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"The 70’s Soul Jam" at the Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island

by Steven Pisano

20190803-DSC00364(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The SummerStage program run by the City Parks Foundation presents a wide variety of (mostly) free performances throughout the summer in all five boroughs. And in Brooklyn, what says "summer" more than Coney Island? The enormous open-air Ford Amphitheater (5000 seats!) along the Boardwalk a couple of blocks past the stadium where the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones play baseball was recently the host for an oldies-but-goodies show called "The 70s Soul Jam" featuring the Manhattans (known here as Sonny Bivins' Manhattans, due to a 2018 court ruling about the name), the Stylistics, and Harold Melvin's Blue Notes.

The emcee, Fred"Bugsy" Buggs, a radio personality at WBLS-FM, told the crowd: "If you were born in the 1970s, these guys probably helped bring you here," later calling it "baby-making music."

The 1970s was a time of striking transition in popular music. The generally short, upbeat, radio-friendly pop hits of the 1960s was giving way to strong inroads from disco, funk, punk, and jazz, and would see the roots of hip hop which would influence the next several decades, just as the roots of rock & roll in the 1950s had set the table for the decades following then.

But while ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, Donna Summer, and others were the common face of the decade, there were lots of groups pumping out ear-friendly soul music. Especially what was called "the Philadelphia sound," created by the songwriting and production of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff whose Philadelphia International Records became a sort of rival of Motown Records.

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2019 NYC Summer Music Preview

Celebrate Brooklyn 2018 It's up in the mid-80's today in NYC, which has got me thinking about my favorite time of year: summer, when all sorts of amazing music heads outdoors. In addition to some of our old faves - Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage, Warm Up - there are some exciting new additions this summer, such as Industry City's new Summer Series. Sadly, there are also several casualties this year, including Williamsburg's Northside Festival and Panorama. R.I.P.

Below are some highlights; check out our Summertime list on the right for updates throughout the summer. 

Celebrate Brooklyn: (June 4-August 10) My personal favorite of all the free NYC music festivals - and not just because it's walking distance from my apartment - Celebrate Brooklyn returns to the Prospect Park bandshell for it's 41st season with an eclectic lineup including R&B, Latin, indie, and roots music, most of it free. Highlights include a blockbuster opening night with Patti LaBelle (6/4), a double bill with Liz Phair and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (6/29), bluegrass supergroup I'm With Her (Aiofe O'Donovan, Sarah Jarosz, and Sara Watkins, 7/18) and Canadian stalwarts Broken Social Scene (7/25). Benefit shows include The National with Courtney Barnett (6/12&13), Father John Misty with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (6/19) and Mac DeMarco (8/6).

SummerStage (June 1-September 24): SummerStage gets a facelift this summer with a (long overdue) $5.5 million renovation to Rumsey Playfield, including a new stage, sound system, lighting and raised bleacher seating. Lineup includes Durand Jones and the Invitations (who we caught twice at SXSW in March, 6/1) Parquet Courts (6/8), Big Freedia (6/13) and Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matt Garrison with Brandee Younger (6/15).

Rite of Music Summer Festival (June 1 - Sept. 7) Governor's Ball has long since outgrown it's original home on Governor's Island, but you can still take the ferry to see live music once a month this summer with this free new music festival, now in it's 9th year. Performers include Ensemble Connect (6/1), Sandbox Percussion (7/6), Go: Organic Orchestra and Brooklyn Raga Massive (8/10), and Sirius Quartet (9/7); performances take place at 1 and 3pm. 

Met Opera Summer Recital Series (June 10-19): It's not the same as when they used to do full operas in the parks, but if you want the Met experience on the cheap, go check out one of these free recitals, which take place in all five boroughs. Among the top flight singers are Ying Fang, Nathan Gunn, Leah Hawkins, and Joseph Lim.

NY Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks (June 11-16): Music Director Jaap van Zweden is sticking around this summer to lead the parks concerts in all five boroughs, with a program including Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 and Copland's "Hoe-Down" from Rodeo. Followed by fireworks, of course.

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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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