We asked some of the movers and shakers, on stage and off stage, to answer these three questions and reveal some of the secrets of why this group is so immensely popular:
What are you bringing to The Summer Club in terms of your background, your talent, and your joie de vivre—your cheerful enjoyment of life?
Tell us a bit about your role and/or performance.
Tell us one thing about yourself that might delight the audience.
“I’d much rather become an audience member.”
I grew up with a deep and abiding love for the music of the Swing Band era. I loved Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Judy Garland, and all the great performers of this music. I don’t put myself on par with those historic and iconic performers, but I’m no slouch either. I bring my own performance skills as well as the admiration I have for those who made this music famous.
I’m the Executive Director of The Summer Club as well as a performer. This kind of show was something that my pal Fran Prisco, our creative director, and I dreamed about over 20 years ago. We wanted a musical “night out”—when folks got dressed up for dinner and a show at the Latin Casino in the 60s. The Summer Club is our version of that vision.
Looking at the concert series, I—along with our general manager Joey Abramowicz, and executive producer Ree Dunphy—am in charge of making the whole thing happen. There’s a structure that exists behind each show. The fun part starts when I get to sing with the band.
I grew up in Cape May, NJ, which was the place where we did our first shows, two summers ago. We’ll be there this Saturday night to kick off our third season at the shore.
“I’m a “bit of a palate cleanser.”
I am the stand-up, the Don Rickles of the Rat Pack, if you will. My role is to provide comic relief between the amazing songs.
Bit of a palate cleanser, with stories, jokes, audience participation, and basically “anything funny that isn’t singing”—since everyone on stage sings better than me!
One thing about me that might delight the audience?
I was thissss close to being Chandler on the TV show Friends. Maybe that delights an audience to hear. It usually sinks me into deep depression for six months.
Ornamental Conductor in the Jazz World
My background is, frankly, all over the place. But, as it relates specifically to The Summer Club, my original career goal was to be a jazz trombonist. Then, somewhere along the line, I wanted to be a conductor—with an aim to work in the film scoring industry. Later, I found a passion for composition and orchestration. In all of these fields, I was lucky enough to study with some of the best, and pursue each discipline individually, and often, concurrently, for most of my formative years.
Ultimately, the trombone playing and conducting mostly fell by the wayside, and I got my degree in Composition. Since then, that has been the primary focus of my career—with a little arranging and orchestrating thrown in the mix. It is only occasionally that I’ve dipped back into the conducting world, with The Summer Club being the most recent endeavor on that front.
My role as music director with The Summer Club is two-fold: I’m charged with creating all of the arrangements (or in jazz terms, “charts”) for the show. My goal is usually to be as faithful as possible to the original arrangements with which we’re all familiar. I’m trying to re-create that first sound. Now, one might initially think such a task unnecessary—under the assumption that a person could simply rent or purchase charts for many of these tunes. However, unless you have access to Nelson Riddle’s private archives, authentic arrangements are hard to come by. Yes, some re-creations (aka “transcriptions”) can be found, on occasion. But, more often than not, the workmanship is poor—and more so, the authenticity is severely lacking. I’m not sure if this is due to laziness or lack of skill.
In any event: to get as close as possible to the sound we want, I need to build all of this music from scratch. That task can involve countless hours of listening to recordings, notating what I hear, and so on. The work can be incredibly tedious, but it is also enjoyable—taking apart how those original charts were built. I consider myself to be very knowledgeable in this arena, but I never fail to learn something different with each new arrangement. The individuals who created those originals were true masters.
Yet, I’m still a creative artist in my own right. So, while I wish to maintain many of the basic ideas and the spirit of the originals, I always try to put my own personal stamp on each chart. Even with my most faithful re-creations, there is always a little something new I’ve thrown in there. For many of our charts, I have ventured out entirely on my own, but these are usually for songs which have no “definitive” interpretation.
My second role with The Summer Club is as conductor in performance. In the jazz world, for big bands like this, the conductor is somewhat ornamental. These musicians are skilled enough that they don’t often need me up there—at least not to keep tempos. They listen to each other and can keep it together on their own. However, I like to think that the musicians glean something from my presence in front of them. They react to my enthusiasm and energy. When I’m excited about something, they see and feel that—and it affects their performance. It really is thrilling to connect and make music together with them. There’s nothing like it—especially with the caliber of musicians we’re lucky enough to have in our orchestra.
My biggest joy is getting to sing in front of the band. There is very little that can make me happier. I grew up listening to this type of music. My parents are big fans, and I’m thrilled to get to share this show with our audience.
As The Summer Club’s creative director, many of my ideas have made it onto the stage. However, one of my favorite parts of putting this show together is the collaboration between all of the “creatives.” It truly is a collaborative effort, and you can’t ask for a better group to work with. As for the performance, forgive my hubris, but I’ll let the show speak for itself.
“Fill my heart with song, let me sing forever more.” This line from “Fly Me to the Moon” is a joy to sing, and I mean it every time I get to belt it.
“Working with the most fun and talented people in the business.”
I earned a Master’s degree in stage management as well as a Bachelor’s degree in directing, and have worked as a stage manager and a production manager in New York, Las Vegas, and many other venues all over the country. Currently, I’m working as the assistant production manager at the Walnut Street Theatre, where I manage all production and technical aspects of 15+ shows per season, in multiple venues.
Bringing all my experiences to The Summer Club as the stage and production manager, I handle all technical aspects of our shows. I make sure all of our boys are always in their best light and sound like a million bucks.
While I try to make it look easy, the boys are actually quite a handful. It takes a lot of work to keep these guys on track, but there’s also much love between everyone. It’s a treat to be a part of the show. Best of all: we get to work with the most fun and talented people in the business. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Former gold medalist acrobat, bringing fashion and style to the show.
I also try to make sure our performers are carefree and don’t have a thing to worry about—except entertaining our audiences.
During my former life as a competitive acrobat, I won seven National Gold Medals as well as a Gold and Silver World Title from 1990-1994.
You can meet all of these amazing contributors to The Summer Club during any of their three shows in New Jersey, which will present a brand new program, featuring Jeff Coon and his super-talented friends: J.P. Dunphy, Fran Prisco, Michael Phillip O’Brien, Rachel Brennan, and Tony Braithwaite—plus Larry Lees, conducting one of the best big bands on the East coast.
July 23rd from 8 to 10 pm at Cape May Convention Hall – 714 Beach Avenue, in Cape May, NJ.
July 30th and August 5th at Avalon Community Center – 3001 Avalon Avenue, in Avalon, NJ.
For more articles on Jeff Coon, click the links below:
An Interview With Jeff Coon On The Arden’s ‘Secret Garden: Part 1: An Outstanding Father On and Off the Stage
An Interview with Jeff Coon: Part 2: Raising His Two Children in His Own Special Secret Garden
“My busy, wacky, wonderful life”: Parents on stage and off stage, THE ADDAMS FAMILY (Media Theatre)
SHOWTIME, from Cape May and back: Great theatre artists inspire the next generation
Originally published by DCMetroTheaterArts.