A large silver SUV is idling outside the Hi-Ho Motel, a landmark for those used to driving along the Merritt Parkway. Sitting casually behind the wheel, one arm stretched over the steering wheel and the other folded on the window frame, Jerry Vigorito leans forward and answers the question about its make, “It’s American.” This statement has nothing to do with the cost or status of the vehicle and everything to do with aligning personal decision-making with life purpose: Why just buy a truck when you can also help create jobs at home? This is the first insight into the philosophy of Band Together: Why just make music when you can also help your neighbors?
Vigorito and his lifelong friend and fellow musician Rob Fried cofounded and co-direct Band Together, a local group whose shows benefit local charities. “In order to play harmonica successfully, I had to learn all kinds of music—blues, jazz, funk, and dance. How do you fit a harmonica into that?” he asks, playfully, now driving the long and winding road from Fairfield through Easton to a private, professional rehearsal studio in quiet backcountry Redding. “I enjoy the variety of what I do, and I’m in awe of the talent I am privileged to play with.” He talks passionately about the group’s mission and is currently preoccupied with Brentapalooza. The benefit concert supports Team Brent, which helps fund research for treating childhood cancer. This is the reason for tonight’s rehearsal, and the musicians participating in this one show are nearby and traveling to the same destination.
If lesson one in understanding Band Together is purposeful good works, or charity, then lesson two is enlisting talented musicians—better than you think you can get. Band Together is an ever-changing entity. The musicians in one gig might be on the lineup for only that one show; next time, the roster could be completely different. Anchoring the waxing and waning are Vigorito and Fried, as well as Ron Kovis (photographer and promotional material maven).
Blending musicians means blending musical styles; Vigorito propels this part of the indoctrination by popping a CD into the player.
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“Superstition” erupts from the speakers. Instantly, his fingers tap in time and he flashes a smile. “Before rehearsal, Rob and I choose the style of music, the songs, the artists, and Rob puts a CD together,” he says. Each musician has his or her own ingrained, honed sound. “Take ‘Mustang Sally.’ It’s a simple song that everyone knows, but everyone knows it differently because they’ve been playing it with their own bands, and they only know the way they do it.” Rehearsal brings together those varied streams of influence to decide on one smooth sound; a fitting exercise for a group that embodies harmonious collaboration. (This point is illustrated at rehearsal, but more about that in a moment.)
Vigorito is fueled by talking. As he explains which songs were chosen, by which artists, and why, he’s at a full verbal sprint, freely sharing what moves him. This engagement is his gift. “I know I can get people’s attention, and I can use that for the wrong things or for the right things. I’m doing it for the right things. For many years I did it for the wrong reasons,” he says. One suspects that without genuine personal engagement, he wouldn’t even try to fake interest. “I was given a second chance in life. That was a gift, and there was a reason for that.
This is what I’m supposed to do.” His faith in what motivates him is so strong that he believes it attracts others. “The right people are attracted to you. They have that sense about what we represent, and they have that same thing in them. We just bring that out.
So while the talent and style vary, the foundation remains solid: to inspire, to have fun, and to do good locally, all in one performance. “We call it chalk art,” Fried says. “Like when children draw on the sidewalk? It’s beautiful and fun, but when it rains, it’s all gone. You either saw it or you didn’t.” Same with the band’s philosophy, you either get it, or you don’t. Let’s keep trying…
On Pace at Practice
“No, honey, I have to sing now. You go to bed,” says vocalist Shira Adler into her BlackBerry. A mother, she habitually checks it throughout practice. She and the other musicians in the above-garage rehearsal studio pack up their everyday lives to begin rehearsal. Vigorito picks through his collection of harmonicas. Drummer Tony Cintron puts in his earplugs. Crispin Cioe and Larry Etkin unpack their horns and begin playing finger-loosening scales while Pat Marafiote sets up the keyboards. Bass player Fuzz (only his closest friends know his real name) joins in later. Vocalists Jay Stollman and Susan Didrichsen chat. Talk in the room is exclusively about music and the music business—its own mini-industry conference.
Fried takes his seat at the edge of the imperfectly shaped circle of musicians. “OK, guys, let’s get going,” he says.
Area rugs lined across the floor and sound-absorbing wall panels like humongous classroom erasers are put to the test as the group digs in unceremoniously with “Higher.” Fried keeps tempo with a side-turned head bob. Susan’s crossed arms drop and she begins to sway her hips. In a white linen shirt and camouflage shorts, Stollman pulls his hands out of his pockets and points at stresses in the lyrics. Cintron, whose black careless waves of hair call to mind Entourage’s Adrian Grenier, pulls his head and chest back from the drum set and focuses the energy into his arms and legs.
Stollman’s hands go limp—and the music dies out. Early on, the group encounters a pre-performance knot. Susan plays with her lip as Fried and Stollman discuss the troublesome segue into “Dance to the Music.” Stollman makes a suggestion and counts off a quick-paced 1-2-3; the musicians kick off like wild horses—but reviews are mixed. “Well,” Fried says, “it doesn’t have to be that fast…”
Stollman replies, “You know me,” and laughs.
Susan injects quietly, “Speedy devil.”
Cintron adds, not so quietly, “I don’t know why you have a drummer if you don’t want the drummer to count off.”
(Good point.) Fried gives him the nod, and Cintron counts off 1…2…3, and the song soars. Stollman’s and Susan’s sandpaper-textured voices smooth together.
Fried says later of this discussion, “In the kind of music we play—rock, funk, blues—the drummer is driving the train.” Tweaking, discussing, listening—this respect for everyone’s role is no utopian ’60s holdover. “Tony Cintron is very experienced. He has played for fifteen years with Roberta Flack, and he has played with Ricky Martin, so he has a certain idea of tempos and how he wants things to go; at the same time, there are other people coming to rehearsal with their own concepts on how they want the show to go. There’s me, too, as music director, on how things should fit.”
Vigorito laughs. “Tony is scary. He’s a perfectionist, but I find it to be constructive. If it were mean, it wouldn’t work. He wants it to sound right.”
Ironically, the group moves on to “Cisco Kid,” about the hero/outlaw.
The Show Must Go On
Both Vigorito and Fried had been professional musicians for years before Band Together. Among others, Vigorito and Fried have played with Bone Dry and To the Max. Then, in 2007, the call came. The two were invited to play for the Connecticut Farm Land Trust. “We were part of this energy of making something happen, to preserve local farms,” Fried says. Soon after that, they planned a benefit show for a friend of Fried’s who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The week before the friend found out she had cancer, her husband lost his job and medical benefits. “That rose the hairs on the back of my neck,” says Fried. “Wow, this is a different way to use music.” The duo hired musicians and a soundman, rented the Grange in Wilton, and performed. Since then they have helped Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, Save the Children, Pilot House, and Connecticut Burns Care Foundation, among others.
Both have careers: Vigorito is senior vice president at Atlantic Residential Mortgage in Westport, and Fried is senior partner at an investment management firm. Band Together is their serious side project. “We’ve got three shows coming up this fall. We make little moves simultaneously on each of them,” says Fried. “This is how Jerry and I have fun…if I see that he’s getting stressed, then I’ll bring that to his attention. If he sees that I’m getting too serious about something—because I can get too focused, maybe a little narrowed in my vision—he’ll remind me of that. We have an expression, that this needs to be a downstream swim for us.” (Don’t miss this, it’s a philosophical principle of Band Together.) “We’ve adopted the Law of Attraction…rather than pushing to make things happen, you just try to be in alignment with the universe.”
Vigorito counters, “Rob always talks about the downstream swim, but I’m thinking of one show that was an upstream swim the whole way. If you bring us in, you’re bringing in a product, an event, a grassroots organization. It’s not like hiring a band and telling them what to do, because there so many different aspects to a Band Together show.”
This is why the group collaborates carefully—compatibility. “We look for charities that have infrastructure, have a team, an existing database, and a good relationship with their constituency, so we can become a good platform for them to raise sponsorships and sell tickets,” says Fried.
Vigorito adds, “When we bring on partners like Near and Far Aid, they say, ‘We are so happy that you guys know what you’re doing over here.’ And then we say, ‘We’re so glad you know what you’re doing over there. That’s how partnerships work.’ ”
Fried expands the point by saying, “We’re doing something selfless, but it’s also selfish—and that’s part of what gives it legs. We’re taking care of ourselves and having fun, that’s what gives it the energy. And it’s selfless, in that we’re helping Connecticut families that need a hand.” He stops for a moment, reflective, before adding, “Musicians are not the ‘haves’; they’re the ‘have-nots’. I see how they live—the broken cars, can’t afford the cell phone payments. Their coming together is inspiring. When musicians attend a show, they feel that their gift to the world is being used at a spiritually meaningful level. When we have our moment of silence backstage, we remember why we are doing this. We leave our egos outside: we come together as one to use our gifts for a higher good; there’s a need for that.”
The toll is stress. “That becomes part of the cathartic experience, after a show, being wiped out, emotionally feeling like we just climbed Mount Everest for a cause,” says Fried.
But Vigorito has his own view of that mountain: “There’s such a buildup to the show, and then you have the show and there’s this great success, and then you fall off the cliff. There are other times when I’ve been so elated, it’s lasted for weeks. I can’t predict when those times are going to be. It’s a matter of how much emotion is involved.” As he discusses the group’s many shows, it becomes clear that the more specific and local the beneficiary, the better able he is to internalize the issue and thus put his heart into the effort. “The amazing thing about the Haiti show is that there were kids in the school system who had been directly affected. These are our neighbors,” he says. “You get awards or you have the governor give you an honor, it sounds like bragging, but it’s not. It’s setting an example. It’s trying to get people involved and to show them that they can do it.”
“Part of our definition,” Fried concurs, “is that we all become part of Band Together.” He means he and Vigorito, Kovis, the musicians, the charities, the beneficiaries, the audience, the theater. “We’re all part of the same purpose. We’re trying to create a model of community service that’s based on joy, not duty.”
One can’t help but recall Stollman and Susan at rehearsal singing, “Everybody get together, try to love one another right now.” Got it. Good lesson.