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?
Once in a lifetime. I will cherish that musical moment together forever.
One year later, he passed away.
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 Civic Theatre is thrilled to welcome Vintage Mix to our stage!
Vintage Mix is a mixed quartet of 16-year-old quadruplets that enjoy singing Barbershop, A Cappella, Standards, Show Tunes, Hymns, and Jazz selections. They are the 2016 and 2017 Wisconsin State High School Quartet Champions and have recently qualified as one of only two quartets to represent the US in a World Mixed Quartet competition in Munich, Germany this spring. You can support their journey here.
Over the past two and a half years, Vintage Mix has had many opportunities to perform both locally and nationally: Pittsburgh for the 2015 International Barbershop Convention; Reno for the 2016 Mid-Winter Convention; San Antonio for the 2017 Mid-Winter Convention; on the USS Milwaukee; Navy Pier for the Chicago Toy and Game Fair; WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour in Lexington, Kentucky; the Cannery Ballroom; the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville; and the nationally syndicated news show Fox & Friends out of New York. Most recently, they performed the National Anthem at Lambeau Field for the 2017 Green Bay Packers Family Night.
Vintage Mix has been recording since 2016. They have three singles available and an EP that released January 1, 2018. They are juniors at Waukesha West High School where they sing with the Concert Choir and the Master Singers. Although they have been singing for just a short time, we are sure you will enjoy this young, talented quartet.
Opening for Vintage Mix is the Easy Days Barbershop Quartet. They are all members of The Midwest Vocal Express (MVE), a championship Barbershop Chorus from Greendale, WI. Easy Days competes as a Seniors quartet in the Barbershop Harmony Society contests, and has placed in the Top 10 in both the Illinois and L.O.L District contests. They are the 2009 Land O’ Lakes District Seniors Champions.
Enjoyed by audiences of all ages, Easy Days has established a reputation as a good singing, entertaining, full-of-fun quartet. Easy Days performs a fast paced, 45 minute floor show featuring a repertoire filled with familiar songs of the 30s and 40s, arranged to please audiences of all ages. Audiences appreciate Easy Days’ breezy banter and style which sets them apart from other a capella performers.