Category Archives: Arts

Nile Rodgers’ Journey: From Disco To Abbey Road

Nile Rodgers seems to have done it all.

The 65-year-old Westporter/musician/ producer/ composer/arranger  has performed or produced for everyone from Sister Sledge (“We Are Family”) to Duran Duran, David Bowie, Madonna and Britney Spears.

He’s earned Grammys for Record of the Year and Album of the Year (for Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”).

Those of us a bit older remember his guitar work with Chic (“Le Freak”).  Nearly 40 years later, he played at President Obama’s final White House party. It lasted until 6 a.m.

Nile Rodgers has even been honored as the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” star.

But now he’s got a new gig: chief creative advisor at Abbey Road.

The legendary artist joins the most legendary studio on the planet. He’ll record rock and pop stars, while also mentoring up-and-coming performers.

Rodgers — who told the BBC he dreamed of working at Abbey Road ever since he heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — says that every day at work, he sees people recreating the road-crossing made famous on the Beatles’ eponymous album.

But, he adds, the studio remains cutting-edge. “I’m an audio fanatic. I want my new stuff to sound amazing.”

He’s already worked with Bruno Mars there.

It really must be “Something” to watch the 2 stars “Come Together.”

(For more details on Nile Rodgers’ new project, click here. Hat tip: Alan Hodge.)

Nile Rodgers outside Abbey Road Studios. (Photo/Jill Furmanovsky for BBC)

Friday Flashback #83

Buell Neidlinger — longtime “06880” reader and commenter/Westport native/world-renowned musician/all-around good guy — died last week. He was 82 years old.

Three days before his sudden death, he emailed me a suggestion for a Friday Flashback.

He sent a few pages from an old cookbook he’d found. “The New Connecticut Cookbook, Being a Collection of Recipes from Connecticut Kitchens” was compiled by the Woman’s Club of Westport, and illustrated by Connecticut artists. It belonged to his mother.

Buell’s pages did not include a publication date. But — judging from the car in the illustration, which may or may not be parked on a stylized version of Main Street — it was early in the papacy of Pope Pius XII.

Why that example? Because the preface (below), by literary critic/ biographer/historian Van Wyck Brooks — a Westport resident — notes that as Cardinal Pacelli, “the present Pope has been a visitor here.” Pius XII was Pope from 1939 to 1958.

Brooks mentions two other famous visitors to Westport, separated by more than a century: the French gastronome Jean Anthelem Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), and Luigi Pirandello. The Italian writer and poet attended a performance at the Westport Country Playhouse. That was sometime between 1931 — when the summer theater opened — and 1936, when Pirandello died.

The pages that Buell sent are fascinating. Then again, everything he did for “06880” was.

This one’s for you, good friend.

[UPDATE] 3rd Site Proposed For Medical Marijuana Dispensary

The Planning & Zoning Commission meets April 5 to continue its public hearing on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Three proposals are on the agenda.

One involves the former Bertucci’s restaurant on the Post Road, near the Sherwood Island Connector.

The 2nd is for the old Blockbuster store.

The 3rd proposal is for 345 Post Road West.

That’s the Academy of Dance building, near the Norwalk border.

The Academy of Dance, on Post Road West.

The dance studio sent out this message:

It has been brought to our attention that our landlords have filed an “Application for Special Permit” to attempt to make this location eligible for a CT Medical Marijuana Dispensary. We were not aware of these intentions and we are working with our landlords to better understand their recent actions.

It is important for our dance community to know that we are bound by a current lease that entitles us to remain at 345 Post Road West as we have done successfully for many years.

The Academy says their “classes, performances, privacy and typical routines” will not be disrupted or infringed upon. They’re not closing, and they don’t intend to move.

Sounds as if the applicant — “FFD Westport LLC” — has found a location smaller than the 2 big locations so many residents complained about at the last meeting.

But it’s clear the current tenants are not going to just waltz away.

(The P&Z meeting on Thursday, April 5 begins at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.)

Bedford Musicians, Sean O’Loughlin: An Innovative Collaboration

At a time when arts education is under siege nationally — forget the frills! teach engineering and coding! — Westport is offering its students something else.

A chance to compose music with Sean O’Loughlin.

Sean O’Loughlin

The award-winning composer/arranger/conductor — he’s got over 200 compositions to his credit, and has collaborated with Adele, Josh Groban, Itzhak Perlman, Pentatonix, Kelly Clarkson and others — is in the midst of a unique project. His collaborators: 6th, 7th and 8th orchestra students at Bedford Middle School.

A Westport Public Schools Innovation Grant funds the effort. The grants give students and staff the chance to think outside the box, using creative new ideas.

The relationship began last year, when the 6th grade orchestra Skyped with O’Loughlin during rehearsals of one of his pieces.

Last summer, BMS music teachers Michele Anderson and Anthony Granata asked the composer to continue the connection. He was happy to oblige.

This past November, string students explored the music-writing process. They looked at tempo, mood, style, even titles for future pieces.

Next — via multiple Skype sessions — they offered O’Loughlin suggestions for key and time signatures, bowing styles and advanced techniques. Afterwards, students discussed and wrote about those interactions.

Michele Anderson rehearses her Bedford students. Composer Sean O’Loughlin watches in the background, via Skype.

Based on their input, O’Laughlin then created 3 unique pieces.

In early January, he sent his original compositions to the very excited Bedford students.

Since then — again by Skype — the youngsters and O’Loughlin rehearsed together. As they did, they asked questions and shared ideas.

On Monday, the musicians met O’Loughlin in real time. He came to Bedford from California, as a composer/conductor in residence. He rehearsed the students, and gave a presentation.

After an exciting day, all orchestra students gathered for a performance conducted by O’Loughlin. Music educators were invited to watch the creative process in action.

Sean O’Loughlin conducts the Bedford orchestra.

“Because these pieces are brand new, our BMS orchestra students were the first ones to interpret the music in their very own way,” Anderson notes.

“There was no recording to listen to. The music came from them.”

The process is working well. And in May, the middle schoolers will share their work with the public.

The prestigious Carl Fischer music company will publish the compositions. They’ll be available to schools across the globe.

Bedford’s spring concerts — when they’ll debut the O’Laughlin pieces — are set for May 1 (grade 6), May 3 (grade 7) and May 14 (grade 8). They begin at 7 p.m. in the school auditorium, and are free.

Justin Paul’s Lin Manuel Miranda Moment

Justin Paul. Lin Manuel Miranda. Ben Platt. The March For Our Lives.

That’s quite a combination.

Yesterday, the 4th #Hamiltondrop video was released. The series features monthly “Hamilton”-inspired mashups, combined with other well-known songs.

The one mixes “Hamilton”‘s “Story of Tonight” with “You Will Be Found,” from “Dear Evan Hansen.” That tune was written by Staples High School graduate Justin Paul, and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek.

The mashup is sung by Miranda and Ben Platt, a Tony Award winner for his portrayal of the “Hansen” title character. says it may be the best of the entire series.

The video includes quick shots of Justin, sitting on a couch watching the recording. It was made just a couple of hours after he visited Staples High and Coleytown Middle Schools. He was exhausted, but excited.

Proceeds from downloads (click here) go to this weekend’s march, organized by teenagers to draw attention to gun violence and political inaction.

Emma Gonzalez — a Parkland High School student, political activist and march leader — tweeted: “I just listened to it and I can’t stop crying. I’m gonna listen to this forever holy heck.”

“Merrily” Broadway Star Boosts Staples Players’ Show

It wasn’t easy.

Serial snowstorms knocked out crucial rehearsals. Plus there were the normal teenage challenges of putting on a complex show, alongside the usual demands of school, family and social life.

But Staples Players has scored another success with “Merrily We Roll Along.” Opening weekend audiences loved the troupe’s interpretation of the 1981 Stephen Sondheim musical — based on a 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart — that Players first staged in 2003.

Senior Charlie Zuckerman plays Charley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and former best friend of Frank (the lead character, played by Nick Rossi).

Charlie Zuckerman, Avery Mendillo and Nick Rossi perform “Old Friends” in “Merrily We Roll Along.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Lonny Price originated the role of Charley on Broadway. It ran for only 16 performances, and 52 previews. But “Merrily” has since taken on a life of its own. Audiences have learned to love its intricacies.

And in 2016 Price directed “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened,” a documentary about “Merrily”‘s original Broadway production, and the hopeful young performers whose lives were transformed by it.

Price’s documentary was named one of the New York Times’ top 10 films of 2016.

Lonny Price, Ann Morrison, and Jim Walton in “Merrily We Roll Along,” and today. (Right photo/ Martha Swope; left picture/Bruce David Klein)

Price will be in the audience for this Friday’s Staples production (March 23, 7:30 p.m.). Afterward, he’ll lead Players’ first-ever talkback. Audience members are encouraged to stay, and enjoy insights from the Broadway icon.

In addition to his “Merrily” and “Best Worst Thing” credits, Price directed Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard,” “Audra McDonald in “110 in the Shade,” and Danny Glover in “‘Master Harold’ … and the Boys.” He’s a 3-time Emmy winner.

Price also collaborated with Westporter Andrew Wilk — executive producer of “Live From Lincoln Center” — on broadcasts of “Camelot,” “Candide” and “Sweeney Todd.” For years, he has heard Wilk rave about the high quality of Players’ productions.

Now he’ll see for himself.

“Andrew has excellent taste,” Price says. “So when he asked me to check out their production of ‘Merrily,’ I was eager to see their take on a show that has meant so much to me for the last 37 years.”

You’ll be inspired by “Merrily We Roll Along.” You’ll love Lonny Price’s talkback.

And if you want to get the most out of both, you can watch “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” on Netflix — or right here:

(“Merrily We Roll Along” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 23 and 24, 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets. A few tickets may be available in the lobby at 7 p.m.)

Remembering Buell Neidlinger

If you read the comments section on “06880,” you know Buell Neidlinger. He wrote often about old-time Westport, music, and topics of the day.

Buell commented most recently on Friday morning. That afternoon, he died. He was 82 years old.

Buell was one of the most interesting readers I know. He led a rich, fascinating life, most notably in the music world. Read on to learn more.

Buell Neidlinger (Photo/Drew Kampion)

A resident of Whidbey Island, Washington, he arrived in Westport in 1938, at 2 years old. His parents rented a house on South Compo Road. Buell went to Bedford Junior High, then St. Luke’s in New Canaan.

He spent one year at Yale, then floated around. He returned to Westport, working in Frank Zack’s “high-class haberdashery” downtown.

He sold aluminum windows. Meanwhile he practiced bass in a warehouse, playing along to records.

Max Kaminsky, a famous jazz trumpeter renting in Westport, convinced Buell to move to New York — superb advice. He backed Billie Holiday when she played clubs, during the last years of her life.

In 1957, Buell Neidlinger played at the Newport Jazz Festival with pianist Cecil Taylor. (Photo/Bob Parent)

The first hit record Buell played on was Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He went on to play and record with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Dolly Parton, the Carpenters, the Moody Blues, Barry White, Whitney Houston, Ringo Starr and Bill Monroe.

He hung out with Pablo Casals — in Westport. (Click here to read about that encounter. For more on his youth here, and his Westport recollections, click here.)

Buell had not been back to Westport in decades. But he discovered this website, and rediscovered his hometown. That meant a lot to him.

From time to time, he would call. “This is Buell,” he’d begin. Though we never met, we felt like old friends. In a gravelly voice, he’d describe some long-ago adventure in town. He’d ask about an old landmark. Then he’d apologize for taking my time, say, “I’ll talk to you soon,” and hang up.

Buell died suddenly — just hours after commenting on “06880.” His Whidbey Island friend Drew Kampion sent more details on his extraordinary life:

Buell’s gone, but the music lingers on through nearly 70 recordings made in a 60-year career in the music business. As a bassist, he backed up many who became household names. But name recognition or not, Buell could hold his own in any musical setting.

Buell Neidlinger (center), flanked by Roy Orbison and T Bone Burnett.

He was born in New York City on March 2, 1936 into a privileged life. He was exposed to great musicians from an early age. His music training began at St. Thomas Choir School at the age of 7, where he also began playing the cello. He became accomplished on the instrument.

At Yale University he became interested in the bass. By age 25 his jazz apprenticeships with Joe Sullivan, Herbie Nichols, Dick Wellstood, Vic Dickenson and Oran “Hot Lips” Page had led to recording and performance gigs with Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Rex Stewart, the Gil Evans band, and Cecil Taylor (whose bassist he was for 7 years).

Composer Gunther Schuller encouraged Buell to further expand his classical abilities (and hired him to participate in history-making Third Stream concerts at Circle in the Square). He also joined Sir John Barbirolli’s Houston Symphony, and moonlighted around Texas with Arnett Cobb, Little Esther Phillips, Bobby Blue Bland, and James Clay.

The recipient of a Rockefeller performance grant in 1965, Buell worked closely with composers Mauricio Kagel, Sylvano Buscotti, George Crumb, and John Cage to develop new string playing techniques and sounds, giving premier performances of their compositions worldwide. He freelanced with Stokowski’s American Symphony, City Center Opera, the Budapest and Amadeus string quartets, and small ensembles led by Igor Stravinsky, Karl Richter, and Schuller.

In 1967 he became a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Erich Leinsdorf, and joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music, where he helped establish the jazz department.

In 1971 he moved to Los Angeles to teach at CalArts. He was chosen by Neville Marriner to be principal bass with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, a post he held for 8  years.

Buell Neidlinger and his wife, Margaret Storer, on the Warner Brothers sound stage in 1993. The big blue trunk carried his 1785 Italian bass.

In LA Buell began an extensive recording career. He played in hundreds of major Hollywood movies from the early 1970s to the late ’90s. He recorded with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Elvis Costello, Earth Wind and Fire and Frank Zappa, to name a few. He also produced recordings of his jazz ensembles, toured Europe and America, and produced other artists, such as Leo Kottke.

In his spare time he presented master classes in chamber music and jazz at Aspen, Tanglewood, Eastman School of Music, Harvard, New York State University, Rotterdam Conservatory, and the annual San Luis Obispo String Seminar.

Buell was larger than life. The same passion he brought to his music carried over into his relationships, sometimes resulting in fireworks. He was rarely lukewarm about anything. He brought a full set of emotions to everything he did. He cared deeply about music and our world. Those who knew him intimately found him to be an extraordinarily sensitive and kind man, and felt privileged to be his friend or musical associate.

His wife, Margaret Storer, was also a professional bassist. They were an elite team on the studio and film circuit in Los Angeles, and after they moved to Whidbey Island. They were married for 36 years. She was his love and his rock. He also leaves behind two children, Mike Neidlinger and Miranda Neidlinger.

In his later years, Buell played around Whidbey Island in many venues. He could be found entertaining customers as Billy the Cellist, playing Bach cello suites at the local coffee shop, or with his favorite string quartet, while eating chocolate and telling stories of his long life in the music business.

Buell Neidlinger playing in a coffee shop on Whidbey Island. He called himself “Billy the Cellist.”

Alec Baldwin, Kelli O’Hara Headline Playhouse Gala

A. R. “Pete” Gurney died last June. He was 86 years old.

The playwright holds many distinctions — including most-produced playwright in the Westport Country Playhouse’s 88-year history. Since 1980, the historic theater has produced 21 of his works.

A.R. “Pete” Gurney

Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos also has a deep association with Gurney. He has directed many of his longtime friend’s plays, both off-Broadway and at the Playhouse. Some were world premieres.

At Carnegie Hall, Lamos diected Alec Baldwin in Gurney’s “Love Letters.”

So with all those connections, it’s no surprise that the Westport Country Playhouse’s annual fundraising gala features Mark Lamos directing Alec Baldwin in Pete Gurney’s “Love Letters.”

The cast for the old-friends event (April 12) also includes Westporter Kelli O’Hara, a Tony Award winner for her portrayal of Anna in “The King and I.”

Lamos first met Gurney in the early 1980s, while running Hartford Stage. The writer’s understanding of the “New England WASP gestalt” fascinated the director, who saw in Gurney’s characters some of the company’s board members and donors.

“He absolutely captures the sound of a generation of upper-class people,” Lamos says. “He hears their voices, and makes them real. He’s at the end of a long tradition of people like Henry James and John Cheever — New England-based comedy of manners writers.”

In addition, Lamos says, “Pete has a wonderful sense of humor. He has a talent for fine-tuning a joke — or taking it away.”

Mark Lamos

Twenty years ago, when Lamos and his husband moved to western Connecticut, Gurney invited them to dinner with Arthur Miller. Gurney, Lamos and their spouses became good friends.

Over the years, Lamos directed Gurney’s “Big Bill,” “The Dining Room” and others.

Since joining the Playhouse in 2009, Lamos has appreciated Gurney’s long association with the Westport theater. Jim McKenzie — executive director there for 41 years — loved the playwright’s work, Lamos says.

He’s proud to keep up the tradition.

And looking very forward to the April 12 gala, which raises funds so the Playhouse can continue producing many more intriguing, entertaining and thought-provoking plays.

By Pete Gurney — and others, too.

(For more information about the April 12 Spring Gala, including tickets, click here.)

The Westport Country Playhouse

Westport Rocks! The Greatest Stories Ever Told

If you don’t know Westport’s musical history — concerts at Staples High School by the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Rascals, Animals and many more; the Remains, perhaps the greatest band in history never to hit the big time; REO Speedwagon’s 157 Riverside Avenue — you must be living under a rock (ho ho).*

But hey hey, my my. Rock and roll can never die.

So mark next Wednesday, March 21 (7 p.m.) on your calendar. Michael Friedman’s Gallery in Bedford Square is the site for one of Westport’s liveliest musical events ever.  

The owner’s stunning photographs of everyone from Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger to the Band and Johnny Winter (another former Westporter) serves as a backdrop for a Moth-style session about rock ‘n’ roll.

Among the storytellers:

Former Paul Butterfield Blues Band organist, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Mark Naftalin.

Mark Naftalin: A keyboardist, recording artist, composer and record producer, he and his fellow Paul Butterfield Blues Band members are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Crispin Cioe:  A sax player and songwriter, he’s played and recorded with James Brown, the Stones, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Ray Charles and the Ohio Players.

Roger Kaufman: A noted local performer with the Old School Revue, Roger worked last year with the Smithsonian Museum to archive, preserve and pay tribute to Steve Cropper, the legendary Stax guitarist who played on classic songs like “Knock on Wood,” “Midnight Hour” and “Dock of the Bay.” Soon, he’ll archive materials with Weston’s own Jose Feliciano.

Rob Fraboni: A producer and audio who worked with Bob Dylan, the Band, Eric Clapton and the Stones — and who as vice president of Island Records oversaw the remastering of the entire Bob Marley catalog. Keith Richards called him “a genius.”

David Bennett Cohen, with Country Joe and the Fish.

David Bennett Cohen: The original keyboardist, and also a guitar player, for Country Joe and the Fish.

Wendy May: She’s spent the last 20 years performing with Charlie Daniels, Kenny Chesney, Mark Chestnut, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Marty Haggard and many others.

Dick Wingate: In a long career with labels like Arista, PolyGram, Epic and Columbia Records, he worked closely with Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann, Peter Tosh and Pink Floy, among others.

Michael Friedman: In addition to photography, he worked as a publicist with the Mamas and the Papas, Bee Gees, Herman’s Hermits and Glen Campbell, and was an artist manager for Dylan, the Band, Janis Joplin, Gordon Lightfoot, Todd Rundgren, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge.

Rusty Ford: He co-founded Lothar & the Hand People, the psychedelic band that was the first to use a theremin and Moog synthesizer in live performances. He also played bass with the Beach Boys.

Lothar and the Hand People

Also on the bill: Bari Rudin and Caissie St. Onge, comedy writers who have worked with David Letterman, Phil Donohue, “Saturday Night Live,” Rosie O’Donnell and Joan Rivers.

Incredibly, every storyteller is a local resident. This area remains rich in rock history. We don’t have to ship in stars. They’re right here, living as our neighbors and friends.

They’ll each speak for about 8 minutes. Every one though has a lifetime of stories to tell.

* Let’s not forget the Hall & Oates “concert” too.

(Tickets for “Rock & Roll Stories” include food, beer, wine and an auction. It’s part of the Westport Library’s week-long “Flex” series, which features a celebrity lunch with Sam Kass and Jane Green, a conversation with Ruth Reichl, movies, a dance-a-thon, a family day, gala party and much more. Click here for information and tickets.)

Friday Flashback #83

As work proceeds on David Waldman’s latest project — converting the former Save the Children headquarters on Wilton Road into a retail/residential complex — it’s a good time to revisit Stevan Dohanos’ 1965 painting of the site.

Back then, it was home to Famous Artists School. Dohanos was one of those (very) famous artists who helped stay-at-home artists around the world discover their inner illustrator.

This painting — courtesy of Dohanos’ son Anthony — is a bit stylized. The house on Gorham Island is moved south, and Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall) slides very close to Main Street.

But it provides a very realistic view of the days when Westport was the center of the illustration world. Even without Famous Artists, we were a town filled with — and honored by — famous artists.