Category Archives: Arts

Mike Joseph’s Very Sound Career

Growing up with 20,000 records filling his basement, a new-fangled stereo in the living room and a Wollensak tape recorder in his bedroom, it’s no surprise Mike Joseph spent the rest of his life around music.

The Westporter’s father — Mike Joseph Sr. — was a radio executive. In the 1960s he turned WABC into an AM powerhouse. In the ’70s he flipped more than a dozen major market stations to the “Hot Hits” format he created.

Mike Jr. got the music bug, and never let go.

In 1960s Westport, he recalls, “everyone was either in a band, or listening to one.”

He took his reel-to-reel tape recorder to Mike Mugrage’s basement, and recorded classmates Jeff Dowd, Dave Barton, Brian Keane, Rob McClenathan, Julie Aldworth, Peter Rolnick, Harry Miller and others.

In 1971, Jeff Dowd practiced guitar in a Staples High School music rehearsal room.

It was quite a crew. Dowd went on to become a noted opera singer. Keane is a Grammy Award winner. McClenathan and Aldworth — who got married — still make music. So did Mugrage and Barton.

That’s the milieu Joseph remembers fondly.

At Staples High School, the Class of 1971 grad says, “people sat outside the cafeteria playing guitars and harmonicas.” He had a morning shift on the school radio station WWPT-FM. Music was everywhere.

Rich Bradley — Joseph’s English teacher at Coleytown Junior High School, who later taught at Staples — was the first director of the Youth Adult Council. Concerned that teenagers were just hanging out downtown, he recruited Joseph and Guy Rabut to put on a coffeehouse.

Held first downstairs at the Saugatuck Congregational Church, then at Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall), the shows harnessed the talents of local singers.

As audio director for Staples Players, Joseph served as stage manager for acts that played at Staples: the James Gang, Delaney & Bonnie, Taj Mahal, the Byrds, Mahavishnu Orchestra and more. He showed roadies where the electrical tie-ins were, and shepherded the groups to and from the green room (usually a music rehearsal space).

Hiding mics in the catwalk, he occasionally recorded concerts for personal use.

Then he did sound for Jesup Green concerts. Joseph owned big Altec Lansing speakers, and borrowed power amps from his friend Bob Barrand. He’d rig up a PA system on the flatbed trailer that served as a stage.

Mike Joseph, in the early 1970s.

Back in the day, music and politics went hand in hand. In 1971 he and Barton hitchhiked to Washington for a May Day rally. Joseph wore bell bottoms and a t-shirt, had 39 cents in his pocket, slept on a church floor — and helped handle the sound on the Capitol steps.

At Ohio University, Joseph helped build one of the first large student radio and audio production facilities in the country. He recorded bands in the studio and the field — including the Pipestem Bluegrass Festival in West Virginia for a very young NPR.

He transferred to Syracuse University — site of the nation’s first 16-track student-oriented recording studio.

Then came a long career as a recording engineer, record producer and club designer. He collaborated in Nat King Cole’s Hollywood studio with Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Blue Cheer and others.

Mike Joseph, at the mixing board.

In San Francisco — as chief engineer for Oasis Recording Studio and producer for BBI Productions — he worked with George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, Tower of Power, Santana, Journey and dozens more new wave and disco-era bands.

In 1989 Joseph became editor of Recording Engineer/Producer Magazine, and founded another publication. In that capacity he traveled the world, visiting studios like Abbey Road.

These days — decades after leaving his Westport home with its 20,000 albums, stereo and tape recorder — Joseph is still in Kansas City. He’s a strategic marketing and business planning consultant.

Mike Joseph today.

He’s just built a home production studio, to digitize vintage analog tapes.

He does it all: concerts, weddings, lectures. And — of course — old recordings for his many musician friends.

He’s happy to talk to anyone who has tapes they want to save.

Particularly if they also have stories about the very vibrant, really rich Westport music scene of the 1960s and ’70s.

(For more information, email mike.joseph@sbcglobal.net)

Staples Sings With One Voice

Staples High School’s many choral ensembles — male, female, mixed, from freshmen through elite Orphenians — came together last Friday for a special “One Voice Concert for Unity.”

They sang by themselves and together. There were featured solos, and soaring, intricate group selections. Orphenians performed 2 pieces by Jake Runestad, the heralded composer whose work they’ll showcase this summer in Australia.

And there was a compelling rendition of “Tell My Father,” Sullivan Ballou’s tender Civil War letter to his wife, put to music.

It was an outstanding evening. Just when you think choral director Luke Rosenberg and our town’s teenagers can’t set the bar higher — they do.

(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt, videographer)

Justin Paul Is Booked In Westport

When Justin Paul was a Staples High School student, he played piano for the Westport Library’s signature Booked for the Evening fundraiser.

The Class of 2003 graduate returns to the event this year.

This time though, he’s not the entertainment.

He’s the honoree.

Justin Paul

Paul — the Oscar, Grammy, Tony and Golden Globe Award-winning songwriter whose collaboration with Benj Pasek includes “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman,” “A Christmas Story,” “Dogfight” and “James and the Giant Peach” — joins the likes of Tom Brokaw, E.L. Doctorow, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Patti Smith, Alan Alda and fellow Westporters Nile Rodgers and Lynsey Addario as “Booked” recipients.

Not bad for a 33-year-old.

Paul admits that he doesn’t have the “life experiences” of honorees. But he’s got plenty of riveting acccomplishments.

And he knows the Westport Library well.

“Growing up, it was a constant in my life,” Paul says. “I went there to research school projects, to find new books to read, and everything else. It’s a cornerstone of Westport.”

In middle school, going downtown by himself to the library made him feel “very adult, very cool.”

The CD and DVD collections helped him on his career path. “I think they subtly encouraged my exploration of music, movies and plays,” he says.

Another library — the music one at the University of Michigan — played an important role in Paul’s life too.

“I spent a healthy percentage of time there,” he recalls. “They had scores of every classical piece, and every Broadway musical. It completely fed my hunger and curiosity.”

Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, at January’s Golden Globe Awards. (Photo/Paul Drinkwater NBC)

When Paul and Pasek began their songwriting careers, librarians would request official copies of their work.

“We always said yes,” Paul notes. “As 23-year-0lds, hearing from a librarian made us feel very grown up.”

A lot has happened in the decade since. And it’s been only a decade and a half since Paul went from playing piano at Booked for the Evening, to the main event.

What will he talk about on June 11?

“I could fill an hour just listing all the Westport influences on my life,” he jokes.

“But the library is all about story-telling. That’s what Benj and I do. So it will probably have something to do with stories.”

Book it!

(“Booked for the Evening” is set for Monday, June 11, 7 p.m. at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. For tickets and sponsorship information, click here.)

Pics Of The Day #400

Talented Bridgeport artist Cleiton Ventura painted this mural, at Long Lots Elementary School. He worked on it with assistance from 5th graders.

He also painted this, at the newly opened Chabad of Westport — the former Three Bears restaurant.

ABCs Of Westport Contest: Get Those Entries In!

The collage is beautiful.

But some “06880” readers may have been intimidated by the challenge.

(Photo collage by Shelly Welfeld)

Last week, we invited you to guess where in downtown Westport Shelly Welfeld found all the images she photographed to formed the “letters” in this work.

The first correct complete answer wins a $50 gift certificate, generously donated by The ‘Port restaurant. But we don’t expect anyone to get all 26 — maybe not even half. So if no one gets all 26, the person with the most correct answer wins.

The contest deadline is extended to noon on Wednesday, May 30. Email your entries to dwoog@optonline.net.

Come on! Don’t be intimidated. This is your chance to win a great meal at The ‘Port.

Which of course is located in National Hall — one of the photos in the collage.

See — you’re already on your way!

 

Staples’ 12 Angry Men (And Women)

Nine years ago, Staples Players produced “Twelve Angry Men.” The classic courtroom drama was staged in the Black Box Theater — in the round.

The audience surrounded the set, on all 4 sides. I saw it 3 times — always in a different spot. Each vantage point was unique. I saw 3 versions of the same play.

This week, Players again produce “Twelve Angry Men.” Once again it’s in the round.

“With racial profiling and challenges to justice ever present in the news today, this felt like the right time to bring back the show,” Roth says.

“It feels like the actors are in a fishbowl — being watched and judged by society. That’s what we want.”

“Twelve Angry men” explores the dynamics between 12 jurors, from different backgrounds, as they meet on a hot summer day to decide one man’s fate. Though the play was first performed live on CBS in 1954, the preconceptions and assumptions of the characters are quite relevant today.

Tempers flare as jurors deliberate in “Twelve Angry Men.” From left: Tucker Ewing, Nick Rossi, Sam Gusick, Chad Celini, Jack Watzman and Kristin Amato. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Kristin Amato — Juror #8 — says, “The show really makes you think. It is all about the questioning of morals and personal prejudices. I think many audience members will go home reflecting on their own actions, and how they may have acted if they were in the same circumstances as the jurors in the show.”

She adds, “As much as I love the main stage, there’s something special about the intimacy of the Black Box. I love the interaction with the audience. Because we’re so close, when anyone claps or laughs or even gasps, we as actors can really play off of it. The energy just builds.”

For several seniors, “Twelve Angry Men” — which Roth and Long have cast to include female jurors — will be the final Players show before college.

Sophia Sherman — who will study acting at the University of Michigan — plays a Russian immigrant. Her passion for democracy, and strong statements about immigration, race and class difference, are “eye-opening,” Sherman says.

My eyes were opened — in 3 different ways — 9 years ago. I look forward to seeing the same show, in yet another way, soon.

(“Twelve Angry Men” will be performed this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 24, 25 and 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 27 at 3 p.m., in the Staples High School Black Box Theatre. Click here for tickets. A few tickets may be available in the Black Box Theatre lobby 30 minutes prior to performances.)

The ABCs of “06880”

Last summer, Shelly Welfeld’s mother passed away.

She sought solace in morning prayers at Beit Chaverim synagogue. Then she’d walk down the Post Road, along Riverside Avenue and downtown.

Along the way, Shelly noticed various objects that looked like letters. She took photos — and soon had enough to complete the alphabet.

Out of Shelly’s mourning came a creative and gorgeous collage:

(Photo collage by Shelly Welfeld)

It’s so beautiful, I asked Shelly to share it here.

And so much fun, we came up with a great contest idea.

“06880” readers: Identify the locations for all 26 “letters.” The first correct answer wins a $50 gift certificate, generously donated by The ‘Port restaurant. (HINT: One of the images above comes from the National Hall building.)

Email your entries to dwoog@optonline.net. Deadline is noon on Wednesday, May 23. If no one gets all 26, the person with the most correct answers wins. The decision of the judges (Shelly and I) is final.

Get to work, “06880” readers. The answers are right there, under — and above — your noses.

Remembering Sarah Kennedy

Sarah Kennedy — the jewelry designer whose creations, discerning eye, store and helpful personality were beloved by Westporters — died peacefully on Monday in Lakeland, Florida, after a long illness. She was 75.

She was a graduate of Staples High School (Class of 1959), and of Rhode Island School of Design. Her jewelry career spanned over 50 years in Westport, where she owned and operated Cellar Workshop.

Sarah Kennedy

Sarah was a creative and spirited artist who loved traveling, gardening and animals. Predeceased by husband Jack W. Kennedy, she is survived by her companion Mark Wilson; her brother Ian Goldy of Riverdale, New York; her  daughters Michele Mottola of Marblehead, Massachusetts and Sherry Schultz of Minneapolis, and 3 grandchildren.

No services are currently scheduled. Sarah will ultimately be laid to rest at Willowbrook Cemetery in Westport.

————————————–

In 2015 — as she was closing her Cellar Workshop — I posted this story on Sarah Kennedy:

In 2009, Sarah Kennedy moved her Cellar Workshop from downtown to Saugatuck.

The old spot — across from Christ & Holy Trinity Church — was easy to miss. Her new location — on Railroad Place, across from the train station — was warm and welcoming. It was the perfect location for the gem-maker to show off her unique, eclectic collection of rings, bracelets, pendants and pins.

It was a great move. She kept all her former customers, and added many more. They learned that Sarah is herself is a gem.

Sarah Kennedy wears one of her own handblown pieces.

Sarah Kennedy wears one of her own handblown pieces.

Now Sarah is moving again. This time, it’s a bit farther.

Tucson, Arizona.

She’s been in business here for 44 years — and in Westport far longer. Sarah is a 1960 Staples grad. Her father was the longtime owner of Compo Acres Pharmacy.

She knows Tucson almost as well as she knows Westport. Every year she attends the Gem and Mineral Show there, and stays with friends. Recently, she bought a house in the arts-minded city. “I think I know what I’m getting into,” she said.

For 5 years, Sarah has enjoyed being on Railroad Place.

For 5 years, Sarah enjoyed being on Railroad Place.

In 2009, “06880” visited Sarah. A customer raved that Sarah’s work was “exquisite, beautiful, a museum of fine jewels.”

The woman also described Sarah’s generosity — like polishing jewelry and rings without charging. As if on cue, in the middle of our conversation, the local FedEx guy walked in. His necklace had broken. Sarah said she’d solder it, while he made other deliveries.

Yesterday, the store was packed with Sarah’s fans. They too could not stop talking about her.

Steve Halstead said, “It’s such a pleasure to have a true professional and craftsman as part of this community, for so long.”

Sarah Kennedy (2nd from left) with assistant Eduardo Ewerton and admiring customers Rosemary and Steve Halstead, and Jim Stoner.

Sarah Kennedy (2nd from left) with assistant Eduardo Ewerton and admiring customers Rosemary and Steve Halstead, and Jim Stoner.

“I’m excited and sad” to be moving, Sarah said.

“We’re all sad,” Steve noted.

Sarah asked just one thing: That “06880” make sure readers know how much she’s loved being here.

“Please tell everyone thanks, and goodbye,” she said.

All good things must end. Fortunately, the lucky owners of Sarah’s creations will have them forever.

Krish Crushes Cubes

If you’re like me, you can solve a Rubik’s cube in about the time it takes a spaceship to reach the Andromeda galaxy.

And return.

If you’re like Krish Shah-Nathwani though, you can do it in 1 minute, 41 seconds.

Blindfolded.

He’s been cubing since 2014. He was a Bedford Middle School student, and spent days teaching himself with an online tutorial. Very quickly, Krish got hooked.

Pyraminx

His first competition came a few months later, at Yale. His time of 17.89 seconds — yes, you read that right — was not good enough to earn honors (you read that right too). But Krish had fun, made friends, and loved the cubing community.

He began specializing in pyraminx (a tetrahedron puzzle with nearly a million different positions). Before year’s end, he placed 2nd at an MIT event.

2015 brought Krish’s 1st sub-10 second solve; his 1st win, and a trip to the nationals in Portland, Oregon.

He loved competitions. “They’re a great social gathering with like-minded people,” Krish — now a Staples High School sophomore — says. “I’ve made friends all across the country.”

Last year, he entered 13 competitions. Computers generate “scrambles.” Each cuber gets 5 different “solves.” The best and worst scores are discarded, because a lucky scramble can allow a contestant to skip a few steps. Scores are based on the average time of the middle 3 solves.

Krish got his first sub-10 second average. That was a “huge milestone.”

Kirsh Shah-Nathwani intently works a cube.

He also had his first blindfolded success. When the timer starts, cubers memorize what they see. He imagines a sequence of letters, then solves the cube using a mnemonic.

So that 1:41 time? It includes the seconds he spent memorizing the cube.

Last year, at nationals in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Krish reached 2 semifinals and 1 finals.

At Penn, he finished second in the “normal” category (a regular Rubik’s cube solve). The winner was the North American record holder for fastest solve. “He’s one of my idols,” Krish says. “So I didn’t feel that bad.”

6×6 Rubik’s cube

Competitions involve many different categories. Krish can do 2×2, 3×3, 4×4, 5×5 and 6×6. He’ll do 7×7 this June. (It’s worth noting — though Krish says it very casually — that he does 3×3 with only one hand — and blindfolded.)

He also does square 1 (shape-shifting) and megaminx (a dodecahedron).

Is there anything Krish can’t do?

“I can’t solve with my feet,” he admits. “It takes me like 10 minutes. I have a friend who did it in 16.9 seconds.”

A key characteristic of a good cuber is resilience, Krish says. You do not need “genius IQ,” or a mathematical mind. “Once you understand how a cube works, it’s simple,” he claims.

As you may have figured, Krish is the real deal. He’s sponsored by Speed Cube Shop, an online seller of cubes, timers, lubricants, carrying bags, and anything else a competitive cuber could want.

Krish gets his cubes for free (and displays their logo prominently).

That’s a big help. Each cube turns differently, he explains. And each cuber has his particular style. A serious cuber needs lots of cubes.

Krish puts them to good use. You can see them on his YouTube channel. He has over 1,500 subscribers. He’s so well known, in fact, that at competitions he gets asked for autographs and selfies.

In March, Krish won his first competition, in Poughkeepsie, New York, with an average time of 8.36 seconds. He set a personal best time there too: 6.73 seconds. That got his name on the World Cube Association home page.

This summer, Krish heads to Nationals in Salt Lake City, to compete against some of the best in the world.

But, Krish insists, all this competition is not about beating others.

“It’s cool to get accolades. But it’s more about competing against yourself. I’m ecstatic when I better myself.

“And we’re all supportive of each other. When Daniel Gutierrez beat my state record, I was so happy. He practiced so long, and worked so hard.”

Speaking of practice: Krish spends 2 to 3 hours a day on his cubes.

“It’s not an obligation. I enjoy it,” he says. “I do it while I’m on video calls with friends in other states. We talk with each other about everything. And we race too.”

Every month or so, he sees those cubing friends in real life, at competitions.

Krish and friends, at a cubing competition.

His other friends — those at Staples — think his cubing is cool. Teachers are impressed too.

The entire school saw see Krish in action recently, at the talent show. He was just as entertaining as the singers and dancers.

Which leads to this important detail about Krish Shah-Nathwani: He has a life beyond cubing.

A member of Staples Players, he has performed onstage in “Music Man,” “Newsies,” and the One-Act Play Festival.

“It rounds me out as a person,” he says. “Cubing brings out my analytical side. Players brings out my artistic side.”

But he can’t resist one final plug for his greatest passion.

“Give it a try!” he urges. “We need more Connecticut cubers.”

Staples Pops Tickets Go On Sale Monday

In just 3 years, the Staples High School Pops Concert has become the town’s newest tradition.

And its hottest ticket.

This year’s event is set for Friday, June 8, at the Levitt Pavilion.

Free tickets will be available online at www.StaplesMusic.org this Monday (May 14), at 9 a.m. They’re first-come, first-served. For the past 2 years they’ve been snapped up almost instantly.

The inaugural Staples High School pops concert at the Levitt Pavilion. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Like its wintertime cousin — Candlelight — the Pops Concert is a Staples music department gift to the town.

Modeled on Boston Pops’ famed Esplanade series, it features popular classical and contemporary music from the high school’s symphonic orchestra, band, jazz band and Orphenians.

It’s a chance to enjoy great music on the Levitt lawn, greet friends, picnic, and watch the stars of the future as the stars come out.

But first you need tickets. Mark your calendar: Monday, May 14, 9 a.m.!

(Pops festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. on June 8, with pre-concert musicians and food trucks. The concert starts at 7 p.m.)

Stars and stripes on the Levitt lawn, during last year’s Staples Pops “Stars and Stripes Forever.”