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Archive for April, 2012

Jim Witter was barely into his teens when his brother offered him his extra ticket to see a piano player named Billy Joel.

“I went and was completely in awe at what this man did. I remember the next day asking my Mom if she could show me a few chords on the piano,” he told me.

His Mom, a pianist, showed him a C chord, an F chord and an A minor. Jim took it from there.

“I borrowed my brother’s “Piano Man”  album and I just sat and listened and figured it out for myself.”

That led him to a career in music, but the creation of his show – The Piano Men – which feature the songs of Joel and fellow ‘70s superstar pianist, Elton John, was something of a fluke.

“For us it really started as sort of a little local project,” he said. It was something to do musically in his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, about 45 minutes from Toronto. “I never dreaming it would take off the way it did. Organically through the years, it has become the touring show it is now.”

Witter and his band now tour Canada and the U.S. with The Piano Men. It is not – he stresses – a typical tribute act.

“First of all, I don’t dress up like Billy or Elton – I don’t try to mimic them or recreate their stage show. My show focuses more on nostalgia. Throughout the evening we’ll be playing some of their biggest hits from the 1970s. Through the use of the visuals and me reminiscing, we go back to the 70s and remember that decade. It turns the evening into a little time machine.”

You can step into Jim Witter’s musical time machine this Friday night at the Palladium. Showtime is 8 p.m. For tickets and information call 727 822-3590 or visit www.mypalladium.org.

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This is a case of one-plus-one adding up to three.

Broadway star Brian Lane Green, and Lee Lessack, a top cabaret artist, regularly used pianist John Boswell as their musical arranger and director. Brian suggested the three get together for a show. What came next was Three Men and A Baby…Grand.

“There was just a really great connection vocally.” Lee Lessack told me during our phone conversation this week. “We quickly became known for really intricate vocal arrangements and tight harmonies.”

The new show ran for a month at LA’s Gardenia Jazz Club, then moved for a month to the Plush Room in San Francisco, a month in New York, and then around the country.

In 2005, they refreshed the show with a Rat Pack Salute and went back on the road.

Saturday night, this talented trio plays the Palladium with a concert that represents the best of their Broadway and the Rat Pack shows. Songwriters  include Richard Rodgers, Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini, the Bernstein-Sondheim songs from West Side Story and hits from Man of La Mancha and Wicked. Their Rat Pack tunes are not imitations, but hits by Sinatra, Martin and Davis done in tight harmonies.

“We embraced the songs they made famous, but approached them as a vocal trio,” Lessack told me.

All three men are at the top of their musical game. Brian Lane Green is a Tony nominee who made his Broadway debut as Huck Finn in Big River. John Boswell has worked as musical director for Judy Collins, Andy Williams and Bob Newhart. Lessack tours as the star of his own cabaret shows including a tribute to Johnny Mercer. Billboard Magazine calls his singing, “Cabaret romanticism of a high order.”

Don’t miss the show this Saturday night, April 21st, at the Palladium. For tickets and more info call the box office at 727 822-3590 or visit www.mypalladium.org

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Palladium audiences know that we specialize in top tier artists – even if some of them aren’t household names.

Michael Chapdelaine

Michael Chapdelaine, who is playing the Side Door Cabaret on Thursday, April 19, fits that bill. He’s one of the best classical and fingerstyle guitarists in the world – and he has the awards to prove it.

Chapdelaine, a concert artist and a professor of music at the University of New Mexico – Albuquerque, twice won the coveted National Endowment for the Arts Solo Recitalist Grant. He also took First Prize in both the Guitar Foundation of America and the Music Teachers National Association’s guitar competitions.

In 1992 he recorded the Sonata Romantica CD, (now re-released as Mexico), which many critics and connoisseurs of classical guitar consider to be one of the definitive recordings for the instrument.

Acoustic Guitar magazine wrote “… if I were marooned on a desert island with a limited selection of recordings, this one would be among my choices…I have seldom heard a more beautiful album. Other young guitarists have excellent technique, but few have such style and musicality, and Chapdelaine’s beautiful tone is the nearest to Segovia’s that I can recall.”

In 1994 Michael turned his attention to pop music, in arranging, producing and recording Time-Life Music’s beautiful Guitar by Moonlight collection (also released as With Love), which sold 250,000 copies in its first two years in the stores.

In 1998, he once again, expanded his musical range and gained instant notoriety and credibility in the “acoustic music” world as a “fingerstyle” guitarist and composer, by winning the National Fingerpicking Championships. 

Not bad for a kid who grew up in Pensacola in the 60s and 70s, playing in his first rock bands at age 15. He later studied music at Florida State.

At the Side Door, he’ll be doing a mix of classical and fingerstyle playing. 

Chapdelaine as a young "rocker" in Pensacola

“The nice thing about it for audiences is you get to hear pop tunes in a fairly recognizable manner,” he said. For him, “it’s a bit of a guitar playing and juggling chainsaw act.”

Chapdelaine playing has three elements going  at once – the bass, the melody and percussion.

“It really rocks – it’s like a band that can be flexible.” He said.

As for the repertoire – “For sure, some Beatles. For sure,  some tunes from my teen years – the 1960s and 70s.  I’ll probably play California Dreaming and I’ll probably play some Motown stuff. I really dig Motown.”

There will also be some classical tunes and some of his own compositions.

Lately, Michael has been active as a composer, debuting his “Guitar Concerto,” at the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota two weeks ago.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the hardest I ever worked on anything in my life,” he said, during our telephone interview.

Don’t miss this incredible evening of music and “chain-saw juggling.” For tickets and information visit www.mypalladium.org.

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We added some landscaping around our new piece of public art and I wanted to share a recent photo of the work with the landscaping. It looks even better.

Soul Survivor

The sculpture is called “Soul Survivor” and it is a work by Louisiana artist Russell Whiting. the piece was installed in March. It had been part of the Gulf Coast Museum collection, which was aquired by St. Petersburg College when that museum closed its doors.

Over the past year, the landscape experts from St. Petersburg College have been transforming the Palladium grounds, adding more up-to-date and Florida friendly plantings and replacing dead sod. The west side of the building, where “Soul Survivor” now lives, is looking much better.

We’ll be dedicating the new sculpture and showing off the landscaping later this year – probably after the heat of the summer. We will be bringing in the artist for the dedication. Stay tuned for a date and time.

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