A couple of weeks ago, I made a quick trip to my home state of Indiana. The main purpose was to be a part of the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame Gala Weekend in Carmel, IN. Michael Feinstein invited me to sing on Friday night at the “Michael and Friends” concert, along with Hall of Fame inductee Liza Minnelli. I took advantage of the trip and spent some additional time in Bloomington.
I flew out Tuesday, and after a restful night back in the room that was mine for 9 years, my crazy adventure started early Wednesday morning rehearsing with my friend, Joe Noelliste, a pianist with whom I really enjoy collaborating. First we worked on "Fascinating Rhythm", which is what Michael had requested that I sing on Friday night in Indy. The arrangement was one that Marilyn Maye had helped me with when I sang at 54 Below. We just needed to get it set and notated so that I could take a chart to the pianist for the weekend. After working out the notation, we worked on a couple of pop tunes.
Wednesday night, I headed to Indiana University to see their production of "Swing" in which my dad was playing clarinet/saxophone. There were lots of people I knew in there, and it was fun catching up with everyone.
Thursday morning started even earlier than the day before, this time in the recording studio. Joe and I recorded at Russian Recording Studio, which brought back memories, having recorded there twice before. The first time was when I was still a boy soprano and I recorded a Christmas album, from which all proceeds went to local food cupboards. Last year I recorded my entry for the Feinstein Competition there, also with Joe playing piano. It is incredible to think back over the year since that last time. It almost seems like a different lifetime!
There was a local media outlet that sent a crew to the recording studio. They filmed footage of the recording and editing process, as well as interviewed me. I'm not sure when that will air, but talking through everything with them put it all even more into perspective. I've been very blessed in the past year, and am so appreciative of all the opportunities I've gotten!
As soon as the recording session was over, my dad and I immediately headed up to Carmel, just north of Indianapolis. There I met up with Nick Ziobro and Tori Anna, and we had dinner with the wonderful Feinstein Initiative folks. It was the beginning of an exciting weekend as part of the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame Gala.
Friday morning we had rehearsal at the Palladium. It was so neat to be back there with Nick and Tori for the first time since the competition last year. We had time to hang out in the Great American Songbook Archive and Gallery, where in addition to seeing their new exhibit on the Roaring 20s, Nick and I learned the Charleston from a diagram on the wall. Then, after a quick lunch break, we headed to the Indiana Roof Ballroom for a sound check. What a beautiful venue!
There is actually an interesting feature at that Indianapolis landmark. A door, just off of the stage, has a listing and a rating system of performers who played the room in the 1930s. Here is what the plaque says:
After the sound check, we headed back to the hotel to get in our tuxes, then right back to the Ballroom. Dinner was delicious, and entertainment was provided by the Tom Postilio Orchestra, including 1st trumpet player Joey Tartell, who is a friend and colleague of my dad's at IU. During the cocktail hour, Michael and Liza arrived, along with many others. I had a chance to briefly speak with them at that point, and it was great to see them again.
After dinner, there was a live auction, which was my cue to head backstage. As soon as the auction was over, Michael spoke and introduced Tori Anna (who was the 2nd runner up last year), and then it was my turn to sing. Michael introduced me as "part of the Palladium family", which is so special, then I sang "Fascinating Rhythm". It was amazing to look out at the sold out crowd of @900 people, with Liza sitting up front and getting into the performance. In the middle, when the music went to the verse, she actually called out and cheered. I felt great about the performance, after which I headed back to my seat to enjoy the two singers after me- Michael Feinstein and Liza Minnelli!
When the concert was over, I enjoyed meeting several other people, including Rita Moreno and Jose Feliciano. I also had more time to speak with Michael and Liza, along with an opportunity to catch up with other friends and acquaintances. Liza made me laugh when she gave me a lesson on shaking hands. She had me shake her hands a number of times, each time telling me to grip more tightly. There was no fear of hurting the living legend, as she definitely gripped harder than I!
Saturday, there was finally some time to relax. In fact, Tori Anna and I, along with our parents, took in the latest Star Trek movie, before heading back to the Palladium for the Songbook Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but this time just as spectators. Other than the amazing performances, one of my favorite moments was the speech by Jimmy Smits honoring inductee Rita Moreno. It was incredible to hear about her contributions, and how much she has inspired others. Later, I had a chance to hang out with Rita and Jimmy. It was the perfect ending to the weekend.
Sunday morning, I said goodbye to everyone, as well as my home state of Indiana, flying back to the Big Apple, inspired and ready to start the next chapter of my life.