Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gregory Charles!

A lover of Life and its many communication tools, chief among them: Music.
-Gregory Charles

Happy Thursday!

The above quote could be describing me. It comes from Gregory Charles. We have a LOT in common. I'm talking about our passion for music and our outlook on life. His birthday is even the day after mine! Aquarian souls! Gregory Charles (born February 12, 1968 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Quebec performing artist of French Canadian and Trinidadian origin. He studied at École de musique Wilfrid-Pelletier in Montreal.At the age of 7, he won the national Canadian piano contest, after which he performed with most of the country's symphonic orchestras. I've always said that if everyone began each day with a show tune, there would be no violence in the world. I believe that. The last time I was at the Carlyse was when Eartha Kitt did her last run there. So I grabbed her compilation CD and put it on!

Tuesday night, we also went to The Carlysle to see Gregory Charles. The nightly scene is out of an old MGM classic, camera ready with a backdrop that is pure Manhattan and a soundtrack that is classic cabaret.
Café Carlyle is known for headlining incredible talents, including Ute Lemper and Woody Allen, who regularly appears to jam with the Eddy Davis New Orleans jazz band.
For the past three decades, Café Carlyle has been synonymous with the legendary Bobby Short, who
with Colin Lively and Barbara Porteus
thrilled sell-out crowds for 36 years.
His spirit will live on through the music at Café Carlyle.(Source: The Carlysle Website)
Beck Lee, Gregory's publicist, invited myself and Danny to come and see the show. He gave a big build up and we decided to go.
 I'll cut to the chase: We had a great time! The evening started on the right note as we were seated next to Colin Lively and Barbara Porteus and then Valerie Smaldone of WOR was also seated next to us. Also in attendance for Gregory's opening night was Larry Costa, Joe Franklin, Joe Tantillo, Bill Boggs, Michael Musto, Will Friedwall, Joe Anacosta, Elizabeth Ahlfors, Kevin Scott Hall, Richard Hillman, and Sandi Durell were among the packed house.



The evening got off to a spirited arrangement of Take The "A" Train and It Don't Mean A Thing.
"Take the 'A' Train" is a jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn that was the signature tune of the Duke Ellington orchestra. Wikipedia says it is arguably the most famous of the many compositions to emerge from the collaboration of Ellington and Strayhorn.

 It set the tone for an incredible evening. This was followed by It Had To Be You then Minnie The Moocher and Just A Gigalo/I Ain't Got Nobody (even throwing in an impeccable impersonation of Louis Prima!).

THEN the evening takes a daring detour. The rest of the show is ALL requests. It's one thing when you have a singer who is taking requests from the audience. It's a completely different ball of wax when it is a four piece band who has to create an instant arrangement of these songs.
Also, since they are not yet a well known entity in New York, it is a crap shoot as to what types of songs will end up in the hopper! Everyone writes their request on a little piece of paper before the evening begins. The songs are pulled from a little black box as the evening progresses. It might be a pop song, a rock anthem, a folk favorite, an opera aria, a Broadway showtune or the most obscure b side single from their favorite alternative or punk band. He doesn't even tell the musicians what song they are going to be playing! He picks a key and they jump in! And off they go!

It makes it exciting for the audience. It also keeps the band on their toes. I'm sure there were certain songs (ie Guns And Roses' Stairway To Heaven!)that have NEVER been sung at the Carlysle! Gregory continues tonight through Saturday. If you can fit him into your schedule, go for what I promise you will be a great evening.The audience wonders what they will do with a certain pick. Valerie Smaldone's selection was the first picked.
It was The Nearness of You. She and the rest of the audience were thrilled with their rendition. They were not stumped by anything on Tuesday night. (Listen to Valerie's interview with Gregory)
He said they don't like it when it happens. They try and play around that. They promise the audience that if that happens, they will go wherever that person chooses and play a free concert! They would be the perfect band for any wedding! All in all, every show is new.

Photo credit: Photo credit: KATVAN STUDIOS/Alix Cohen
Today, I celebrate Gregory Charles. Ten years after Gregory was born, he represented Canada at an international piano contest in Paris. He was also a part of Petits-Chanteurs du Mont-Royal choir, which performs at the Saint Joseph's Oratory in Montreal.. A year later, he was singing with the Montreal Opera Company in Bizet's Carmen and Puccini's Tosca. In 1983, he was a piano soloist at Carnegie Hall. In 1985, he was appearing in Leeds, Prague, Winnipeg and Laval as a piano solist with Symphony Orchestras.
From 1986, he has been the choir conductor and musical director of Choeurs du Nouveau Monde: youth choral organization.

He is a world class entertainer, music encyclopedist and all around old fashioned humanist.
I like Gregory. I've only met him "on stage", but as I do my research, I find that I am enjoying him off stage as well.
Like myself, he is an early riser, hoping to get a jump start on his day. He says he writes and listens to music late at night and into the morning hours.
He says it's hereditary. He says if you sleep 8 hours a night, when you turn sixty, you've slept 20 years!
He doesn't need drugs or booze, this is a natural state of being for Gregory. It's his love of life that keeps him going.

He is passionate about history, about math and science, about spiritual stirrings and theology.
He studied and played classical piano as a youth.

His own "songbook" was limited. His childhood hero was Franz Liszt who was not merely a composer; he was a musician.
People who come to see Gregory's shows are music lovers. Gregory has sold half a million albums of his own songs in his native Canada.
Gregory feels more useful as a music encyclopedist than as a songwriter.

Gregory has been doing his "request" show for 10 years.
When they started, their audience was a little more mature. Their success has brought with it a younger audience.
Their show has become a real encyclopedic, trans generational, multicultural show every single night.
The show ended with My Way, a great closing number if there ever was one!

Sources:  Vintage Magazine Article on Gregory

He Did What? Where? Gregory Charles Plays the Carlyle by Alix Cohen


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Wayne, thank you so much for the gifts you have given and continue to give to the world.
Your devoted fan,
 
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Tomorrow's blog will be..Alex Rybeck!


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