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Tom Stoppard (L) interviewed by Daniel Kehlmann. Photo by Beowulf SheehanOn the afternoon of Sunday, September 18th, at the 92nd Street Y, the brilliant English playwright, Tom Stoppard, made an absolutely splendid public appearance—his only one in New York this fall—interviewed for about an hour by German writer Daniel Kehlmann primarily about his latest work, Leopoldstadt, which will have its opening on Broadway this fall.
The title of Stoppard’s new play was arrived at at an advanced stage, with A Family Album and Cat’s Cradle both originally considered, he affirmed. Commenting on a scene added well into the play’s composition that enlarged two roles, he said, “more is good for an actor.” He stated, “I love the fact that the theatre is such an empirical art form,” noting that, for him, theatre is an organism, an event, and so the text is not stabilized. The author clarified that he was in “a false position” because there is “an assumption that one is aware of what one is up to” with respect to “the art of playwriting,” which he described as “the art of controlling the flow of information from the stage to the audience.” Stoppard reported that he thought to himself that “I’d like to write a play for that set” after he saw a production of Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country which he “loved so much” and remarked that he had done so with his A Coast of Utopia. He also expressed a desire to create a play like Anton Chekhov’s but objected that he is “too literal.”
About his late discovery of his Jewish origins which was partly explained by indifference, he amusingly averred, “I didn’t have a lapse of memory—I had a lapse of character.” He recalled that after his mother died he investigated his childhood and wrote about it in an article for a magazine, admitting “That’s when I understood what it would mean to be moved by my past.” He asserted that Jewishness “doesn’t enter into his mode of living” but it “seems inadequate” that it “is just an interesting fact” about him, claiming that he is not at ease with this. His youthful affinities, he said, were more with Englishness, citing his fondness for Georgian architecture, the landscapes of J. M. W. Turner, the poetry of T. S. Eliot, and the novels of Evelyn Waugh, although now he is also interested in Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig. When he first visited Czechoslovakia in his forties, he was not especially moved by the landscape—it was “a foreign country.” He added that “Autobiography is a kind of trap,” when asked why Leopoldstadt is set in Vienna rather than the Czechoslovakia where he was born.
When queried about whether he recognized the historical timeliness of his trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, he replied that “I’ve never managed to outguess history.“ And asked about whether he had written for a specific actor, he answered that he had had occasion to do so, specifically naming the late, distinguished John Wood.
Sometimes, a musician comes across the computer screen which produces a profile not just because of the music but the backstory, too. That was certainly the case for singer/songwriter Clarissa Riddles (nee Purcell) who not only found her voice through jazz but traditional Irish music as well.
Based in Nashville, the classically trained pianist and vocalist wrote the songs on her latest record, “Be Still My Soul,” “as a tribute to God and the scripture which had brought her out of an intense personal struggle into a new life.”
That provocation was confirmed by Widerside Productions’ Matt Wilder — producer of this album: “When I first met Clarissa years ago, her talent was immediately clear. A gifted and diverse singer, songwriter and painter, who, like so many great artists, had a self-destructive streak and struggled with addiction. I believe dealing with internal turmoil is part of what drives many great artists to create.
Over the years we’ve both been through many life changes — and in Clarissa’s case finding sobriety, getting married, having a child, and most of all, turning her life over to God as she understood him [to be]. I was thrilled when she approached me about making an album about redemption, recovery and faith.
“I recognized my own struggles in hers and in her surrender. These Celtic-flavored songs are like beautiful mystic upwellings rising from her soul as she was born into a new life. It’s healing music that envelopes and comforts you with grace, humility and beauty. A true work of art by a great artist I consider myself blessed to collaborate with.”
So upon listening to Clarissa’s melodically rich vocalizations of these recently released songs, a search into her past led to lots more releases and songs. From jazz-inflected compositions to her Irish-influenced recent productions, Riddles/Purcell is an artist-performer worth exploring.
The late 30-something grew up in Northern Virginia, near Washington DC, Fairfax, and the Annandale area. Now, the Nashville resident Purcell works part-time at the YMCA and is a full-time mother. Now that her daughter is turning eight and in school, she’s been able to commit more time to music. “I have always made money on the side with creative pursuits, little jobs, playing background music for restaurants, and selling artwork.
“Recently, I have been able to make a little extra by working for commercial music placements, advertising and some work for music library/sync licensing. But it’s been sporadic; hence the YMCA gig.”
Q: What’s your background — musically and otherwise?
CR: I’ve done music my whole life, different genres, classical training, etc. I grew up in a musical family. We were exposed to mostly classical music. My dad was a well known baritone singer and entertainer who could play and sing almost any request from the great American songbook. My mom had a beautiful voice and sang in the church choir along with us kids.
I spent a lot of time from junior high onward making up songs and accompanying myself in the singer/songwriter fashion. My first love with songwriting was in the folk tradition. A return to that with this latest album, while being something novel, was a familiar ground with the simple melody and poetic lyrics I often wrote in my younger days. I went on to study jazz piano at University of Tennessee under the tutelage of renowned pianist and composer Donald Brown who had played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He encouraged me to pursue composing and we often traded ideas and tunes.
Q: You're just building your new identity now — where do you see it going?
CR: With this latest album, I feel like I have stumbled upon what I was really meant to do, both artistically and from a spiritual perspective. I just wanted to clarify that. When I first conceived this album project, it was after being inspired by the music section in the movie “Brooklyn,” where Iarla o Lionaird sang a Sean-nos song, which was a kind of hauntingly beautiful melody and lilting in the voice that I had never heard before. It absolutely blew me away. It really thrilled my soul, and it had been such a long time since I had felt inspired by music that way.
Then I discovered another Sean nos singer on the Irish John Murray show. I ended up learning this same Gaelic folk song that she performed, and later e-met Saileog Ni Cheannabhain, the gifted singer on the show who introduced many to the distinctly Irish tradition of Sean-nos singing. Later, I had the opportunity to take a few lessons from her during the Covid lockdowns via Skype.
It was then that I was inspired to make an album that was a return to the early American hymn tradition, incorporating these lilting variations in the melody line (also known as ornamentation in sean-nos). The result is an amalgamation of American and Irish singer/songwriter tradition.
I had arrived at a crossroads in some personal struggles and in my addiction — and what appeared to be an end-of-the-road financial crisis. These hymns are meant to be an intimate, personal tribute to God, as he walked me through a series of struggles and helped me to overcome my suffering with his grace.
I also had the generous help of an old friend and talented producer, Matt Wilder, who had been around to see me when I hit rock bottom. He had worked with me back then, when my drinking problem kept getting in the way. When he saw how seriously I was committed to recovery, I was able to record these songs at his studio on a tight budget, after closing, just singing and playing piano together by myself for all the takes. He then selected my best live takes.
We would later add Grammy award-winning fiddle player Jenee Fleenor and London Symphony musician/composer John Mock to the recordings. We are planning on hiring a backing band for future performances.
I obviously want to grow my audience and reach out to as many people as possible. In such a divided world we live in now I would like to restore some belief that there is something bigger out there that will bring us peace and serenity. I hope my songs focus on something other than politics. My hope is that this music will help “restore us to sanity” — myself included.
Q: Is your music Irish with American influences or American with Irish influences?
I am an American with Irish highlights. Yes, my husband is from Dublin, but I grew up in northern Virginia. My heritage is largely Irish/Scottish/and English according to my family tree.
Of late I see my main influence is Sean nos Celtic and spiritual music. I was not exposed to much American pop music growing up so I think my main influence is 1940/1950 blues, jazzand old school jazz standards of the Frank Sinatra era. Plus Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Billie Holliday, Peggy Lee and Etta James to mention just a few.
Growing up we had season tickets to Kennedy Center, and I was exposed to opera, symphonic music and performed in Handel’s Messiah along with family members at Columbia Baptist Church.
So old church hymns like “Amazing Grace,” classic composers of the Romantic era such as Chopin, and Rachmaninov and singers such as Eva Cassidy and Barbara Streisand were influences as well.
But my many visits to Ireland had a transformative impact on my music going forward. The wistful beauty of the landscape, the romance of the storytelling tradition in Ireland’s music were all very inspiring.
And meeting Chris had a similar impact on me as well. Chris came to the USA in 1990 but his feet are still planted firmly on Irish soil. All his family are there and he would bring me to seisuns in Kerry, Clare and Galway. A favorite stop off in Ireland is Gus O’ Connor’s pub in Doolin.
I was very drawn to the Sean-nos’ style of singing and love listening to local Irish musicians, The Cranberries, Enya, Saileog O Cheannabhain, Iarla O Lionaird and thetraditional Irish group ‘Danu From County Kerry.
Q: How did you two meet?
CR: I met Chris later on after college at a small party with close friends. We hit it off right away. We have been visiting his large Irish family in Dublin ever since 2011.
It was there in places like Doolin, Dingle and the West coast of Ireland that I learned about Irish seisuns. With my jazz background of improvisation, I was able to incorporate this beautiful, highly-ornamented singing style into my new album, “Be Still My Soul.” It is a bit of a challenge when recording to not change up the phrasing on each take though.
Purcell is my married name, Riddles is my maiden name. I use Clarissa Purcell for the ‘Be Still’ album and all my recent music with the ‘Celtic Spiritual’ influence. I use Clarissa Riddles on all my Jazz compositions.
This project was a new genre for me but I come from a very musical background, having sung and played piano since I was young. I grew up singing and playing church hymns. I started doing original music around 12 years of age. And then I majored in jazz piano in college.
Q: After having done this record, what plans do you have in the immediate and with your overall career.
CR: My future plans include finishing an album of love songs with producer Matt Wilder and the completed production of 10 more songs of this same kind that we’re already in the process of finishing — along with some favorite old American hymns.
With a name like Mike White one might assume he’s a pretty bland character — one who might blend into the background. But like so many things that seem to be background-able, there’s much more to the story.
Rather than being a simple everyman, White’s a “rehabilitated” gangster who has distinguished himself as a man of honor — a standup guy.
But once he’s released from a lengthy prison sentence, he finds himself a target. Miami’s most notorious criminal organization wants him dead and silenced.
This has been the premise of both “MobKing” — the web series —and the recently wrapped film which is based on it. One of the key reasons the online MobKing project has garnered millions of loyal followers from around the world, has been because of the authenticity that its creator Ciro Dapagio brought to the table.
A fascinating personality in and of itself, the Miami native did his own time in prison as well. A former participant of Florida’s organized crime network, he too served a considerable amount of time in prison for RICO violations. After being released, he pivoted, shaping a film and television career from his life experiences.
As Dapagio explained, “Spending a considerable amount of time in prison can go a very long way in changing your perspective on your life’s course and how you should live your life. There’s nothing cool about a life of crime. I wanted to do something in this life that my kids can be proud of. I want to create a better second half of my life than the first half.”
With that in mind, he joined forces with award-winning director Jorge “Jokes” Yanes who first worked on The MobKing web series and then co-wrote and directed the film. Growing up a first-generation Cuban American in the dirty south of Miami, Yanes was given the moniker "Jokes" from his graffiti artist tag. Eventually, he put down the can and started movie-making. After his breakthrough success as the creative director of “The Roof,” a prime-time Latin Urban music show on Telemundo's MUN2 where he became the first to program Reggaeton on US television.
In the early 2000s, Yanes made videos for artists such as T-Pain, Plies, Mike Jones, and Slim Thug. He directed one of YouTube's first viral videos, "GroundHog Day" by Mayday Ft. CeeLo Green. In 2009, Jokes won an Emmy for editing “Gabriel: Amor Immortal,” the first American style-mini series done for Spanish TV. After his success in the music and television scene, Jokes turned to narrative film debuting with the feature “Eenie Meenie Miney Moe” (2013) which premiered at the Miami Film Festival and received worldwide distribution. In 2013, Jokes started working with the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation to create philanthropic films on such subjects as addiction. Since then, he has directed and produced countless works for clients such as HBO, Complex, Universal Music, Atlantic Records, and Rolling Loud.
“MobKing” also stars a mix of established names such as James Russo who was in “Donnie Brasco.” Russo transformed into the role of Dominick “Dom” Sasso, the Capo di Tutti Capi of South Florida’s Sasso crime family — a respected yet ruthless leader, necessary when it comes to protecting his family interests.
Also in the film is the heavily tattooed veteran character actor Robert LaSardo — seen in many series such as “Burn Notice” and in films such as Clint Eastwood's "The Mule." And there's Paul Borghese, a familiar face in mob movies such as Martin Scorcese’s “The Irishman.” Rounding out the cast is noted up-and-comers such as Stelio Savante (“Acre Beyond the Rye”), Antoni Corone (“Into the Night”), Elisabetta Fantone (“Big Eyes”), Bruce Soscia (“Gravesend”) and fresh faces such as Oksana Lada, Artie Pasquale, and Anthony Caliendo.
In order to make his idea a reality, Dapagio joined forces with Krystal Harvey of Tiger Shark, Inc. who serves as a producer and represents Anthony Caliendo of MAINMAN Productions, Inc. as well as Ciro Dapagio Films, LLC. Caliendo is an Executive Producer as well.With Caliendo, he has formed Button Man Films, LLC for future film and TV endeavors.
In order to elaborate on his evolution from ex-con to executive producer and creator, Dapagio spoke about turning his life around after several years in prison for RICO violations as a former member of organized crime in Florida.
Q: What did you learn through the success of the web series MobKing?
CD: What surprised me the most was how well the web series was received by viewers. Their amazing response is what generated millions of views and created such an incredible fanbase for the MobKing brand. We had no expectations so its success is truly remarkable.
Q: What unique challenges did you face in turning the MobKing web series into the feature film — MobKing.
CD: Oddly enough I didn’t see any challenges. In my opinion, the process was remarkably easy. It flowed naturally, from the storytelling to the production of it.
Q: Describe the character Mike White who you play In both the web series and the film.
CD: Mike is a hard-nosed family man. He’s not afraid to push buttons to go after what he wants and needs to do in order to protect his family. He has to dig deep and find the inner power to maneuver through all of the conflicting elements in his life and come out on top.
Q: The authenticity that you bring to these projects has stirred quite a buzz. This is in no small part because you’re transparent about your past as a former participant in Florida organized crime where you spent a serious amount of time in prison for RICO violations.
CD: I’m transparent about it because I feel it’s important for young people to realize that crime is a dead end. There’s no such thing as easy money or a fast buck because its repercussions are 10-fold. You end up broke, locked up and away from your family. And that’s if you even manage to survive the racket in the first place. So, in the film, I get the beats right about organized crime which is hard to do in movies. In my opinion, the reason so many mob movies fail is their lack of authenticity. They all seem to be stuck in the “Soprano-esque” cliché mode of “I’d better get my money.” In "MobKing," I put a completely different, original spin on a classic mob tale, based on things that I may or may not have seen in my lifetime.
With the Grammy Awards freshly in mind, the state of the music world in general is also worth considering. The show presented that recent Sunday was quite the entertaining event — especially if you like the very narrow band of music genres and styles that was heard and seen. But obviously there are more sounds than what was there on the screen. Some genres are served by the various country and urban music events, but that’s hardly all that’s out there.
Nevertheless, the Grammys themselves support diversity through its many unseen award categories — 86 and counting — but those genres don’t make it on broadcast TV. Still, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which administers the Grammys, tries to make adjustments from time to time.
With all that in mind, music industry master Chris Keaton is a perfect subject with whom to disucss the state of music from the Grammys on.
An award-winning music publisher, artist management consultant and entertainment industry executive, Keaton resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his family.
Call him a song plugger, promoter, even pusher, his career in music includes many years as a touring performer, a recording artist, songwriter and record producer. He’s a member of the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and is also a 25 year-long voting member of The Recording Academy (The Grammys). He’s also served as a judge in the Miss America Organization.
He co-authored the book, “The Seven Stupid Mistakes People Make Trying To Get Into The Music Business,” and is working on his next project.
As a big believer in giving back, the 60-something has served on many boards including the Nashville Ballet, the Virginia Museum of Transportation and the Advisory Council of Nashville’s W.O. Smith Community Music School. And he’s done his share of volunteering as a mentor for Lipscomb University’s Joshua Project.
Right after the awards night, his answers to questions about the business, his role in it and what it takes to make it nowadays seemed particularly insightful. Here is that Q&A.
Q: What about the various country music awards -- and others such as the Grammys -- are they still relevant?
CK: Relevant? I don't know anything relevant but I can tell you this. Many of my peers love to complain about them. It makes me want to puke. Why? I'm glad you asked! Because being in the live audience of award shows is the most fabulous thing ever and anyone who complains about it should stop, take a deep breath and, for one moment, remember how fortunate they are to be there. One hundred or one thousand or even more people would gladly take their seat, if offered!
Award shows are the direct intersection of art and commerce. The decision ultimately is, "Will this make a television show worth viewing?" Sometimes it works and sometimes, not so much. The relevancy question, in my opinion, is with the viewers. Personally, I enjoy most but not all of the shows.
Q: With the Grammys, I wonder whether they’re irrelevant since so many categories are overlooked.
CK: I am sorry to hear that. I am a proud member of the Recording Academy and have been for 30 years. The professionals in the academy are some of the most creative game changers on the planet. Is the award system perfect? Far from it. Are we making changes to address that? Absolutely. The awards are peer-nominated and peer-voted. The show has struggled and stumbled but it has also offered up some of the most memorable once-in-a-lifetime performances ever.
Q: What do you think of the term “Americana?”
CK Not sure there could be a better label for the styles of music the genre encompasses. Then again, none of the styles of any music are "American" except for jazz. I don't know, what should we call it?
Q: What services does your company Keaton Music Ventures include?
CK: My business includes consulting services for emerging artists and their managers, creative planning for artists and songwriters as well as song plugging, critiquing and offering (mostly) valuable advice. Or as I like to tell everyone, "I’m an intergalactic tidal wave of love, creativity and magic for whom all the elements bow." OK, maybe that's a bit much! LOL!
Q: What does it mean to be Macy's Celebration Consultant -- tell me more about it?
CK: It's another one of the amazing blessings this life has bestowed upon me. I am proud to be a member of this team and it is one more creative outlet for me. The late Virgil Abloh expressed it best when he said, "If you look at why people become wack as they get older, it's because they stop doing the things they did that were formative to their work. You can't mentally stay still. You can't not challenge yourself." Style has always been important to me and I am always in search of a challenge. Macy's allows me the luxury to follow both muses.
Q: What did it feel like to be an Inductee in 2016’s North Carolina Music Hall of Fame?
CK: One of the greatest surprises in my life. I never saw it coming. In the 1980s I toured with a band in the southeastern US called the Band of Oz. In that region there is a very popular form of music referred to as "beach music.” The fans of this music are absolutely fanatic, bordering on the religious, in their love and affection for it. Being named the Band of Oz, I asked the leader, "Why don't we play "Somewhere Over The Rainbow?" His responses ranged from a yawn to suggesting that I "drop dead."
About the thousandth time I asked, he curtly responded, "I tell you what. If you want us to do that damn song so badly, go create an arrangement, record a demo and maybe, just maybe, we'll learn and record it. I accepted the challenge.
When I presented the demo they loved it. We recorded it and it became their biggest selling single. To this day it remains their signature song with which they close their show every night. When the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame offered to induct the band in 2016, they asked me to join them because of the impact of that recording. What a marvelous blessing!
Q: Yes, you’ve made music yourself — what about your own music?
CK: I live and breathe music. I play piano, saxophone and sing. There are several songs on Apple Music and Spotify which I wrote, recorded and performed over 30 years ago but I just rediscovered the tapes in 2020. I am about to release more music I have uncovered, too.
I have had a grand piano in my home for 40 years and, quite honestly, for the past 15 years have walked right past and ignored it nearly every single day. But last summer the piano called my name as I walked by and I have been playing and assembling songs daily ever since. I am absolutely in love with playing and am now writing my next album which I laughingly intend to title "Mindless Noodling," since that's what I do at the piano.
Q: How has song pitching changed, or not, over the years?
CK: It has changed dramatically. When I started as a song plugger you could literally walk into nearly anyone's office on Music Row at any time of day and meet with producers, managers and record executives and pitch songs. The space was much more open but as the city grew the doors started getting locked. Security guards were hired and a lot of the innocence went away.
Also, in the CD and cassette tape era there were typically 10 songs on an album. If you got a song and the record, and the record sold a million units, the writer and the publisher of any one of the songs would split nearly $100,000. If the song got radio airplay, even more.
Today we no longer have that avenue; if it's not a single, the song doesn't earn much. That and the streaming rates have narrowed the playing field. It made a lot of pluggers quit which to me is the bright side. I'm still here and making money.
Recently with the pandemic there has been a seismic shift to pitching online via Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype with person meetings nowadays being nearly nonexistent.
Q: Has the digital revolution and the internet affected your job?
CK: Income has dropped for sure but as I stated, with Zoom, FaceTime and Skype meetings are once again on the uptick. The opportunity for writers to find me is so much easier now. With search engines, writers from around the globe can connect with me and hire me to pitch their songs.
Q: You and Nashville seem intertwined — could you live anywhere else and do what you do?
CK: As a matter of fact, right now I could. To a certain degree. Let me explain. Since COVID shut in person meetings down, almost all of our business has been online: songwriting via Zoom, FaceTime; meetings the same, except the occasional meetings on a patio at a coffee shop or bistro. But the fact remains that someone pitching songs absolutely, positively has to have the connections, a network of industry insiders, producers, artists, managers who will answer my calls or emails.
Otherwise it's spam. Face it, the old joke has always been that most entertainment executives are abysmal about returning calls or emails from people they don't know. (In fact, it's not even a joke, it's the truth!)
The value I bring to artists and creatives truly is my network. I have rebranded myself as The Connector because I truly am the embodiment of Malclom Gladwell's definition of connectors in his book, “The Tipping Point:” Connectors are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.”
Q: How is what you do enhanced by being there — please share an anecdote or two?
CK: Because I randomly meet people, the proximity effect certainly plays a big part in my life. I am very social and not afraid to approach someone and strike up a conversation.
The late Buddy Killen was an icon, the embodiment of the American Dream in the music industry and became a mentor to me. When we moved to Nashville 29 years ago, my wife responded to a classified ad (remember those?!) for an accounting support position at a music publishing company.
When I asked how it had gone, she said, "Fine. I met the owner, Buddy Killen and he seemed to like me." I nearly passed out! I recovered and quickly asked, "Did you take the job?" She said, "They said they would call me." I implored her to call them back right away. She did. Got the job and two months after landing in Music City I was invited into Buddy's office for the first of many meetings. Through Buddy I met countless other industry giants with whom I have maintained relationships.
I have pitched songs to producers and managers at my daughter's soccer games (when she was that age). In kindergarten, my daughter was invited to ride from school to a friend’s birthday party on Vince Gill's tour bus. (The party was for his and Amy Grant's daughter. I "chaperoned " her and was able to meet and speak with Amy during the ride, beginning a friendship with her).
Q: What are some of your pitching benchmarks?
CK Meeting Buddy Killen, Waylon Jennings, Garth Brooks, Rick Derringer, Bill Aucoin (Kiss), Desmond Child ... the list really is a mile long.
My first big cut was with Sir Cliff Richard (“Climbing Up Mount Everest”). [Then came] George Strait (“Roundabout Way,” “Stars on The Water”), Brooks and Dunn (“Building Bridges”), Mike Greenly (the Contemporary State Song for the Commonwealth of Virginia), among others. Working for Barbara Orbison (Roy's widow) was pretty fabulous! My life has been and continues to be wonderful!
Q: Do you have any memories of Roy that you can share?
Unfortunately, I never met him. He passed away years before I worked for Barbara. But I did get to hold several of his guitars, see his suits and drive his vintage Mercedes Benz convertible while I was in LA on business for the company!
Q: What is the future of music and its marketing?
CK: Don't I wish I had that crystal ball! In my opinion we have to meet the fans where they are and currently they are online and on mobile devices. Those devices are the new venues and delivery systems for music. The business has changed dramatically in the past 100 years and will continue to evolve. Let's just hope the powers that be don't forget the creators and pay them their due.
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