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Desmond Child in Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" Series

by Steven Pisano

46416736614_0158b46e53_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

He may not be a household name, but few songwriters have enjoyed the enormous success that Desmond Child has had over the last 40-plus years. Child has had a hand in writing several dozen top Billboard and Grammy award-winning hits with artists such as Bon Jovi ("You Give Love a Bad Name," "Livin' on a Prayer"), Kiss ("I Was Made for Loving You"), Joan Jett ("I Hate Myself for Loving You"), Ricky Martin ("Livin' La Vida Loca"), Cher ("We All Sleep Alone"), Aerosmith ("Dude Looks Like a Lady"), and many others, including glam rock, country, and teen pop stars. In 2008, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

But while Child has made a career as a professional songwriter and producer (he produced Barbra Streisand's latest album), he started out as a performer with a group called Rouge, playing NYC clubs like Reno Sweeney's back in the 1970s. At that time, his girlfriend was Maria Vidal, who went by the nickname Gina (after her resemblance to the famous Italian movie star). Later, he would come out to her that he was actually gay, and he went on to a 30-year relationship with his husband Curtis Shaw, but this relationship with his Gina is what later inspired the characters in "Livin' on a Prayer." (The original demo of this arena rock classic, just Child on piano, can be heard here.)

On Saturday night, Child returned to performing with a knockout show at the Appel Room as part of Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" showcase. His hair was pulled back into a pigtail, with the sides shaved close. His face was dominated by a beard and glasses, and he wore pendant earrings. He was helped out musically by an excellent band, including 21-year-old Justin Benlolo on guitar and singers Tabitha Fair and Tony award-winning Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Kinky Boots), who joined Child for several duets.

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Jose Llana in Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" Series

by Steven Pisano

46912453522_0177f1eaa5_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The "American Songbook" series presented by Lincoln Center for over 20 years has been a reliably top-notch showcase for showing off the strengths of American songwriting. Some of the artists are singer-songwriters; others are interpreters of other people's songs. On Friday night in the Appel Room, the Filipino-American singer Jose Llana took the stage singing a range of songs from Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel, to Stephen Sondheim and William Finn.

Llana is best known in Broadway circles for two defining roles--in 2015, as the King in Lincoln Center Theater's Tony award-winning production of The King and I, succeeding the original star Ken Watanabe, playing opposite Kelli O'Hara; and for his portrayal of Ferdinand Marcos in the Public Theater's 2013 production of Here Lies Love written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. Along the way, he also had roles on Broadway in Rent, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and the revival of Flower Drum Song, amongst other roles.

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Winter Jazzfest 2019: "We Resist" at Le Poisson Rouge

by Steven Pisano

31725044687_0b385db1f6_k(All photos by Steven Pisano)

The Winter JazzFest is filling venues all week with a wide range of musical styles linked to "jazz", including old school, new school, and everything in between. One thing you can be sure of: You are going to hear some great music by some great musicians--even if you've never heard their names before.

On Sunday, Le Poisson Rouge played host to an ambitious program called "We Resist," presenting politically motivated music by Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (with special guests Antonio Sanchez, The Villalobos Brothers, and Akua Dixon); Marc Ribot; Toshi Reagon and musicians; and Samora Pinderhughes and musicians.

The evening kicked off with Pinderhughes performing his magnificent "Transformation Suite," which I first saw a couple of years ago at the BRIC JazzFest in Brooklyn. At that time, the piece was performed in the Artist Studio, the smallest space at BRIC, and with videos playing in the back corner and Pinderhughes half-hidden behind his piano, there was almost a detached, academic air to the work. It was beautiful music that engaged your intellect.

But at LPR, Pinderhughes and his group of excellent musicians and spoken word artists were aiming for something much more powerful, and the effect was a punch in the gut. The basic thrust of "Transformation Suite" is about racial injustice and about the brutality enacted against people of color in our country.

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"The Good Swimmer" at BAM Fisher

by Steven Pisano

"The Good Swimmer" at BAM Fisher(All photos by Steven Pisano)

Back in 2008, Heidi Rodewald was nominated for a Tony and won an Obie for her musical "Passing Strange," which was eventually turned into a film by Spike Lee. She has collaborated many times with singer/songwriter Stew. Writer Donna Di Novelli is known for her fascination with "found text" as the basis for her lyrics written for various music-theater projects.

Together, Rodewald and Novelli have written the new song cycle "The Good Swimmer," which is currently playing at BAM Fisher through Saturday as part of the 2018 Next Wave Festival. First seen as a sneak peek back in 2016 at the Prototype Festival, "The Good Swimmer" isn't a work of theater per se. There is a band on stage throughout (including Rodewald on electric bass) that includes electric guitars, drums, keyboards, cello, trumpet, and violin. On a scrim above the band, there are projections and videos, including images from old lifeguard manuals and the roiling ocean. Throughout, a group of seven lifeguards move around behind the band and occasionally gather into tableaus, without directly conveying the lyrics being sung.

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