Tag Archives: Brian Keane

Remembering Walton Amey

Walton Amey — a multi-talented musician and athlete, and a 1971 Staples High School graduate — died suddenly on Sunday. He was 69.

His longtime friend, Grammy-winning musician and producer Brian Keane, writes:

Some friends in life are so close, for so long, that they become part of your own history. Walton Amey is such a friend for me.

Walton Amey, in the 1971 Staples High yearbook.

He was a top athlete, captain of the Coleytown Junior High football team where we played together, a talented singer in the elite Staples Orphenians (we sang together in a church choir too).

We made mischief together, partied together, played in the same rock ‘n’ roll band, and served on community projects together. Walton was also a theatrical star in Staples Players.

After high school, Walt attended college in Ithaca, New York with me, David Barton and Linda Satin (all from our Staples class). Walt and I were roommates as freshmen.

In Ithaca he and I played music professionally in coffeehouses and bars with our good friend Stephen Schneider. We were joined by our high school band drummer David Barton. We wrote and recorded some memorable original songs together. Walton was an engaging entertainer, and the life of any party.

After Stephen, David and I left in 1975 Walt brought in the guitarist from our high school band, Jeff Dowd, and had a very popular band called Desperado. They made several records together, before Jeff left to begin an opera career in Germany.

One of the band’s records. Walton hangs 2nd from right.

Walt continued playing music around upstate New York. He taught ballroom dancing at Cornell, developed a fondness for tennis, and lived a reclusive life in rural upstate New York for a time.

In 1993 one of our musicians threw a surprise 40th birthday party for former dormmates and band members in New York City. That morphed into an annual event, then into a yearly weekend gathering on Fire Island.

It was a Big Chill weekend: no spouses. We became like another family to each other over the years. Walton and Elizabeth Schenck started a wonderful relationship 14 years ago. They lived together in Syracuse, where Elizabeth practices as a public defender attorney.

I saw Walt and Elizabeth every year at the Fire Island reunions. Starting in 2020, my partner Bonnie (who was in theatrical productions with Walton at Staples) and I started meeting Walt, Elizabeth and a few others on 4th of July weekends.

The 2018 reunion. Walton Amey is standing, 2nd from right; Brian Keane is sitting, far left.

We gathered once again this year. We played games on the beach, watched fireworks, had great dinners, drank, played guitars and sang songs we had written, songs of our youth, and all kinds of fun songs in between.

We told jokes, shared stories, and had a wonderful time. Walton, Stephen and I watched Wimbledon past midnight, after everyone else went to bed. Walton made us sing 3-part harmonies to some Crosby, Stills & Nash tunes, which we obliged him to get him to go to bed. Walton was in his bliss.

Some time after we went to bed at 1 a.m., Walton got back up. We don’t know what happened, but he was discovered at the bottom of the stairs at 2:15.

EMS arrived 10 strong right away, and worked on him from 2:30, even getting a pulse back. But he lost that pulse on the way to the hospital.

The night before, we watched a spectacular sunset from the deck of the beach house. I had remarked how lucky we were to be alive to witness this. Walt agreed, and expressed his gratitude too.

Walton Amey and Elizabeth Scheck at Fire Island, the night before he died.

When we got confirmation that Walton had died, we knew we had lost an important part of our own lives. Our life histories had been so intertwined. We spent the rest of the day in a combination of shock, grief, and “producer mode” dealing with things.

On the morning of July 4th, we gave Walton the tribute he had told Elizabeth he wanted: a New Orleans-style funeral procession. Stephen and I led the way to the ferry. We played “When the Saints Go Marching In” on ukuleles. The rest of our group sang along, walking in the sand with umbrellas.

At first it was hard to keep from choking up. Then it transformed into something more joyful. A couple of people looked at us oddly, but we kept going. We all felt better by the time we got  to the ferry. The crowd there appreciated it, too.

Walton couldn’t have asked for a better death than having spent the weekend doing exactly what he loved, with people he loved, and who loved him, in one of his favorite places on earth — then having it all end unexpectedly, and rather instantly as far as I can tell.

Though many of us will feel pain, and the loss of Walton in our lives, we grieve for that which has been our heart’s delight. Walt made us all rich in life experience, for simply sharing part of this glorious ride called life with him. He was part of what made our lives fun. Personal grief is mixed with a deep sense of gratitude for that.

Walt is survived by his sister Meg Amey Smith of Des Moines, Iowa; his significant other, Elizabeth Schenck of Syracuse, New York, and the many of us who loved him and became like family with him.

No services have been determined at this time.

Billy Seidman’s Songs

It takes a certain talent — and mindset, and genius — to be a heralded songwriter. Think Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Bob Dylan or Lennon/McCartney.

But the music world is full of songwriters we’ve never heard of.

Like Billy Seidman. He’s been on the staff at RCA Music and other publishing companies, in New York and Nashville. He’s an adjunct professor of songwriting at NYU, and the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He consults for Berklee NYC/The Power Station.

Billy Seidman

Seidman’s songs have been recorded and performed by Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony-winning artists like Irene Cara, Vicki Sue Robinson, Evelyn “Champagne” King and Kevin Kline. He’s a studio musician too, and toured with Ashford and Simpson.

Now the Westport native wants to teach you how to write songs like him. And like Berlin, Porter, Dylan and Lennon/McCartney.

Seidman recently introduced The Song Arts Academy. The Zoom course challenges students to “beat your songwriting heroes — write your best song in 4 weeks!”

This month drew 15 songwriters of varying backgrounds, levels and ages, from around the country. A summer “tune-up workshop” is coming soon.

Seidman hopes to find a space in Westport to offer an in-person course.

He knows this town well. In addition to going to school here before moving to New York, he’s friends with Grammy and Emmy-winning composer/producer/ Staples High graduate Brian Keane, plus Staples grad/former Remains front man/country singer-songwriter Barry Tashian and his songwriting son Daniel. Seidman was part of the now-legendary 2019 tribute to guitarist Charlie Karp that rocked the Levitt Pavilion.

(He was also a member of The Jades, a junior high dance band. Fellow members included Karp, Fred Reynolds, and Bob Jackson — “when his brother Chip let him borrow an amplifier.”)

Meanwhile, Seidman has written a book. “The Elements of Song Craft: The Contemporary Songwriter’s Usage Guide to Writing Songs That Last” promises to do for songwriters “what Strunk and White’s ‘The Elements of Style’ did for English language students and writers.”

Of course, there are differences between writing a story, and writing a song. In the latter, Seidman notes, “you only have 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes total, and just 5 to 15 seconds to grab the listener’s attention. You have to get a lot done, fast.”

You have to do it in two ways, too: the music itself, and the lyrics.

Hope, loss, regret, joy — those emotions (and many more) are the starting points for Seidman’s deep dive into how to craft a good song.

How deep? Consider “love.” Seidman breaks it down into song categories like devotional love, new love, disillusionment love, unrequired love, makeup, breakup, coming to terms with love, coming of age, empowerment, optimism … to name a few.

He’s similarly deep when talking about harmony, melody and chord structure.

This is not for the faint of heart. But neither is trying to write a song like “Can’t Be Really Gone,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” or “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

“Some people have a supernatural gift” for songwriting, Seidman says. But everyone — no mater how talented or average — can develop that skill.

“I have a method that works,” Seidman says confidently. “People who work with me look at songs differently. I help them connect with themes, so they connect with their audience. I’m like Johnny Appleseed.”

Sounds like a great hook for your next song.

Inspiration for a new song?

Roundup: Planning & Zoning, Local To Market, Margot Bruce ….

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Earlier this week, “06880” noted the full agenda of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Regulation Revision Subcommittee meeting.

Yesterday, the group discussed a proposed amendment to preserve mature trees on private property. It received both positive and negative feedback. The text amendment will be re-drafted, for further discussion at a future subcommittee meeting.

Proposals that would permit 2nd floor retail, as well as stores over 10,000 square feet, downtown will be considered at next Thursday’s work session, to be brought as a P&Z-sponsored text amendment at a future meeting.

A proposal to allow non-team activities — for instance, guided hikes, painting classes and yoga — at Baron’s South will also be considered at next Thursday’s work session, to be brought to a future public hearing as a P&Z-sponsored text amendment.

Discussions will continue on a Planning & Zoning Commission tree proposal.

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Local to Market — the food-and-more store featuring (duh) all local goods, at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza — has a constantly changing array of items.

But they’re always on the lookout for more.

Which is where we all come in.

Next Tuesday (January 11, 4 to 5 p.m.), they’re sponsoring a “think tank.” Everyone is invited to hear about procurement, ask questions, suggest ideas, and meet fellow food lovers.

Want two more reasons to go? There’s also a wine tasting from Stappa Vineyards. And you’ll get 15% off if you shop during the event.

What else would you like to see on the shelves?

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Westport, get ready for your star turn.

Tomorrow (Friday, January 7; 9 pm on New York’s Channel 13; check listings for other PBS stations) marks the first of 3 “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse” specials.

Gavin Creel stars in the inaugural broadcast, taped during 2 shows in September, and produced by our own Andrew “Live from Lincoln Center” Wilk.

Pre-press has been excellent. The Los Angeles Times called it a “Pick of the Week,”

But see for yourself (below). Then mark your calendars for the next 2 Fridays: Shoshana Bean on the 14th, Brandon Victor Dixon the 21st.

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Want to see another world premiere?

2011 Staples High School graduate Margot Bruce’s short film, “Harbor,” debuts at the Westport Library next Wednesday (January 12, 7 p.m.). She’ll be there, and hosts a conversation afterward. Click here to register.

“Harbor” offers a modern twist on selkie stories from Celtic, Gaelic, and Norse folklore.

While at Staples, Margot swam and played water polo, and was a member of the band, orchestra and chorus. She discovered a passion for filmmaking at Fairfield University, and graduated from the College of Wooster with a BA in English. She recently completed an MFA in cinema at San Francisco State University.

Margot Bruce

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Suzanne Bauman — the pioneering female documentary filmmaker who lived near Old Mill Beach from 1976-1991 — died on January 2, from complications of cancer. She was 76 years old.

She and her husband Jim Burroughs gave noted 1971 Staples High School graduate Brian Keane his start in film scoring.

Suzanne was editor and co-producer of the Academy Award-nominated “Against Wind and Tide: A Cuban Odyssey” (1981). She and Jim produced the film while living in Westport. It was the first one scored by then-27-year old Keane.

She produced, directed and wrote more than 80 films, both documentary and drama.

Suzanne took crews all over the world, and worked with — among others — John Kenneth Galbraith, Norman Mailer, the Sixth Earl of Carnarvon, Diana Vreeland, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Anna Wintour, Gianni Versace, Tina Brown,  Jane Alexander, David Rockefeller, Fidel Castro, Ted Kennedy, Annie Liebowitz, Gloria Steinem, Cybill Shepherd, Raul Julia, Stacy Keach, Martin Sheen and Sir Ian McKellen.

She was supervising producer/director of “The Writing Code,” a landmark series for PBS on the invention, history, art and craft of writing, from ancient times to the internet.

“Water Wars” won the award for best documentary feature at the 2014 Universe Multicultural Film Festival.  Her feature documentary “Shadow of Afghanistan” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam. “Jackie Behind the Myth,” a two-hour documentary special on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, was People Magazine’s Pick of the Week, premiered on PBS nationwide and aired in more than 30 countries.

Suzanne is survived son Ryan, and step-children Rain, Shannon, Shane and Doah Burroughs.

For more information on Suzanne’s life, click here and here.

Suzanne Bauman

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” Earthplace photo has been hanging around the “06880” files for a while. But a good mushroom never gets old.

(Photo/Peter Gold)

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And finally, as we mark the 1-year anniversary of the storming of the US Capitol, we continue to hear — from some quarters —

Roundup: Brian Keane, TAILS, “Annie” …

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What do Muddy Waters, James Cotton, James Montgomery and Brian Keane have in common?

The 3 famed blues musician — and the Grammy and Emmy Award-winning composer/producer/1971 Staples High School graduate — will be inducted into the New England Music Hall of Fame. The ceremony is Saturday (November 27) in Mystic.

Keane has scored hundreds of films and television shows. His music has been hailed as “indelible and breathtaking” by the Los Angeles Times, “piercingly beautiful” by the New York Times, and “masterful” by Newsweek. He has been called a “musician’s musician” by Downbeat, a “composer’s composer” by the Hollywood Reporter, and “one of the most impressive musicians of the decade” by Billboard.

(To learn more about Brian Keane, click here. For more on the New England Music Hall of Fame, click here. Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Brian Keane

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Happy 20th anniversary, TAILS!

The Westport group — which protects local cats from homelessness, while supporting felines in 9 area towns through spaying and neutering, with dozens of volunteers — earned tax-exempt status in November 2001.

TAILS — whose formal name is The Alliance In Limiting Strays — helps both dogs and cats. But they focus on where they see the most need: feral cats. One pair can easily turn into 40 cats in 2 years.

To learn more, click here or here; email info@tailsct.org; call 203-222-1992, or search Instagram: @tails_spay_neuter.

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Among the many yard signs promoting political candidates earlier this month, one of the most memorable urged “Write in Alma for Board of Education.”

Hers — and all the others — are gone. But a new sign has cropped up, plugging someone else by her first name only. It too starts with “A”:

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Matt Murray — who spotted this sign — says, with tongue (hopefully) in cheek: “I don’t know what office she’s running for, or what her political affiliation is, but I think she may have missed the timing for elections.”

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“Westport … Naturally” usually features outdoor shots. Naturally.

But this indoor-and-out image is too good to pass up!

(Photo/Wendy Levy)

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And finally … Philip Margo, an original member of the Tokens — best known for the mega-hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” — died earlier this month in Los Angeles, after suffering a stroke. He was 79.

The Tokens had other hits too. Click here for the intriguing back story of his, and his group’s, careers.

Roundup: Home Buyers, Save The Sound, Merritt Parkway …

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Is it true that every new Westport home buyer comes from Manhattan or Brooklyn?

No. It only seems that way.

According to Coldwell Banker realtor Judy Michaelis, 38% of Westport buyers in the 6 months between January 1 and June 30, 2021 came from … Westport.

Whether trading up, downsizing or moving closer to the beach or woods, nearly 4 in 10 new homeowners are actually still our neighbors.

The next biggest chunk — 17% — came from (yes) New York City.

That was followed by “other states” (15%), Stamford (10%), Norwalk and other Connecticut towns (8% each), New York state (3%) and Wilton (1%).

Wherever you’re from: Welcome to our town, 06880. And also to our “06880” blog.

Many New York City apartment dwellers come to Westport seeking more space.

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Save the Sound’s annual Connecticut Cleanup begins at the end of August, and runs through October.

It’s the largest volunteer effort of its kind in Connecticut. Last year, 1,495 volunteers took 7,498 pounds of trash out of 133 miles of coasts and streams.

This year, Save the Sound is adding a crowdsourcing effort to discover new cleanup sites. Westport is one of 15 communities already on the list for an event.

Click here to register, and for more information.

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Brian Keane is headed to the New England Music Hall of Fame.

The Emmy Award-winning film documentary composer — also a professional guitarist, film producer and Staples High School Class of 1971 graduate — joins a glittering case of 2021 inductees. They include the late Muddy Waters and his son, Mud Morganfield; blues greats James Cotton, James Montgomery and Duke Robillard, and John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band.

Connecticut Magazine features Keane this month. Click here for the full story. (Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Brian Keane

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For the past couple of years, the state Department of Transportation has been removing trees, bushes and buffering hills from the northbound side of Merritt Parkway Exit 41, near the Westport Weston Family Y.

Now they’re putting stuff back. It won’t look the same as it did before.

But it won’t look the way it did recently, either.

(Photo/Bob Mitchell)

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Speaking of nature: The Westport Garden Club’s #FridayFlowers arrangements are always gorgeous. This week they had competition, though — they had to look good in a place that’s already beautiful.

They do.

Check out the photo below, from one of Westport’s hidden jewels: the Wadsworth Arboretum. The arrangement comes courtesy of Dottie Fincher and Susan Nettesheim.

(Photo/Susan Nettesheim)

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Local to Market — the new artisan food-and-crafts store in the old Remarkable Book Shop — hosts a farm stand on their patio from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today (Saturday, July 31).

They feature Silverman’s Farm and Shaggy Coos farm. There’s fresh veggies including corn and peaches, fresh milk, and 2 local artists: pottery by Anna Aron and woodturnings by Dick Stein. A portion of all sales goes to charity.

In addition, Local to Market is looking for a store manager and sales associate. It’s a great chance to be part of the resurgence of Main Street — and help all kinds of local folks get to market (duh).

Email info@localtomarket.com for details.

The Local to Market patio opened recently, across from Cold Fusion.

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Also downtown this afternoon: Jack Eigen will be selling his ice cream (featured recently on “06880”) in front of New England Hemp Farm, in Brooks Corner.

There’s a connection: Colin Bannon, the hemp store owner, is Jack’s Staples High School lacrosse coach.

Just one more way in which Westport coaches go the extra mile for their players.

Jack Eigen, making ice cream.

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After Thursday’s rain, a couple of deer appeared at Lori Lustig’s house. This one didn’t know whether to be scared of — or play with — their dog “Ollie.”

And vice versa.

Just one more example of “Westport … Naturally.”

(Photo/Lori Lustig)

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And finally … sure, Brian Keane earned fame (and Emmys) scoring music for documentary films.

But he’s also an accomplished jazz guitarist. He’s played with greats like Larry Coryell. Click below, to a enjoy a classic tune.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. We Shall Overcome!

1971 Staples High School graduate Brian Keane has composed the music for hundreds of films and television shows, produced over 100 albums, and earned Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys. He’s worked closely with Ric Burns on most of his groundbreaking documentaries.

Brian did not write the music for his holiday video this year. He just plays guitar on 2 familiar songs.

But this is one of his most powerful works ever. It reminds us how tragic 2020 was.

And how much hope we still have, as a new year beckons.

(Click below. But have your Kleenex handy.)

Brian Keane: “Driving While Black”

Driving While Black — a 2-hour documentary — premieres nationally on PBS tonight (Tuesday, October 13, 9 p.m. EDT).

The film explores the history of race-based restrictions on mobility in the US, including slavery, segregation, the very real dangers of traveling in many parts of the country, the construction of highways through politically powerless black neighborhoods, and the current dangers of “driving while black.”

The Ric Burns project was fast-tracked after the deaths of George Floyd and Jacob Blake this summer.

https://vimeo.com/user37094368/review/447854802/8a255e1270

Working at that furious pace was Brian Keane. The 1971 Staples High School graduate scored the music.

Keane — an Emmy-winning composer with 20 nominations — has worked on most of Burns’ films. He’s also adept with music from many cultures, having scored the only Academy Award-winning Chinese documentary ever (“The Blood of Yingzhou District”).

Keane is noted too for his work with Turkish music and Omar Faruk Tekbilek (he sold out Carnegie Hall in 2018, and similar venues worldwide). He also scored Grammy-winning Irish music with the Chieftains, and produced Linda Ronstadt singing Mexican tunes.

Just as important for Driving While Black, Keane scored the music to Henry Hampton’s films.

He was America’s first major Black documentarian. his 1980’s multi-part television show “Eyes on the Prize” is a classic.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, there were few minorities in television production. Hampton used his fame to hire top documentary professionals — mostly white — to mentor inexperienced Black men and women who wanted to learn the craft.

Keane was one of those mentors.

Brian Keane

Though the Driving While Black budget was small — and the turnaround time quick — Keane was eager to participate. The chance to influence millions of viewers, the timing and the subject’s importance all resonated.

Most of the musicians working with him were Black, and old friends. Singer Janice Dempsey told him, “music has no color.” As he worked, and talked, he realized that — without exception — his Black friends and the film’s musical collaborators have been affected by institutional racism.

Because of the rich history of black music in America — gospel, blues, jazz,  R&B, hip hop — and because many of his musician friends had been out of work due to COVID, Keane decided to use PBS’ limited  budget to hire great musicians.

He forwent his usual fee, opting to make “a soundtrack that would raise awareness further, but would also be compelling musically.”

The main theme took a 1947 Alan Lomax recording of Black prisoners singing while working in a chain gang. Keane set it to African and hip hop beats, scoring it with modern urban jazz elements, a viola de gamba to connect to colonial times, sound design, and tension atmospheres.

He says, “It gets across the point the film tries to convey: Racism has been part of America throughout its history, and still very much is today too.”

It includes Blues Hall of Famer Joe Louis Walker, jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut, Grammy-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker, gospel artist Ada Dyer, and emerging socially conscious artists like Kyla Imani and Jermaine Love Songz.

Marion Meadows performs too. His cousin was shot 27 times and killed by police last year. The video of the incident was lost.

But this would not be an “06880” story without more local connections. Former resident play on the soundtrack too: Dan Barrett (cello) and Murali Coryell (electric guitar).

(Click here to download Brian Keane’s “Driving While Black” soundtrack.)

Brian Keane Scores Oliver Sacks

Just as Oliver Sacks was finishing his autobiography, he learned he had 6 months to live.

The world-renowned neurologist — and author of books like Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat — had terminal cancer. He invited Ric Burns to document his thoughts, and interview colleagues.

Paul Allen backed the film. “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life” is a story of discovery, fascination, incredible human compassion, quirky humor, heartbreak, and the wonders of being alive.

It debuted as a hit at Telluride, sold out the New York Film Festival, and will air on PBS’ “American Masters.” It opens September 23 via streaming, and in art house theaters.

The documentary’s soundtrack was composed and created by Brian Keane. The 1971 Staples High School graduate has composed the music for hundreds of films and television shows, produced over 100 albums, and earned Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys.

Brian Keane and Ric Burns, at work on “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life.”

Sacks was a complicated subject to compose music for. It was a challenge to find the best ways to make the film move viewers — and move the story along.

“Oliver was quirky, but very serious,” Keane says. “He was intellectual, but extremely compassionate. His patients were strange by outward appearance, but human beings trapped in a tunnel of their maladies, viewing a glimpse of light from a distance that Oliver was at work trying to connect for them.

“Oliver was deeply troubled himself, yet uniquely gifted. There is a deep sense of wonder, and fascination with life itself and with our existence, in this story. Oliver was asking ‘who are we?,’ yet this is also a story of a man who had 6 months to live.”

Sacks was also a classical pianist and music lover. At one point in the film Keane left him playing his own, slightly out-of-tune piano. Keane used the piano as Oliver’s voice, often with a live chamber orchestra for emotional intensity.

In the 1980s, Keane produced 4 records of Tibetan Bells with Henry Wolff and Nancy Hennings, and 1 with Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart.

He thought the bells’ strange, wavelike qualities would give a scientific-like feeling of a different mind, looking at different types of conditions. They too became part of the score.

Brian Keane

“We needed pioneering electronics to devise sounds of inside-the-brain scientific discovery as well,” Keane explains. He and longtime engineer Jeff Frez-Albrecht explored their electronic creation devices to form a palette of other-worldly custom electronic sounds for the film.

Oliver was a wild child of the ’60s, so Keane included some rock ‘n’ roll — much like he played as a guitarist in Charlie Karp’s Reunion Band.

Keane scored the main theme as a waltz, for a sense of quirkiness. The melody is simple, full of wonder. It’s accompanied by the Tibetan Bells, to give a deeper sense of cutting-edge discovery, and is supported by a chamber orchestra.

The other main theme was “compassionate,” Keane says. It opens with a single note, then widens the intervals to large leaps, amplifying the emotional empathy.

Elsewhere, he says, the score simply needed to connect what was being said or felt to a deeper meaning. That’s exemplified in the credit music: a simple piano figure with chamber orchestra, and bowed metal creating eerie sounds in “a heartbreakingly beautiful, wistfully ethereal and poignant way.”

Intrigued? Click here to listen to the score. Click below, for the official trailer.

Then mark your calendar for September 23, and the release of the fascinating (and musically compelling) “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life.”

 

Charlie Karp Rocks The Levitt

When Charlie Karp died in March, his many friends were devastated.

The Westport native left Staples High School early in his junior year, to play with Buddy Miles. Though he had an extraordinary musical career — playing at Jimi Hendrix’s funeral; writing, recording, teaching and, especially, performing with the world’s greats — he always came back to Fairfield County.

So it was appropriate that last night’s tribute concert took place at the Levitt Pavilion. Charlie’s longtime friend and collaborator Brian Keane — himself a Grammy-winning artist, songwriter and producer — put together a remarkable event.

Roger Ball of the Average White Band (lead sax) joined Fred Scerbo, Ricky Alfonso and Joey Melotti for “Pick up the Pieces.” (Photo/Dan Woog)

From Germany, Nashville and plenty of other places, Charlie’s friends and admirers canceled gigs and rearranged schedules. More than 70 vocalists, gospel singers, keyboardists, percussionists, horn players and (especially) guitarists flew and drove to Westport.

Westport native Barry Tashian fronted the Remains, who opened for the Beatles. He then played for many years with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Emmylou Harris. Long before all that, he was Charlie Karp’s guitar teacher. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Their list of credits is eye-popping. They’ve played and recorded with, or opened for, everyone from the Beatles, Doors, James Brown, Smokey Robinson and Roberta Flack to Wynton Marsalis, the New York Philharmonic, Boston Pops and London Symphony Orchestra.

The Reunion Band — formed originally with Charlie Karp’s very talented Staples High Class of 1971 professional musician classmates — reunited, and added a few members. (Photo/Dan Woog)

With just one rehearsal, the musicians — many of whom knew each other, but had never played together — delivered one of the Levitt’s most powerful, pulsating shows ever.

Julie Aldworth McClenathan and Bonnie Housner Erickson were Charlie Karp’s classmates at Staples. (Photo/Dan Woog)

It even included a tribute from Charlie’s friend Keith Richards. He was otherwise engaged, on tour with his band the Rolling Stones.

The Good News Gospel Choir added their talents too. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The benefit raised funds for a scholarship in Charlie’s name. Every year it will help talented student musicians, by providing studio time at the Carriage House in Stamford and Horizon in West Haven.

When he wasn’t playing keyboard, John Lamb was dancing. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Midway through the concert, storm clouds rolled in. Thunderstorms — predicted, and ominous — never materialized. The clouds moved on, and the sky brightened.

“Charlie’s angels,” someone said.

A storm threatened … (Photo/Dan Woog)

… but never came. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Brian Keane (left) produced the tribute concert. Carole Sylvan and Ada Dyer added powerful vocals. (Photo/Dan Woog)

As one of Charlie Karp’s classmates, I was honored to take a turn as one of the MCs. (Photo/Carleigh Welsh)

(Tax-deductible checks made payable to Fairfield County’s Community Foundation [put “Charlie Karp Memorial Fund” in the memo] can be sent to Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, 40 Richards Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06854. Donations may also be made online at www.CharlieKarp.com. Follow instructions under the donation tab.)

Charlie Karp Tribute: A Levitt Concert For The Ages

The Levitt Pavilion has been the site of countless great concerts.

But in its over-40-year history, it’s never hosted — on one night — artists who have played with the Beatles, Doors, Michael Jackson, Sting, Elton John, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Linda Ronstadt, The Band, Pete Seeger, Smokey Robinson, Rascals, Aerosmith, Buddy Miles, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, James Brown, Jon Bon Jovi, Cheech & Chong, Michael Bolton, Barry Manilow, Herbie Hancock, Liza Minelli, Cher, Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, Mamas and the Papas, Paul Simon, Foreigner, Grand Funk Railroad, Eartha Kitt, Dave Brubeck, Whitney Houston, Roberta Flack, Lenny Kravitz, Chuck Mangione, Harry Chapin, Arlo Guthrie, Bee Gees, Edgar Winter, Grace Slick, Jefferson Starship, John Sebastian, Joe Cocker, Ted Nugent, Mötley Crue, Boz Scaggs, Amy Grant, Sinéad O’Connor, Vince Gill, Carole King, Orleans, Johnny Winter, Emmylou Harris, Chieftains, Lou Reed, Joan Jett, Larry Coryell, Rosanne Cash, Buckwheat Zydeco, Shawn Colvin, Julio Iglesias, Michael McDonald, Luther Vandross, Usher, Jean-Luc Ponty, Jose Féliciano, Herb Alpert, Bad Company, Paul Winter, Taj Mahal, Badfinger, Rick Derringer, Blue Oyster Cult, James Cotton, Bruce Hornsby, Spyro Gyra, Muddy Waters, Eric Weissberg, Wynton Marsalis, New York Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops Orchestra, Vicki Sue Robinson, Aztec Two-Step and James Montgomery.

Just to name a few.

The key is: Nearly all of the musicians who played with those greats also played with Charlie Karp.

And on Saturday, July 6 (7 p.m., Levitt Pavilion) they’ll honor Charlie’s memory, rocking a sure-to-be memorable concert for the ages.

Charlie Karp, in his Buddy Miles days.

Charlie left Staples High School at 16 to play guitar with Buddy Miles. He hung and played with Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards, and wrote songs for Joan Jett and Joe Perry, before returning home to earn a fanatic following with bands like Dirty Angels, White Chocolate, Slo Leak and the Name Droppers.

He simultaneously earned Emmys as a producer of music for sports networks, documentaries and feature films, and became a guitar teaching mentor to generations of aspiring young stars.

Charlie died in March, at 65. He had been diagnosed a few days earlier with liver cancer.

Nearly everyone who ever played with Charlie — and a few other big names who were influenced by him — will appear together on the Levitt stage. Over 70 strong, they’ll reimagine the rock and R&B Charlie recorded, played and loved so much.

The mammoth, not-to-be-missed show includes Barry Tashian. Seven years older than Charlie, he fronted the Remains. They opened for the Beatles on their final 1966 tour, and were — in the words of legendary critic Jon Landau — “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Remains were a major influence on Charlie. He and good friend Brian Keane — now a Grammy-winning composer and producer — played their songs in a Coleytown Junior High band. Later, Charlie and Barry became friends.

The Remains’ Barry Tashian (left) and Vern Miller, while touring with the Beatles.

Barry has not played in Westport for several decades. He’s flying up from Nashville for this show.

The cast also includes Roger Ball of the Average White Band, Joe Bonadio of Sting, Michael Mugrage of Orleans, Motown recording artist Ada Dyer, Tim DeHuff and Roger Kaufman.

Of course, members of Charlie’s beloved bands from the ’60s through 2019 — guys like David Hull and Rick Castillo — will play too. The Fun Band, Slo Leak, White Chocolate, Dirty Angels and Name Droppers — it’s a trip down memory lane. And a reminder that great music never dies.

Charlie Karp (Photo/John Halpern)

Mandrake Root — a seminal Westport band — will reunite after 50 years. Tony Prior is coming from North Carolina to join in the jam.

The Reunion Band will be there too. Comprised entirely of Charlie’s classmates from Staples’ class of 1971 — all of them noted professional musicians — they were there with Charlie 2 years ago, for one of the Levitt’s best nights ever.

Charlie’s high school sweetheart, Debbie Sims, will introduce “I Still Love You Anyway.” Charlie wrote that song for her, on Buddy Miles’ iconic “Them Changes” album. It — and “Runaway Child,” which Charlie wrote with Buddy — will be performed by the popular local band, the 5 O’Clocks.

Joey Melotti will be there. The musical director for Michael Jackson and Michael Bolton had a huge Westport following with his 1980s band Sunsight.

Chris Coogan’s Good News Gospel Choir will round out the amazing evening.

Guitarist/producer/songwriter Danny Kortchmar can’t be there — he’s on tour with James Taylor and Carole King’s rhythm section. He sent a note to be read from the stage.

So did Keith Richards. He too is sorry he can’t attend. His band, the Rolling Stones, is out on tour.

Charlie Karp and Keith Richards. (Photo/Ray Flanigan)

Every musician is donating their time. Some turned down lucrative gigs to come.

Proceeds will benefit two organizations. The Charlie Karp Memorial Fund promotes promising area musicians, by offering studio time at the Carriage House in Stamford and Horizon in West Haven. The other beneficiary is the Levitt Pavilion.

That’s fitting. Charlie Karp played to adoring Levitt audiences many times.

On July 6, he’ll pack the place one more time.

(The Charlie Karp Tribute Concert is a ticketed event. Click here to purchase, and for more information.)