Jimmi Kilduff at APAP
One newcomer to the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference this week at the New York Hilton Midtown’s exhibition halls was Jimmi Kilduff, who was promoting his latest tribute show, Vintage Vegas.
The show relates the history of Caesars Palace’s legendary Circus Maximus showroom and features the music of Tony Bennett, Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra. It follows Kilduff’s preceding Rags to Riches: The Music and Life of Tony Bennett (he’s also done Sinatra to Buble: 75 Years of Swing and Mostly Broadway: From Vaudeville to Hamilton, from Stage to Screen, the Music and History of the Great American Musical tribute shows).
Kilduff has established himself as a headlining cruise ship showman, but is now “transitioning into land-based gigs,” he said. He came to APAP “to learn about this side of the industry.”
Of Vintage Vegas, he noted, “I found that people who went to Rags to Riches wanted to hear Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones, too, so I constructed the show following the thread of the first three headliners at Caesars—Frank, Tony and Tom Jones.”
But the inspiration for Kilduff’s Rags to Riches show was Bennett’s 1998 memoir The Good Life: The Autobiography of Tony Bennett.
“I was doing research, and got to the section where he talked about leaving Columbia Records after cutting his last session there at the end of 1971,” said Kilduff. “Instead of just doing what he’d been doing, he started his own indie label and made two jazz albums with Bill Evans! Who does that? He said it was something he’d wanted to do for years—and it’s something that for me as an artist, I really respect: He finally had the opportunity to do whatever he wanted, and enough cachet in the business to be able to do it.”
And to top it off, Bennett’s albums with Evans (the first released on Evans’ Fantasy Records label, the second on Bennett’s Improv) “stripped everything to the basics.”
“It was just his voice as a jazz instrument of musical and emotional storytelling, along with one of the greatest accompanists who ever lived,” said Kilduff. And [first Evans album collaboration] The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album became the top-selling jazz album that year—and he did another. I don’t want to say it was hubris because of its bad connotation, but he had the confidence to do an entire project.”
Kilduff further lauded Bennett for collaborating with Evans.
“A lot of people in the jazz world knew him—but not the casual Tony Bennett listener,” said Kilduff. “He went on to do duets albums with other great artists for whom it became a badge of honor to sing with him.”
Bennett, continued Kilduff, is “egoless.”
“I thought it was amazing how he recognized not only the opportunity he was given, but the help that he himself had received at the beginning of his career from his mentor Pearl Bailey, and Bob Hope, who picked him up [as an opening act] because of it.”
Kilduff singles out “My Foolish Heart,” from the first Bennett/Evans album as his favorite of the duo’s collaborative tracks.
"My Foolish Heart"
“Tony’s emotion at the end when they repeat the chorus is absolutely gorgeous--and a way to showcase another jazz artist—Bill Evans--and bring him into the mainstream,” said Kilduff, who lucked into using a direct transcription of the song’s music chart from the album in his show.
“I was playing a cruise ship out of Alaska with a piano player from Argentina whose teacher studied with Bill Evans--who gave him a transcription of some of the charts!” said Kilduff, returning to the final chorus of “My Foolish Heart” on The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album.
“It’s a rare case of both of them being on the same wavelength,” concluded Kilduff. “There was just enough space there for a little [vocal] turn.”
“It was two masters coming together in a conversation of musicality!”
Jimmi Kilduff's "Vintage Vegas"