Category Archives: People

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)

What? No Famous Weavers School?!

A recent issue of the New Yorker offers looks backward.

There’s a tribute to founder Harold  Ross, followed by many old stories and cartoons.

Karl Decker — the longtime, legendary and now retired Staples High School English instructor — is a devoted New Yorker fan. The magazine sent him scurrying to his cellar, where he keeps his back copies.

All the way back to the 1930s.

Karl Decker, with his 1934 New Yorker.

He picked one — June 23, 1934 — and settled down to read.

There was a long article about Franklin Roosevelt; a cartoon by Peter Arno — and 500 words of “precious whimsy” by Parke Cummings.

In the summer of 1960, Karl and Parke — a famous author and humorist — worked together at Famous Writers School.

Al Dorne — one of the founders of the Famous Writers, Artists and Photographer Schools — was always looking for ideas to add to those 3 “schools” (all correspondence-based, and headquartered on Wilton Road).

An advertisement from the 1950s.

Parke and Karl had already submitted proposals for a Famous Sculptors School (which required a railroad spur, to ship in granite) and Famous Dancers School (huge pads on which students would ink their bare feet, then step out the moves on big rolls of paper).

Their latest idea: Famous Weavers School. The preface read: “The School will provide each student with 4 English Shropshire sheep, a shepherdess, and …”

Dorne told them he’d have to consult with Ed Mitchell before they went any further.

“Inexplicably, our workloads increased markedly after that,” Karl reports.

Mark Kramer: A View From The Bridge

Mark Kramer spent 3 decades as a writer-in residence at Smith College, Boston University and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation. He also enjoyed a storied career as a book and magazine writer, editor, speaker and consultant.

Mark has not lived in Westport since graduating from Staples High School in 1961. But — as an alert “06880” reader — he notes from afar that “the Saugatuck (Cribari) Bridge is threatened by traffic and time.”

It meant a lot to his childhood — and the town. Mark also has an idea for the bridge’s future. He writes:

I fished from that bridge in the 1950s. I loved watching the crew of volunteers (including John Santella from his dad’s barber shop), Paul Nette from Bridge Garage, and a few firemen from the nearly adjacent firehouse answer the call to pivot it open.

They appeared with a giant wrench — a waist-high T of iron, shaped like 3-pins of the traditional lug wrench that came in auto tool kits.

They stuck the socket into an embedded peg in the center of the bridge, and leaned into the crosspieces of the wrench. Slowly the massive bridge swung parallel to the river, a sailboat or two passed under, they swung it closed again and walked back to work.

Hand cranking the “Bridge Street Bridge,” back in the day.

People crossed the walkway for the pleasure of the view from midstream. They probably still do.

There’s an example of bridge preservation, connecting the twin towns of Shelburne Falls and Buckland, Massachusetts — not far from Smith College — that might be a feasible way for Saugatuck to go.

The “Bridge of Flowers” has had a big part in invigorating the commercial life of the twin towns, which has seen craft workshops and good restaurants come, along with scads of tourists on weekends.

After the local trolley quit, its bridge was long neglected. Then a local committee, led by a visionary real estate woman, raised some minimal funds, turned out lots of volunteer help, and turned it into a 3-season amazement, a walkers’ bridge bulging with horticultural wonders.

The “Bridge of Flowers.”

Now active committees, and perhaps a paid employee or two, keep flowers planted and flowing. It is a community-binding wonder, defying time and making folks happy.

Meanwhile, a new bridge across the Deerfield serves traffic a few hundred yards upstream.

I lived a town away for years, and my perspective on the Bridge of Flowers shifted.

At first it was a great place to bring the in-laws. But then I aged enough so the neighborly generosity that made it happen came into view.

The visitors’ book at the Buckland end of the bridge fills daily with thanks from  people who drive there, and walk the bridge. Many stop for lunch or supper, and browse the shops selling ice cream, used books, ceramics and paintings — a good sort of tourism to draw.

Mark hopes Westporters will look into the idea of a Bridge of Flowers — with a new bridge built nearby. Click here for the Bridge of Flowers website. For more information and personal insights, email Mark directly: kramernarrative@gmail.com.

 

Unsung Heroes #77

In the Jewish religion, tikkun olam is the concept of improving the world. And mitzvah — Hebrew for “commandment” — is also used to connote a good deed that helps another.

Westport is filled with men and women who, every day, share time and energy to make a difference.

This Sunday (December 9 at Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport), 5 of them — 1 from each local synagogue — will join 9 others from around Fairfield County. They’ll be honored by the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, as “mitzvah heroes.”

Simcha Cooper was nominated by Beit Chaverim.

Simcha Cooper

He wears many mitzvah hats — but most striking is his self-appointed community shomer. That’s the person who watches over someone recently deceased, until the funeral. In Jewish tradition, the soul of the recently departed hovers over the body until burial.

Cooper is on call 24/7. He meets Rabbi Greg Wall in the hospital, sits for hours in the morgue, then rides to the funeral home. He may stay up for 24 hours, reciting psalms. He leaves just before the grieving family is aware of the good deed done for their loved one.

Cooper also joins any shiva minyan (quorum of 10) needed, and attends nearly every class offered at the synagogue.

Steve Ulman was nominated by the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Fairfield County.

Steve Ulman

As chair of their Social Action Committee, he spearheads projects like the Zero Waste recycling effort at the Federation Food Festival. He has helped organize a creative enrichment program at Neighborhood Studios in Bridgeport; planted a garden for special needs people at the Trumbull Nature & Art Center; introduced Food Rescue to CHJ, and helps teens and parents make sandwiches and collect clothing for those in dire circumstances.

Eileen Glickman was nominated by Temple Israel.

Eileen Glickman

She visits local hospitals every week, to learn the needs of congregants and other Jewish patients.

She checks in with neighbors and friends she has not seen in a while, and leads shiva minyans.

And in times of crisis, Eileen is there. She buys gift cards, and asks clergy to distribute them to the needy.

Martha and Martin Rosenfeld were nominated by The Conservative Synagogue.

Each week, they volunteer at Norwalk Hospital. Martha has served in the Emergency Department for over 20 years, while Martin greets patients on their way to and from procedures.

Longtime members of their synagogue in New Rochelle, when they retired they looked for a community where they could continue to be active. At TCS they found a young community with many children, which they immersed themselves in.

Martha and Martin Rosenfeld

They assist in the office, shine the silver on the Torah scrolls, and provide Passover seders for people without a local family.

At the age of 70, Martin learned to read Torah for the first time. Now in his 90s, he is still going strong — and is the synagogue’s most prolific reader. He and his wife are avid attendees at adult education programs, inspiring all.

Congratulations to these mitzvah honorees. They don’t do all that they do for praise.

But it couldn’t hurt.

(Sunday’s event is part of the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy’s 1st-ever TzedakahFest. It includes an exhibit hall, a concert with the Nields, sessions on teen and elder health issues, and a community service project. For information, click here or call 203-226-8197.)

America’s Story. In Just 6 Words.

No matter what your political views, it can feel as if there are no words to describe America’s current situation.

But all you need are 6.

Ernest Hemingway wrote the most famous 6-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Since then, writers of all types have tried their hand at the 6-word exercise.

Karin Kessler wants to hear yours.

She’s the upbeat, indefatigable owner of Backspace, the typewriter shop/writing space on Church Street South, behind Little Barn.

Karin Kessler, in her Backspace space.

Customers always talk about the political climate, Karin says. They usually throw their hands in the air, and say they have no voice.

So this month, she invites everyone to come to Backspace and write their own 6-word story on any typewriter. There’s no charge.

(You can also write at home, and drop it off at Backspace. You can email it in too — backspacewestport@gmail.com — or post it on a special Facebook page. But if you haven’t seen the shop, you really should.)

Any and every viewpoint is welcome (except hate-mongering).

The 6 words should have something to do with the political atmosphere — and be a thought-provoking reflection of the times.

“We can show that right and left can coexist, and respectfully disagree with one another,” Karin says.

This is not a competition between parties, she notes. She’s looking for “a description, statement or feeling about politics today.”

Karin offers her own suggestion: “United we stand. Divided we fall.”

She hopes to compile the stories, to promote both thought and conversation.

December can be a stressful month. She hopes this can be a fun exercise, done during downtime on the train, while stuck in traffic, or anywhere else. (Except, I guess, watching Fox or MSNBC.)

“Let’s start a wave from Westport, using our right of freedom of speech,” Karin says. “Let’s all hear what everyone says.”

In exactly 6 words.

Moms’ Moms Meet

It’s a familiar story.

Merri Mueller and her friend Antonia Landgraf both encouraged their mothers — one widowed, one divorced — to move out of their longtime homes, and to Connecticut.

Merri’s mom Joan

The women would be closer to their daughters and grandchildren. But they left behind many friends, and decades of familiarity.

In many ways, the moves worked out well. But Merri and Antonia realized that their mothers were a bit lonely.

“When you’re retired and live in a new place, it can be hard to make friends,” Merri says.

“If you’re super-outgoing you can join a club or play bridge. But if you’re on the shy side, it can be tough.”

So she and Antonia created a “Moms’ Moms” club.

One Facebook page and one get-together later, the feedback has been amazing.

Anotnia’s mom Maryan

The group first met for coffee. Another is planned for this Friday (December 7, 10 a.m.). After New Year’s, they’ll organize a book club, walking club, movies, dinners and more.

Women are thrilled to meet other women their age — their 60s and 70s — at the same stage of their lives.

“What a blessing!” one said after the first gathering. “Thanks for the gift of new friends that you young ladies offered these moms’ moms. And a lovely feast you provided! I look forward to another one — only next time let us help with the treats.”

One woman who brought her mother said they both enjoyed making new friends.

Now they’re looking for other “moms’ moms” new to town, ready to join them.

(Click here for the Moms’ Mom Facebook page. For more information — including the location of Friday’s meeting, email merrim3y@gmail.com)

Moms — and their moms — at the first Moms’ Moms meeting.

Co-Workers Swarm To Westport’s Hive

Co-working sounds like a high-tech concept. Folks sit hunched around their laptops, earbuds in, collaborating remotely with people they may never actually meet.

Nope, says Luke Scott. That’s not it at all. Co-working is all about being together, with other intriguing folks, in a space that is not an actual office.

Luke should know. The 1991 Staples High School graduate — whose real gig is owner of MadisonMott, a funky, kick-ass branding, advertising, digital and social media agency– also created, developed and runs B:Hive. That’s the cleverly named 5-year-old co-working space that’s helped bring great energy and creativity to downtown Bridgeport.

Luke just opened his 2nd co-working Hive. This one is in an even more cool, fun space: the old Sasco Mill, straddling the Westport/Southport line.

B:Hive — the rear view, from Sasco Creek and Bulkley Pond.

Over the decades the historic structure morphed from a cider mill to a yarn shop. Now it’s ready for its 21st century turn.

Owner Gerard Bernacchia had been looking to convert part of his building into a co-working space. David Cusa of Peoples Bank connected Gerard with his Staples classmate and longtime friend Luke.

Things moved quickly. Designers Madeline Rhodes loved the interior space. She worked with tech director Jordan Rabidou and creative director Marcella Kovac (Luke’s wife). Their design brilliantly blends features of the mill with the demands of technology.

There are 2 levels — both bright and airy, all equipped with high-speed WiFi.

The Hive boasts original beams — and the latest video conferencing technology.

When Luke gives a tour, he starts on the street level. He shows off the big individual desks, conference rooms, private phone booths (for cell calls), printer, storage space and kitchen.

It’s an inviting space — perfect for folks who work on their own but find a home office too limited and/or distracting, and crave just-enough contact with other human beings. (The business connections made with other co-workers is worth the monthly fee itself.)

But when Luke takes visitors downstairs, the Hive really hums.

There’s a long communal work table. Just beyond, large windows look out on a spectacular Sasco Creek waterfall.

The communal table looks out on a gorgeous waterfall.

If that doesn’t inspire you, you deserve your miserable fluorescent-lit cubicle.

The Hive opened just before Thanksgiving. The first co-workers, Luke jokes, were a great blue heron and white egret.

Humans quickly followed. They include writers, advertising and PR pros, an event planner, an apparel businessperson, a media consultant and a non-profit executive.

There’s an intriguing mix of ages and backgrounds. Right now, women outnumber men.

Among the features and amenities they enjoy: 24/7 access; free coffee and snacks; guest visits; access to the Bridgeport B:Hive; onsite printing; networking and social events, and mail service.

Oh, yeah: Kayaks and bike sharing.

And an Airbnb upstairs (for guests).

Luke Scott. Don’t be offended — this sign is in the bathroom.

Luke is a huge Bridgeport booster. That’s where he opened his first co-working space — just around the corner from his MadisonMott agency.

But he also loves his home town.

He’s excited to bring his 2nd Hive to the beautiful mill and waterfall on the Southport border.

And proud to offer a co-working space that is Westport’s latest buzz.

(For more information, click here; email swarm@bhivecoworking.com, or call 203-873-2008.)

[UPDATE] Bedford, Music Communities Rally Around Lou Kitchner

“06880” reader Will Vail writes:

Lou Kitchner is the 6th and 7th grade band director at Bedford Middle School. He is also head of the Bedford wind ensemble and Westport’s All-City Band, and conducts the Norwalk Youth Symphony.

Two years ago, Lou was a quarterfinalist for the Grammy Music Educator Award.

That is his resume. But to all who know him, “Mr. K” is much more. He is an amazing educator who truly embraces the idea and philosophy of the love of learning music. He lives, breathes and is completely devoted to all his students. He is a much loved and respected teacher, a great person and a pillar of the community.

Lou’s eldest son, Brian Anderson, died this morning in a car accident on I-95. This devastating news shook the Westport music community Lou is so much a part of.

Lou is a single parent, working hard to raise his children in Westport. A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help ease the costs of funeral arrangements, and ensure Brian receives a proper burial (Brian Andersen).

 Click here to help the Kitchner family, in their time of need.

Brian Andersen

Serena Tirado Needs Our Help

Serena Tirado is a beloved Staples High School science teacher.

Students and parents praise her for nurturing a love for biology — and for her caring, mentoring and inspiration.

A student from 2011 says, “As much as she loves bio — and she really does — she loves every student even more. Her kindness and passion spread to us like molecules going down a concentration gradient. I still look back on that class with a smile. When she was no longer my teacher, and I struggled with personal problems, she was the only teacher I felt comfortable confiding in.”

Another student — never in accelerated classes — says that Ms. Tirado was the first teacher who told her she was smart enough to do whatever she wanted. In 6 months, she will earn her veterinary degree.

Serena Tirado

Those sentiments — and many more — are expressed on a GoFundMe page. For over a year, Serena Tirado has undergone treatment for breast cancer.

She’s battling the disease — but it’s taken a toll on her and her family. Even with insurance, she needs help.

“Every day she taught, Serena gave all she had to her students and our community,” the page says.

Now, “it is our turn to give back to her. Please do what you can for this special teacher, who is beautiful both inside and out.”

Click here to see all the tributes — and to contribute yourself.