Midnight Jazz

Peggy Judy escapes from ’60s time capsule, delivers wicked humor with jazz standards

September 21, 2008
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Written by Vivian Fields

With her theatrical singing voice and flamboyant, wildly engaging personality, Peggy Judy is a bracing alternative to much of the blandness milking all of the color from a once hip and vibrant jazz world. She is a woman out of time, flashing back to the time when jazz vocalists were also entertainers and had a sense of humor. Dean Martin would have adored her.

Vivian Fields: You haven’t aged at all since your ’60s heyday – what’s the secret to your eternal youth?

Peggy Judy: Peggy’s secrets: Oil of Olay.  Laughing and singing daily.  Latin boyfriends.

Fields: How did you become involved with Elvis Presley movies?

Judy: It’s the funniest thing. I was a student at Hollywood High back in the old days, doing some bit parts at the studios.  They wanted to groom me to be the next Stella Stevens, but a singer, too, of course.
Contract player stuff.  Anyway, one day I’m on the lot hanging out by the Coke machine. This really sexy guy walks up and says in a Southern drawl, “Hey darlin’…you hungry? How about we hop on my private jet and head out to memphis with my mafia, grab us some chili cheese fries and see the sights.” I said, “You’re on.” Had some greasy fries and next thing you know, I’m cast in Viva Las Vegas. Crazy! I was gonna get the Ann Margaret part, but she had bigger hair. I learned my lesson. After that, my hair became gravity defying! Those were the days.

Fields: Live at the M Bar. What was the inspiration behind putting out this record?

Judy: I overdosed on the old Ed Sullivan shows as a kid. Great stuff. Comedy records:  Bill Cosby, Firesign Theatre, Mike Nichols and Elaine May. Monty Python. Cher, of course!  Also, Judy Garland. I remember seeing her on Ed Sullivan as a kid–she’d become a tragic figure, and it was all there in her face and her voice.  Real genius.  All those elements. Throw in some Stella Stevens and Joey Heatherton, a million nightclub shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Palm Springs, put it in a blender, and it’s Live at the M Bar.

Fields: What’s harder, doing comedy or singing?

Judy: For me, singing is harder, but when you’re in the zone, it flows and it’s wonderful. Doing live shows is just heaven when it all comes together, especially when you’re working with people you love, and the gang
on the M Bar CD, top-notch people the whole way. Comedy has always come naturally for me. It’s just sort of there. I was a natural singer since I was a child, but I have really had to work on singing technique. It’s really important if you want to go the distance. The voice is a delicate instrument, and you have to train it and take care of it. It involves your whole body, obviously; it’s not just a guitar you can take out of a box and play.

Fields: Do you think there’s still a market for relatively clean humor in these raunchy times?

Judy: Yes, I do.  All the legends I mentioned, they all worked clean. Amazing. You know, if it was good enough for them. As comedy has gotten raunchier and raunchier, and comedians have to get more outrageous to get attention, maybe the most outrageous thing of all is to just work clean. I have the pleasure of being friends with Peter Bergman, of the legendary Firesign Theatre comedy group. He was talking about the state of comedy, and all the “no holds barred” material out there, and he said, “maybe it’s time to ‘hold the bars for God’s sake!'”



Hailing from Pittsburgh, the Soiree Band makes Big Band music with a sweet voice

June 24, 2008
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Written by Vivian Fields

One of the year’s most delightfully charming surprises in the jazz field is the wonderfully titled No One Claps for the Low Notes by the Soiree Band. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Soiree Band is Big Band jazz with a powerhouse vocalist,Christina Cataldo, who has a sweetly intoxicating voice that leads, rather than follows, the army of instrumentalists surrounding her. Drummer Reid Hoyson spoke to Midnight Jazz about this special unit.

Vivian Fields: Your vocalist, Christina Cataldo, has a strong, soulful voice that seems to have stepped right out of the ’40s. How did you find her?

Reid Hoyson: I had been looking for a singer for a while and she was referred to me by another singer in the Pittsburgh area.  Christina at the time had just graduated from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, as a music theater major.  Maureen Budway, who suggested I contact her, is a very good singer as well, and said that she was ” the real deal.” So I couldn’t wait to hear her sing, and when I did I just loved her. She is young but can sing any style with ease. Unfortunately for the band, she moved back to New York to try theater performance. She is only in her 20s so I expect we will be hearing about her.

Fields: Just how big is the Soiree Band? How many members in all?

Hoyson: The new CD has two sections, the larger big band and then material with rhythm and five horns and a vocalist. The group started as a trio with myself on drums, Bruce Wallace on bass and Victor Garzotto on piano.  We brought in various guests to play on our first CD, Soiree.  That was in 1998. We now have added Ray Defade, Sr. on sax and flute, who also does a great job of arranging for the band. He is definitely an important part of this whole organization. I had always wanted to do a big band project, and I knew Ray could do the writing. “Soul Searchin'” is an original of his.

Fields: When the Soiree Band performs live, do you have this large ensemble?

Hoyson: We usually can get away with seven pieces. Every once in a while we can add two more horns and go out with nine people. But for the most part we use two horns, trumpet and sax and rhythm with guitar also. It is really hard to find clients to pay for that many musicians.  In the jazz clubs, of which there are not many in Pittsburgh, we can go with only five pieces. We do private functions as well and play all kinds of music, as you can hear on the CD. But whatever we do, the arrangement are good, the tunes are good, and we always leave plenty of room for improvisation. We all have strong jazz backgrounds, so that is important to all. But I still think you can go out and do a private function and play some great music for people, even if it isn’t a jazz gig.

Fields: How did the group get together?

Hoyson: I had gotten to the point where I wanted to have the opportunity to have some input as far as what music was to be played, and we all know the way to do that is to have your own band.  So with our little trio, as I mentioned earlier, as our basis, I began to expand the size of the band and build a nice book of arrangements with Ray Defade’s help. Ray writes the arrangements so that they work with any number of horns. How flexible we all must be in today’s music world. The next step was this recording, which I did at
Audible Images in Pittsburgh. I waited for a year for the completion of the studio, but I think you will agree it was worth the wait. They have a great facility and are producing Grammy winners every year.

Fields: When did you first become interested in jazz? Who or what provided the inspiration?

Hoyson: I think I was born with the desire to play drums and was immediately interested in all kinds of music. I had a music teacher named Gus Dolfi who had a big band, and he made sure I could read and play all styles. He had me learn all the Latin rhythms which I love playing to this day. And how to kick a big band. He would have me sit in with his big band when I was in high school.  I played rock & roll because I grew up in the ’60s, loved the Beatles and soul music.  Then it was Bill Evans and jazz trios. I played with three great Pittsburgh piano players, with upright basses and real pianos when I was young. That’s really hard to come by these days. I loved to watch Buddy Rich play. Influenced by Harvey Mason, Airto, Peter Erskine,
Mickey Roker.


Luiz Simas left successful career in Brazil to find new life in America

May 30, 2008
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An Interview with Luiz Simas

Written by Vivian Fields

Luiz Simas represents the best in Brazilian jazz; on his new album Cafuné, Simas not only displays his mastery over Latin rhythms but manages to impress with his lyrical skills as well, telling stories that cross language and cultural boundaries, unifying all of us.

Vivian Fields: What does Cafuné mean?

Luiz Simas: Cafuné is a soft, affectionate stroking on the top of somebody else’s head. In Brazil, you can ask someone else to do a cafuné on you by saying “Me faz um cafuné.”

Fields: In 1989, you left a successful musical career in Brazil to relocate in the United States. How difficult a transition was that for you? Did you fear that you were not going to be able to achieve that kind of fame in America?
Simas: It was a very difficult and long transition, but I never had that kind of fear. I’m really driven by faith, positive thinking. Plus, my main objective has never been fame per se but just to be able to compose and perform and share my music with everyone.

Fields: Where did you learn how to sing?
Simas: My singing evolved naturally over the years. When I was very young I went to Rio’s music conservatory and had music theory classes, which included solfeggio (reading and singing). After that I participated in a choir in Rio, and when I was 18 I was an exchange student in the U.S. (in Lakewood, Ohio), and participated in the high school’s choir too. Besides, being in Rio during bossa nova times in the ’60s meant I was always singing, either at the piano, or accompanying myself on acoustic guitar (which I used to play a little).

Fields: Cafuné has Portuguese lyrics with English translations in the booklet. Have you ever considered recording a CD in all English?
Simas: In fact, I have already recorded a CD almost all in English, Recipe for Rhythm. It’s available online. I wrote all the music in that CD as well, but the lyrics were written by an wonderful American lyricist, Ellen Schwartz. But yes, I would like to record a CD with my own lyrics in English someday. That’s a plan in the back of my head for the near future.
Fields: Brazilian jazz is so timeless. Why is that this style has aged so well over the decades?
Simas: I think it’s because it combines some elements which have universal appeal: gorgeous melodies and harmonies, sophisticated rhythms, and a relaxed, free attitude to singing and playing.


Pianist Bob Geresti dazzles with large body of work

May 1, 2008
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An Interview with Bob Geresti

Written by Vivian Fields

Some people have discographies; for pianist Bob Geresti, his body of work could be called a library. Since the early ’90s, Geresti has recorded and self-released one album after another, stretching his creative vision across the musical landscape. Among these is “Keys into the ’70s,” wherein Geresti covers classic-rock favorites such as Styx’s “Babe” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and transforms them into cinematic piano instrumentals. There is emotion in Geresti’s playing; these aren’t soulless paint-by-numbers makeovers for the Muzak set. Geresti is an artist, and most definitely a prolific one.

Vivian Fields: You have recorded in a few years more albums than people have in a lifetime. What brought forth such a massive output of creativity?

Bob Geresti: I started in 1992, selling my first three albums to gift shops and my sales skyrocketed in the next several years with fans wanting more from me. I felt that my years in piano bars were informative years for me. Those years helped me to see what songs the public really liked. My arrangements of songs and my style was what people really enjoyed. I liked learning songs by ear, even though I can read music, because I could put more of me into the songs. I’ve always had an extensive repertoire and enjoy all kinds of music.

Fields: Your albums always have a theme to them, whether they’re ’70s rock songs covered as piano instrumentals, Christmas discs, film scores, or spiritual pieces. What goes into your decision-making process in figuring out what you’re going to do next? Is it just your mood at that moment or have these styles always interested you?

Geresti: I tried to do what the public asked for as far as songs and then use a theme for the album. My mood would have some input as to how I would come up with the arrangement. I would play songs each night and some nights I would come up with a great arrangement which I would then keep and record so I would play it the same way each time. All of the different styles have always interested me. I enjoy coming up with a way to play a song that you would never think of, but would really sound good whether it was a religious song, a love song, or a classical tune to which I add my own flair.

Fields: Of all your recordings, name two that you are most proud of and why.

Geresti: It’s tough to name only two when I’ve had several. My first original album would have to be one since I feel it’s hard to get people to listen to or buy original music since they don’t know those songs.  However, during my live performances, I play my originals and people love them and always come over to comment on how well they liked the song and which album it was on.  Also, cable companies began playing my songs as well as most recently the Weather Channel. They played an original from my first album on the local on the 8’s and has received a great response. The other recording would be “Speak Softly To Me,” which has been my best seller since I released it. One song on this album I feel really sells it is Pachelbel’s “Canon In D.” I’ve had several people come up to me and say that they were big George Winston fans, but that they really liked the way I played the “Canon.” I like the way George plays it too, but my arrangement is different and has captured many fans for me.

Fields: Which of your albums have proven to be the most commercially successful, and why do you think people were so attracted to them?

Geresti: This I somewhat answered in the question above with the “Speak Softly To Me” album but the “Divine Devotions” album has been a very successful recording. As a matter of fact, it sold faster than any album when it first was released. I think my arrangements of a few of the songs on those twp albums is what really attracted people to them. I had well-known songs on each album with great arrangements.

Fields: When did you start playing piano? At what age did you feel you mastered the instrument? Or do you feel you still have more learning to do?

Geresti: I started at the age of nine and then took lessons when I was 10 through my senior year in high school. I majored in piano at West Virginia University for four years, of which two of those years I took lessons. It’s hard to say at what age I mastered the piano but after a few years of lessons, I was impressing people at malls where I would sit down and play and in school. But in college is where I really started to play songs with my current style, doing them the Geresti way which I have continued through today. As far as more learning, I still find new songs and come up with great arrangements of them during my practicing (which I still have to do!) I really still enjoy practicing especially since I purchased a Yamaha concert grand piano two years ago.


Singer/model Mary Fakhoury discusses eclectic music, speaks out on industry

April 28, 2008
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An Interview with Mary Fakhoury

Written by Vivian Fields

Mary Fakhoury is not an easy artist to catagorize, but the dreamy soulfulness of her voice transcends any stylistic leap-frogging. On her aptly titled five-track EP Universal Worlds, Fakhoury challenges the listener with a decidedly varied menu, everything from piano jazz covers (the immortal “Someone to Watch Over Me,” delivered here with character and palpable longing) to world music (“El-donia,” sung in Arabic) to French balladry (“La Vie En Rose”).

Vivian Fields: There’s an eclecticism in your music that many artists today simply aren’t capable of fulfilling. Have you always had a larger vision of what you want musically? How did this come about?

Mary Fakhoury: When we are asked as listeners what kind of music do we like, we normally have a variety: jazz, pop, opera. So if we are capable to do so as artists why can’t we create music that falls under different genres? My image of music is larger than life; my syles and love for what I do are always changing. I have been told that my mind works a million miles a minute, but I am so greatful for these gifts. I am super creative and think outside the box always. I think [that’s because of] the exposure that I had growing up the child of singers, I was exposed to everything on a daily basis, Arabic operas to Indian music to Frank Sinatra.

Fields: Why do you think there’s so few women being played on the radio these days?

Fakhoury: I don’t know why there are fewer women being played on the radio? Maybe because some of them are to busy getting into trouble, who knows, but I know there are some amazing singers on the up and coming. The radio does not always display the best, just the ones who made it.

Fields: You’re a model as well as a singer. Which came first: Your desire to model or create music? Describe the genesis of each career move.

Fakhoury: My desire to create music has always been a first. I went into modeling to help bring me out of that shell of fear of being in the entertainment business. I’ve really been modeling and singing and acting at the same time, but music was definitely the first of my ventures. I work in Chicago as a print model, and I also do some acting gigs. I love all three of them, but music is my baby.

Fields: Do you feel that jazz music has become too much of a boys’ club lately?

Fakhoury: Yes, I do feel jazz has become a bit of a boys’ club. I don’t know why so many female artists are flocking to pop; they can do a little of both if that’s their style.

Fields: So many female artists these days, no matter what the genre, fall into the industry trap of wearing scantily-clad outfits and outrageous behavior to promote themselves. What are your thoughts on that, honestly speaking?

Fakhoury: I’ve never found that to be attractive. There is a fine line between being sexy and being vulgar. Much of what we see today is vulgar; you show too much and you leave nothing to the imagination. Let’s take Marilyn Monroe as an example of sexy. She is no doubt the sexiest woman on the planet, but what made her so sexy? Was it that she went out to public places without wearing underwear? (We don’t know; she didn’t show it.) No, it was her personality, beauty, and natural flirtiness that oozed sex appeal without being vulgar. She had “it” and knew how to use “it.” It angers me how many of today’s female artists take that vulgar route. If it’s to sell more than your not being true to your art, because it’s not who you are. I have had to overcome so many barriers going into music because of the strict Middle Eastern upbringing I was raised in. My parents thought that I would have to become sleazy or trashy, and that’s simply not true. Why can’t we take the classy artists as examples who count on their vocals to get them through a show and their other amazing talents, not how tight and scantily-clad their outfits are? Vulgarity is a dime a dozen, and I choose to be a diamond in the rough. I don’t want to rely on my looks. I want to rely on my talent and my brain. Sex sells but it doesn’t make it right. We are artists, aren’t we? Selling our music?

Fields: What musicians are role models for you? Do you have any?

Fakhoury: I have many musicians that are role models. I am really old school with a new age twist. I love Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, and yes, Madonna. I know she has done some really shocking things, But I have never seen a more intelligent artist with a drive and ambition to keep going. You have to be special to stay in the market as long as she has. My dad is a role model, too; he gets on the stage and he owns it.

Fields: Where were you born and raised? Did you come from a family that loved or created music, too?

Fakhoury: I was born in Michigan, and raised in Chicago and Los Angeles. I came from a music family, my father is one of the best in his genre of music and has been touring and performing since he was eight years old, in Arabic.

Fields: How long have you been doing music?

Fakhoury: I have been doing music for the last 10 years now. I got a little later start because of the walls placed in front of me. My parents did not allow me to sing; now they see the light and understand it’s not the profession – it’s the person. You can be a “doctor” and be a sleaze bucket.

Fields: What excites you more: Being onstage or in front of a camera?

Fakhoury: Being on stage is more exciting. You have a live audience; it’s your one shot. You can’t say, “Can I do that over?” It will be disastrous. But being on stage, for sure, it’s euphoric.


About author

Julian Wilson, Editor, has been writing about different genres of music, from jazz to techno, for nearly two decades in print.