I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down and talk with one of New Your City’s finest blues (R&B, reggae, jazz , etc.!) musicians: Pat Cisarano. Pat talks of her love of the blues, disdain for “musical apartheid,” meeting Tony Bennett, and much, much more! Pat sings from the depths of her soul. I highly recommend you purchase a CD and take a listen at www.patcisarano.com
Hi Pat. So good to talk with you! Let’s get the basics: when/where were you born?
Good talking to you too Lea! Brooklyn, NY
Do you come from a musical family? If so, what type of musical activities did you do together?
When I was growing up, I never knew anyone in my family to be musical. My earliest musical influences came from the jukebox in my Dad’s bar and grill on Avenue U in Brooklyn. I spent many hours with my ear glued to that Wurlitzer. I was lucky, cause that was in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and the pop music of the time was really hip.
Some of my earliest musical memories are about that jukebox. Each week the “juke box man” would come to replace the 45’s. He would do 2 things that I always looked forward to: one is that he would give me several quarters marked with red nail polish. These were the ones I used to play songs, and he’d give them back to me to play more songs; the other highlight was that I would get to keep the 45’s he took out, and take them home to play on my little box record player.
What a great memory…
The other strong musical memory is about listening to records with my Dad in the basement of our house. He worked all the time, so the time we spent together was precious. He was a great “appreciator” of music. I think that’s where I first got the idea that singing was a cool thing to be able to do. When I was about 11, my folks took me to an amusement park in the Bronx called Freedomland-does anybody remember it?
I am a Baltimore gal. The only park we associated with NYC was Coney Island!
Anyway, they had music here. I saw a great singer called Brenda Lee, but the best was seeing Louie Armstrong. I really got excited. It moved me in a way I could not understand, and probably scared me a little. I remember dancing around -a little fat white girl - completely out of control. My mom had to calm me down. It took years for me to realize how lucky that was.
You were lucky to have had the opportunity to see two of the greats perform live! I think many of we singers can remember that moment of inspiration. What inspired you to form your first band?
I didn't start performing till late in life, even though it's all I ever really wanted to do. It was a self-esteem issue. I never thought that I could be good enough, so I didn't try, even though I longed for it. I started out in the Visual Arts. My first husband was a bass player, and most of my friends and acquaintances, when I was in my early 20's, were musicians. Still, I did not have the confidence to try to sing professionally. One night, we were in a local bar in the Catskills where I was living at the time, in the Woodstock area. I was most likely a little buzzed, so I got up and did a campy "Walking in the Rain"(the Ronettes). I always had a loud voice. I wasn't taking myself seriously at all. The club owner approached me and told me if I had a band he'd give me a gig. I needed money so badly that I told him that I did have a band. He gave us a gig 2 weeks from that night, so I scrambled and got a band together, in two weeks, enough material for 3 sets!
Whew! I have been there girlfriend! Learning 3 sets in a couple of nights – yikes!
PS-as it turned out, the place BURNED TO THE GROUND so we never got to do that gig, but the band was together, so we continued on. Talk about the Universe giving you a little push when you need it!
What other jobs have you held in your lifetime and have they influenced your music?
I was a cabbie in NYC and I think that that experience shaped me in a lot of ways that are too esoteric to explain now-in terms of karma and personal responsibility. I have done many other things too. Post office… Street vendor… House manager in an Off-Broadway theater… I have been a Massage Therapist for 20 years, and have been teaching massage workshops for almost the same amount of time. The aspect of healing ourselves and each other has become of paramount importance to me in my music.
Photo by Bob Unger
You are a real renaissance woman!
Pat, why the blues?
I don't even know the answer to that. When I was a student at the School of Visual Arts, there was a crazy guy there who walked around with a harmonica, always playing the blues. Every time he would see me, he'd call me "bluesgirl". I hadn't found the blues yet, and I never knew what he was talking about. I figured I looked like Janis or something to him. Later on, I worked for a psychic and she insisted that I would be a blues singer. I didn't know what she was talking about either, and didn't remember her saying that till much later. I used to tell her that the blues was not for me, and she'd get really pissed off at me. She'd say, "Don't tell me, I'm the psychic, not you!". Nuts. Later on, much later, after I had not done gigs for several years, I lived in Tribeca near a bar called the Galway Bay. It was a true blues dive. Way before Tribeca was cool. Way before that. I used to go in there and see Frankie Paris, who blew me away. I wanted to be like him. I also saw Angel Risoff, a great singer,& Robert Cray dropped in one night. I finally talked the bar into giving me a gig, again I had to scuffle to get a band together in 2 weeks-and there you have it, I was "bluesgirl".
What women singers and/or musicians have been inspirational to you?
Definitely Aretha, Ella, Joni Mitchell, Sarah Vaughn, Billy Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, Ronni Spector. Patsy Cline, all the girl groups of the 60's. More that I'm not thinking of…
I know. There are just so many women who inspire. I really get inspired when I go into a small, corner church and hear one of the sistahs singing from her soul – like the heavens are gonna open up any minute…. nothing like it…
Let me switch gears a little here:
There was a recent article in the NY Times focusing on white women who sing the blues. Has your being a white woman ever been an issue when performing? Getting Booked? If so, how? What are your personal feelings regarding this subject?
I didn't see that article. I'd like to read it. For the most part, other musicians in the blues have been very gracious to me about that issue all along. There have been times when I have been confronted with the issue of doing a musical form that "didn't belong to me." Or from time to time I hear that I "shouldn't" be doing what I'm doing (more so in reggae), but I think that we have evolved past that for the most part. It used to hurt me, before I understood what the motivation for that kind of thought was. Fortunately, music speaks to whoever will listen, and wherever a seed falls and takes root, the harvest will always be worthwhile. I call that kind of thought "musical apartheid" I heard a reggae DJ use that term once and never forgot it.
I have definitely run into problems occasionally with booking. People think that a blues singer should look a certain way. I don't focus on this kind of stuff. I'm too busy trying to learn how to be an honest artist. That's a full time job. I don't call myself a blues singer anymore anyway, just a singer.
Tell me about your band and where you perform?
I perform in several groups. When I go out under my name, the Pat Cisarano Band, it's usually a basic guitar, drums, bass, keyboard thing. As we all know, economics are a huge factor in our choices these days. When I did my CD release party for my new one "AH", I had about 6 singers with me, plus percussion, 2 keyboards, string bass, guitar drums. I don't get to do that very often, yet. My other love is a project called the American Acoustic Roots Orchestra. We do a wide range of stuff, blues, jazz, a little reggae, r&b, and originals.
This sounds wonderful!
We have 5 front people in that group, including Bill Sims Jr. on guitar & vocals, Brian Mitchell on accordion & vocal, Clark Gayton on t-bone, Kenny Rampton on trumpet, & me on vocals, plus acoustic bass (George Mitchell), drums (Tony Mason), piano (George Laks). I love that project. We sit in chairs. We are all good friends and we genuinely enjoy working (playing) together. I'd love to do more with them.
What musical "legends" have you encountered? Played with? Any funny "on the road" stories...?
I guess one of my most interesting encounters was with Tony Bennett, who I met through his daughter, Johanna. He's a huge fan of the blues. Johanna gave him a copy of the first recording that I did, a compilation I was included on from Rave On Records called "Third Rail Screamin". He liked it and I got to meet him. He even offered me a record contract. I saved the cassette tape from my old phone machine with that message on it. He played the Blue Note in Manhattan for 5 days and called me up on stage to do a tune. it was great. Nothing ever happened with the record deal, though.
Sigh… As far as "on the road" stories, yikes - that’s another book!
Describe your ultimate gig?
I really want to do Montreaux. I'd love to travel the festival circuit in Europe next summer. The USA, any festival really! The Caribbean, of course. I just want to work continuously, and continue to break new ground.
You have made a few well-received recordings. What’s your latest? Were there any challenges making it?
My very latest recording was recently. Kenny Rampton, a member of the Roots Orchestra, launched his own project. He has been working with Jimmy McGriff for about 8 years, and he finally decided to do his own CD, mostly original music. He asked me to sing a standard, "I'll Be Seeing You". It was a challenge, first of all because the arrangement called for only string bass, trumpet, and voice. VERY bare. Something that I haven't done much of. Very naked, emotionally. The other challenge was to be in the choir for his arrangement of "Lift Every Voice", with McGriff. Working with a group like that was great, but something that I'm not accustomed to. Having to sing the melody exactly right on is not something that I have to do much. The choral arranger & director Earl McIntyre was amazing.
What are you thinking right before you take the stage?
It's funny that you should ask that question now, cause lately that is something that has been on my mind a lot. My relationship to the way I feel before I perform has been undergoing major renovations. Usually, the venues we work at are the smaller ones, with limited or no dressing rooms, not much privacy, like in the clubs. People are always talking to me before I go an, and of late, I find myself wanting NOT to do that so much. I want to be with myself, a little to think about what I'm gonna do, but more just to get centered. There is a certain reverence for performing that I'm beginning to develop, which I think is important, and very private. So why am I telling you?! Oy!
Do you have any advice for those singers just starting out?
Listen. Sing & listen. Listen to the masters, and listen to the musicians that you're up there with.
How do you want to be remembered?
That's an important question. I'll be working on it for a long time. Fondly, I hope. With humor, certainly. I guess if I'm remembered at all, I'll be deeply grateful.
I conducted this interview with Pat prior to her recent diagnose of a brain tumor. Pat will receive surgery January 2001. We in the music community want to support in every way we know possible. Much needed monetary donations of support can be sent to:
Pat Cisarano Benefit c/o Music Magnet Media 289 East 5th Street Brooklyn, NY 11218
Our thoughts, love, and prayers are with her!
Check out Pat’s music on the web at: