Friday, July 25, 2014

Pheaturing Peter Calandra

Hey there, welcome to the Phile once again for a Friday. How are you? As you probably know the Phile was on hiatus from February all the day through this month. Some of you are still wondering what happened and where I was all that time. Well, I will settle it once and for all.

Yes, people, I was floating around in space. Looking sad as well apparently. That's so stupid. Christmas came early for the Internet yesterday, as someone unveiled his special named-Coke-can version of the classic nativity scene using cans sold in Mexico, where these four names are fairly common.

There's so much to like about this photo, despite its simplicity. First of all, it confirms many people's suspicions that Jesus was a darker-colored can than centuries of European church doctrine have taught us. I mean, he could have used a white-and-blonde Caffeine-Free Diet Coke can, but that would have been the biggest sacrilege I can imagine. Finally, we can't see the top of Maria's can, so we'll just have to take it on faith that it was, indeed, unopened. It's probably not a marketing ploy, since even Coca-Cola probably wouldn't try to appropriate a religion while making a joke about Hispanic names, all while being 5 months early. Probably. Merry Julymas, everyone.  During a court appearance for that bizarre bicycle-related screamfest that got him arrested in New York City a few months back, actor Alec Baldwin was forced by a Manhattan Criminal Court judge to "be a good boy from now on." This may seem like a tough thing for a 56 year old man to endure, but really he was just happy for the attention. I bet a lot of people have been woken up to the sound of Alec Baldwin yelling.  So, you might not want to watch the new trailer for the upcoming film adaptation starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan... of that best-selling book your mom keeps reading over and over again, because now you're gonna know exactly what was going through her head while she was sitting next to you on the couch. I'd watch the 50 Shades trailer but I'm a little tied up right now. According to recent research, that happy little octopus with all those cute waving arms at the local aquarium is into some really dark shit in the bedroom. A new paper published in Molluscan Research explains how strangulation and cannibalism are regularly incorporated into octopi's mating rituals. Now see if you can eat noodles without thinking about an octopus sex party.  Remember that enormous charred hole that opened up in the earth in some godforsaken corner of Russia? Neither do I. Anyway. Good news! Now there's two! So, it would appear as though Armageddon is really speeding up. Which is kind of good news. Any chance it'll get here before the 50 Shades of Grey movie opens? Fingers crossed.  Yesterday I told you the story of a girl's smiling selfie from Auschwitz that had people angry. Well, there was another photo that no one is blinking an eye about... and should be.

What the hell? That's so stupid.  Another story I mentioned yesterday was air conditions in Western Wisconsin are currently 66% humidity, 85% flying insects. Well, a Phile reader from Wisconsin sent me this photo...

Man alive, that's fucking gross. I can't imagine.  Well, there's a new movie coming out about Paddington Bear, who I am not sure that most American's know about. My sister on the other hand was a big fan of Paddington as well as my mum. Anyway, I'm not so sure about the movie when I saw this screen grab...

Why is he in a grave?  Let this scene grab from from the upcoming Syfy epic film Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda stand as testimony to all the naysayers who nayly said that Conan O'Brien's major motion picture acting debut would be less than dignified. Or "cheesy," if you will.

You know, until just now I assumed that Matthew McConaughey had the Emmy for Best Actor in a Program About Lovecraftian Demon-Monsters wrapped up. But now I think this is gonna be a real competition.  San Diego Comic Con is going on right now and I don't know if you saw but they have reveled a new Han Solo action figure for Episode 7.

Okay, that is really bad looking. And I am not sure the movie will be called Rise of the Sith. I think that's fake.  Okay, it's Summer and all through Summer I am showing you some different bikinis that you might run into at the beach. Not me, I don't like the beach. Anyway, check it out. In 2009, Designer Pistol Panties created the Swarovski crystal-coated Bling-kini, which was on sale at Selfridges for £2,000 (almost $3,500), or £100 ($170) per square centimeter.

Maybe you won't see it at the beach. And now for...

That should be an easy one to figure out. Okay, so, like I said San Diego Comic Con is happening right now, and as I didn't have a Star Wars Month this year as the Phile was on hiatus, I thought this would be a good time to invite a good friend to the Phile... one of the Phile's most popular characters. He's a bounty hunter by day and a stand up comedian at night, straight from the Outlands, please welcome back to the Phile...

Tractor: Hello, great to be back here. What's the difference between a dianoga and a lawyer?

Me: I don't know, what?

Tractor: One's a garbage-diving parasite... and the other's a dianoga.

Me: Hey, I know a few really good lawyers. My brother-in-law is a lawyer for crying out loud.

Tractor: Wanna hear another one?

Me: Yeah, sure.

Tractor: Which Neimoidian spoke only in three-line poems?

Me: I don't know.

Tractor: Rune Haiku.

Me: Clever, but most people won't get that, Tractor.

Tractor: How about this one? What was Count Dooku's favorite game?

Me: I don't know. Count something?

Tractor: Jenga Fett.

Me: Okay, now you are getting desperate.

Tractor: I have one more, laser brain. Why did Darth Vader visit a Verizon store?

Me: I don't know. Why?

Tractor: He needed a hands-free device. That's it, don't eat the bantha.

Me: Tractor Beam, everybody.

Okay, the 32nd book to be pheatured in the Phile's Book Club is...

Jeremy Croston will be a guest on the Phile in a few weeks. Okay, guess what time it is? He's a patriot, singer and renaissance man... you know what time it is.

A tree planted in honor of George Harrison has to be cut down due to being infested by Beetles. In related stories... The Beach Boys all got sunburns, Klaus Meine was bitten by a scorpion and Don Henley was attacked by an eagle. Random thought of the day... It's been said that good things come to those who wait... Tell that to the guy in the waiting room about to get a colonoscopy.

Okay, today's guest is a New York City based composer and pianist. He is most well known for his work composing music for film and television as well as conducting and playing piano in Broadway and Off Broadway productions. His latest CD "Ashokan Memories" is available on iTunes. This guy is more interesting than I thought. Haha. He's not just a New Age piano player. Anyway, please welcome to the Phile... Peter Calandra.

Me: Hey there, Peter, welcome to the Phile. How are you?

Peter: I'm doing well.

Me: You're from New York, right? What part?

Peter: Brooklyn born, grew up in Northport, NY.

Me: I grew up in Port Jefferson... ever been there?

Peter: Yes I have and was just out there last fall taking the ferry to Bridgeport.

Me: Okay, you are piano player, and have been playing for a long time. How long have you been playing piano, Peter?

Peter: Started picking out melodies on the piano at age 6. Started a few years of lessons right after that, spent a few years learning to play by ear and then had a couple years of classical piano lessons in high school before attending college.

Me: You're a jazz or New Age musician really, right? Was that the first genre's of music you got into?

Peter: I have always been sensitive to music even before i started playing the piano. Some of my earliest memories are of walking around with melodies floating around in my head. I was very attracted to blues rock music like Traffic (John Barleycorn), Allman Brothers (Chuck Leavell specifically) during my early teens. I learned how to play by ear, the piano solos from "Empty Pages" and "Jessica". Then there was exposure to jazz piano in early high school after being given given a stack of jazz piano albums by a family friend. They were some great albums by Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington, Hampton Hawes, and a few others.

Me: You don't just do jazz though. You wrote music for over forty movies. What?! That's crazy! What are some of the movies you wrote for?

Peter: Two of my earliest movies were very successful independent films. Unknown Soldier won the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2004, played in festivals all over the world and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award (Currently on Netflix). In 2005 I scored another independent film, Jellysmoke starring Michael Ealy that won the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2005 and was also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. More recently I scored a really great film in 2010/2011 called Rise. In 2011 there was a feature length documentary about Oprah Winfrey's girls school in South Africa that aired on OWN. In 2012 I scored a fun romantic comedy, BearCity 2 and have also scored two films for ESPN, Unmatched (2012) that was part of the "30 for 30" series and Pat XO (2013) that was part of the "9 for 9" series.

Me: What is your favorite movie you were part of?

Peter: Rise was a great experience. The film was directed by my friends Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern and produced by the USFSA. It was a memorial to the tragic 1961 plane crash that wiped out the entire US Figure skating team, coaches and some family members. The story was very emotional and in addition to interviews there was incredible archival footage featured thru out the film. Skating is usually inspired by beautiful music and, in reverse, it was very inspiring to compose the score to a film featuring many clips of incredible figure skating. The film screened on the 50th anniversary of the crash at the BestBuy Theater in Times Square and was a Fathom Event hosted by Matt Lauer broadcast to over 550 theaters across America. Additionally, they screened two videos using excerpts of my score with people skating to the music. One featured Evan Lysecek, Gold Medal winner at the Vancouver Olympics who choreographed a routine to a cue from the film. The entire project was almost magical for me in many ways and the music just flowed. I even got a chance to collaborate on writing and producing a vocal theme song with singer/songwriter/artist Joy Askew. This project was the best composing experience so far.

Me: And you wrote 2000 compositions for TV... that's a lot. I wrote over 700 entries of the Phile, but that's nothing compared to what you have done. Anyway, what are some of the TV shows you wrote music for?

Peter: Between production/library music that has been placed and actual shows I have worked on, my music has been in over 260 shows broadcast here in the USA and in 60 countries worldwide. Some of the shows are "Sesame Street", "Hope and Faith", "All My Children", "Dog Whisperer", "Unlikely Animal Friends", Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, "The View," "The Today Show", "CBS Evening News", "The Early Show", "Sunday Morning News", "Good Morning America", "20/20", "Primetime Thursday", "The Bachelor", "Wife Swap", "America's Most Wanted", "MLB on FOX", "NFL on Fox", "Football Night In America", "Sports Science", "Real Time With Bill Maher", "Wicked Tuna", "Average Joe", "NBA on NBC", NBC Olympic Broadcasts since 2000, Martha Stewart. I also composed theme songs for many sports shows. Some of the shows currently on air are "Big Ten Network: Greatest Games" and "Big Ten's Best", "Comcast SportsNet", "Comcast SportsNite", Hockey and postgame live and college sports themes, "Madison Square Garden Network", "HockeyNight Live". "SNY Geico SportsNight"

Me: Wow. That's a lot. Is there a big difference in writing for movies and TV?

Peter: In my experience, there is a difference. Theme songs need to create a recognizable 'brand' that drives a show. Much TV programming (with the exception of dramatic series) has music that deals with momentary on screen activities and not with a long arc for story telling. Film deals with a longer form story and the music is part of that. For me, this means you have to think about developing themes and musical textures that support the narrative over the duration of the film.

Me: Do you get lots of freedom or does the director or producer or whoever tell you what you need to do?

Peter: It depends on the project and the people involved. Some people are very hands on and some are less so. There always is, at the minimum, a discussion about tone and direction of the music and how it fits into the project.

Me: How did you start in this field, Peter?

Peter: I started out in the late 1990s by writing a few hundred tracks of production music for "Killer Tracks" and "FOX Sports". All that work was a great experience as it made me really learn how to record and mix music and learn music technology which is the basis for my work now.

Me: You probably can go anywhere in the world, turn on the TV and hear some of your music, am I right?

Peter: Not all but many places for sure.

Me: You have also worked on Broadway shows, but I don't think you have written music for them, am I right?

Peter: Correct. While I have done it, writing vocal songs is not my forte.

Me: You played for "Les Miserables", "Miss Saigon", "Phantom" and "The Lion King." That has to be the most poppiest of music you have done... "The Lion King."

Peter: Actually the first show I did, "Little Shop Of Horrors" was the poppiest music and to be honest, the best experience of all. I loved being in that show. I was very young and in addition to how great the show was, the entire scene that evolved around the show was amazing and many of the people involved with it have become lifelong friends.

Me: Does it take you long to learn a piece?

Peter: It depends on the music, some music seems to just fit and learning it is effortless while some music takes an incredible effort to learn.

Me: You must've seen hundred and hundreds of shows? Is there anything that happened wrong on stage that you witnessed, or anything in the audience that you witnessed that stuck out?

Peter: Actually, I think the number of performances over the past 30 years comes out to over 6500. Musical Theater has become a very complex, team endeavor and while most nights things go well, over the course of a long run things happen, scenery gets stuck on stage or doesn't fly in properly. Actors forget lines, musicians play some wrong notes. One time at "Miss Saigon", the conductor had to leave the podium in the middle of a song as he was passing a kidney stone, the bassoon player who was the assistant conductor got up on the podium in mid song, took the baton from the conductor (who rushed out of the the theater to the hospital) and started conducting. It actually went pretty seamlessly but was an interesting experience. One night at "Little Shop Of Horrors", the actor who played the dentist and various other roles in the second act, hit his head going down the stairs and had a huge gash and was bleeding profusely. He needed to rush to the hospital. No understudies were available so the only alternative was to have the stage manager go on for him the rest of the show. This was especially funny in the part when that character plays a woman and the stage manager had a beard. There are so many.

Me: Okay, let's talk about one of your newest CD's... "Ashokan Memories". What does Ashokan mean? Is that a place?

Peter: Ashokan is an area in the Catskills region of New York State and the title of this song refers to the Ashokan Reservoir which is a huge body of water (that feeds the NYC water system) surrounded by mountains. Its really breathtaking. The Catskills and Hudson Valley is a very beautiful area that i love very much and the entire album is dedicated to places in the area.

Me: The CD is just you playing piano, right? It's really a solo CD.

Peter: Yes, solo piano music!

Me: Did it take you long to write the music for it?

Peter: I wrote the music in August of 2012.

Me: Where was it recorded?

Peter: I have summer home in the Catskills and built a project studio next to the house. I usually spend the entire month of August up there. Every day that August I would go into the studio, clear my head and improvise piano music with the recorder on. The album contains the best of those sessions.

Me: I have never been to the Catskills, what is there to do there?

Peter: Great hiking, biking, in the Summer there are lots of music festivals of all kinds that take place. Even something as simple as sitting on the deck watching nature unfold can be a very interesting endeavor. The natural beauty is really great and, unlike NYC or Long Island, it's not really crowded unless you go into Woodstock or New Paltz.

Me: You must really love New York, you released an album years ago called "Sunrise Over New York". Where in New York is your favorite place to go?

Peter: There are a wide variety of places in NY that i like, from Montauk to the East Village, to Central Park to Prospect Park to the Catskills, the Shawangunks. New York is a pretty big state with lots of attractions.

Me: So, where was the cover of the CD taken? It's a panoramic shot of the Ashokan Reservoir I took with my phone!

Me: Okay, so, you wrote an album about The Catskills, and one about the city. You need to do an album about Long Island. Whatcha think?

Peter: I might have to pass on the Long Island album. Way too much drama out there for me :)... But never say never...

Me: Seriously, what projects are you working on right now, Peter? Anything you can talk about? 

Peter: Currently I am scoring a feature length documentary that will be a permanent exhibit in a major historical library.

Me: Okay, on the Phile I ask random questions thanks to Tabletopics. Are you ready? Who has inspired you as a mentor and why?

Peter: There are a few teachers that were very inspiring and important to my development not only as a musician but as an adult. My high school piano teacher, Russell Stevenson was one of the first people who really showed an interest in my talents. In college there were two teachers, Sol Berkowitz and Howard Brofsky who both took an interest in mentoring me. Sol was a composer/orchestrator who had worked on Broadway, TV and films in the 1960s. He would give me extra work in classes designed to help me develop skills that would be invaluable during my career in these fields. Howard was the only teacher at Queens College in the late 1970s early 1980s that taught any jazz improvisation classes (in the late 1980s he, along with Jimmy Heath, successfully pushed for the establishment of a Masters level degree in jazz performance that is now a very successful program attracting students from all over the world). He would often give me suggestions of things to practice/ transcribe on the piano to develop my musical vocabulary. After college, he got me involved with the artist/musician Larry Rivers Climax Band that Howard and I performed in for 16 years. I was close to all of these men until they passed on and miss them all greatly.

Me: I have to ask you about Aretha Franklin... you worked with her? When and how was that?

Peter:  In the early 2000s I performed a series of concerts with her and her band what was called the John Harms Center in Englewood, NJ. On one hand it was a great experience as her Atlantic sides recorded in Muscle Shoals during the late 1960s/ early 1970s is some of my favorite music. On the other hand I thought the concerts were not very well rehearsed and performed so ultimately while I got to perform with a legend it was a frustrating experience. One that, however, I am grateful to have had.

Me: I heard she is tough to work for, Peter, is that true?

Peter: That question is above my pay grade :)

Me: Fair enough. Haha. Thanks for being on the Phile. Mention your website and take care. Continued success, sir, and I cannot wait to hear your Long Island record. Haha.

Peter: Thank you, Jason. Great questions. Here are my online/social media sites: My website is: Facebook:  Twitter: Soundcloud:  YouTube: Updates and new content are regularly posted on all those sites. Feel free to connect and subscribe to any of those sites. Thanks again!

Well, that about does it for this entry. Thanks to Laird Jim and Peter Calandra. Next Friday I'll be at Tampa Bay Comic Con, but the Phile will be back next Thursday with Phile Alum Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz from Weird Al Yankovics's Band, who has the number one album right now! Very cool, right? Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.

Not if it pleases me. No, you can't stop me, not if it pleases me. - Graham Parker.

No comments: