Tag Archives: Music

Making Moves Dance Festival comes to Jamaica this weekend

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo via Facebook/Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning


The Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) will stage its sixth production of the Making Moves Dance Festival on Saturday, showcasing seven of New York City’s emerging choreographers and dance companies.

The two-part showcase will feature diverse and original works that span the globe and dance genres. The first part of the day-long event begins with a free outdoor presentation at 2 p.m., followed by an evening performance at 7 p.m.

JCAL invited choreographers and dance companies in the Greater New York City Area to apply to an open call so they could showcase their talents in the annual dance festival at JCAL’s Jamaica Performing Arts Center (JPAC).

Of the list of applicants, three groups selected will be given the opportunity to perform 15-minute pieces each at an outdoor and indoor afternoon event, with each group performing an existing work.

Selected choreographers have the opportunity to create a 30- to 45-minute work, commissioned by JCAL, which will be showcased at the evening event. The choreographer will receive a $3,000 stipend to create a new work and will have access to JPAC’s rehearsal space for up to 40 hours.

This year’s annual Making Moves Dance Festival features the following choreographers and dance companies: Ballet Inc., Christian von Howard, Ricarrdo Valentine, Erin Carlisle Norton, Paige A. Stewart; Maxine Steinman, and choreographer Daniel Gwirtzman, who was selected as JCAL’s Making Moves Dance Festival’s commissioned choreographer.

A ticket for the evening routine will run $15 and $12 for adults and seniors, respectively. Students and JCAL members are able to see the performance for $10.

The JPAC is located at 153-10 Jamaica Ave. in Jamaica and is easily accessible via public transportation including the E and J train lines and numerous bus lines.


Singer Patti LaBelle to perform at Queens College

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Kupferberg Center for the Arts


After a successful run on “Dancing with the Stars,” legendary singer Patti LaBelle will be performing at the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College on Sunday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m.

With chart-topping hits such as “New Attitude,” “Lady Marmalade,” “If Only You Knew” and “If You Asked Me To,” LaBelle has made herself a household name during a career that has lasted more than 50 years.

The singer has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Apollo Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, and has sold more than 50 million records worldwide.

Her Oct. 18 performance at Queens College is her only performance in the borough this year. Tickets will range from $40 to $115.

For tickets and more information, click here.


Hit the street for free jazz concerts this August in Forest Hills

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Image courtesy of Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce


The Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce will be hosting its free Jazz Thursdays concerts on Aug. 13 and 20 from 7 to 9:30 p.m., located on 70th Road between Queens Boulevard and Austin Street.

What makes Jazz Thursdays unique is that the concerts are not held in a park. Instead, Forest Hills residents and visitors will have the chance to enjoy the music right in the heart of the business district, along Forest Hills’ restaurant row. Seating is available.

The performance on Aug. 13 will showcase Bruce “Big Daddy” Wayne and the Soul Messengers, whose performance will include jazz, soul and a tribute to B.B. King. A native of Washington, D.C., Bruce began singing on Harlem street corners at the age of 5 and has since gone on to receive many awards, including the Best Artist Award by Cabaret Clubs of New York.

On Aug. 20, Jazz Thursdays will feature Richard Boulger’s After Hours Band. Boulger has worked with numerous other prominent jazz artists and has toured with Gregg Allman. He also runs two Brooklyn music programs, Music and Arts and Music and Arts Summer Camp, which give inner city kids the chance to work with musicians and develop their own talents.





Astoria band captures audiences with unique electric beats

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Scott Nidermaier/NidermaierPictures.com

When Distoria takes the stage, audience members are left wondering how just three members can make so much noise and create such a unique sound.

In 2010, the Astoria alternative rock band was formed when frontwoman Helena Martin was invited to play as a solo act at B.O.M.B. Fest in Connecticut. Martin knew she wanted to make the performance special and decided to add a drummer, Cody Rahn, to her vocal and piano act.

“Immediately I said I don’t want to play by myself, I want to make this interesting,” she said.

That performance was Distoria’s first, although the group wasn’t complete until later, when Mor Mezrich joined as the bassist and audio engineer. Martin said that although she had always been involved in music on her own, she actually felt that working with other musicians allowed her to discover who she is as a musician.

The name of the group came after Martin’s younger brother was visiting her in Astoria and combined the names of Ditmars and Astoria after being told to get off at the Astoria-Ditmars subway station.

“I said that’s an awesome name, I’m going to write that down,” Martin recalled.

The trio began experimenting with electronic elements in their music, which makes Distoria what it is today, and in 2011 the band was called back to play B.O.M.B. Fest, which was headlined by musicians such as Snoop Dogg and Weezer.

Helena Martin

Helena Martin

According to Martin, it took the group about a year to learn about making the electronic tunes on a program called Ableton Live and to figure out how they would use it for Distoria. And even though they have found their unique sound, Martin said the group is always learning.

“We’re always learning, figuring out ways to do better,” she said. “It’s cool because as we uncover the limitations, the limitations let us push those limits.”

Along with their instruments, each member of the band plays an electronic element. For example, while playing the piano and singing, Martin also has a square pad in front of her that also creates sounds.

“Sometimes it sounds like there are a lot more people on stage than there are,” Martin said. “People say, ‘That’s crazy, how did you do that one song?’”

When it comes to what makes Distoria stand out from other groups, Martin said that when they hit the stage they do not just hit a play button at the beginning of the song. Each tune is either created on the spot or is physically turned on by a band member.

Because of all the different aspects of their music, the members are constantly rehearsing in Astoria, the neighborhood Martin and Mezrich call home, to make sure every beat works. Mezrich also owns his own studio in Astoria called Ears & Gears Recording.

Martin added that another thing that makes Distoria unique is that although they play hard rock music, which usually involved an electric guitar, the band does not have a guitarist. When audience members hear what sounds like a guitar, it is actually Mezrich playing his bass really high while Rahn hits bass pads on the drums to mimic the bass.

“We don’t have a guitar but we still rock pretty hard and pretty loud,” Martin said.

Martin writes all of Distoria’s lyrics from personal experiences. Her bandmates then help add the body and beats to the songs.

“If you listen to all the lyrics, you will know everything about me,” she said. “What I’m doing now with Distoria is what I’ve always intended but never knew that I intended. That’s what I always meant to have. It’s really exciting.”

Distoria released their first EP called “Periphery” in 2013 after a successful Kickstarter campaign that helped them fund the production of the five-song album, which can be found on iTunes.

They have also recently released a new single “Dark White” with a bonus track called “Lift Point.” A music video for “Dark White” is also slated to be released soon.

The band plans to have various shows in the fall and also hopes to do a mini-tour to local cities such as Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C.

In the future the group also hopes they can be part of large music festivals where more people can listen to their unique sound.

For more information on Distoria, visit www.distoriamusic.com.


Bartlett Contemporaries celebrates their 50th anniversary with ‘A Weekend to Remember’

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Anthony Giudice

From forming their band at Andrew Jackson High School in 1964, to being the first band to play at the New York State Pavilion during the World’s Fair that same year, to performing at Spike Lee’s wedding reception, brothers Carl Bartlett Sr. and Charles Bartlett Jr. have done it all in the music scene.

This September, they invite the public to join them for their band’s 50th anniversary weekend celebration in Jamaica.

Bartlett Contemporaries with the Next Generation Sound, presented by the Bartlett Foundation Inc., will be hosting “A Weekend to Remember” from Friday, Sept. 11, to Sunday, Sept. 13, to celebrate the band’s many accomplishments during their half-century of performing.

The Bartlett brothers had a lot of early success, opening for Latin performers Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente.

“They used to call us Bartlette Contemporaries [with an E] to give us a little Latin flair,” Charles Bartlett said. “The reason why we got into Latin and jazz, and ultimately R&B…it enabled us to reach wide audiences.”

Some of the key performances by Bartlett Contemporaries over the years include performing for Oprah Winfrey’s book party in Miami, performing at Miles Davis’ 60th birthday bash, performing for six Essence Awards parties, and many more.

“For Spike Lee, that was his wedding reception, so that made it personal,” Carl Bartlett said. “It was a great experience for my brother and I as co-leaders of the band and the band members. On that same par, playing for Oprah was great because we knew that when we got this call to do a very important engagement in Miami, we knew that was big because they said, ‘Give us a wish list of whatever equipment you need down there.’”

The Bartletts’ popularity, technical skill and work as educators has won them several prestigious awards including the New York State Proclamation for Living Music Legends in Queens, the NAACP Community Involvement Award, a citation from Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi for service to Hofstra University, among several others.

The anniversary celebration kicks off on Sept. 11 for a meet and greet with the Bartletts at Proper Café in Jamaica.

On Sept. 12 the band will host their 50th anniversary concert at the Milton G. Bassin Performing Arts Center at York College. The black tie event runs from 5 to 8 p.m. where the band will perform “From Bebop to Hip-Hop,” featuring the music of Frank Sinatra to Justin Timberlake, from Madonna to Lady Gaga, from Earth Wind & Fire to Pharrell, and more. An after party will be held from 8 to 10 p.m.

“So many people consider them a dance band…so we built in the after party, which will be right there at the concert, and all of the ticket prices will include the after party,” said Philippa L. Karteron, president and CEO of Galleria Noire, and event planner for the anniversary performance.

Honorary hosts of the celebration include Congressman Gregory Meeks; state Senators Leroy Comrie and James Sanders Jr.; Assemblywomen Vivian Cook, Barbara Clark and Michele Titus; and Councilmen I. Daneek Miller, Donovan Richards and Ruben Wills.

On Sept. 13, the Bartlett brothers will hold a jazz brunch at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center.

“That particular function is the type of function that will give the people the chance to …network,” Charles Bartlett said. “Businesspeople will get a chance and sit down and we’ll break bread together and we can connect and network. That is a very powerful brunch that will take place on Sunday. It’s the opportunity to mix a little business with a lot of pleasure.”


Swingtime Big Band to perform as part of Astoria Park concert series

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



Swingtime Big Band will be performing swing-era music in Astoria Park on July 16 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the annual Central Astoria Local Development Coalition’s 2015 Waterfront Concert Series, which offers free weekly concerts through mid-August.

This 20-piece group, directed by Steven Shaiman, will play authentic recreations of the timeless swing music of Big Band leaders such as Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington and more.

According to the band’s website, the ensemble specializes in performing original arrangements of classic Big Band music, and bringing the style and spirit of the genre to life for 21st-century audiences. In 2007, the Big Band Hall of Fame recognized Swingtime as ambassadors of big band music for their efforts in “perpetuating, promoting and performing with integrity the sounds of the Big Band Era.”

Swingtime Big Band has performed in notable venues such as the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, the Plaza Hotel, the Waldorf Astoria and Tavern on the Green.

The event is free and will take place on the Great Lawn of Astoria Park on Shore Boulevard, between the Hell Gate Bridge and the Astoria Pool. Attendees are advised to bring their own chairs or blankets.

Performances will continue on Thursday evenings from July 23 through August 13 and will feature Michael Patrick’s Ring of Fire Band, Time Was, Dancin’ Machine and Spitfire.


Free summer festival featuring more than 60 performers coming to Astoria Park

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Astoria Music & Arts

Astoria Park will shine bright next month during a day-long festival featuring more than 60 live performers, visual artists and activities for all ages.

The nonprofit Astoria Music & Arts, which is committed to supporting the diverse artistic community throughout Astoria and Long Island City, will be holding the New World Queens Festival on Aug. 29 at Astoria Park.

From noon to 9 p.m., visitors will be able to enjoy the free event that will feature live music, visual arts, dancers, performance artists and interactive children’s events.

Music during the festival will include bossa nova, reggae, ska, R&B, rock, psychedelic, Americana, indie, funk, blue grass and Afro-Cuban.

“For over seven years, AM&A has brought music, art, dance, theater, comedy and film to the Astoria community, and this summer at Astoria Park we will be throwing the greatest music and arts festival in Astoria,” said Doris Cellar, director of operations for Astoria Music and Arts.

The festival, which is pet-friendly and will focus on eco-awareness, is also expected to feature a pie-eating contest by Astor Bake Shop, and a family fun dance party experience, sponsored by Little Club Heads, for children ages 1 to 12 and their parents.

Visitors will also be able to find a dance tent featuring Sol Dance Center, a puppet show by Wonder Spark from Raising Astoria, a giant Kaiju Big Battel monster and more.

For more information, email astoriamusicarts@gmail.com or visit www.astoriamusicandarts.org or www.facebook.com/Astoriamusicandarts.


Free Juniper Valley Park concert series lineup announced

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo courtesy of Juniper Park Civic Association

Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village will be rocking this summer with four free concerts as part of the 2015 Juniper Valley Park Summer Concert Series.

The concert series kicks off on July 14 with “Swing Night,” featuring music from the Gerard Carelli Orchestra (GCO). Gerard Carelli, a trombonist and vocalist, leads the GCO, which is one of New York’s most popular ensembles. The GCO has performed at many special events including the late actor Christopher Reeve’s 50th birthday; fundraisers hosted by former president Bill Clinton; and parties for celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito and restaurateur Drew Nieporent of Tribeca Grill and Nobu.

Carelli has also toured the world with famous musicians such as Ray Charles, and has two CDs to his name.

The three other free concerts in the series will be: Italian Night on July 21, featuring music from Elio Scaccio and Tony Valente Trio; ’80s Tribute Night on July 28, featuring the White Wedding Band playing popular hits from the 1980s; and, on Aug. 4, the NYPD Night Out Against Crime, where the band Generations will be playing classic rock ‘n’ roll music.

The 2015 Juniper Valley Park Free Summer Concert Series is sponsored by NYC Department of Parks & Recreation and Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA). Co-sponsors include the Juniper Valley Park Conservancy, Crifasi Real Estate, O’Neill’s Restaurant, Queensboro UNICO and Rep.Grace Meng.

All concerts are free to the public and begin at 7 p.m. Concertgoers are invited to bring their own lawn chairs to comfortably view each performance.

Concert schedule and acts subject to change. For latest concert information and weather updates, call 718-651-5865 or visit the JPCA website.


New orchestra wants to become the sound of Flushing

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Paul Joseph

One conductor is about to add some pluck to the sound of Flushing with a new orchestra devoted to bringing classical music to the neighborhood.

“We realized there’s no orchestra in the Flushing and Bayside area,” Dong-Hyun Kim said. The Flushing native is the music director of the Nova Philharmonic and last year several local musicians convinced him to put together an orchestra devoted to central Queens.

“And we said to each other, it would be really great if we can become the official Flushing orchestra,” Kim said. “We want to make a good tradition of classical music in Flushing.”

The group of 35 musicians, called the Queensboro Symphony Orchestra, has been practicing every Sunday for their debut performance on March 22 at Mary’s Nativity Church, located at 46-02 Parsons Blvd.

Kim, 40, graduated from Queens College with a master’s degree in orchestra conducting, and after many years of teaching and directing musical performances, he has returned to the neighborhood to try to create an official orchestra for the area after feeling the borough needed more classical ensembles.

“There’s not that many orchestras in Queens so this is a really great thing,” said Paul Joseph, the music director for the Mary’s Nativity. “[Kim] is a very vibrant, passionate individual. The quality he will be bringing is much better than you’d expect from a community orchestra.”


Astoria’s The Green Gallows talk rad tunes with a side of whiskey

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Jovani Demetrie McCleary (J. Demetrie Photography)


As they sat in a Hooters an hour away from Chicago, the members of The Green Gallows opened up about the realities of touring, and their slow rise to success.

Hailing from Indiana, Michigan and Washington, Sean Ryan Donnelly, Adam Steiner and Cara Cooley, respectively, now all consider the backlands of Queens their home.

The three New York transplants joined forces in Astoria and formed the folk-rock band about two years ago, playing their first show six months later, and hitting on the road at the beginning of November for their first official tour, with singer/songwriter Meghann Wright.

Prior to joining forces, the “three musketeers” started off as two lovebirds, Cooley and Steiner, who come from a musical performing background and are currently engaged to be married.

Still, Donnelly rejects all chances of being considered a third-wheel; he claims that Cara is more of the third wheel, since he and Adam have known each other for many years. But overall, after almost a month of spending nearly every waking moment together, the band has taken things to “a whole new level,” becoming more like family, with whiskey being the fourth member.

The journey, which Cooley considers “great chaos,” has been an exhausting, yet rewarding one thus far, with only two days off since the beginning of their tour on Nov. 1.

In addition, the band has performed at the Bright Winter Festival in Cleveland, Ohio, and went on a short tour last February after the release of their EP, “Wanted.” Since then, they have performed both locally and on the road, including stops in Orlando, Chicago and Pennsylvania, and have acquired a love for playing road shows because, Donnelly said, it’s “always a treat to play for someone who’s never heard you, as opposed to at home where friends and fans know what they’re getting into.”

Essentially, what guests are getting into at a typical Green Gallows show consists of everything from foot-stomping tunes to passion-filled ballads, and whiskey-drenched performances that the three describe as “very high energy.” In other words, nothing “typical.” Instead, the band takes listeners into a world they have created where “you can expect to be taken out of your life, and whatever is going on in it, to be taken away for an hour – and just have a good time,” says Cooley.

The band will be home for Thanksgiving, and is looks forward to performing locally in Spike Hill, as well as Sweet Afton in Astoria, and more. So far, the band has released one song for download, “Brave Young Soul,” and they have taken it with them on the road, introducing listeners to their sound and style, in efforts to prepare them for their first full-length album, which they plan to record in January.

For more information on their upcoming shows, visit thegreengallows.com.


NYC musician to perform, celebrate roots at Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of the Rectifist


For Rectifist vocalist Marcus Lui, performing at the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival is extra special.

Lui, a New York City resident but a Hong Kong native, is thrilled to be celebrating the Hong Kong tradition. His local band Rectifist, formed in June 2012, will take the stage Aug. 10 at 12:45 p.m.

“For me, I feel great because I was born in Hong Kong. I came from there,” Lui said. “Now, there is a chance for me to perform at a festival about Hong Kong.”

Lui, who used to work for the Cantonese radio station AM 1480, said he has been to the Dragon Boat Festival almost every year. This will be the first time he’s playing the music.

Usually a hard rock and metal band, Rectifist will be paying tribute to the disbanded Hong Kong rock band Beyond by playing cover songs in its upcoming performance.

“Beyond is one of the very important bands from Hong Kong,” Lui said. He said their songs talked about the world, race and other societal issues.

Rectifist currently has five band members: Steve Cheng and Sylivan Tam on the guitars, Chun Yeung Au with the bass, Jeff on the drums and Lui, also known as Spark, as the vocalist. All were involved in a prior band named X-Scale before forming Rectifist. The band is influenced by the underground rock and grunge music scene.

Rectifist, which Lui said usually plays in local city venues with two to three hundred people-audiences, will play in front of a much larger crowd in this year’s Dragon Boat Festival in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.



‘Quiet Clubbing’ comes to Astoria beer garden

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos Courtesy of Quiet Events

The music booms silently at one Astoria beer garden.

Every other Friday, guests are greeted at the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, located at 29-19 24th Ave., with wireless headphones and a quiet dance floor. Once they put on their headphones, the party begins.

This biweekly party is called “Quiet Clubbing” and is organized by the company Quiet Events, founded in 2012 by College Point resident William Petz after he experienced what is known as a “silent disco” on a cruise with family.

“We enjoyed it so much and thought someone had to be doing it in New York, but no one was,” Petz said. “I figured let me buy 300 headphones and worst comes to worst I sell them on eBay.”

During the event, there are three live DJs each playing a different genre of music such as hip-hop, old-school hits and top 40s. Guests put on their headphones and can switch to any of the three stations with LED lights on the headphones changing from blue, red and green, letting others know which DJ they’ve picked.

“We took a beer garden and almost turned it to a festival,” Petz said. He estimates that between 500 to 600 people attend each night, with the numbers only growing.

Petz said that although some people might assume these types of parties are “anti-social,” he believes the environment actually allows guests to get together and adjust the volume on their headphones to be able to strike up conversations.

“It kind of is weird but it is not silent, it is not quiet. People are singing to songs, laughing and having conversations with friends,” Petz said. “You can have friends who love different types of music, dancing together. We get people to do things they normally don’t want to do.”

Along with the biweekly “quiet clubbing” parties at the Beer Garden, Quiet Events, which will soon move its headquarters to Astoria, also organizes other events such as mobile parties.

During these mobile parties about 100 to 150 people are taken around New York City, all with headphones on, and walk with a certified tour guide. Petz said it is sort of like beer crawl, but guests get to learn more about the city as well.

Quiet Events also rents its equipment to other bars and clubs, and in some cases sells the equipment.

The next Quiet Clubbing party at the Beer Garden is Friday, Aug. 1, and starts at 10 p.m. Tickets are $5 online and $10 at the door.

“The best part for me is when you talk to someone and they say they don’t get it and afterwards they love it,” Petz said “You won’t get it until you put those headphones on. It’s golden.”

For more information, click here.



Fifth annual music, art street festival coming to Sunnyside

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Sunnyside Shines

The streets of Sunnyside will be alive with the sound of music and art this summer.

The Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District will present its fifth annual free street festival called Sunnyside Summer Strolls on Saturday, July 26 and August 2.

Sunnyside Summer Strolls will bring together local businesses, residents and local organizations under the Sunnyside arch at 46th Street, which has been transformed into a temporary public space with tables and chairs, and scheduled activities.

“Sunnyside Summer Strolls is a great community event series, designed to promote our local businesses, bring arts programming to the neighborhood and provide a temporary public space for the day,” said Rachel Thieme, executive director of Sunnyside Shines. “We are excited to partner with Re-Create QNS to bring new energy and arts expertise to the event this year.”

On Saturday, July 26 is the Children’s Arts and Crafts Fair from 1 to 6 p.m., produced in partnership with Re-Create QNS, a new coalition of creative Sunnyside organizations. Activities include face painting, water marbling, ballet, Irish step, modern dance and performances by local musicians. Families will also have the opportunity to meet with artists and teachers of neighborhood arts and enrichment programs.

Photo by Michael Rapp

“Sunnyside is home to so many innovative and passionate arts groups,” said Nancy Kleaver, Re-Create Qns director. “Re-Create QNS wants to spread the word and make more connections between the public and our local cultural institutions. It will be a fun day for kids and families to be creative together.”

Under the elevated No. 7 train, the new Bliss Plaza will host a pop-up library in partnership with the Uni Project, the Sunnyside branch of the Queens Public Library and the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership.

The following Saturday,  from 2 to 7 p.m., will be the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Concert featuring a 1920s theme and lineup of jazz musicians and performers including The Sunnyside Wolverines featuring Linda Ipanema, The Sunnyside Social Club, The Pendulum Swings, The Sunnyside Drum Corps, and The Big Apple Lindy Hoppers.

There will also be a dance floor set up in the street, free photo booth and a 1920s costume contest. Local businesses will be on-site offering free giveaways and services.

For more information visit www.sunnysideshines.org.



Former B-52s member takes his act to TV

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Pat Irwin

“I heard the first Beatles record and I was lost forever,” said Pat Irwin.

The Long Island City based musician, once christened “a mercurial presence on the New York rock scene in the early 80s,” by the New York Time’s Robert Palmer, graced some of the forefront acts of the No Wave movement – a post-punk genre with hints of avant garde — founding The Raybeats and 8-Eyed Spy before joining the B-52s in 1989. More recently, Irwin is the genius behind soundtracks for HBO’s “Bored to Death” and Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie.”

During Iriwn’s early days on the music front in the late 70s and early 80s – an era when the city seemed to dip into obscurity – subversive art forms hit a stride.

“For as dark as that music was, the scene was very dark and Manhattan was rough,” said Irwin. “But it was violent and bright and there were musicians and painters and lines were blurring in places you could play.”

The Raybeats played shows at now-defunct downtown joints like The Mudd Club and Tier 3. It was an indie, marginal scene, defined by home-burned 45s given to bar owners in exchange for dinner and advertising for gigs by spray painting the information on a wall. Publications like The Soho Daily News and The New York Rocker illustrated which hip British band was landing on stage at the venue across the alley from your apartment.

“Things were all mixed up in a pretty great way,” said Irwin. “Filmmakers made movies that changed movies. It was an exciting time to be here. We’re kind of lucky to be alive. It was a dangerous time in New York.”

Remembering the acts that appeared on the “No New York” album, Irwin said, there’s a lot of people who didn’t survive.

“No New York” – the Brian Eno-produced No Wave auditory bible – served as Irwin’s amuse bouche into the world of underground music. Irwin said the album was more of an experience rather than an influence.

“I was there,” Irwin said. “I remember the studio. That was an amazing time.”

But Irwin’s musical upbringing began far from the concrete labyrinth of New York City in a smattering of Mid-Western states where he learned to play the piano and the guitar. As a kid, he snuck into see “Goldfinger” against his parents’ wishes. He found the soundtrack hypnotic, indicating the impetus into what would become Rock and Roll’s metamorphosis — the genre ceasing to be just Pop music as it permeated the consciousness of mainstream America, changing the way people dressed, wore their hair and even shopped.

“I love music, so [influence] is going to come from anywhere, anytime, anyplace,” said Irwin. “And it can come from jazz or classical music or a painting.”

Irwin indicated the music created in New York just before him — The Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith and Iggy Pop – as major, musical influences. However, it was the independent spirit of the Ramones and punk music’s inauguration in the United States that took music to another place for Irwin.

“I listen to some of those recordings and I still get thrilled,” said Irwin.

Irwin joined the B-52s in 1989 after guitarist Ricky Wilson died of an AIDS-related illness. The band ran in the same scene as Irwin for most of the 80s, even borrowing one of his amps for a show and teaming up for gigs with The Raybeats. After Wilson passed away, Irwin said the band members, at the cusp of recording a new record, were despondent. Enlisting Irwin and Gang of Four’s Sara Lee, the newly designed B-52s set out to make what would be one of their biggest hits – “Love Shack.”

After filming the video for “Love Shack,” – perfectly apt with the zenith of MTV — the group set out on an international tour, beginning at CBGB’s in New York. By the time they reached the West Coast, they played the Greek Theatre – one of Los Angeles’ main venues.

“We got really big,” Irwin said, pointing to a photograph of the crowd from their show in Central Park, the lawn covered entirely with fans. “We blinked and that became a huge record.”

Irwin said seeing the crowd in Central Park “his moment.” Later that evening, they played as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. The underground, post-punk band with avant garde roots and sudden mainstream success, evolved.

“That’s one of the problems with a lot of popular music,” said Irwin. “When you make that kind of music you get calcified if you’re not careful.”

He said the band still plays “Rock Lobster” every night.

After 19 years with the B-52s, Irwin bitter-sweetly set off on a separate musical trajectory.

“It was a thrill for me to play with the B’s,” he said. “I was a fan. Still am.”

Irwin composed soundtracks for movies and cartoons, including the Generation X theme song from “Rocko’s Modern Life.” One of Irwin’s favorite past musical projects, composing for “Rocko” was “like being in an engine.”

“It was so liberating,” said Irwin. “We would just go into the studio and fly — I love what I get to do when I work on a cartoon. I get to make a new record every time.”

Astoria musician is a jack of all trades

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



For singer/songwriter John Presnell, no matter how many projects he has going on, it’s still not enough.

The Astoria resident is perpetually on the move, whether he is in the studio, premiering his first music video, scoring indie films or performing on stage. Most recently, he gave his first full concert in several years, supported by a backing band at Arlene’s Grocery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

“This is our first time playing together, and these guys actually just met today for our first rehearsal,” he said from the stage, eschewing the usual band introductions and instead jokingly introducing his bandmates to one another as they shook hands. Fronting his five-piece band, Presnell has a commanding presence, undoubtedly a by-product of his acting background.

His between-song banter during the show is both charming and funny, introducing songs with wit and smiles rather than the typically dry stories so many other artists present. Music may be his life, but Presnell refuses to take himself too seriously.

Growing up in a musical household, Presnell was raised on an eclectic diet of rock, jazz and classical that gave him a unique vision of what music can — and should — be. Presnell finds himself just as inspired by British songwriters like Paul McCartney and Kinks founder Ray Davies as he is by American crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He holds an exceptional fondness for music from the Great American Songbook.

“The sensibility – the craft – that goes into those songs is phenomenal,” he said, adding that Cole Porter was a particular favorite.

However, Presnell expressed his frustration with the recent spate of musicians releasing albums of songs from yesteryear, including McCartney’s most recent release, “Kisses on the Bottom.” It isn’t the quality of the songs he finds dissatisfying, but instead the concept of established songwriters relying so heavily on other people’s tunes.

“The best songs [on “Kisses On The Bottom”] were the two songs McCartney had written,” Presnell said. “Imagine if he had done a whole album of songs like that!”

That particular style of playful and whimsical songwriting makes up roughly half of Presnell’s repertoire. The other side of Presnell is a spiritual one, reflected in a number of songs that deal with reincarnation and karma.

“We live in a cause-and-effect universe,” Presnell said of his philosophy.

This cosmic edge is certainly present in his work, but never overly preachy. Presnell is quick to point out the balance between his spiritual side and his knack for humor, describing his style as “elegant, but bohemian.”

This motto underlines Presnell’s most recent recording project, a collection of songs with the tentative title “Come Back Down.” Through this work, Presnell hopes to update what he calls “a more sophisticated sensibility” in popular song and bring it to modern pop music, without entering retro territory.

His refined take on songwriting is both literate and humorous, balanced by a few serious numbers. The songs – many of which he played at Arlene’s – reflect his diverse influences, ranging from Indian raga to English music hall to psychedelic pop.

With one album in its final stages, Presnell is already hard at work on unearthing years of his own demo recordings, all captured on audio cassette, to begin work on another release. He is also in the preliminary stages of drafting a musical.

Regardless of his number of current projects, Presnell looks excitedly towards his promising musical future.

Presnell’s next show will be July 25 at Zirzamin, located at 90 West Houston Street in Manhattan.