Thursday, May 30, 2013

Westley Todd Holiday of Bending Threads: Breaking the Box

So, Duke Ellington is the LEGEND you’re celebrating this coming Saturday and Sunday as part of Bending Threads Cabaret Company's summer jazz show, which, local readers, is happening this Saturday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 2 at 3:00 p.m., with both shows being held at The Underground at 955 West End Ave. on the corner of 107th St. What inspired this choice?

I've been singing the music of Duke Ellington since high school, especially one of the solos I'm singing in the show, "I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart." He was known as the "bandmaster" of jazz and a jack of all trades –- arranger, composer, singer and much more. And I've just always identified with that kind of persona, you know? I've always had my hands in so much –- dancing, acting, singing, now producing –- so I can identify. Plus, as a musician and pianist, I just dig what he does with his vocal line and arrangements.

What does your role as music director for Bending Threads entail?

As the music director, I have the responsibility of organizing the vocal arrangements, working with our live musicians/band, coaching the singers, and teaching harmonies in rehearsals. Believe it or not, they make my job really easy, though. Kareen, Reji and Patrice are such fabulous singers and arrangers themselves. We all bounce ideas off each other and continually try to find what works best for US! I can write something, and then the flare and interpretation these people add to it is uncanny. And our rehearsals and vocal arrangements flow so organically that way. If it doesn't work, we always fix it –- no offenses, no commentaries or dwelling. They truly are superstars. Jazz is not my forte in vocal part writing, so I had to lean on them to inspire me through it all. I've grown. Honestly, it proves you can always grow...I didn't think I could grow anymore after we conquered "Dreamscape" back in 2011. Now, that alone featured 60+ songs and arrangements over a three night music-concert series. History making in Cabaret –- first of its kind.

That's an amazing accomplishment. Taking a step back, how did you come to be involved with the group?

I've known Reji & Patrice since college days at the University of Central Florida. I met Reji a week before college during the audition for the season that year. And I was in the same cast of the all African American version of "Death of A Salesman" as Patrice, which is where we met. Reji and Patrice attended an Actors' Equity workshop where a prominent casting director mentioned there was a lack of Black performers in NYC: They were either all already on Broadway or working out there on tour. And we sought to prove them differently. What we thought would be a one-event project turned out to be a venture to create opportunities for ourselves and the performers we know all around us.

Tell me a bit more about how Bending Threads operates as a company.

We are self-sufficient in the sense that we do everything: we produce, direct, and perform in our shows. In addition, the four of us each take on a different business function: Public Relations, Publicity, Music Direction and Production/Tech Management. We hire live musicians to play and Spoken Word artists to perform poetic themes for our shows.

In a little over four years, we have been nominated Best Duo/Group and Best Music Director by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs in 2010 & 2011, produced a holiday CD available on iTunes and raised money for charities such as the Salvation Army, MOVE for Autism and the Arthritis Foundation. It's a wonder any of us have time to breathe outside of rehearsals, but we love what we do.


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