Grateful

The Songs of John Bucchino 20th Anniversary Concert

by Alix Cohen

“Twenty years ago, I got a phone call from a fellow named Billy Rosenfield at RCA Records. He told me he had a small budget to do an album and liked my songs…At that point I’d been in New York 7 years and had met an extraordinary array of artists…” Every single vocalist said yes, when Bucchino asked. The CD was called Grateful, the Songs of John Bucchino. On this, its 20th Anniversary, at the behest of producer/vocalist Jessica Fishenfeld, the writer has put together a virtual concert featuring 10 songs from the album- many performed by original singers, plus 5 others. Bucchino accompanies all songs but one.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to NYC’s eminently worthy Ali Forney Center for support of homeless LGBTQ youth.

Performing are: Tony and Grammy winner Leslie Odom Jr., legendary composer Stephen Schwartz, Broadway and TV star Corey Cott, R&B singer Mykal Kilgore, Tony nominee Ann Hampton Callaway, award-winning songwriters Amanda McBroom, Will Reynolds, and Alexander Sage Oyen, cabaret luminaries Andrea Marcovicci, Lois Sage, David Campbell, and Natalie Douglas, crossover singers Jessica Fishenfeld and Scott Joiner, and renowned Swedish soprano sax player Anders Paulsson.

“This song made me think not about what I lack, but focus on what I have.” Michael Kilgore sings “Grateful” with a tenor that exudes vulnerability. The artist is a communicator. I’ve got a roof over my head/I’ve got a warm place to sleep…I’ve got a heart that can love/I’ve got a mind that can think…’Just goes to show you don’t need an edifice to pray. “When I first received and played “Sepia Life” on my car radio, I had to pull over and cry.” Andrea Marcovicci conjures living inside a daguerreotype, craving color. Musically, this is a glass mountain. The sensitive actress takes charge.

Corey Cott was a Jr. at Carnegie Mellon when he took classes from Bucchino. The vocalist performs “Unexpressed” with great tenderness: Sometimes I think my heart will burst/Like a balloon inside my chest/With all the love that’s waiting here-unexpressed…closure is deft both vernally and vocally. As enacted by Jessica Fishenfeld, “The Song with Violins” arrives a scene-in-one. Given to suit her voice, it comes alive with dark comic truth.

From Sweden, Soprano Saxophonist Anders Paulsson plays “It Feels Like Home.” The song wraps around feelings like a vintage blanket, familiar, soft, warm, perhaps gently frayed; valued. It’s lovely. The origin of “Sweet Dreams” is Bucchino’s sitting in a diner when a Greyhound Bus pulls in, concocting lives for exiting passengers. The songwriter plumbs contemporary stories with the American universality of Norman Rockwell. David Campbell’s interpretation is melodic, restrained, dignified.

Leslie Odom Jr. also met Bucchino when in college. “Grateful pointed the way and showed me the spirit with which I should walk the path.” Keyboard sounds like a harpsichord. Think of your career/ and tell him what you think he wants to hear…is practical, if cynical advice.

The artist is wonderfully expressive without going over the top. “When John gave me “Restaurant by the Sea,” it spoke to me so deeply, I thought how am I going to get through it?” Ann Hampton Callaway muses. Observing a bleak landscape, she radiates a powerful sense of longing, exhaling the song.

I recorded the song “Temporary” 20 years ago. I had three children at home. Now I have three grandchildren,” Lois Sage tells us. Do you know the word temporary?/It means only for a little while/Everything is temporary…she sings. The song has a classical feel. Sage’s vocal penetrates with grandeur. Her son, Alexander Sage Oyen notes he’s been singing his song since age 8. “Taking the Wheel” is exhilarating pop-making up a dance, rolling down a hill, riding a bicycle without hands. Oyen has an ingénue voice and just the right giddy tone.

From a revue called It’s Only Life, the inimitable writer Stephen Schwartz sings “Love Quiz.” Thanks for playing my romantic lead/Even if only in the version I colorized, he quotes with admiration. “This song perfectly captures the rueful quality of a relationship that should’ve worked but didn’t.” It’s brave, innocent, hopeful, a little clumsy and putty in Schwartz’s hands.

That’s the Grateful portion.

Real Enough to Change My Mind” (great title) from Lavender Girl, is performed by Jessica Fishenfeld and her fiancé Scott Joiner. Joiner met Bucchino in an elevator when he moved in to a new building and was spontaneously handed a CD as welcome. “I was mesmerized,” he recalls. The pair perform to a richly orchestrated track. Voices are terrific, lyric meaning paramount. If only they looked at each other more.

Bucchino recollects the inspiration for “Do Not Turn Away”- “This is a song I wrote when I first came to New York. My brother was dying of AIDS. My mother had just gone to a support group where an 18 year-old boy shared that he’d been thrown out of the house because his parents found he was HIV Positive. She was crying on the telephone.” “It’s not just a beautiful song,” Natalie Douglas says, “But also germane when we talk about the Ali Forney Center. They make sure kids who wind up on the street have somewhere to go, someone to protect and guide them. That matters.” The song is heart-wrenching. Douglas enthralls.

“Interesting Times” is the only selection on which Bucchino collaborated. It’s performed by the lyricist (and songwriter) Amanda McBroom: On an ancient wall in a far off land/A curse is written in an ageless hand/The message there in simple lines/May you live in interesting times… The rest is a list of places where horrific things occurred. Gravitas emerges like Brecht/Weill. Less list and some description might’ve been more affecting.

Will Reynolds tells us “David’s Song (A Beam of Light)” was written for activist David Mixner who fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. …Selfless …A life worth living…Where there’s pain, look to it…Veneration buoys the tribute. This is personal.

David Mixner: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Mixner

“I hope that in your life you can find many things for which to be grateful.” John Bucchino

Ticket purchases include unlimited viewing through Dec. 31st and a Dec. 15th live online “after party” with John, co-producer Jessica Fishenfeld, and members of the cast. Tickets are $20 (or more if you choose.) A portion of the proceeds will be donated to NYC’s Ali Forney Center in support of homeless LGBTQ youth. For tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/grateful-the-songs-of-john-bucchino-20th-anniversary-virtual-concert-tickets-126472433453 

The Ali Forney Center: Our mission is to protect LGBTQ youths from the harms of homelessness and empower them with the tools needed to live independently. 

Our organization’s namesake, Ali Forney, was a gender-nonconforming teen who fled his home at 13. He entered the foster care system where he was bounced around to several homes, and was beaten and abused. Ali ended up living on the streets at the age of 15. Ali was dedicated to helping other young people and publicly advocated for the safety of homeless LGBT youth. Tragically, in December of 1997, Ali was murdered in Harlem—shot in the head and left for dead. 

Committed to saving the lives of LGBTQ young people, in 2002 Carl Siciliano founded the Ali Forney Center (AFC) in memory of Ali. Since AFC’s launch with just six beds in a church basement, the organization has grown to become the largest agency dedicated to LGBTQ homeless youths in the country—assisting over 2,000 youths per year through a 24-hour Drop-In Center which provides over 70,000 meals annually, medical and mental health services through an on-site clinic, and a scattered-site housing program.

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