Category Archives: Arts

Academy Awards Come To Westport

The closing of Oscar’s Delicatessen ended a great Westport tradition: the annual Oscars at Oscar’s pre-party.

But the Westport Cinema Initiative has filled the gap.

A number of local businesses have  become “polling places” for a contest. Just stop in and vote for who you think will win awards this Sunday in a variety of categories: Best Leading Actor and Actress; Best Supporting Actor and Actress; Best Director; Best Picture; Best Animated Feature; Best Documentary and Best Foreign Film.

Winners receive prizes donated by those merchants.

The contest ends this Sunday (February 26) at 4 p.m. You can vote at these locations:

  • Le Rouge by Aarti
  • iFloat
  • Francois du Pont Jewelers
  • Organachs Farm to Skin
  • Vincent Palumbo Salon
  • The Brownstone
  • Green & Tonic
  • The UPS Store
  • Downunder
  • Westport Hardware
  • Saugatuck Sweets
  • Joe’s Pizza
  • Simon Pearce
  • Body Quest
  • Soleil Toile

PS: As you enjoy the Oscars Sunday night, raise a glass in memory of Oscar’s.

Last year's pre-Oscars party at Oscar's was also deli owner Lee Papageorge's 65th birthday. His daughter Missy presented him with his very own statue. (Photo/Diane Lowman)

Last year’s pre-Oscars party at Oscar’s was also deli owner Lee Papageorge’s 65th birthday. His daughter Missy presented him with his very own statue. (Photo/Diane Lowman)

Igor Pikayzen’s Classical Dream

Igor Pikayzen has not forgotten his roots.

Before he graduated in 2005, he was already one of the most talented violinists’ in Staples High School’s long and treasured musical history.

Pikayzen went on to Juilliard, then earned a master’s degree and artist’s diploma from Yale University. Now he’s completing his doctor of musical arts at the CUNY Graduate Center. He also teaches at Brooklyn Conservatory.

Igor Pikayzen

Igor Pikayzen, soon after graduating from Staples.

He’s appeared as a soloist with major orchestras across 4 continents. He has played at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall in New York, Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, Le Teatro Sant-Cugat in Barcelona and Cadogan Hall in London, to name a few.

Pikayzen’s live performances and recordings have been broadcast on WXQR WQXR, and around the globe. He’s won numerous competitions.

You get the idea: He’s one of the world’s great violinists.

But Pikayzen still holds Westport close to his heart. He returns when he can to teach master classes for Adele Valovich’s Staples orchestra.

Pikayzen loves classical music, and wants to pass along his passion to the next generation.

Now he’s one step closer to doing that.

Igor Pikayzen, ready to return to Westport.

Igor Pikayzen, ready to return to Westport.

Edelio — the name is Old Greek, meaning “eternally youthful — is an innovative music festival debuting in Westport this June.

Founded with the twin missions of performance and education, Edelio aims to bring bold programming — including not just classical repertoire, but jazz, crossover and contemporary — while inspiring future generations of music lovers and musicians.

Edelio promises Westporters the chance to enjoy worldwide premieres and Beethoven quartets — and to watch children collaborating with international artists.

Pikayzen’s project is starting from scratch. He plans 4 concerts for June.

“I play a lot of festivals, all over the world,” Pikayzen explains. “I’ve seen world musicians converge on small villages. There’s no reason we can’t have that in Westport.”

Edelio launches on Wednesday, March 1, at Steinway of Westport. Pikayzen will perform a wide-ranging program. Guests can learn about his dreams.

And hear world-class music, right here, from one of our own.

(For tickets and more information about the March 1 event, click here. To learn more about Edelio — including sponsorship — click here.)

 

Brian Keane Remembers Larry Coryell

The music world is mourning Larry Coryell. The jazz guitarist with a rock sensibility, died Sunday in New York. He was 73.

He’s also a former Westporter. Coryell lived for several years on Watch Hill, off North Compo across from the Town Farm tennis courts.

His career was intertwined with another Westport musician, Brian Keane. The Staples High School Class of 1971 grad has composed the music for hundreds of films and television shows, produced over 100 albums, and won Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys. 

Brian recalls his friend, fellow collaborator, and enormous influence:

Larry Coryell

Larry Coryell

Larry Coryell was a legendary guitarist who pioneered the fusion of jazz and rock. There will be lots of tributes to his career. He played with everybody in jazz.

Besides his own 11th House band, he recorded with John McLoughlin, Gary Burton, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock.

He also made some recordings with me.

Larry was an amazing musician. Many people don’t realize it, but he was among the best rhythm guitar players (certainly that I ever played with). He was incredibly supportive as a rhythm player. I didn’t even realize that until years later, when I listened to old tapes of some concerts that someone recorded of us together in Europe. He could play very fast as well of course, and he could play a wide variety of styles.

I was 24 years old when I met Larry in 1977. I had managed to get some gigs with Eddie Gomez, Jeremy Steig, and a few other notable musicians. I heard Larry lived in the area, and arranged to take a guitar lesson from him (in order to meet him).

It worked. We became friend, and partners in crime, partying and sharing music. We were both wild men back then, living the life, in the height of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. I could tell you so many crazy stories it would take pages. But I will save those mostly depraved and highly entertaining tales for those who lived through that era with us.

Larry Coryell (left) and Brian Keane in Europe, 1982.

Larry Coryell (left) and Brian Keane in Europe, 1982.

I gave Larry’s kids guitar lessons when they were young. I was good friends with his departed wife Julie, and Larry and I had many good friends in common.

After a while, Larry and I did some festivals together, and started doing duo gigs (lots more stories I could tell). Larry provided a young idiot savant stoner guitarist (me) a chance to do concerts around the world. We went everywhere together for a while: all 50 states, more than 50 countries, in about a 5-year span. We made 4 records together. I thought it was the biggest thing for my career at the time (and it probably was then).

However, Larry and I did something even bigger for each other than just about anything else that happened, and it had a tremendous impact on both of our lives.

We got sober together. And we did it largely on the road.

I have to give Larry’s wife Julie some of the credit for making him go to get help, and forcing me to be clean in order to tour and record with him. But Larry took it seriously, and kept me in line (at the age of 28 when I definitely didn’t want to be). That said, I got better at it eventually, and helped him more than a time or two as well.

This was an era when nobody in the music business was going straight. As much as Larry showed me some great guitar riffs or chord changes, as much as I got to see the world as a young man playing with him, I owe Larry my greatest debt of gratitude for being that person I leaned on to stay sober while out on the road — and I was that for him as well. Later, we influenced many other prominent musicians in that same regard.

Larry and I stayed in touch over the years, though our career paths went in different directions. I have stayed in touch with his incredibly talented kids Murali and Julian as well. Larry was very sick last year, but I thought he was on the mend.

His death leaves a huge hole in my life, in the lives of so many of our mutual friends who were there during those years, and in the music world. But my heart especially goes out to his wife Tracey and the Coryell family at this difficult time.

R.I.P., my fellow road warrior. We certainly did up some great times together.

The video below is a very rare recording of “Bolero” by Larry Coryell and Brian Keane. It was recorded live in concert in Italy, in 1983.

Your Westport Guide To The Oscars

This Sunday, Westport’s eyes will be on Justin Paul. The 2003 Staples High School graduate and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek are up for 2 Academy Awards.  Two of their “La La Land” lyrics — “City of Stars” and “Audition” — have been nominated for “Best Song.”

A 2nd Westporter is also up for an Oscar. Nicholas Britell’s “Moonlight” is among 5 nominees for “Best Original Score.”

Paul — who with Pasek also wrote the music for the current Broadway smash “Dear Evan Hansen” — has gotten plenty of local publicity.

Yet despite winning a Westport Arts Horizon Award in 2012, Britell has gotten less press here.

Nicholas Britell.

Nicholas Britell.

A 1998 graduate of Hopkins School in New Haven (as well as Juilliard and Harvard), he’s a New York-based composer, pianist, and film producer.

He composed and arranged spiritual and work songs, violin performances and dance numbers for “12 Years a Slave,” among many other credits.

Yesterday’s New York Times described how Britell “chopped and screwed” classical music, giving the “Moonlight” score its “otherworldly sound.” Click here for the full story.

Here’s wishing good luck to both Justin Paul and Nicholas Britell on Sunday. Besides growing up in Westport a few years apart, they’ve got another connection: Damien Chazelle. He’s known today for directing “La La Land.” Four years ago, he directed “Whiplash.” The producer was Britell.

(Hat tips: Anne Rutherford and Jeff Wieser. Click here for a full list of nominees for Sunday’s Academy Awards. If you spot any other Westport connections, click “Comments” below!)

From Cuba, With Love

Westporters June Eichbaum and Ken Wirfel just returned from a great National Geographic expedition to Cuba. June sends this report, and some wonderful photos:

Our “people to people” visa facilitated a unique cultural exchange. We met extraordinary teachers and students in the visual and performing arts, including an 18-year-old young man in Cienfuegos who choreographed and danced a pas de deux of passion and violence in gay love.

At Isla de Juventud, an all-girl string quartet played a Telemann violin concerto.  We were energized by the percussion and dance of Habana de Compas, rooted in Santeria rhythms. We spoke with cigar factory workers, farmers and a Santeria priest.

Man with cigar. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Man with cigar. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

We met a librarian who ran a Google-donated internet center with computers for children, and mechanics skilled in antique car restoration. We visited open-air markets where butchers sold unrefrigerated meat, alongside fruits and eggs.   We walked through a crumbling, abandoned prison for political prisoners and hard-core criminals.

Cuba is both amazing and sad. It is amazing because of the openness, compassion and joy of the Cuban people — their resilience, love of family, and music and art that infuses their world.

The sadness was ours, as we observed Cubans lacking what we consider essential to our everyday lives, like appliances, food (without needing a ration card), cars, even functional plumbing.

Apartment building with clotheslines. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Apartment building with clotheslines. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Yet the United States continues its embargo — not sanctions, but an embargo — an anachronism that has outlived its purpose. All it does now is deprive poor hard-working people.

For instance, Cubans can’t import US cars or car parts. As a result, Cuban mechanics in a time-warp fashion parts for cars from the 1950’s, or import parts from other countries.

One man showed us his ’58 Chevy. He was allowed to import a Mercedes engine from Germany, but not from the US.  Then he pointed to a Chinese container ship in the harbor that was delivering a shipment of new buses.

'58 Chevy in old Havana. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

’58 Chevy in old Havana. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Another embargo-imposed time warp is that Cuban-Americans who send money to their relatives in Cuba must use Western Union, not US banks.

So what does Cuba have to do with Westport?

Westporters and Cubanos have shared values:  love of family; devotion to children; engaging in hard work; living in an inclusive society.

Cubanos do not discriminate based on ethnicity or race. They see themselves as one people — not black or mulatto or white.

Woman in colorful dress, old Havana. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Woman in colorful dress, old Havana. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Historically, Westport was the only town in Fairfield County that sold homes to Jews.  “Gentleman’s Agreement” — the 1947 movie with Gregory Peck about anti-Semitism in Fairfield County — told this ugly story.

Cubanos are passionate about the arts and creativity — whether dance, music, theater, painting, sculpture, embroidery, weaving, sculpture or pottery. Life in Westport is energized by groups like Westport Country Playhouse, Westport Art Center, Westport Public Library, Staples Players and Westport Community Theater.

Girl practicing trumpet in high school courtyard. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Girl practicing trumpet in high school courtyard. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

On the flight home I thought about transforming the “people to people” Cuba expedition into a two-way street.  Charleston, South Carolina has already provided a model in its annual Spoleto USA Festival.

This event has become one of America’s major performing arts festivals, showcasing both established and emerging artists with performances of opera, dance, theater, classical music and jazz.

Imagine the positive impact of Westport hosting these gifted Cuban artists of all ages with performances over a week at different venues throughout town.  And imagine how it would bring people together at a time when our country is so divided.

Abandoned prisons. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Abandoned prisons. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Santeria religious doll. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Santeria religious doll. (Photo copyright June Eichbaum)

Bradley Stevens Paints Washington’s Interior

Like the rest of President Obama’s cabinet, Sally Jewell is gone.

But — at least in the Department of Interior’s Washington, DC office — she will never be forgotten.

That’s because her portrait now hangs there, alongside her 50 predecessors.

It’s a non-traditional painting. And it’s of “06880” interest because the artist is Staples Class of 1972 graduate Bradley Stevens.

A Wrecker basketball star (and rock guitarist) who earned both a BA and MFA from George Washington University in 1976, Stevens is one of America’s leading realist painters. His work — depicting Vernon Jordan, Allen Iverson, Felix Rohatyn, Senator Mark Warner, and dozens of other politicians, financiers, educators, judges and sports figures — hangs in the Smithsonian, US Capitol, State Department, Mount Vernon and Monticello.

Bradley Stevens, at work in his studio. (Photo/GW Magazine)

Bradley Stevens, at work in his studio. (Photo/GW Magazine)

His Sally Jewell commission came on the recommendation of collectors of his work in Seattle, who knew her. Her previous job was CEO of REI, based in that city.

Last April, Stevens met the secretary at Interior headquarters. Over the next 8 months, as he worked on the portrait, they met many times in his studio.

Stevens hiked with Jewell in the Cascades. “Luckily,” he says, the experienced outdoorswoman — who has climbed Antarctica’s highest peak — “chose a more moderate mountain.”

He posed her on the Manassas battlefield in Virginia — near Stevens’ home — at sunrise, to get the right light.

“It’s not your typical government portrait,” Stevens says. “The landscape plays a prominent role in the composition.”

But, he says, because as head of the National Park Service — and because of her love of the outdoors — he thought it was important to paint her in front of Mt. Rainier. It’s an iconic image of her home town, and she’s reached its summit 7 times.

Jewell — who as secretary helped expose underprivileged young people to the environment — asked Stevens to include Youth Conservation Corps volunteers on the trail behind her.

In the portrait, she wears silver tribal jewelry. That symbolizes her efforts to protect Native American sacred lands.

Sally Jewell's official portrait, by Bradley Stevens.

Sally Jewell’s official portrait, by Bradley Stevens.

The painting was unveiled at the Department of the Interior on January 13. There was a big ceremony, with many speakers.

Stevens says, “It was an honor to get to know Secretary Jewell. She is passionate and driven about her work protecting our nation’s lands.”

She is also “a humble and self-effacing public servant. It was never about attracting attention to herself. Her focus was solely on doing the right things for the environment. This experience restored my faith in government.”

President Trump has nominated Montana congressman Ryan Zinke to replace Jewell. A frequent voter against environmentalists on issues ranging from coal extraction to oil and gas drilling, he received a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

 

Move Over, “Hamilton.” Forget It, “Camelot.” “Dear Evan Hansen” Rocks.

“06880” could post stories every day about Justin Paul, and never run out of things to say.

We could, but we won’t.

Nevertheless, the latest news about the 2003 Staples High School graduate — who with his songwriting partner Benj Pasek is a Golden Globe winner, Oscar nominee, movie and stage and TV sensation, and basically the hottest thing on the musical theater horizon since Rodgers and Hammerstein — is pretty impressive.

The original cast recording of “Dear Evan Hansen” — a Broadway smash — debuted at #8 on the Billboard chart. That’s higher than any cast recording since 1961, when “Camelot” appeared for the 1st time at #4.

To answer your question: “Hamilton” first showed up at #12.

That’s today’s Justin Paul news. We’ll be back soon with more, for sure.

(Want your own “Dear Evan Hansen” cast recording? Click here!)

To Cesar Batalla School, With Love

If you’re like me, you spend time sitting in Riverside Avenue traffic wondering what goes on behind those mysterious windows above Arezzo restaurant.

bonnie-marcus-logoTurns out it’s a design studio, home to the Bonnie Marcus Collection. Launched by Diane von Furstenberg’s former right-hand woman, it’s where 10 very talented people — all local moms — create illustrations for bridal shower, wedding and party invitations; greeting cards; calendars and more.

Bonnie has developed licensing deals with some of the biggest companies in the world. Her designs are found in more than 50,000 retail and online stores.

But today her studio concentrates on one school, in nearby  Bridgeport.

Bonnie’s cards often feature hand-painted sparkles. So Westporter Nicole Straight — who volunteers at the Cesar Batalla School, and is a big fan of Bonnie Marcus Collections — came up with an idea: Give every student there a chance to make a sparkling Valentine’s Day card for someone special.

Westport middle school student Sydney Gusick helped package goodies at the Bonnie Marcus design studio.

Westport middle school student Sydney Gusick helped package goodies at the Bonnie Marcus design studio.

It could be a parent, sibling, teacher or friend. The key is for kids to have fun making their own cards.

Today, Nicole is delivered 1,200 sparkle pens to the school.

Plus Valentine’s gifts for each teacher: A calendar, filled with color and creativity, for every classroom.

Bonnie and the rest of her team enjoyed plenty of smiling faces at Cesar Batalla today.

Who knows? They may find a future designer there too.

(Hat tip: Robin Gusick)

Making a valentine, today at Cesar Batalla School.

Making a valentine, today at Cesar Batalla School.

 

Remembering Harold Levine

Harold Levine — a giant on the local philanthropic scene — died peacefully at home yesterday. He was 95.

Professionally, he’s known as the co-founder — with Chet Huntley — of the Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver ad agency. Highly regarded for its creativity, the firm was in the forefront of providing career opportunities for women and minorities. In 1996, Levine received a diversity achievement award from the American Advertising Federation.

Levine was also a lifelong champion of education and the arts.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, as chair of the Freeport (New York) Board of Education, he steered that school system during a period of racial and political unrest. He later served as chair of the board of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Foundation.

Harold Levine

Harold Levine

After moving to Westport, he committed himself to providing educational and arts opportunities to Bridgeport children.

As chair of Neighborhood Studios, he helped a small arts program grow into a large, thriving organization that now provides a broad array of music, fine art and dance education.

He often — and successfully — sought financial and other support from Westport, to benefit Bridgeport youngsters.

Levine is survived by his children, Rita and Jay; 4 grandchildren, and a great-grandson. He was predeceased by his wife Sue and brother Josh.

A funeral is set for Monday (February 13, 10:30 a.m.) at Temple Israel. Memorial contributions may be made to Neighborhood Studios, 391 East Washington Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06608.


In 2015, Harold Levine asked me to spread the good word about Neighborhood Studios. I was happy to oblige. At 93, he wrote the following plea:

I just received a troubling phone call. Our executive director projects that by the end of our fiscal year on August 30th, we will be over $80,000 in  debt.

We are seriously understaffed. So why the deficit?

Neighborhood Studios logoWhy can’t we get enough money to provide arts experiences to over 1,500 children? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they don’t live in our community? Is it because they are black and Hispanic?

I recently invited a Westporter to join me on a visit to our programs in action. I was told, “Oh, I don’t go to Bridgeport.”

Neighborhood Studios was founded over 35 years ago by Pat Hart, a young woman who became blind at 28. She was committed to teaching art and music to blind and other handicapped children. Over the years the organization has grown to serve all Bridgeport children.

For example, for private piano lessons we ask parents to pay $3 per sessions. Many tell us they cannot afford even that little.  Are we to turn that child away?  Of course not. That’s one reason we end the year with a deficit.

For the past 15 years we have sponsored Ailey Camp, a 6-week summer program in cooperation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Bridgeport is one of only 7 such camps around the country.

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

Besides a great dance program, youngsters are also trained in speech, writing, and feeling good about themselves. Many campers return as interns and instructors.

This is a program that everyone in Fairfield County should be proud to support.  The campers (and their parents) are carefully interviewed. Each family pays only $25 for the entire summer — yet each camper costs Neighborhood Studios over $1,000.

We are looking for patrons of the arts. I was once told that if Neighborhood Studios was headquartered in Westport, we would be loaded with money.

But we’re not. We are in Bridgeport, serving a community very much in need. So how about saying to the children of Bridgeport: “We do care about you.”

Our programs work. We are successful in getting a high percentage of our children to go on to college.  We must continue to serve the children of our neighboring community, Bridgeport.

Danny Pravder And Kid Cudi Rock Jimmy Fallon

If you watched the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” last night, you saw Kid Cudi perform a fantastic version of “Kitchen,” backed by a full string section.

If you watched really closely, you could see Danny Pravder on piano.

Danny Pravder (right), backing King Cudi on national TV.

Danny Pravder (right), backing Kid Cudi on national TV.

The 2012 Staples High School graduate earned a B.A. in math and computer science from Skidmore College. But music is his passion.

A few weeks after graduation, he drove cross country to try to make it in L.A.

Days later, Kid Cudi needed a pianist for “Does It,” a track on his new album “Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’.” Music director Steve Velez — who Pravder had met 2 years earlier, on a classical music tour of Vienna, Salzburg and Prague — suggested the recent arrival.

Danny Pravder

Danny Pravder

Pravder nailed it — then improvised a coda for “Releaser,” another track. A few takes later, they had the version used on the album.

That January, Pravder joined a chamber collective called the Da Capo Players. Velez is the music director and cellist for that group too.

When Kid Cudi was booked for the Jimmy Fallon gig — with those strings — Pravder was invited too. He flew to New York on Tuesday. They rehearsed that night.

There is no piano on the original “Kitchen” track. Pravder improvised, on live TV.

Though the camera focuses almost entirely on Kid Cudi, there was a brief piano solo — with a spotlight.

Danny Pravder (left) with King Cudi and members of the Da Capo Players, backstage at "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon."

Danny Pravder (left) with Kid Cudi and members of the Da Capo Players, backstage at “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”

Today’s snowstorm delayed Pravder’s return to California. But it won’t slow down his career.

Ahead are more studio projects. A future in dance accompaniment. World travels, performing piano.

And — no doubt — many more TV appearances, with the greatest performers in the land.

(Click here to see last night’s performance of “Kitchen” with Kid Cudi and Danny Pravder.)