Tag Archives: Jose Feliciano

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.)

Jose Feliciano’s Star-Spangled Honor

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of many historic moments: the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Student revolts at Columbia University, and in France. The tumultuous Democratic convention in Chicago. The election of Richard Nixon.

Less remembered, a bit less significant — but as long-lasting in its repercussions — was a rendition of the national anthem. Jose Feliciano — coming off his 1st American hit, a remake of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” — performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Game 5 of the World Series in Detroit.

The Puerto Rico-born guitarist — just 23 years old — infused the anthem with his trademark Latin jazz style.

No one had ever performed America’s anthem like that before. The country was used to straightforward, quick renditions of a very difficult song.

Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance was a year away. Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga — their memorable “Star-Spangled” performances, and those of so many others, were decades in the future.

All owe a debt to Jose Feliciano’s ground-breaking interpretation.

It did not go over well.

Last year — looking back at the controversy — the New York Times wrote:

Taking liberties with Jim Morrison is one thing. Taking liberties with Francis Scott Key proved more contentious.

Feliciano went on the field with his guide dog and an acoustic guitar. He was quite free with the song’s melody, giving it a slower folk tempo and adding extra syllables and different stresses. What resulted was an anthem that to today’s ears is mellow and expressive.

Many ears in 1968 heard it differently.

Boos were heard from the stands, but the real blowup came afterward.

“It was a disgrace, an insult,” a baseball fan, Arlene Raicevich of Detroit, told The Associated Press. “I’m going to write my senator about it.”

“It sounded like a hippie was singing it,” said another Detroiter, Bernie Gray.

For several years, Feliciano was blackballed. Last year, he told Deadspin:

Some people wanted me deported—as if you can be deported to Puerto Rico. All I know is, from 1968 until the 1970s, radio stations stopped playing my records. It wasn’t the fans—the fans were with me. But the program directors didn’t play my songs. I don’t think I deserved that.

He got back in America’s good graces with “Feliz Navidad” — one of the most popular Christmas tunes ever — and the theme song to “Chico and the Man.”

Now — finally — the longtime Weston resident gets his historical due.

This Thursday (June 14), Feliciano will be featured at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s annual naturalization and donation ceremony.

Roger Kaufman — a 1966 Staples High School graduate, Westonite and fellow musician, who helped arrange the event — says that the Smithsonian celebrates creative, open-minded, groundbreaking musicians who have become part of American history.

Friday is, of course, Flag Day. The ceremony takes place in Flag Hall — where the original banner that inspired Francis Scott Key’s 1814 song proudly hangs.

Just as proudly, Feliciano will deliver a keynote address. He’ll donate artifacts — including his custom 1967 guitar — to the national collection.

And then he will sing — as only he can — our national anthem.

BONUS FEATURE 1: Click here for a New York Times retrospective of Jose Feliciano’s World Series controversy. Click here for Marvin Gaye’s national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star game. Click here for Whitney Houston’s rendition at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Click here to hear Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969.

BONUS FEATURE 2: In 2010 — 42 years after Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell invited Jose Feliciano to perform the national anthem — the now-legendary musician returned to Detroit, in a tribute to Harwell who had died a few days earlier. One of the sportscaster’s last wishes was to have Feliciano sing again.

Feliz Navidad, Santa Baby!

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.”

Turns out, 06880 — and 06883 — are where we meet the Christmas music world too.

The other day in Weston, Susan Feliciano was listening to Songcraft. The popular podcast features chats with the creators of America’s most popular music.

The most recent edition covered Christmas songs. Susan’s husband Jose was the first interview.

The best-selling guitarist/vocalist has been on a sold-out tour of the British Isles since October. So even though Susan knew the back story, it was nice to hear Jose’s voice as he talked about writing the joyful, jangly — and spectacularly successful — “Feliz Navidad” one day in July.

She kept listening.

The next interview was with Phil Springer. That’s when Susan learned something she never knew.

Springer is now 91. Way back in 1953 — more than 60 years ago — he was a Brill Building songwriter, writing for stars like Judy Garland.

His boss asked Springer to work with lyricist Joan Javits on a Christmas song for Eartha Kitt.

“She was the sexiest woman in America,” he told Songcraft.

Springer and Javits spent 2 weekends collaborating on the song — at her father’s Westport home. (Springer did not say who Javits’ father was. But her uncle was Jacob Javits, then a US congressman from New York, later a senator, and now the namesake of a large convention center.)

Their collaboration became what Springer calls “the first sexy Christmas song” (with lyrics like “Santa baby, Slip a sable under the tree, for me … Been an awful good girl … Hurry down the chimney tonight”).

Eartha Kitt’s recording became a huge hit in 1953 — but then disappeared. (Coincidentally, in later years she became a Weston neighbor of Jose and Susan Feliciano.)

“Santa Baby” resurfaced in 1987, when Madonna revived it. Since then it’s been featured in “Driving Miss Daisy,” and recorded by many other female singers.

Today, both “Feliz Navidad” and “Santa Baby” can be heard on every Christmas radio station — and just about every other place — in America.

Including — particularly proudly — Westport and Weston, their spiritual homes.

(Click here for the full Songcraft Christmas show podcast.)

06880 (Dan) and 06883 (Jose) Wish You A Merry Christmas!

06880 (Dan) And 06883 (Jose) Wish You…

Jose Feliciano, Mimi Levitt Launch New Pavilion

Saying “I look forward to returning for years to come,” 93-year-old Mimi Levitt shined with excitement as she welcomed Westport’s newest jewel: the refurbished Levitt pavilion.

The $9 million public/private project — propelled by a $4.5 million grant from the Levitt Foundation — represents a complete overhaul of an already intriguing downtown attraction.

With a soaring, sail-inspired, state-of-the-art stage; a killer sound system; amenities like dressing rooms, food concessions, ramps and restrooms — plus a completely renovated riverwalk that now extends all the way to the point behind the pavilion — this Levitt marks the 2nd transformation of a former landfill.

Parks and Rec, politicians, architects and construction folks all took their bows.

Then Jose Feliciano took over. His kick-butt show is just the start of a summer filled with entertainment.

And there was not a mosquito in sight.

A small portion of the large crowd, and the new Levitt stage.

A small portion of the large crowd, and the new Levitt stage.

The one and only Jose Feliciano. The Weston resident donated his fee to the Levitt building fund.

The one and only Jose Feliciano. The Weston resident donated his fee to the Levitt building fund.

The lawn was full -- but there was plenty of room to relax.

The lawn is full — but there’s still plenty of room to relax.

Mimi Levitt -- 93 years young -- and her daughter Liz Levitt Hirsch.

Mimi Levitt — 93 years young — and her daughter Liz Levitt Hirsch.

Dancing in the aisle, to Jose Feliciano.

Dancing on the grass, to Jose Feliciano.

Freda and Carleigh Welsh: 2 of the driving forces behind the Levitt Pavilion's success.

Freda and Carleigh Welsh: 2 of the driving forces behind the Levitt Pavilion’s success.

The new Levitt has real restrooms. And they are already in use.

The new Levitt has real restrooms. And they are already in use.

The landscaping extends beyond the stage, out to the point where the Levitt juts into the Saugatuck River. A newly enhanced riverwalk adds to the beauty.

The landscaping extends beyond the stage, out to the point where the Levitt juts into the Saugatuck River. A newly enhanced riverwalk adds to the beauty.

Doobies, Meatloaf, Buckwheat And Willie Share A Westport Stage

On Sunday, Jose Feliciano lights a (figurative) fire under the new Levitt Pavilion stage.

The singer/guitarist/songwriter is a very appropriate act for the already-sold-out grand opening of the redesigned bandshell (and — be still, my heart and bladder) actual bathrooms. He’s popular, talented and a fantastic performer.

Jose Feliciano (Photo/David Bravo)

Jose Feliciano (Photo/David Bravo)

But the Weston resident — who is donating his fee back to the pavilion’s building fund — is hardly the 1st Very Big Name to appear at the Levitt. In fact, a look back at nearly 40 years of headliners reads like a Billboard Who’s Who.

Foreigner. Frankie Valli. The Doobie Brothers. Southside Johnny. Blues Traveler. Tom Jones. Don McLean. Kenny Loggins. Smokey Robinson. Roberta Flack. Tito Puente. Judy Collins. Al Hirt. Cab Calloway. Andy Williams. Ray Charles. Count Basie. Buddy Rich. All have performed benefit concerts (the only time the Levitt sells tickets, though some folks sit on Jesup Green and enjoy the concerts gratis).

Some artists did not have to travel far. In fact, they could have walked to the Levitt. Michael Bolton, Ashford & Simpson, Meatloaf, Corky Laing and Neil Sedaka are Westporters who headlined Levitt shows. Dave Brubeck lived in Wilton.

Keith Richards

Keith Richards

Weston’s Keith Richards made a memorable appearance at a Willie Nelson concert. (Willie drove here in his famed tour bus.) Keith ambled onstage with his guitar, said “I’ve always wanted to play with Willie,” and performed 2 memorable duets. You can’t make this stuff up.

Some of the shows were not as memorable — hey, it happens. The Drifters and Temptations may have included an actual Drifter and Tempt, but they were clearly past their sell-by date.

So were the Beach Boys, who had the misfortune of being moved to the stifling Staples fieldhouse because of bad weather.

Chuck Berry and Little Richard were the actual guys, but they too were a bit long in the tooth.

Yet those few dogs are more than overshadowed by the dozens of great shows. Not many suburban towns boast open-air, summer shows by Huey Lewis & the News, America, Dave Mason, the Four Tops, Dickey Betts, the Chieftains, Chuck Mangione, John Sebastian, Robert Goulet and Tony Bennett.

Buckwheat Zydeco

Buckwheat Zydeco

My favorite memory, though, may be Buckwheat Zydeco. It’s a long way from Louisiana to Westport, and this might have been the whitest audience he ever saw. But he and his band — with their accordion, guitar, keyboard and (my favorite) washboard — had hedge fund managers, housewives (and househusbands) dancing in the grassy aisles.

Those aisles are now re-sodded. There’s a new stage, concession stands, and (did I mention this earlier?) actual bathrooms.

On Sunday, there will also be Jose Feliciano. And the start of another 4 decades of remarkable entertainment, down by the river.

(No free tickets remain for Sunday’s Jose Feliciano concert. To join the wait list, email levitt@westportct.gov. The lawn opens to ticket-holders at 5 pm. Click the Levitt Pavilion website to see more upcoming attractions. )

 

 

 

Jose Feliciano Lights Up The Levitt

It’s been a while.

But the Levitt Pavilion — for 40 years a Westport summer treasure — is almost ready to open its new facility. The handsome bandshell (with lush new lawn) will burnish our reputation as a town that loves arts and entertainment, and is always ready to host a good time.

So it’s very appropriate that the grand opening event features a hometown hero: Jose Feliciano.

(I know, he lives in Weston. But he’s real close to the Westport border.)

Jose Feliciano (Photo/David Bravo)

Jose Feliciano (Photo/David Bravo)

The 9-time Grammy winner/Hollywood Walk of Fame star/namesake of New York’s Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School/Billboard Magazine Lifetime Achievement awardee/Baseball Hall of Fame honoree (for his 1968 World Series rendition of the national anthem)/and writer-singer-guitarist of “Feliz Navidad” — perhaps the most popular Christmas song ever recorded — takes the stage on Sunday, July 20 for the 1st-ever performance at the new Levitt.

And — because Jose Feliciano is not just a fantastic artist, but a phenomenal human being — he will donate his fee to the ongoing Campaign for a New Levitt Pavilion.

Doors open — okay, the restraining rope will be lowered — at 5 p.m. A ribbon cutting ceremony takes place at 6. And then, at 7, Jose Feliciano will light our fire.

(The event is free. However, tickets will be issued in advance, beginning Tuesday, July 8, online at http://www.levittpavilion.com and at the Pavilion office, in the Parks and Recreation Department office at Longshore.)

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan, at home in Weston.  (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan, at home in Weston. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Wall Street Journal Knows Where We Live

From the ultra-modern to the very old, today’s Wall Street Journal is all over Westport and Weston.

A feature story on homes with the latest high-end amenity — “freshly circulated, highly scrubed air” — highlights Doug Mcdonald’s “passive house.”

The paper reports:

In suburban areas, a handful of high-end developers of single-family homes are promoting their project’s indoor-air quality. In tony Westport, Conn., a 5,800-square-foot Colonial-style house that will soon list for $2.8 million was built using “passive house” building methods that minimize energy usage with a mathematically precise, airtight building technique, and the strategic placement of high-performance windows to take advantage of daylight and shade.

Doug Mcdonald's passive house, off Roseville Road. It was formerly owned by Oscar Levant. (Photo/Claudio Papapietro for Wall Street Journal)

Doug Mcdonald lives in this passive house, off Roseville Road. Before retrofitting, it was owned by Oscar Levant. Doug has built another passive house in Colonial style,  which is currently on the market. (Photo/Claudio Papapietro for Wall Street Journal)

Inside, the air will be filtered through a two air-exchangers, says Douglas Mcdonald, the founder of the Pure House, the company that built the home. Pollen-free fresh air will circulate into living and sleeping spaces; other air will be removed from kitchens and bathrooms, where odors tend to accumulate the most.

“The air quality is amazing,” says Mr. Mcdonald. Paint, flooring and cabinetry will be made from chemical-free materials to eliminate what Mr. Mcdonald describes as harmful off-gassing. He estimates that the speculatively built home, slated to be completed in September, is priced about 10% higher than a traditionally built house.

(I should note that the WSJ is 2 years too late to this passive house party. “06880” reported on it in March 2012.)

Meanwhile, a few pages away, the paper gives a shout-out to a very different home.

Jose Feliciano lives in — and loves — a 1730 Weston landmark. The internationally renowned, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter.guitarist (“Feliz Navidad,” “Light My Fire”) is as passionate about his historic, lovely home — a former tavern –as Mcdonald is about his engineering marvel.

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan in their very comfortable kitchen. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan in their very comfortable kitchen. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Feliciano describes his 5-acre property, including a gazebo and barn that’s now a recording studio:

People who don’t know me assume I move around our house gingerly. But being blind doesn’t mean I can’t see. I have a photographic memory and know exactly where everything is. The house is an old, soulful place that creaks and reminds me of my aunt’s home in the Bronx that I used to visit as a boy. It has character.

Our floors creak beautifully … because they’re made of different types of wood. The floors upstairs are pine while downstairs the dining-room floor is pear, the working kitchen is oak and the floor in the kitchen’s dining area is cherry.

Upstairs, the pine floorboards are original to the house, and many are as wide as 20 inches. Back in the 1700s, it was illegal for colonists to take down trees larger than 12 inches in diameter. They were considered property of the king, who needed large trees for ship masts since much of England’s forests were exhausted. Royal surveyors would mark large trees to keep them off-limits, but colonists took them down anyway in protest and used them for upstairs floors, where they’d be out of sight.

Jose Feliciano in his home recording studio. He has a new album out this summer. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Jose Feliciano in his home recording studio. He has a new album out this summer. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Our house has four working fireplace. My favorite is in the kitchen. When we make fires there in the cold months, I sit in the rocking chair Susan gave me when we were first dating and listen to the wood burning. I hear the sap sizzling and the logs snapping. It makes me imagine how hard life must have been hundreds of years ago. I also like playing guitar and composing in front of the fire, which warms my soul.

Last fall, we had to take down an old maple tree that was near the power lines, so now we have eight cords of wood. I love feeling the seasons change. In the spring, I smell the greenery and hear things coming alive, like the songbirds and sparrows. The Saugatuck River is just 50-feet wide here and cuts through our backyard, so I can hear the river’s motion and cascading waterfall from our bedroom. The water attracts river otters, deer and wild turkeys to our land. Summer has its own vibrant sounds.

I also love hearing my neighbors going about their lives. Our house is private and remote, but we’re not isolated. We wouldn’t want that. When you isolate yourself too much, you lose your compassion for others. I don’t ever want that to happen to us.

Westport and Weston are filled with intriguing homes. Some were built yesterday; others have stood for centuries. Unwittingly today, the Wall Street Journal has shown the world those 2 extremes.

(Hat tip to John Karrel)

Jose Feliciano: Far More Than ‘Feliz Navidad’

“Feliz Navidad” — the jingly-jangly, ever-popular holiday tune — is the 1st thing most people associate with Jose Feliciano.

The Puerto Rican-born guitarist/singer/composer — and longtime Weston resident — has done much more, of course. He produced a great version of “Light My Fire,” played for the pope, and performed the 1st-ever non-traditional version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a sports event. (The 1968 World Series — and though it was controversial at the time, it set the stage for all the Whitney Houstons who followed.)

Feliciano is more than a 1-trick pony when it comes to Christmas songs, too. Check out this beautiful “Cancion de Navidad.” He accompanies Silvio Rodriguez on guitar. (Click on the “Playlist” on the upper left corner of the YouTube video for Jose’se song.)


(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

Thanks, Jose. After listening to this, there’s only 1 thing left to say:

Feliz Navidad!