By TOM CHESEK
Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, May 3 2018
You’ll find his name right there…right beneath that of Bruce Springsteen, in fact…on the plaque outside the Paramount Theater that’s dedicated to the originators of the Sound of Asbury Park (SOAP), and all those who sailed with it.
While these days he notes that “I have not been asked for a paid performance in any of the Asbury Park venues in over twenty five years,” there’s no denying that Stormin’ Norman Seldin is a genuine legendary local; one whose impact on the Jersey Shore’s homegrown music scene can’t be overstated. Having established a career as a singer, songwriter, musician, bandleader, promoter and record label owner when he was still in school (and, at age 13, becoming the youngest member of the American Federation of Musicians), the red-headed kid from Red Bank performed and recorded under names that included “Barbarosa and the Historians,” and nurtured the early careers of future chart-topper Harry Ray (The Moments; Ray Goodman & Brown) as well as the tragically truncated run of The Motifs, whose frontman Walter Cichon was killed in action during the Vietnam War. And then there was his band The Joyful Noyze, a popular draw that served to introduce east-of-the-tracks listeners to an outsized talent by the name of Clarence Clemons.
While his old stomping-ground stages at places like The Student Prince and Mrs. Jay’s may have gone on to saloon heaven, Norman Seldin can still be seen at the annual Light of Day benefit concerts, where last winter he led an 11-piece band in a rollicking tribute to the late great Fats Domino. Up the road in Highlands, he’s been known to lend his Bourbon Street stride piano stylings and Delta blues vocals to regular sets at the Bay Pointe Inn — and on Saturday, May 5, he’ll be taking the bench at the Steinway & Sons Model D inside Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre, for a very special concert in benefit of Autism Awareness.
Entitled “Kids On Keys and Dueling Pianos,” the two-part 8 p.m. program finds the cowboy-hatted crooner sharing the Pollak stage with a trio of very young classical piano prodigies, in addition to reuniting with some of his fellow Shore saloon-singer veterans. A follow-up to last year’s successful concert event “The Piano is the Main Attraction,” the seemingly odd coupling of conservatory classical with roadhouse rhythm ‘n blues makes perfect sense, when considered as an extension of Seldin’s present day career path.
For several years now, the iconic Stormin’ One has served as an assistant manager at Jacobs Music in Lawrenceville, Mercer County; an exclusive dealer of Steinway instruments, and a vehicle via which the scion of a family of well-known jewelry retailers became acquainted with “dozens of amazing young up-and-coming pianists.”
The piano man “realized their only outlet was winning competitions;” a path that often left the students “not really getting to perform as a normal kid in concerts like this.” In addition to sponsoring a Princeton-area radio show that has featured some of the young talents on the Pollak program, Jacobs has partnered with event ringmaster Seldin for this fundraiser; supplying all of the grand pianos used onstage (as well as the technicians required to transport and tune the formidable instruments). In addition, the business has purchased and made available a limited number of tickets, as a giveaway to special groups and local kids (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details).
For the “Dueling Pianos” portion of the evening’s bill, Seldin will team with veteran piano-bar entertainer Vance Villastrigo for a set drawn from the performers’ encyclopedic music memories — a shuffle-mix that promises New Orleans ragtime, blues, and some signature songs made famous by Bill Joel, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, and the aforementioned Mr. Domino. As a special bonus feature, the grand piano “duel” becomes a triple-threat thriller, with the addition of restaurateur/ entrepreneur/ humanitarian and master bandleader Tim McLoone.
The “sweet spot” of the evening belongs to the kids — in this case, the 14 year olds Elizabeth Williamsand Andy Milsten, plus nine year old Taksh Gupta (who, having played in his first competition at the age of five, has spent a good half his life performing for appreciative listeners). Each of the featured artists brings a long list of accomplishments to the stage, with Elizabeth becoming the only pianist accepted to the Juilliard School’s Music Advancement Program at age nine, and Taksh (a returnee from last year’s piano concert) having twice taken first place in the NJMTA Fall Young Musicians Competition. Andy, a primarily self-taught pianist who was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum at the age of three, was accepted into the New York Symphony Orchestra last summer.
Actor Frank Dicopoulos (best known for a long stint on the soap opera Guiding Light) emcees the “Kids On Keys and Dueling Pianos” event — and, since “the piano is the main attraction” once again, it’s only fitting that a portion of the Saturday night program be given over to a “solo” showcase by the Steinway & Sons “Spirio” Grand, the instrument that lays claim to being the world’s finest high-resolution player piano. Unlike the paper piano-roll players of old-timey days, the breathtakingly high-end Spirio uses cloud-based digital technology to relay “live” performances that were personally input by classical and jazz artists hailing from the realm of the living (Lang Lang) or the late-and-legendary (Vladimir Horowitz, George Gershwin).
While he remains an able ambassador for the “driverless” Steinway line, Seldin is of course most passionate about the centuries-old interface of human hands with the ivory keys — a cheerleader for musical education, and a longtime participant in charitable endeavors who nonetheless sounds a cautionary note, when he allows that “it bothers me that there are more ‘benefits’ than anything else, and that many of the acts don’t make a dime. Musicians need to be paid something for their time, efforts, and talent, or else they will cease to exist in the future.”
Tickets for Saturday’s “Kids On Keys and Dueling Pianos” concert are priced at $25 and $35 for adults, and $10 for students, and can be reserved by calling 732-263-6889, or going online.