Tag Archives: Steve Ruchefsky

Giving The Gift Of Music

The Staples High School music department is the gift that keeps on giving.

Many holiday parties — here, and around the country — include Christmas carols. Most of the time, guests stumble through a few standards. Then it’s back to the wassail and egg nog.

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston’s party is not like that. It’s at their lovely Myrtle Avenue home — but it might as well be Carnegie Hall.

Their daughter Emma Charles graduated from Staples High School, and the Berklee College of Music. Last night, she and her friends — all former Orphenians — harmonized on a few beautiful carols.

They did not rehearse. But — thanks to their Westport music education, amazing voices and joy in singing once again with each other — they made a great party even more wondrous.

Click on, and listen below!

The singers are (from left) Emma Charles, Joe Badion, Jack Baylis, Nick  Ribolla, Ian Goodman and Nick Massoud. Midway through, they’re joined by Emma’s uncle. Apologies: My video quality pales in comparison to the their wonderful voices.

Ranky Tanky Gets Down At The Levitt

“06880” does not usually promote Levitt Pavilion concerts. There are too many good ones — rock, jazz, military bands, kids’ shows, you name it — and by now, most people know how to find the shows they like.

But the Levitt does not usually showcase Gullah music. So here’s a little promo for this Saturday’s event (August 4, 8 p.m.).

And — because “06880” is “where Westport meets the world” — there’s a great local connection.

Ranky Tanky is the group you’ll want to hear. They celebrate Gullah culture — the unique evolution of West African slaves shipped to the South Carolina coast to work the low country rice plantations.

Because they were so skillful, the slaves were kept together — not separated, like those from other parts of Africa. The culture they created continues today.

Ranky Tanky celebrates Gullah life through spirituals, poems, children’s songs and lullabies, combining them with fresh, jazz-inflected music. It’s special, unique, and well worth seeing and hearing.

Ranky Tanky, in the low country.

The band is hot. Their first album zoomed to #1 on the Billboard, Amazon and iTunes jazz charts. They’ve headlined the Spoleto Music  Festival, played Carnegie Hall and been featured in Downbeat. Terry Gross interviewed them for “Fresh Air.”

But the world would not have heard about Ranky Tanky without the passion of a local couple.

Last year, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston started Resilience Music Alliance. The goal is to empower artists and creators who explore, challenge and celebrate the human condition of (you guessed it) resilience.

At the Spoleto Music Festival, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston presented Ranky Tanky with plaques commemorating the #1 performance of the first release on the Westporters’ label, Resilience Music Alliance

Ranky Tanky — the name comes from a Gullah phrase meaning “work it” or “get down” — has performed all over the country, and are booked well into 2019.

During a summer when — thanks to a superb Historical Society exhibit –Westport is  examining its African American past, and our town’s connection to slavery, Saturday’s Levitt Pavilion show is timely and important.

And if all that is not enough to draw you to the Levitt for Ranky Tanky, try this:

Rondi Charleston’s “Resilience”

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston are a couple with many talents.

Together, they renovated their historic Evergreen Avenue home into one of Westport’s most stunning properties. He’s a successful businessman, who recently helped build a biotech company that transforms the way cancer is treated and cured. She was an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist with ABC News — as well as a noted jazz and opera singer/entertainer/actor.

Last year Steve and Rondi embarked on a new project. They started Resilience Music Alliance, right here in Westport.

It’s a label with a mission.

The goal is to empower artists and creators who explore, challenge and celebrate the human condition of (you guessed it) resilience.

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in the wine cellar of their Evergreen Avenue home. The bench comes from Westport Country Playhouse.

One of their first releases was an album by Charleston, South Carolina-based Ranky Tanky. Those gifted musicians reimagine songs from Gullah culture, and infuse them with jazz.

Terry Gross featured them on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” The album zoomed to #1 on the Billboard, Amazon and iTunes jazz charts.

RMA also released “Attitude Manouche” by the Django Festival Allstars. They performed this week at Carnegie Hall, and transfixed the crowd with hot gypsy jazz.

Now Rondi herself is in the news. She’s used her journalism background to create a webcast. “The Resilience Conversations” feature conversations with thought leaders like Senators Cory Booker and Chris Murphy, author Deepak Chopra and astrophysicist Brian Greene.

Plus, she’s just released the aptly named “Resilience.”

Hot House Magazine says she’s carved out

a delightful niche at an intersection of swinging standards, sultry torch songs and R&B-inflected fare. Capable of delivering ballads with a supremely velvet-coated intimacy and lush vibrato, Rondi also possesses the ample chops and vocal technique to deliver fast vocalese lines that enliven uptempo hard bop works.

The magazine adds, “any performance by Rondi is well worth attending.”

That’s great news for Fairfield County residents.

Next Saturday (May 12, 8 p.m.), Rondi performs at Fairfield University’s Quick Center.

She’s headlined the Women In Jazz Festival at Lincoln Center, and performed at Birdland, Blue Note, Joe’s Pub and elsewhere around the country.

Now we can see our talented, resilient neighbor right here in our own back yard.

(Click here for tickets to Rondi Charleston’s Fairfield University performance. Tickets are $15, $10 for Quick Center members.)

Two Christmas Carols

Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert is the music department’s gift to the town.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

On Friday night, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston threw their annual holiday party, at their beautiful Myrtle Avenue home.

Like many gatherings around Westport, it was a warm, wonderful way to catch up with friends of all ages.

But Steve and Rondi’s party was extra-special. Their daughter Emma — now a student at Berklee College of Music — joined with fellow former Orphenians for a few Christmas songs.

No offense to any other party with carol singers, but — well, take a listen:

 

Thanks to Emma Ruchefsky, Joe Badion, Bailey Claffey, Ian Goodman, Nick Massoud, Nick Ribolla and Sarah Quagliarello for reminding us all why music may be the greatest gift of all.

SPECIAL HOLIDAY BONUS: Last week, Staples’ Audio Production and Theater 3 classes combined to produce a live radio broadcast of “A Christmas Carol.”

It includes all the voices from Charles Dickens’ classic — plus music, clever sound effects, even old-time radio ads for products like Pepsodent.

If you missed it on WWPT-FM, just click here. Instructors Geno Heiter and David Roth, and dozens of students, offer a perfect soundtrack to your holiday.

And so — in the immortal words of Tiny Tim — “A Merry Christmas to us all!”

Steve Ruchefsky’s Gang Of 50

For his 50th birthday, Steve Ruchefsky figured he’d whip up a nice feast for a few friends.

That quickly evolved into an invitation to Bill Taibe. He’s an even better cook than Steve — who is, after all, a lawyer who now manages private investments, while Bill at the time owned Le Farm and was about to open The Whelk. So 5 years ago the backyard of Steve and his wife Rondi Charleston’s handsome Evergreen Avenue home was transformed into the setting for a killer 5-course meal.

Steve — who considers himself lucky, with a “wonderful wife, great daughter and amazing friends” — capped the occasion by announcing a $1 million gift to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

He knew Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward through serving on the Westport Country Playhouse board. Steve’s donation allowed the camp in upstate Connecticut — which “creates fun and friendship for seriously ill children and their families” — to build a residence for doctors and their own families. “Steve’s Station” made it easier for them to stay longer — and their kids to enjoy the facility too.

It was a wonderful gesture. But that was only the start of Steve’s post-50 life.

“I had 2 ephipanies,” he says, 5 years later. “I grew up in Rockaway Beach. I didn’t have a lot. So I knew I wanted to help people.”

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in their wine cellar.

At the same time, he adds, “I wanted to do more than writing a check. I wanted to have fun with my guy friends.”

He rounded up 6 of them. All felt blessed to live here. All had spent the first part of their lives building careers and families, then seeing their children off to college. All had plenty of energy, and the desire to make time in their busy lives for others.

The result: “Go50.” (It stands for “Guys Over 50.”)

Those men — now 13 — are all at least 50 years old, and eager to “get out of our bubble, get dirty, and get going to do good.”

Many names are familiar: Tom Cope, John Engelhart, Jim Hardy, Barry Leskin, Matthew Maddox, Vinny Mullineaux, Jim Naughton, John Porio, John Seigenthaler, David Tetenbaum, Doug Weber and Steven Wolff.

Their first project was at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The boathouse was crammed with boats, canoes, fishing rods. Nothing was organized.

Nine “Go50” guys headed north in a van. They emptied, cleaned, sorted and painted. They got rid of old equipment. Campers, counselors and administrators loved what they’d done.

Go50 guys, after cleaning the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp boathouse.

Energized, the “Go50” gang tackled the Burroughs Community Center in Bridgeport. They painted and renovated a conference room, bringing new life to the building.

Then they wondered how they could do more than some one-off projects.

“None of us served in the military,” Steve says. “We were spared from the draft, and could start our careers when we were young. We decided we wanted to give back to people who did serve in the armed forces.”

Just off I-95 in Bridgeport is Homes for the Brave. The non-profit provides housing, vocational training, job placement, mental health and addiction services, and life skills coaching to help individuals — especially veterans, many of whom have been in prison or have addiction issues — leave homelessness behind.

Steve committed “Go50” to an ongoing relationship. They’ll prepare meals, clean the grounds, and help where and however they can.

Homes for the Brave helps veterans in many ways.

That’s one story. It’s a great one.

Then Steve heard about Homes for the Brave’s newest project.

Created by Peter Van Heerden — former executive director of the Westport Arts Center, now head of Fairfield University’s Quick Center — along with Westport artist Nina Bentley, it’s a show in which people living at the Homes tell their stories.

The performance is called “War Stories.” But they’re really “life stories.”

Notes posted at a recent “War Stories” rehearsal.

Steve has seen rehearsals. “These are not actors or writers. They’re men and women who have served our country. Life has been hard for them.

“They’re not Gold Star veterans who came home to parades. They’re vets who for the most part joined up to get away from trouble. But they came back and found themselves in trouble again.”

A recent preview in Hartford earned a standing ovation.

Steve wants to get the word out about upcoming performances at the Quick Center (Friday and Saturday, March 31 and April 1 — click here for more details; click here for tickets).

Steve Ruchefsky (center) at a “War Stories” rehearsal.

Learning about “War Stories” has inspired Steve to do even more with “Go50.”

“We have a great time together. We get a lot done, and we laugh a lot,” he says.

One thing they laugh about is that they’re all over 50, yet they’re “gang members.”

But what a gang!

Joy!

What happens when a bunch of Staples High School Orphenian graduates — now in college — get together for a multi-generational holiday party, at a beautiful, historic Westport home?

Just watch!

I filmed this last night in Rondi Charleston and Steve Ruchefsky’s wonderful parlor. Staples choral director Luke Rosenberg joins in. And yes, that’s Tony Award winner Jim Naughton making an appearance too.

The video quality is not great. But the music way more than makes up for it.

En-joy!

Old Barn Gets New, Progressive Life

Normally, I would not post a story about a political fundraiser — even one whose goals (helping Democrats regain the Senate) I agree with.

But this has a neat little back story that makes it “06880”-worthy. (And yes, I’d do the same if there’s a similar tie-in for a Republican fundraiser.)

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston own one of the most visible properties in Westport. Their handsome home — with gorgeous gardens and a wide lawn — sits on the corner of Evergreen and Myrtle Avenues, kitty-corner from Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

A while ago, Steve and Rondi bought an 1870 barn. It belonged to their next door neighbor Estelle Margolis, and her late husband Manny. The new owners spent nearly 2 years restoring it, then repurposing it as an office for Steve.

It’s enjoying a wonderful new life, while honoring Westport’s historic roots.

rondi-charleston-and-steve-ruchefsky-barn

Manny Margolis was similarly known for his devotion to America’s past and present. An attorney with a lifelong devotion to civil liberties and civil rights, he brought a draft refusal case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — and won.

As a member of Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Manny was a strong advocate for low and moderate housing regulations.

Manny Margolis was a World War II veteran.

Manny Margolis was a World War II veteran.

He and Estelle — his wife of 52 years — spent years at peace vigils in Westport.  They began during the Vietnam War.  For 6 years they stood together on the Post Road bridge, protesting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (Estelle still does.)

Manny was a staunch Democrat. Estelle still is. So, Steve and Rondi say, they’re thrilled to host an event this Sunday (September 18, 4 p.m.) that would have been dear to Manny’s progressive heart.

The fundraiser is for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Senator Jon Tester of Montana — the organization’s chair — will attend; so will Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock.

Manny Margolis will be there in spirit.

(For information on Sunday’s fundraiser, email frankiel@dscc.org)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Livingston Taylor: Live In Westport!

Emma Ruchefsky is about to finish her first year at the Berklee College of Music.

Like virtually every student at what may be the hippest college in the country, she loves the education she’s getting — her coursework, her opportunities to perform, her intense exposure to many facets of the music industry.

So it was natural for her parents — Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston — to offer their Westport home for a reception for accepted students from Fairfield and Westchester Counties.

What made the event special — and what separates Berklee from the rest of the pack — is that a noted stage performance professor came to perform.

That would be Livingston Taylor.

Livingston Taylor, hanging out at the Ruchefskys' house.

Livingston Taylor, hanging out this afternoon in Westport.

The wide-ranging, much-loved singer-songwriter has toured with Linda Ronstadt, Jimmy Buffet and Jethro Tull. But there he was, in an Evergreen Avenue living room earlier today, talking easily but lovingly about the power of music, its potential to change lives, and his passion for the school.

“I love physics, inventions, math and the workings of the planet,” Taylor said. But music holds a special place in his heart.

Addressing the parents in the room — some of whom might wonder about the wisdom of a career in music — he added: “Please understand your children are seen by a benevolent and generous universe. The gods will bless their journey.”

He introduced a trio of current students, who blazed through several American roots tunes.

From left: Steve Ruchefsky, a Berklee trio of American roots musicians, Livingston Taylor, Emma Ruchesfsky and Rondi Charleston.

From left: Steve Ruchefsky, a Berklee trio of American roots musicians, Livingston Taylor, Emma Ruchesfsky and Rondi Charleston.

Livingston Taylor joined them for a couple of numbers. He followed with a solo mini-concert of his own. Then he called on Emma, for a “My Fair Lady” duet.

They finished with his brother James’ classic, “You’ve Got a Friend.”

What a wonderful way to prove the power of music. The draw of Berklee.

And the amazing things that happen, right under our noses, right here in Westport.

Back To The Future At Berklee

The other day, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston took their daughter Emma to Berklee College of Music. The former Staples Players star is a 1st-year voice/ piano major, with a songwriting and theater minor.

As they sat in a meeting with the president for new parents, Steve noticed a familiar face: film and TV star Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future,” “Addams Family,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”). His stepson is studying guitar at Berklee.

Steve and Rondi introduced themselves as more than fans. They knew he’d gone to Staples High School — where, as a student in 1958, he convinced English teacher Craig Matheson to found an acting troupe. The group soon became Staples Players.

They had a lot to talk about. Steve and Rondi were proud to tell Chris that Players has evolved into a first-rate company, with productions rivaling Broadway. He was thrilled.

Perhaps the rest of Westport will see the founding student/Emmy Award winner soon too — back in the audience, watching the group he helped found.

Rondi Charleston and Chris Lloyd.

Rondi Charleston and Chris Lloyd.

A Historic Home Gets New, Loving Life

When Rondi Charleston and her husband Steve Ruchefsky moved to Westport from Manhattan, they thought they’d landed in the friendliest place on earth.

Every time they worked in their garden, sat outside — or simply opened their doors — people waved.

Eventually, the couple realized, it wasn’t them.

They lived at 3 Evergreen Avenue. Their property — smack on the northern corner of Myrtle Avenue — is one of the most visible spots in town.

It’s long been one of the prettiest. Now — following years of renovation, planting and tender loving care — it’s one of the most stunning.

It’s also one of Westport’s most historic homes.

Rondi Charleston's porch and gardens.

Rondi Charleston’s porch and gardens.

Built in 1845 by James W. Jauncey for his brother, Dr. Joseph Jauncey Jr., it was sold a decade later to Jonas H. Phelps, a manufacturer of astronomical instruments. His shop on Richmondville Avenue made the largest telescopes used by the US government. Phelps also built the “town clock” in the steeple of Christ & Holy Trinity Church, across the street.

The house passed on to the Coley family (of Coleytown fame). It remained in their hands for 99 years.

Now Rondi and Steve own it. And — unlike many new owners of older homes — they relish its quirks, and revere its history.

The breezeway opens, and offers a view of Christ & Holy Trinity Church in the distance.

The breezeway opens up. The view is of Christ & Holy Trinity Church in the distance.

They opened the walkway, relocated the driveway and modernized the breezeway. But they retained all its bones. And some may actually be buried in the basement.

When the couple bought the home, that basement had a dirt floor. “It was original, 1845 dust,” Rondi says. They suspected it had been a stop on the Underground Railroad. (The house next door, owned by Estelle Margolis, almost certainly was.)

In a coal bin, Rondi and Steve found old newspaper clippings. A rusty spoon. Other artifacts too. “It was like an archaeological dig,” she says.

In a corner of the low basement — behind a nondescript door — Rondi and Steve created a modern amenity: a wine cellar. But it pays homage to the past: Everything was built from leftovers. The racks are made of old wine cases. The bench is an original from the Westport Country Playhouse. The ancient fireplace mantel holds a horseshoe and farm tools found by the couple.

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in their wine cellar. The bench comes from Westport Country Playhouse.

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in their wine cellar. The red bench comes from Westport Country Playhouse.

The rest of the home is equally cool. A beautiful piano fills a music room where Rondi — a renowned jazz singer who recently returned from a West Coast tour, and who wrote “Signs of Life” inspired, in part, by her cellar — creates music. A shelf holds her Emmy and Peabody Awards, earned as a TV producer/journalist with Diane Sawyer.

Every corner of the house holds surprises. Pocket doors disappear, opening up a breezeway that leads to a garden with a spectacular view of downtown. That garden is what Westporters watched grow — and caused them to wave — in the years it took Rondi and Steve to bring it to fruition.

“This is paradise,” Rondi says. “I don’t know how we got so lucky.”

Countless Westporters — who walk or drive by and admire the ageless, but now handsomely renovated, home — don’t know either.

But we’re very, very happy they did.

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to Rondi Charleston’s “Signs of Life.”)