Igor Pikayzen’s Classical Dream

Igor Pikayzen has not forgotten his roots.

Before he graduated in 2005, he was already one of the most talented violinists’ in Staples High School’s long and treasured musical history.

Pikayzen went on to Juilliard, then earned a master’s degree and artist’s diploma from Yale University. Now he’s completing his doctor of musical arts at the CUNY Graduate Center. He also teaches at Brooklyn Conservatory.

Igor Pikayzen

Igor Pikayzen, soon after graduating from Staples.

He’s appeared as a soloist with major orchestras across 4 continents. He has played at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall in New York, Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, Le Teatro Sant-Cugat in Barcelona and Cadogan Hall in London, to name a few.

Pikayzen’s live performances and recordings have been broadcast on WXQR WQXR, and around the globe. He’s won numerous competitions.

You get the idea: He’s one of the world’s great violinists.

But Pikayzen still holds Westport close to his heart. He returns when he can to teach master classes for Adele Valovich’s Staples orchestra.

Pikayzen loves classical music, and wants to pass along his passion to the next generation.

Now he’s one step closer to doing that.

Igor Pikayzen, ready to return to Westport.

Igor Pikayzen, ready to return to Westport.

Edelio — the name is Old Greek, meaning “eternally youthful — is an innovative music festival debuting in Westport this June.

Founded with the twin missions of performance and education, Edelio aims to bring bold programming — including not just classical repertoire, but jazz, crossover and contemporary — while inspiring future generations of music lovers and musicians.

Edelio promises Westporters the chance to enjoy worldwide premieres and Beethoven quartets — and to watch children collaborating with international artists.

Pikayzen’s project is starting from scratch. He plans 4 concerts for June.

“I play a lot of festivals, all over the world,” Pikayzen explains. “I’ve seen world musicians converge on small villages. There’s no reason we can’t have that in Westport.”

Edelio launches on Wednesday, March 1, at Steinway of Westport. Pikayzen will perform a wide-ranging program. Guests can learn about his dreams.

And hear world-class music, right here, from one of our own.

(For tickets and more information about the March 1 event, click here. To learn more about Edelio — including sponsorship — click here.)


Brian Keane Remembers Larry Coryell

The music world is mourning Larry Coryell. The jazz guitarist with a rock sensibility, died Sunday in New York. He was 73.

He’s also a former Westporter. Coryell lived for several years on Watch Hill, off North Compo across from the Town Farm tennis courts.

His career was intertwined with another Westport musician, Brian Keane. The Staples High School Class of 1971 grad has composed the music for hundreds of films and television shows, produced over 100 albums, and won Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys. 

Brian recalls his friend, fellow collaborator, and enormous influence:

Larry Coryell

Larry Coryell

Larry Coryell was a legendary guitarist who pioneered the fusion of jazz and rock. There will be lots of tributes to his career. He played with everybody in jazz.

Besides his own 11th House band, he recorded with John McLoughlin, Gary Burton, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock.

He also made some recordings with me.

Larry was an amazing musician. Many people don’t realize it, but he was among the best rhythm guitar players (certainly that I ever played with). He was incredibly supportive as a rhythm player. I didn’t even realize that until years later, when I listened to old tapes of some concerts that someone recorded of us together in Europe. He could play very fast as well of course, and he could play a wide variety of styles.

I was 24 years old when I met Larry in 1977. I had managed to get some gigs with Eddie Gomez, Jeremy Steig, and a few other notable musicians. I heard Larry lived in the area, and arranged to take a guitar lesson from him (in order to meet him).

It worked. We became friend, and partners in crime, partying and sharing music. We were both wild men back then, living the life, in the height of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. I could tell you so many crazy stories it would take pages. But I will save those mostly depraved and highly entertaining tales for those who lived through that era with us.

Larry Coryell (left) and Brian Keane in Europe, 1982.

Larry Coryell (left) and Brian Keane in Europe, 1982.

I gave Larry’s kids guitar lessons when they were young. I was good friends with his departed wife Julie, and Larry and I had many good friends in common.

After a while, Larry and I did some festivals together, and started doing duo gigs (lots more stories I could tell). Larry provided a young idiot savant stoner guitarist (me) a chance to do concerts around the world. We went everywhere together for a while: all 50 states, more than 50 countries, in about a 5-year span. We made 4 records together. I thought it was the biggest thing for my career at the time (and it probably was then).

However, Larry and I did something even bigger for each other than just about anything else that happened, and it had a tremendous impact on both of our lives.

We got sober together. And we did it largely on the road.

I have to give Larry’s wife Julie some of the credit for making him go to get help, and forcing me to be clean in order to tour and record with him. But Larry took it seriously, and kept me in line (at the age of 28 when I definitely didn’t want to be). That said, I got better at it eventually, and helped him more than a time or two as well.

This was an era when nobody in the music business was going straight. As much as Larry showed me some great guitar riffs or chord changes, as much as I got to see the world as a young man playing with him, I owe Larry my greatest debt of gratitude for being that person I leaned on to stay sober while out on the road — and I was that for him as well. Later, we influenced many other prominent musicians in that same regard.

Larry and I stayed in touch over the years, though our career paths went in different directions. I have stayed in touch with his incredibly talented kids Murali and Julian as well. Larry was very sick last year, but I thought he was on the mend.

His death leaves a huge hole in my life, in the lives of so many of our mutual friends who were there during those years, and in the music world. But my heart especially goes out to his wife Tracey and the Coryell family at this difficult time.

R.I.P., my fellow road warrior. We certainly did up some great times together.

The video below is a very rare recording of “Bolero” by Larry Coryell and Brian Keane. It was recorded live in concert in Italy, in 1983.

TEAM Westport Essay Contest Adds Anonymity Option

TEAM Westport’s 4th annual essay contest — on the topic of white privilege — has grabbed international attention. Coverage on CNN, in the New York Times, The Guardian and on alt-right websites caused some high school students (and their parents) to wonder what might happen if they go public with their writing.

Realizing the importance of expressing one’s views — but also the reality of privacy — organizers are offering the option of anonymity.

When the 3 winning essays are announced on April 3 at the Westport Library,  students who chose private acknowledgement of their accomplishment will have their essays read by contest judges. Those who chose public acknowledgement can read their essays themselves. All winning essays will be published — without names, for those who wish to remain anonymous.

The 85 essays that make up the Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay -- and published under the pseudonym "Publius."

The 85 essays that make up the Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay — and published under the pseudonym “Publius.”

“The national and international coverage surrounding this year’s TEAM Westport teen diversity essay contest has provoked verbal and written harassment of some committee members, and Town of Westport employees and personnel,” sponsors said in a press release.

“The majority of this type of correspondence appears to have originated from out of town and, generally, from out of state. There is concern, however, that this increased coverage may have made potential contestants reticent to submit an essay for fear of similar harassment. Because the well-being of young people in the community is a priority, the essay sponsors have determined that the option of anonymity is appropriate.”

The deadline for submission is Monday (February 27). The contest is open to all students in grades 9 through 12 who attend Staples High School or another school in Westport, or who reside in Westport and attend school elsewhere. Click here for the application.


Fund Set Up For Reda Gul’s Family

Last week, “06880” reported the tragic news of the death — in a Pakistan automobile accident — of Reda Gul. The 2016 Staples High School graduate had returned to her native country, to study medicine.

Many Westporters know the Gul family. Reda’s father Zahoor works as a handyman and taxi driver. He previously worked at the Westport Library, stacking shelves and doing other tasks.

He is beloved by older Westporters. He shovels their walks and cleans their gutters.

Reda Gul

Reda Gul

Keeping his family — there are 2 younger brothers — afloat in Westport is a constant struggle. But he knows the schools are good, and it’s the best thing for them.

Somehow he manages to send money home, to his extended family.

Reda’s mother, Nishat, is a cashier at CVS. You may have seen there.

While at Staples, Reda worked at Lester’s clothing store, across from Fresh Market. A kind and cheerful girl, she earned extra money as a babysitter.

In the wake of this tragedy, Westporter Jim Kremens organized a GoFundMe page. The goal is to help the family pay for the considerable and unexpected funeral expenses, which included sending Nishat to Pakistan on short notice. Funds will also enable the Guls to maintain some financial stability through this difficult time.

To aid our Westport neighbors, click here.

Your Westport Guide To The Oscars

This Sunday, Westport’s eyes will be on Justin Paul. The 2003 Staples High School graduate and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek are up for 2 Academy Awards.  Two of their “La La Land” lyrics — “City of Stars” and “Audition” — have been nominated for “Best Song.”

A 2nd Westporter is also up for an Oscar. Nicholas Britell’s “Moonlight” is among 5 nominees for “Best Original Score.”

Paul — who with Pasek also wrote the music for the current Broadway smash “Dear Evan Hansen” — has gotten plenty of local publicity.

Yet despite winning a Westport Arts Horizon Award in 2012, Britell has gotten less press here.

Nicholas Britell.

Nicholas Britell.

A 1998 graduate of Hopkins School in New Haven (as well as Juilliard and Harvard), he’s a New York-based composer, pianist, and film producer.

He composed and arranged spiritual and work songs, violin performances and dance numbers for “12 Years a Slave,” among many other credits.

Yesterday’s New York Times described how Britell “chopped and screwed” classical music, giving the “Moonlight” score its “otherworldly sound.” Click here for the full story.

Here’s wishing good luck to both Justin Paul and Nicholas Britell on Sunday. Besides growing up in Westport a few years apart, they’ve got another connection: Damien Chazelle. He’s known today for directing “La La Land.” Four years ago, he directed “Whiplash.” The producer was Britell.

(Hat tips: Anne Rutherford and Jeff Wieser. Click here for a full list of nominees for Sunday’s Academy Awards. If you spot any other Westport connections, click “Comments” below!)

Skillful Shopper Serves Westport

As befits the owner of a 900-square foot store, Christine Utter believes in the importance of low impact.

It’s easy to miss The Skillful Shopper. The antique furniture store at 748 Post Road East — near the Double L Market, sharing a building with New York City Jewelers — consists of just one room.

But it’s jam-packed with stuff. There’s barely room to move.

That suits Utter fine. She calls her shop “a recycling, go-green boutique.” She saves consumers money and helps the environment. By giving new life to old chairs, tables, lamps and handbags, she and her customers do a tiny bit to reduce their carbon footprint.

Shoppers include designers, decorators, and “anyone who loves finding unique items at great prices.”

Christine Utter, surrounded by some of her very interesting items...

Christine Utter, surrounded by some of her very interesting items…

Utter is passionate about every item that crams her store. “This is quality furniture from a bygone era,” she says, pointing to custom chairs with down cushions ($425 each). Styles range from traditional and retro vintage to mid-century modern.

“I love vintage jewelry and glassware. I’m getting into vintage clothing. This is all about collecting beautiful, well-made items, and selling them at consignment prices.”

She has dreamed of a store like this since she was young. She ran booths at the Stamford antique center, but wanted to be her own boss.

Utter moved to Westport 14 years ago. She often drove by the Post Road property across from New Country Toyota. When she saw a “For Rent” sign, she envisioned her dream.

Landlord Mike Calise “respects small businesses,” Utter says. Since opening last year, he’s encouraged her to make The Skillful Shopper a lively place.

It certainly is.

...and another corner of The Skillful Shopper.

…and another corner of The Skillful Shopper.

While “some people take 5 steps in and leave — I think they’re used to everything being new,” Utter says that she’s thrilled to meet “so many great people. Not everybody in Westport can afford all new things.”

Utter encourages customers to poke around. There’s something intriguing in every nook and cranny of the small store.

Her goal is to open customers’ minds. “There are beautiful items here, made with great craftsmanship. People built things; they didn’t just manufacture them. You can tell they loved what they did.”

She does too. As you can see in her store, Christine Utter is a very skillful shopper.

Mark Hennessy’s Covenant With Chicago

It’s never easy being homeless.

But for 2,000 or so young people, being homeless in Chicago is especially tough.

The city has experienced high rates of violence. The weather is often bad.

Aged out of foster care, escaping dysfunctional homes, Chicago’s homeless young people try to sleep on trains. At McDonald’s. Or with dangerous folks who take them in — often for sex.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy loves Chicago. It’s where he grew up; where he and his wife Tracey started a family; where their kids Jack and Mollie now live.

Hennessy is passionate about helping young people. He did it during his family’s 13 years in Westport, often through his children’s sports teams.

He did it on a larger scale too, as a longtime board member of Covenant House International. That’s the wonderful organization that offers housing, counseling and much more, through 30 programs in the US, Canada, Mexico and Central America.

Hennessy is a tireless volunteer. But he does much more than strategize. Every November, he takes part in the Covenant House “Sleep Out.” Spending a night on the street — as he’s done in 3 different cities — helps raise both money and awareness of the plight of homeless youth.

It’s an empowering event. “The stories I’ve heard, the kids I’ve gotten to know, the people I’ve met who are committed to this cause — it’s so worthwhile. And it really reminds you how difficult being homeless is.

Mark Hennessy heads to the Lincoln Tunnel.

Mark Hennessy heads to the Lincoln Tunnel for his first “Sleep Out,” 5 years ago.

A couple of years ago, Covenant House launched its first expansion in 17 years. Board members studied 11 cities. Chicago was identified as the most urgent.

Hennessy — who retired in 2015 after 34 years with IBM, most recently as general manager — has worked ferociously to make Lawson House a reality. Located on the corner of West Chicago Avenue and North Dearborn Street, it opened February 10.

Covenant House Illinois serves breakfast and lunch. It offers showers, laundry, storage, legal aid, mental and physical health services, drug and alcohol counseling, and educational opportunities.

Immediately, staff members went to work. A girl who showed up the first day has already been placed in long-term housing. A boy who came hours later is now receiving substance abuse treatment.

On the 2nd day, 14 youth showed up before noon.

All that happened even before the official ribbon-cutting, on Valentine’s Day. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, many aldermen, and leaders of Chicago’s key service providers and foundations were there.

The mayor and many others have been steadfast supporters of Convenant House, Hennessy says.

So have a number of Westporters. Hennessy asked for help — “time, treasure and talent” — and they responded. “I’ve been so impressed by the love and compassion of this community,” he says.

He used “love” again, describing Covenant House’s philosophy.

“We treat every young person with unconditional love and support,” Hennessy says. “The kids at Covenant House are like kids everywhere. They just need a chance.”

Covenant House logoChicago has gotten a bad rap lately, in the national press. But Hennessy sees much that is good in his home town.

“In these times, what we’ve done with the help of the city and so many private groups is a great example of people stepping up to make a difference,” he says.

Lawson House has been open only a few days. But Hennessy is already looking  ahead.

Covenant House Illinois will team with an adult jobs program, and the University of Chicago, to develop job training for 18-24-year-olds.

He adds, “We’d really like a new facility, for residential services. We have a lot of innovative ideas.”

And, he knows, the need is definitely there.

(To learn more about Covenant House, or to donate, click here.)

Jeremy Dreyfuss, Clement Mubungirwa And Refugees

As countless hopeful refugees feel whipsawed by events that seem to change hourly, individual stories are providing human faces for a crisis that can seem far away and difficult to grasp.

Jeremy Dreyfuss knows one of those stories well. And he told it even before the current refugee crisis seized America’s imagination.

He’s a 2011 Staples grad. In high school he discovered a passion for film and TV production in the Media Lab. Instructors Jim Honeycutt and Mike Zito encouraged creativity, and provided a welcoming space for free expression.

Jeremy Dreyfuss

Jeremy Dreyfuss

Jeremy went on to study film and TV at Boston University. Today he works at Business Insider in New York, helping lead a Facebook-based lifestyle publication for millennials. It’s fun, creative work.

But there’s another part of his resume that’s worth noting. “Seeking Refuge: The Story of Clement Mubungirwa” is a video that shows — simply and powerfully — the effect America has on refugees.

And the impact one refugee can have on America.

In his junior year at BU, Jeremy wanted to tell a multi-layered story. He’d always loved sports, so he searched for something more than just “an athlete doing something impressive.”

He stumbled on an article in a Louisiana paper about a boy from the Congo. Clement had escaped from brutal war, wound up in Baton Rouge, overcome adversity, found football and was propelled into a new life. About to begin his senior year of high school — with a possible college scholarship ahead — he suddenly was denied the chance to play. He’d repeated a grade because his reading level was low. Now — too old — he was ruled ineligible for sports.

Jeremy reached Clement by phone, and was taken by what he heard. The filmmaker flew to Baton Rouge. He met Clement, the family that took him in, and others. He returned one weekend in October, with his camera.

Clement Mubungira with the family that welcomed him into their Louisiana home.

Clement Mubungirwa with the James family, who welcomed him into their Louisiana home. Clement’s mother, Masika, is next to him in the front row.

“I thought the story would be about a kid from a war-torn nation who used sports to find a community,” Jeremy says. Clement was cheering for his team from the sidelines, and that’s what the filmmaker expected to focus on.

But it was Homecoming weekend. Clement had been nominated for king. That became the magic moment of Jeremy’s video.

“When Clement’s name was announced as the winner, the crowd erupted,” Jeremy says. “All the other candidates embraced him. It was a joyful moment.

Clement Mubungira is crowned Homecoming King.

Clement Mubungirwa is crowned Homecoming King.

“He’d been robbed of the opportunity to play his senior year, but he was not robbed of an amazing community. He’d found a home, and they were touched by his special character.”

While studying abroad in London that winter, Jeremy spent nights and weekends editing his film. He entered 5 festivals, winning first place in Oklahoma for documentary, and 2nd in a student contest in Los Angeles.

As for Clement: He enrolled in a school in Texas, but returned to Baton Rouge. He’s working now, trying to go back to college. Pro football is no longer an option. But, Jeremy says, the joy Clement found leading his team from the sidelines may spur a career in coaching.

Though Jeremy made his video before the current immigrant controversy, he believes its message resonates strongly today.

On one level it’s about “the transformative power of sports: making bridges and breaking language barriers,” he says.

But it’s also about how by embracing a refugee like Clement, the citizens of Baton Rouge helped him reach his potential — and grew in the process too.

Jeremy loves his job at Business Insider. But he hopes to keep exploring ways in which sports can unite people of diverse background, and open amazing new paths for refugees.

“There are a lot of stories like Clement’s out there,” Jeremy says. “It’s important for people to understand how great immigrants can make us all.”

Click here to view “Seeking Refuge: The Story of Clement Mubungirwa.”

(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt)

Clement Mubungira

Clement Mubungirwa

For Everyone Who Went To The Caribbean This Weekend, And Wonders What A 65-Degree February Sunday Looks Like In Westport…



Photo Challenge #112

“06880” readers really know their onions.

Well, their coal, anyway.

Last week’s photo challenge showed an old coal bin, on a couple of yards of rail track.

It’s right on the Saugatuck River, behind Saugatuck Sweets. Gault Energy put it there when Saugatuck Center was being redeveloped (in part by their company) several years ago. It pays homage to the long-ago days when boats brought coal up the river to Gault’s headquarters. The coal made part of its journey by rail, before being delivered to Westport customers. Click here for the photo.

Seth Schachter answered correctly, within 4 minutes of the posting. He was followed quickly by William Adler, Daniel Cummings, Virginia Tienken, Robert Mitchell, Peter Flatow, Jamie Roth, Linda Amos, Seth Goltzer, Josh Moritz and Brandon Malin. Congratulations to all (and thanks to Saugatuck Sweets, whose treats are the reason so many folks are down by the river in the first place).

This week’s photo challenge comes courtesy of John Videler. Coincidentally, he grew up right across the river from where the Gault coal bin now sits.

But his image shows a different place entirely. If you know where it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/John Videler)

(Photo/John Videler)