Category Archives: Entertainment

Emma Charleston: Ready To Rock Rockwood

When Emma Ruchefsky was at Staples — singing with Orphenians and performing onstage with Players — everyone predicted great things.

After graduating in 2015, Emma headed to Berklee College of Music. She’s a professional music major, with a concentration in performance and songwriting. That’s just about the best place for anyone looking to achieve — well, great things.

This Saturday (June 24, 8:30 p.m.), Emma Charleston — that’s her professional name (and her mother’s) — makes her New York debut at Rockwood Music Hall. She follows in the footsteps of Lady Gaga, Jessie J,and  Mumford & Sons.

Emma will perform 9 songs — 6 originals and 3 covers. Drummer Joe Zec is a fellow 2015 Staples grad — and a Berklee classmate.

She’s never seen a show at Rockwood. It’s 21 and over, and Emma is just 19. But she and her mother — noted singer Rondi Charleston — went down to the Lower East Side recently, to scout it out.

The age limit means most of Emma’s friends are too young to see her professional debut. But on Saturday, Rockwood will be packed with her parents, and plenty of family friends.

Yet that’s not all the Emma news. She’s released 4 singles, all original songs backed with Berklee musicians. They’re on Spotify, iTunes and SoundCloud — just search for Emma Charleston. An EP is coming Friday.

 

Then — if you’re 21 or over — you can watch her live in New York, on Saturday night.

(For tickets to Emma Charleston’s Rockwood Music Hall performance, click here.)

Josh Duchan’s River Of Dreams

Josh Duchan grew up in Westport. But, he says, “as the son of 2 New Yorkers, Billy Joel was the soundtrack of my childhood.”

Records filled the Duchans’ High Point Road home. Cassettes played on the radio, as Josh was shuttled between activities.

Duchan took piano lessons. He discovered that rather than looking at every note, he could read guitar chords and “fake it.” He bought scores to Billy Joel songs, and learned to play and sing along.

Duchan was a talented musician at Long Lots Elementary and Coleytown Middle Schools. He played Will Parker in Staples Players’ “Oklahoma!”, then wrote the score and conducted the pit for their production of “The Tempest.”

Staples teacher Alice Lipson cultivated Duchan’s love for choral music. Her theory classes showed him “the amazing ways music really works.”

Private instructor Bill Hall shaped Duchan’s tenor voice. Billy Joel is a tenor too. If you think Duchan was a fan of the singer/songwriter then — read on for today.

Josh Duchan

Duchan graduated from Staples in 1997. After majoring in music at the University of Pennsylvania, he earned a master’s and Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at the University of Michigan. He loved studying the intersection of music and culture. Mozart fascinated him; so did Native American and South African music.

But when his first major paper was assigned, Duchan nervously pitched the idea of … Billy Joel.

His master’s thesis was not on Billy Joel. But, Duchan notes, “I used him for just about every example of musical meaning.”

His doctoral dissertation was about a cappella groups. His research led to Duchan’s first book, “Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella.”

Now he’s written a second. If you can’t guess the subject, I guess that’s just the way you are.

The idea for “Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man” began in 2013, when Duchan gave a presentation on you-know-who at a meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. Two attendees were editors of a book series on 20th century musicians.

Four years later, “Billy Joel” has just been published. If you think it’s worth reading: You may be right.

Duchan says, “Billy Joel was not just the soundtrack of my childhood. He was the soundtrack to many people’s lives.”

The singer/songwriter’s music offers “a window into what people cared, thought and worried about” from the 1970s through the ’90s, Duchan says.

On the surface, for example, “Allentown” is about a struggling city. But it represents major changes in American manufacturing, and difficult decisions about staying in your hometown, or leaving. Duchan puts that song — and many others — in the context of how it was written, and why it appealed.

The book is not a biography (several have already been written). Instead, Duchan examines a selection of songs — some mega-hits, many not — in a series of themed chapters. Songs about places, for example, cover Joel’s well-known home (“New York State of Mind”), as well as Los Angeles (where he once lived) and the familiar concept of suburbia.

Other chapters cover topics like relationships and history (“We Didn’t Start the Fire”).

“Billy Joel” is also not a book filled with technical music jargon. Duchan aims for a general readership.

Billy Joel

The book’s subject loves the project. Duchan — who has seen Joel in concert a few times — scheduled an hour phone interview in September. The more insightful Duchan’s questions became, the more enthusiastic Joel got. He had not had many opportunities to think — and speak — so introspectively about his music.

Duchan had to hang up to teach a class — his day job is professor of music history, ethnomusicology and pop culture at Wayne State University in Detroit — but they agreed to meet in person.

Duchan wanted it to be in a place with a piano. A month later, he flew to Joel’s home near Oyster Bay.

Their scheduled hour interview turned into 4 hours (including lunch in his kitchen). Joel played classical music as well as his own songs, explaining melodies and chords along the way.

Joel then added a coda: A great blurb for the back cover.

Library Journal gave it a very positive review (“must-read analysis”).

Now Duchan is planning his next project: the same sort of how/why deep dive into creativity, with another popular composer. His sights are set on James Taylor.

But right now, Josh Duchan is enjoying his Billy Joel moment.

And so it goes.

The Historical Society That Rocks!

One of the most persistent urban suburban legends in Westport is that the Doors played a concert in the Staples High School auditorium.

Also the Animals, Yardbirds, Sly & the Family Stone and a host of other rock ‘n’ roll legends.

It’s all true.

To find out more, you can click here to read an “06880” story from 2014.

You can click here to download “The Real Rock & Roll High School,” Mark Smollin’s meticulously researched, fantastically illustrated and awe-inducing history of that remarkable era in Westport history.

Or you can go to the Westport Historical Society. “The High School That Rocked!” opens tomorrow (Friday, June 16, 6 p.m. reception). The exhibit runs through September 2.

The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love,” part of the exhibit’s stacks of wax.

The walls are filled with photos, posters, ticket stubs  and press clippings from and about those mid-’60s concerts. A record player sits near the entrance, with a stack of 45s; choose your favorite, and play it. (Kids: Ask your grandparents how!)

A screen plays clips from the “High School That Rocked,” the video that inspired this show. Staples Class of 1971 graduate Fred Cantor produced the documentary, with much younger (Class of 2014) filmmaker Casey Denton.

Cantor also curated this show, with ’70 Staples grad Mary Palmieri Gai.

Ironically, Cantor never saw any of those concerts. He still can’t figure out how he missed them.

Fifty years later, he’s made up for all that. He zeroed in on some of the most recognizable names — the Doors, Cream, Animals, Rascals, Yardbirds, and Westport’s own Remains — but also includes information about proms (the Blues Magoos played for the seniors, the Blues Project and Left Banke for the juniors), and Lester Lanin’s short-lived Nines Club discotheque (with groups like the Youngbloods and ? and the Mysterians).

Miggs Burroughs — who has his own rock ‘n’ roll stories — puts the finishing touches on the Westport Historical Society exhibit. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The exhibit pays homage to Dick Sandhaus and Paul Gambaccini — Staples students who had the vision (and audacity) to bring those bands to Westport — and to Cantor’s classmates Charlie Karp (Buddy Miles’ sideman), Brian Keane and Michael Mugrage, all of whom still rock the music industry.

The Westport Historical Society usually highlights events like the Revolutionary War. This is quite a different show.

Then again, so were the ’60s at Staples.

(Other cultural venues are tying in to the WHS exhibit. The Westport Cinema Initiative screens the “High School That Rocked” video on Saturday, July 15 [4 p.m., Town Hall]. The Westport Library hosts a panel discussion on ’60s music on Monday, August 14. And the Levitt Pavilion may soon announce — well, stayed tuned for that one!)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. The copyrighted photo by Jeremy Ross is part of the “School That Rocked” exhibit.

Missed The Pops Concert? It’s All Here!

It’s hard to top last Friday’s Westport schools pops concert at Levitt Pavilion.

But Jim Honeycutt’s video comes close.

The former Staples High School media teacher led a camera crew that captured all the music, passion and joy from the instantly-sold-out event.

You don’t need to fix a picnic and spread out a blanket to enjoy this great video.

But it sure wouldn’t hurt.

Justin Paul: Yesterday, And 2002

Last night was another big milestone for Justin Paul.

The 2003 Staples High School graduate and his writing partner Benj Pasek won a Tony Award for Best Original Score (“Dear Evan Hansen”). They shared another later in the evening, as the show was named Best Musical.

Before the ceremony, NY1 caught up with the white-hot duo on the red carpet. During the brief interview, Paul named David Roth (Staples High School), Ben Frimmer (Coleytown Middle School) and Kevin Connors (Music Theatre of Connecticut) as important influences while growing up.

Here’s the video:

Meanwhile, retired media teacher Jim Honeycutt unearthed this video of Paul as a senior, when he performed in Roth’s Staples Players production of “Merrily We Roll Along.”

Here’s his solo of “Growing Up.”

He certainly has!

Benj Pasek (left) and Justin Paul (3rd from left) celebrate at the Tonys last night with Paul’s wife Asher and Coleytown Middle School director Ben Frimmer.

(Hat tip: Hedi Ann Lieberman)

 

And The Tony Award For Best Original Score Goes To …

… who else?

Justin Paul capped a monster year with Broadway’s most prestigious honor, for the mega-smash “Dear Evan Hansen.”

The duo later shared another Tony, as the show was named Best Musical.

Earlier this winter, the 2003 Staples High School grad — and songwriting partner Benj Pasek — earned Oscars and Golden Globes for “City of Stars,” their signature song from “La La Land.”

There are many more awards to come, for the hottest young songwriters on stage and screen.

But chances are the former Staples Players star will never forget his first ones.

Justin Paul (left) and Benj Pasek, accepting their Tony Award tonight.

Pops! Goes The Concert

After 1296 straight days of rain and cold, the sun finally came out today.

This evening, so did the crowds.

Over 1,500 people — proud parents, folks whose kids graduated from school back in the 20th century, little kids who were born in the 2010s — packed the Levitt Pavilion for the 2nd annual Westport Pops concert.

A bottle of wine, some Pops, and wow!

The Bedford Middle School jazz ensemble, and Long Lots’ steel drum band — is there another elementary school with one this side of the islands? — warmed up the crowd.

Orphenians sang the same stirring arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that they wowed crowds with at Yankee Stadium.

The Long Lots Elementary School steel band.

Then Staples’ 3 orchestras, Orphenians (again) and jazz band took over.

Staples High School’s brassy sax ensemble.

The program rolled from “West Side Story” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” to Dolly Parton and freedom songs. Madison Malin and Riley Thrush nailed solos.

Madison Malin solos, Luke Rosenberg conducts, and the Orphenians sing Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.”

And then — waving American flags handed out by the musicians — the enormous crowd clapped along to a rousing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Stars and stripes on the Levitt lawn, during “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

A night like this was worth all 12,960 days of rain and cold.

“Live at Lincoln Center” producer Andrew Wilk guest conducts the symphonic and sophomore orchestras in “Stars and Stripes Forever.” (Photo/Valerie Smith-Malin)

Broadway actor, noted entertainer and Weston resident Jim Naughton emceed the pops concert with wit and grace.

The Westport Police Department Color Guard opened and closed the show.

BONUS FEATURE: Here’s what the Levitt looked like last night, from Brandon Malin’s quadcopter:

Andrew Wilk Picks Up Pops’ Baton

Most days, Andrew Wilk works behind the scenes. As executive director of PBS’ “Live from Lincoln Center,” the longtime Westport resident has brought the magic of Luciano Pavarotti, Leonard Bernstein, George Balanchine, Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Nathan Lane and many others to viewers across the country. The show is noted for stretching technical and creative boundaries.

Last year Wilk advised the Staples TV production staff, as they aired the high school’s 1st-ever Pops Concert at the Levitt Pavilion.

The event returns this Friday. (Tickets sold out as soon as they were available.)

This time, Wilk takes center stage: literally.

One of his passions is conducting. So — at the invitation of orchestra director Adele Valovich — Wilk will wield the baton for Friday’s grand finale: the rousing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Andrew Wilk, rehearsing the orchestra at Staples.

“It’s a beautiful facility,” Wilk says of the Levitt. “It’s so picturesque, smack on the river. It will be packed with musicians, and the audience will be full. I’ll be happy to stand up there, as a proud Westporter.”

For once he won’t have to worry about camera angles or cutaway shots.

Making sure the brass and piccolos don’t miss a beat — that’s a snap.

The Live From Lincoln Center remote truck during television production of Lincoln Center Theater’s production of FALSETTOS which is now nominated for five Tony Awards

Alan Alda And Mozart “M*A*S*H” Staples

The final episode of “M*A*S*H” aired nearly 2 decades before they were born.

But 5 Staples High School musicians played Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581, flawlessly last night.

They played it far better, in fact, than the 5 Chinese musicians who made it famous, in the “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” episode that Alan Alda co-wrote and directed. With over 100 million viewers that night, it remains the most-watched finale of any American television series ever.

Alan Alda posed last night with Staples’ quintet (from left): Woongki Hong, James Gikas, Michael Fording, Jack Whitten and Sophia Thomas. (Photo/Kelle Ruden)

Carrie Mascaro’s students were at the Westport Library last night, as part of Alda’s “Booked for the Evening” appearance. In the middle of Cynthia Gibb’s introduction — as she noted his many “M*A*S*H” accomplishments — the Staples quintet struck up the piece that struck such a chord with Major Charles Winchester.

It still affects anyone who has ever seen that stunning final episode.

And why did Alda pick that particular piece to weave into his finale?

He met his future wife Arlene more than 60 years ago. She’s a professional clarinetist — and she was playing that very same beautiful Mozart melody.

Alan Alda Booked In Westport

The largest crowd in the 19-year history of the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” fundraiser listened, laughed and learned with Alan Alda last night.

After video clips from many admirers — including former Westporter Marlo Thomas, and the Chilean doctor who saved his life in 2003 — the actor/singer/director/activist/humorist/humanist (as introduced by Westport actress/singer Cynthia Gibb) took the stage.

Speaking without notes — but with tons of energy, his trademark smile and a clear love for his subjects — Alda wove together his ideas about communication, empathy, science and wonder.

A small portion of the large crowd that enjoyed Alan Alda last night at the Westport Library.

There was plenty of audience participation — even a couple of opportunities to test out his theories on active listening.

The final episode of M*A*S*H — which Alda co-wrote — drew a record audience. It still stands.

More than 3 decades later, the record library crowd understood why.

At a pre-event reception, Alan Alda jokes with Larry and Martha Aasen.