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A Blizzard Of Blessings

My ears were assaulted by a cacophony of blaring traffic horns like angry saxophones and choirs of animated conversation.

My eyes were blinded by motion and light. Brightly backlit advertisements for products and places that I was being told I absolutely needed in my life if I hoped to survive.

My nose drew in the cool night air, colored with a mixture of aromas my brain was sifting through and identifying as a World’s Fair of cuisines cooking around me.

Foods and spices, exhaust and perfumes, tobacco and garbage, desperation and dreams.

The energy of over 1.5 million human souls coursed through my consciousness as some of their bodies brushed by me in the determined dance ritual of an unrelenting and constant mass commute.

Total. Sensory. Overload.

In other words, just another Monday night in midtown Manhattan.

I was walking into Iridium, an amazing jazz club that hosts the best of the best in music. This night was no exception. Anticipation filled the air as we all awaited the entrance of a great man and his invention, creating music that would fly from the stage into our ears, and then out into the universe, vibrational energy waves traveling farther than imaginable and living on forever.

I had been invited there by the star himself.

He was down to earth and funnier than most comedians I know. He was kind and inspiring, encouraging me in my musical endeavors.

He was the Wizard of Waukesha.

He was Les Paul.

And tonight he was ready to play.

He was strumming. He was picking. He was laughing. He was swinging. He was on fire!

He was… inviting me up to play piano and sing?

Yes, please.

Once in a lifetime.  I will cherish that musical moment together forever.

One year later, he passed away.

Left To Right: Johnny Rodgers, Les Paul, Danny Mallon, Joe Ravo, Brian Glassman (not pictured)

 

Now keep in mind, I did not know what Waukesha was and why he was the Wizard of it when we finally had the chance to get to know each other.

I also did not know at that moment what an important part of my life Waukesha was going to become.

That year I was living in New York City in the throes of rehearsing for my first Broadway show, “Liza’s At The Palace,” starring, of course, the amazing Liza Minnelli.

I had been living in New York City for quite some time, after growing up in Miami, FL, and attending 4 colleges in 6 years… it’s a long story for another time.

I had been working with Liza for over a decade, first as her pianist and accompanist and featured guest, then as a singer/dancer/piano player for the Broadway run, both of which offered me the opportunity to learn different skill sets from a genuine entertainment legend, from the best seat in the house.

And beyond that, she is a true friend.

Liza taught me so many valuable lessons that I think of to this day.

And our classroom was sold-out stages all over the globe.

We even recorded a duet together which is being officially released very soon.

Photo: Bill Westmoreland

The DVD of the “Liza’s At The Palace” is available through PBS.

Liza would tell me stories of her Uncle Frank (yes, Sinatra), Dean, and Sammy. Liza actually stepped in for Dean and toured with Frank and Sammy for years in a concert titled “The Ultimate Event.”

She learned from the best also, and was so very kind and generous in sharing those lessons with me. I am forever grateful.

So it’s really quite a natural and organic process for me to pay homage to the Rat Pack. Not only are they a part of history, but in many ways they are directly a part of my personal musical history.

YouTube Clip Featuring Liza Minnelli with Johnny Rodgers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5itHAAgLQYU

After the Broadway run, my NYC band, the Johnny Rodgers Band (clever name, I know) traveled for six years as Ambassadors of American Music for the US Dept. of State.

Once more, I packed my bags and traveled all over the globe, playing in Embassies, military installations, small villages, and just about anywhere else you can imagine.

The Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, Russia, Belarus, Malaysia, Cambodia, Petra… the list goes on and on.

What did I learn? Good people are good people, wherever you may find yourself on this little ball of dust. Music builds bridges between those people.

Felix Mendelssohn, the great classical composer, once said, “Music is a much more precise language than words.”

I have found this to be absolutely true.

In the words of Johnny Cash, “I’ve been everywhere, man.”

At some point I realized that although I loved living in Manhattan, I was feeling the need to spread out a bit. My tour schedule is ambitious at times and I have to travel to do what I love. But I needed a home base that would offer me a respite from the road.

I tried many places, moving from New York to Nashville, Nashville to Chicago, Chicago to Waukesha. My beautiful wife, Stephanie, was born and raised in Waukesha. She comes from great stock, and I am grateful for how supportive and loving my extended family is. I’m a lucky guy.

Once I found Waukesha, “Guitar City,” the birthplace of my fast musical friend, Les Paul, a feeling washed over me.

It was a strange feeling, a feeling that I’d not felt since I grew up in Miami.

It was calm. It was peaceful. It was gorgeous. It was full of musical history and energy.

It was home.

And it feels so good to be home.

 

 

Discover more about Johnny at johnnyrodgers.com

The Waukesha State Bank Art Gallery Presents: Artists From The Springs Pump House Art Gallery

The Springs originally was the site of three springs in the era, hence the name and three colors in the logo. The Springs’ location at 521 Wisconsin Ave., was formerly the Spring City Pattern Works (wood pattern factory) in early 1900’s. This founding company was later paired with Leitner’s Auto Body Shop on the 519 side. Most Waukesha residents today recall the Springs as a cooperative Antique Store for 25 years until 2008 when purchased by the current owners and transitioned into The Springs: Gallery, Studio, and Creativity Pumphouse.

 

Cathryn Ruvalcaba

The true origin of my artistic journey was a visually rich childhood spent in a small town on a high farming plateau in Washington State. I was especially drawn to the animals on those picturesque farms.  To me, they all had very distinct personalities and a quiet dignity.  And, though my adult life took me into big cities, my heart has always been happiest roaming the pasturelands and barnyards.

In midlife, I was drawn to oil painting and sought out classes and workshops.  I have been very fortunate to train with several excellent painters.  My artistic education began with classical training in oil painting and portraiture finally settling into Russian Impressionism. The hallmark of this Russian Impressionistic style is the impact of the rich, glowing light found in the early morning and late evening hours – that luscious low-slung light that electrifies the edges of everything it touches.  This is what moves me and this is what I love to paint.

 

Rose Lange

Rose Lange is a professional artist and educator living  and working in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Rose enjoys the challenge, and loves surprising viewers, by up-cycling  found materials like old jewelry, beads, small toys and chip bags in creating mixed-media mosaics and small, whimsical figurative sculptures.

Rose creates in her private studio at  The Springs Gallery and Studios, and also exhibits and sells her work at The Almont Gallery in downtown Waukesha.

Rose has been the Art Specialist for Waukesha Catholic School System since 2001.

 

Cyndy Baran

Cyndy had a near death encounter with a city bus soon after relocating to Nashville for her business career, which brought home the message, ”If you want to make art…you’d better get to making it!” Soon after, she quit her day job, enrolled in Art School and she’s been making art ever since.

She has worked in a variety of mediums and genres including figure, landscape, and most recently abstraction. Her work has been juried into competitions both regionally and nationally

“Bold colors and composition draw me into the creative process. The body intuitively knows what it needs, and if you listen to that voice, it will guide you to the place you need to be at that moment. By creating calm among the chaos of life, I am able to hear my own voice, and thus, better hear the voices of those around me.”

 

Thomas Buchs – Oil Painting

I attended Layton School of Art and became an Illustrator, creating artwork for advertising, and children’s books for many local and national companies during the last 46 years. Much of my current work is Plein Air Painting (painting from life outdoors). I try to capture the light and atmosphere of a scene within a few hours. I believe that a painting is not just a two dimensional illusion, but also that of a moment in life, captured by an artist on canvas. I have received many awards from local advertising associations, and nationally from The Society of Illustrators, as well as dozens of awards in Plein Air painting competitions around the country. My studio can now be found at Atelier/Plein Air at The Springs Gallery and Studios.

 

Nancy Wilson

I am a landscape architect who has a passion for fiber arts. I learned to weave and hand spin yarn 32 years ago at a community art center in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I enjoy sharing my love of fiber arts with the people who visit the markets and fairs I attend through spinning and weaving demonstration.  In 2016, I realized my dream of having a studio. Lost Art Fiber and Textile Studio at The Springs Gallery and Studios is open for workshops. In addition to teaching adults, I’ve enjoyed working with schools and students in discovering the creative possibilities in fiber arts. I am inspired by color and texture, especially those found in nature. In addition to the thrill of working with the elements of color and texture, I have found that fiber art activities can provide a meditative experience. I am currently a member of the Wisconsin Handweavers Guild and Madison Weaving Guild. In 2014, I started Common Threads Fiber Group that meets at the Waukesha Public Library. I do volunteer work at Donna Lexa Art Center in Waukesha and Angel’s Grace Hospice program where we create a commemorative weaving during their annual remembrance ceremony.