Category Archives: Entertainment

Joe Gelini’s Grammy Roots

Sure, Kendrick Lamar got 8 Grammy nominations this year. And Drake got 7.

But here’s the “06880” news: Joe Gelini got a Grammy nomination too!

The 1995 Staples High School graduate will be in Los Angeles this February, for the the 61st annual ceremonies. “Spyboy” — the latest release from Cha Wa, the New Orleans-based Mardi Gras street culture Indian funk/brass band Gelini founded — has been nominated for Best Regional Roots Music Album.

Gelini might not be the first person you’d expect to lead a Mardi Gras Indian band. He might not even be in your top 200 million.

Joe Gelini, having a good time.

So how does a white drummer from Westport — who after Staples went to Berklee College of Music in Boston — end up forming a Louisiana band that marches in Mardi Gras, and earns a Grammy regional roots nomination?

In January 1996, he traveled with his father to New Orleans for a convention. While his dad did business, Gelini headed to music venues like Le Bon Temps Roule, Tipitina’s and the Mermaid Lounge.

“The audience was just as much a part of the party as the band was,” he told the New Orleans Advocate. 

“The entire audience was involved, actively listening, dancing and partying. A seamless line went from the audience to the band. Playing in Connecticut, Boston and New York, I had never seen that before. I had never seen people in a city love the music and the culture that they were a part of so much. I was enthralled.”

Gelini skipped his Berklee finals, to return for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The Wild Magnolias’ music was “on another level,” he recalls. “It felt like a spiritual thing to me, and it still does.”

Back at Berklee, he studied New Orleans legends like Dr. John and the Neville Brothers. After graduation, he moved south.

At Handa Wanda’s — the Wild Magnolias’ home base — Gelini befriended Mardi Gras Indian musicians.

Mardi Gras Indian culture is a world away from Westport. Joe Gelini embraced it enthusiastically — and was welcomed in return.

According to the Advocate, Gelini wondered if his drumming tempo was correct.

The response: “Ain’t no mistakes in Mardi Gras Indian drumming.” In other words, “as long as it feels good, it’s cool.”

The Westporter slowly won over his New Orleans audiences — and musicians.

“It’s about respecting the culture and the music,” he told the Advocate. “If you’re doing it for those reasons, they’re totally accepting — I would say extraordinarily accepting. There’s no color barrier at all. If you’re there to be part of it for the right reasons, it’s all good.”

Joe Gelini has paid his dues. Soon, perhaps, the Grammy producers will give him his due.

(To stream the “Spyboy” album, click here. For Cha Wa’s website, click here. For the full New Orleans Advocate story, click here. Cha Wa’s upcoming dates include New York City’s Globalfest on January 6, and the Ridgefield Playhouse on February 27. Hat tip: Karen Romano)

 

Once Again, Jose Feliciano Strikes Gold

I seldom listen to WEBE 108.

It’s playing holiday music now though, so it’s on my pre-sets. I have this ridiculous false hope that one day I’ll hear an actual Christmas carol — Luciano Pavarotti belting out “O Holy Night,” say — instead of the squintillionth rendition of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

Yet last week, what to my wondering ears did appear but a yuletide song I had never heard before.

It was a Christmas miracle.

This was no longer background music, as I waited impatiently behind an idiot driver who did not know that since 1979, it has been legal in Connecticut to make a right turn on red. This time, I listened closely to the song.

The voice was familiar.

It was Jose Feliciano’s.

When the fresh, beautiful song ended, Danny Lyons said he had just played a  “world premiere.”

I had to know more.

I called Jose at his Weston home. He was off on tour somewhere. Hey, this is prime Feliz Navidad season.

But his wonderful wife Susan was happy to tell me the fascinating back story.

It begins 50 years ago, when Rick Jarrard was a staff producer for RCA Records in Los Angeles. He convinced Jose to record “Light My Fire.”

Jose Feliciano and Rick Jarrard

The young singer/guitarist was dubious. It had been a hit for the Doors less than a year before. What could he add?

Plenty, it turned out. It reached #3 in the US, and #1 in the UK, Canada and Brazil.

The duo collaborated on 6 best-selling albums, including one in 1970 of Christmas songs. It was filled with classics like “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.”

Rick asked Jose to write an original song too. He didn’t think he could.

But he’d just gotten a cuatro — a Puerto Rican stringed instrument. He thought back to his childhood on the island.

So — in the middle of July — Jose wrote “Feliz Navidad.” It’s become one of the best-selling Christmas songs of all time.

A few years ago, Rick wrote “On This Christmas Night.” Jose recorded it in his Weston studio. It’s beautiful, inspirational and sing-along-ish. But it was never released, so Rick just put it on Spotify.

He and Jose basically forgot about it.

Somehow though, the creators and producers of “Hamilton” found it.

And chose it — out of hundreds of contenders — to be their curtain call finale during this holiday season.

Soon, their interpretation will be released on a CD — with music from other Broadway, off-Broadway and traveling productions — called “Carols for a Cure, Volume 20” to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

When they heard the news last month, Jose and Susan were thrilled — not for themselves, but for their longtime friend and collaborator Rick. Susan said she cried for 3 days, with joy.

Then — just before Thanksgiving — Jose did a “Countdown to Christmas Music” promotion for WEBE 108. Susan told program director/midday DJ Danny Lyons how “On This Christmas Night” had dropped from the sky, into “Hamilton” and Equity’s AIDS benefit.

Danny listened to the song. He called it “providential.” His minister’s sermon had just noted that most Christmas songs today completely miss the meaning of Christmas.

Which is how Danny came to play “On This Christmas Night” that day last week. The fact that I heard it on its world radio premiere was — well, providential.

Danny told Jose he’d pass the song on to his programming colleagues around the country. Which means it may join “Feliz Navidad” as another great holiday contribution to the world, from our neighbor Jose Feliciano.

Of course — this being the holiday season — Jose is in great demand.

He’s playing all over the world this month: Palm Springs, New York, England, Vienna (with the Boys’ Choir) and the Vatican (for — of course! — the Pope’s Christmas program).

But Jose always has time for us. He returns home December 23. The next night, he offers his annual gift of music at Assumption Church’s Christmas Eve mass.

Feliz Navidad indeed. And muchas gracias, Jose Feliciano!

(Click here, then scroll down to hear “On This Christmas Night.” The Broadway Cares CD can be bought after shows. It will be available after Christmas on iTunes.)

A Love-ly Compo Serenade

Compo Beach is a magical place all year long. In any season or weather, it attracts Westporters — past and present.

So naturally, when Jonathan Alter hosted his college a cappella group this weekend, he showed them the shore.

Jonathan — a 2017 graduate of Staples High School — now sings with the Dartmouth College Brovertones. They’re on an East Coast tour: Hartford Friday, Yale last night (go figure), the National Christmas Tree lighting in Washington, DC this coming Tuesday.

Staying at the Alters’ Compo-area home was fun. Yesterday afternoon, they wandered over to the beach.

It was a great place to rehearse. Jerri Graham — a talented local photographer — saw them having fun. She loved their energy, and spontaneously snapped some fun-filled shots.

The Brovertones at Compo Beach. Jonathan Alter is 3rd from left. (Photo/Jerri Graham)

She was not there randomly. Her secret mission: to photograph an engagement taking place momentarily at the water’s edge.

Matthew Cook had orchestrated a romantic beach stroll with his girlfriend Carlie Kleinman, and their dog April. The 2004 Staples grads live now in New York City. But both still love Compo.

Carlie had no clue that Matt was about to pop “the question” on their beautiful beach.

When Matt got down on bended knee — chivalry is not dead! — the Brovertones (watching from a distance) erupted in enthusiastic cheers.

As the couple headed to the jetty for capture-the-moment selfies, the singers came over.

And offered a congratulatory serenade.

Matt Cook, Carrie Kleinman, April and the Brovertones

(Hat tip: Lisa Marie Alter)

Jaden Waldman: Westport’s Anime Star

When you work in the entertainment industry, you take all kinds of gigs.

This holiday season — like last year — Westporter Jaden Waldman is performing before hundreds of thousands of people. in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

He’s been in films and commercials. He co-starred in “Pinkalicious & Peterrific,” on PBS Kids.

That last gig makes sense. Jaden is only in 3rd grade.

So it also made sense that when he and his family went on a camp vacation last summer, his mother made sure to keep his week audition-free.

But an offer to try out for voiceover work in the English version of “Mirai” — a very cool Japanese anime film — was too good to pass up.

So one day, the camp let Jaden into the photography studio. He spent 5 minutes taping, then headed back out to waterski.

A month later, Jaden was invited to New York for an in-person callback. They loved  him. Recording started almost immediately.

Jaden Waldman, in a voiceover studio last year (before “Mural”).

Jaden watched short film clips of the Japanese version. Then the writer had to work the English dub to fit the mouth flaps of the character. Timing was crucial.

The English voice director spent 35 hours recording Jaden — mostly via FaceTime from LA.

They must have done something right. “Mirai” has just been nominated for a Golden Globe.

Unfortunately, the only nearby showing is this Saturday (December 8), at 12:55 p.m. Even more unfortunately, the nearest theaters are in Danbury and Port Chester.

But we don’t want to disappoint Jaden’s many fans. So if you can’t get to the theater on Saturday, just click the video link below.

 

Westporter Safe In Woolsey Fire

The Woolsey fire in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties burned more than 83,000 acres. 

Celebrities were not spared. Miley Cyrus, Neil Young, Robin Thicke and Eric Wynalda were among the hundreds of residents who lost their homes.

Kerri Kenney was lucky. 

The 1988 Staples High School graduate — known for her roles in “Reno 911,” “Counter Culture,” and “All About Steve” — posted this report on social media:

My husband and our dear friends took a boat to our neighborhood to see what was left. This is our neighbor’s home directly across the street.

Miraculously, our home is still standing. So many close friends and neighbors have lost everything. I cannot wrap my brain around what has happened and my heart breaks for our community.

The outpouring of love and support has been enormous. Thank you for all of your messages and prayers. Hug your family tight. #malibustrong

(Photos/Kerri Kenney)

We hope other Westporters with California connections are safe too. Please click “Comments” below to check in — and let us know what you need.

Aztec Two-Steps Into 323

Sometimes, the bands that play at 323 are pretty good. Occasionally they’re not. Usually though, they’re just nice background music to your dinner and drinks.

On Monday night, patrons at the Main Street restaurant had good reason to actually listen.

Aztec Two-Step — the folk-rock band that’s been a cult favorite since 1971 (!) — lugged their equipment, plugged in and played a full set.

Aztec Two-Step at 323. (Photo/Chip Stephens)

It wasn’t totally random. Westporter Dodi Pettit married Rex Fowler — the band’s co-founder — in August. (Nearly 40 years ago, she played guitar and sang on their 5th album.)

Still, it’s pretty cool to have such a legendary group performing in such a down-home venue.

You never know what a restaurant’s Special of the Day will be, do you?

Whoopi Goldberg, Trevor Noah And “06880”: The Sequel

I’m usually pretty good at predicting which “06880” stories will draw the most attention.

Those honoring Westporters who die get forwarded often.

Pieces about zoning and land use — proposed teardowns of beloved landmarks, changes at the beach, etc. — get posted on social media (earning plenty of eyeballs).

And stories on dogs are catnip for readers.

But some reactions amaze me.

Whoopi Goldberg

Last Saturday morning, I posted a quick news flash. Trevor Noah — the headliner at the next day’s Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut “Voices: A Show of Unity” fundraiser — had just canceled, due to bruised vocal chords. His replacement was another huge name: Whoopi Goldberg.

It was the kind of story I do when can: getting the word out for a worthy cause, and hopefully selling a few tickets.

Page views were normal for a Saturday. But on Sunday morning, they spiked 10-fold. Well before noon, that ADL story had the most hits of anything I’ve published since I started “06880,” nearly a decade ago.

By Sunday evening, views were orders of magnitude higher still.

But people were not just reading the story. They were commenting too.

They were not from Westport. There were new, unfamiliar names.

And the comments were not typical “06880” ones. This was not a back-and-forth about the greed and short-sightedness of downtown landlords vs. the gauzy sentimentality of oldtimers.

It was not a debate about Connecticut’s fiscal health, or where to put a beach bathroom.

Trevor Noah

The comments about Whoopi Goldberg (and Trevor Noah) were nasty. They were vile. They were racist.

I don’t know how these people found the story. I assume it was posted on a website somewhere that draws readers who are unfamiliar with “06880” and Westport.

But they’re very familiar with spewing vitriol online. This is not, I’m sure, the first time these readers reacted to a news story about black entertainers.

I disabled commenting on the story. I took down some of the most odious ones.

I left others up. I wanted “06880” readers to see what’s out there, beyond the Westport bubble.

And to realize that the work of the ADL — and all the rest of us — combating hate, bigotry and ignorance must continue.


Here’s the good news. Avid “06880” reader/1987 Staples High School graduate Janette Kinnally writes:

I went to the ADL event. I thought Whoopi was intelligent, insightful and knew her history in this country (which, she noted, is really lacking in education today).

She recounted many events throughout the years. She said “let’s not make the same mistakes in the past” — especially when it comes to creating a dictator and encouraging white nationalism.

Whoopi was thoughtful in her responses, and funny when she responded to Westport’s own Alisyn Camerota. She and CNN (where Alisyn works) were targeted by the bomber 2 weeks ago.

Whoopi offered some great advice. We live in scary times, she said, but there is hope for the future.

We can make change, by taking action. We can’t just stand on the sideline and watch.

Whoopi said: We need more people to stand up, and have their voices heard. We the people should be in control of our country — not white nationalist men!

Trevor Noah Is Out Tomorrow. But Whoopi Goldberg In In!

Trevor Noah was the highly anticipated featured star at tomorrow’s Anti-Defamation League “Voices: A Show of Unity” fund-raiser and community celebration. (Sunday, November 11, 5 p.m., Klein Auditorium, Bridgeport; click here for more details.)

But the “Daily Show” host bruised his vocal chords. He canceled all performances until Monday.

The ADL is used to dealing swiftly with crises. True to form, they scoured the country and found a fantastic replacement: Whoopi Goldberg.

The actress/comedian/author/television host will fill in.

The show will go on. And it will be a great one.

(A few tickets remain. Click here to purchase.)

Whoopi Goldberg

Unsung Heroes #73

It’s a stretch to call the cast of Staples Players “unsung.” They’ve won tons of awards, and the hearts of every audience that’s seen any show.

Besides, you can’t call a troupe that puts on musicals “unsung.”

The Players’ fall mainstage — “Legally Blonde,” this week and next — will be one more smash in a 60-year history of successes. Ticket sales were so brisk, they’ve already added another performance. (Click here for available seats.)

But shows like this are true team efforts. Players could not do what they do without the help of their technical crew — sets, lighting, costumes — as well as pit musicians, publicity, and everyone else who makes a production go.

Plus parent volunteers.

And of course, directors David Roth and Kerry Long.

Some of the Staples Players cast and crew get plenty of praise. Others toil unnoticed backstage, in the wings, on the catwalks or elsewhere.

All are our Unsung — and Sung — Heroes of the Week.

Georgia Wright, Justin Dusenbury, Kelley Schutte and Tomaso Scotti could not do what they do in “Legally Blonde” without the help of hundreds of others. (Photo/Kerry Long)

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Okay, Downtown Doubters. See You Saturday Night For “Supper & Soul.”

Yesterday’s opinion piece by David Waldman — lamenting all the negativity about downtown, urging Westporters to focus on the many positive aspects — drew plenty of comments.

Among the strongest voices was Matthew Mandell’s. That’s no surprise: As executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, he’s got one of the biggest dogs in this fight.

He’s also got one of his signature events to promote. And it’s coming up this Saturday (November 10).

“Supper & Soul” is a clever concept. For one $75 ticket, you get a 3-course dinner, a fantastic show, then happy hour pricing for after-concert drinks.

Mandell has lined up 7 excellent (and varied) restaurants for the meal and post-show festivities: 190 Main, Amis, Jesup Hall, Matsu Sushi, Rothbard Ale + Larder, Spotted Horse and Tavern on Main.

All are within walking distance of Seabury Center on Church Lane — where Kasey Tyndall performs at 8 p.m.

Rolling Stone called her the #1 new country act to see last year — adding that she’s “a hard rock-country badass with the best song about a watering hole.”

So, to all of you who complain that there’s nothing to do downtown after dark. Or that downtown needs a jolt of energy. Or whatever.

Buy a ticket to “Supper & Soul.” Eat, drink, and kick ass with Kasey.

(Click here for tickets, and more information on Supper & Soul. There’s even a link to discount babysitters!)