Lake, NH (thank you, John!); traveled to perform in Providence, RI at the Hi-Hat Club (thank you, Ida Zecco!) and to NYC at a club called Arci’s Place (thank you, Erv Raible — may you rest in peace!) I think our last gig may have been in Quincy for John McDonald (thank you, John!)

Arci's Place At The Movies

One thing I came to appreciate as a result of being part of  At The Movies is that an audience doesn’t just enjoy the music when they go to a concert.

Most of us also enjoy observing the relationships we see in action on stage — both the planned and the spontaneous interactions that unfold during a performance.

After four years of working and playing — and dining — together, however,  our creative collaboration came to an end.

But thanks to the digital magic of zeros and ones, the songs we recorded at Doug Hammer’s studio for our CD Reel One live on…

And I was able to find these media clippings on Nina’s web site (thank you, Nina!)

Perhaps someday we will dig our harmony practice cassettes out of the basement and do a few more shows together.

Until then it is fun to listen and remember…

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The Mystery of Neuronal Connections

 

After I take a shower in the morning, I like to wipe the water off the tile walls with a squeegee.

I had never done this until I visited my friend Michael Ricca’s family home in Quincy, MA.

Their bathroom was spotless, and I learned that Michael’s dad always cleaned the water from the shower walls with a squeegee.

So now I think about Michael and his parents almost every morning as I stand — naked or wearing a towel — and use my shower squeegee.

Michael’s parents used to invite me and him and Nina Vansuch and Brian Patton over for huge Italian feasts when the four of us were singing together in a musical project called At The Movies.

So I also think about Nina and Brian and the music we made together each morning as I wipe water from the shower walls.

I love how “squeegee” and “Michael Ricca’s dad and mom” and “Michael Ricca” and “Nina Vansuch” and “Brian Patton” and “Quincy, MA” are all neuronally linked in my memory banks.

And somehow the act of wiping down the shower walls brings all of them to the surface of my consciousness.

Brian and Nina and Michael and I performed together for a few years, selling out Scullers Jazz Club on a regular basis and recording a CD, Reel One, which still — ten years later — sounds great.

I have included a couple of selections from Reel One in this blog. And a couple more (“Wives & Lovers/Coming Around Again” and “That’ll Do”) are in the player in the right hand side bar of this page.

I especially love Nina’s vocal performance on “Theme from The Valley Of the Dolls” and the vocal harmonies Brian crafted for us to support her.

 

I don’t know if At The Movies will ever perform together or record again, but I am very grateful that we have such lovely audio documentation of our time together.

I was talking with a fellow singer about the fascinating power of neuronal associations the other night as we drove home from an open mic in Natick.

Sometimes what transforms someone’s song interpretation from good to great is simply how many neural associations they have woven into their memorization of the lyrics.

A song may remind them of a loved one who once sang it to them, or an intense crush they once had in high school, or a particularly tumultuous (or poignant or peaceful) period in their life.

Or all of the above.

And those images, those memories, those associations somehow bring the song to life when they perform it.

I try to inoculate songs that I am learning with as many different layers of memory associations as I can muster.

Then when I am performing, I can tap into different constellations of memory associations as the spirit moves me.

One night a song about love might evoke a strong image of my nephews and niece.

On another night I might find myself remembering my former voice teachers — or the first person with whom I fell head over heels in love — or my sweetheart of 22 years — or one of my siblings — or the horse our family owned as a pet for over 30 years — or the corgi we had who once raised a litter of abandoned kittens — or the heron who sleeps at night on an abandoned shopping cart in the middle of a stream which runs along a busy road near my house.

Or huge Italian feasts with Michael and Brian and Nina and Michael’s parents at his childhood home in Quincy.

Or squeegeeing my shower tiles.

Or all of the above.