Awarded "Most Influential African American in the Bay Area" in 2005 and "Best Jazz Group" in 2013, vocalist Kim Nalley is already being called "legendary" and "San Francisco institution." No trip to San Francisco is complete without seeing Kim Nalley perform. With an international reputation as one of world's best jazz & blues vocalists, she has graced concert halls from Moscow to Lincoln Center. A true Renaissance woman, Kim Nalley has also been a featured writer for JazzWest and SF Chronicle's City Brights, shortlisted for a Grammy nomination, a produced playwright, a former jazz club owner, an accomplished stage actress, a Ph.D. candidate in history at UC Berkeley, and an avid lindy hop & blues dancer. Her many philanthropic endeavors include founding the Kim Nalley Black Youth Jazz Scholarship.
In looks, Kim Nalley exudes the aura of a diva from a by-gone era. Vocally, she has pipes to burn packing a 3 1/2 octave range that can go from operatic to gritty blues on a dime, projection that can whisper a ballad yet is capable of filling a room with no microphone, and the ability to scat blistering solos without ever losing the crowd's interest or the intense swing. She has been compared to all the greats, but in the end, it's Kim Nalley and no one else - an unforced instrument with clarity and jazzy musicality, effortlessly delivered, and a sense of humor to boot.
A born singer from a family that boasts several generations of jazz musicians, Nalley was taught piano by her great-grandmother and studied classical music and theatre in high school before relocating to San Francisco in the footsteps of the Grateful Dead. Working her way through college by singing in small dives and jam sessions, Nalley learned all of the intricacies of jazz the old fashioned way. Music critic Phil Elwood and San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas quickly discovered Kim Nalley and brought her to national attention after they noticed her singing nightly at the Alta Plaza to packed audiences - without amplification. Tilson Thomas hired Kim Nalley to sing a program of Gershwin with the San Francisco Symphony and recorded her farewell concert at the Alta Plaza.
Since then, Kim Nalley has performed globally, including major jazz festivals such as Monterey, Umbria Jazz and Lincoln Center and lived in Europe for several years before returning to San Francisco to re-open the jazz club Jazz at Pearl's. During her tenure from 2003 to 2008, Nalley raised the club to iconic international acclaim as the owner and artistic director.
She has collaborated with artists such as Rhoda Scott, David "Fathead" Newman, Houston Person, James Williams, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. She has recorded several on both major and indie labels, including She Put A Spell On Me, which was short-listed for a 2006 Grammy Award, and Million Dollar Secret, which charted in the Jazz Top 40.
Nalley often combines music and history to create historiographical concerts , including her award-winning "Ladies Sing the Blues*," "She Put a Spell on Me: Tribute to Nina Simone," "Freedom's Song: Music of the Civil Rights Movement," musical director and curator for the Martin Luther King Institute's Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and "The Heart of Lady Day," a Billie Holiday biopic. As a playwright she has written "Ella: the American Dream" a bio-musical about Ella Fitzgerald which premiered in 2008. As an actress she portrayed Billie Holiday in the dramatic play "Lady Day in Love," Blues Speak woman in Zora Neale Hurston's "Spunk" and has starred in Teatro Zinzanni as Madame Zinzanni, a role subsequently filled by Joan Baez and Sandra Reeves-Phillips.
Kim Nalley is on faculty at the California Jazz Conservatory. She is a Ph.D candidate in UC Berkeley's history department with plans to write her dissertation on the Globalization of Jazz and Black Cultural Politics.
Jai Rodriguez is a talented actor, singer and dancer who starred as Zanna in the off-Broadway musical hit Zanna , Don't! Jai joined Zanna, Don't! after a long-running turn on Broadway starring as Angel in Jonathan Larson' Tony Award-winning musical Rent. Jai's other theater credits include Spinning Into Butter at Lincoln Center Theatre, Sad Hotel at the White Barn Theatre, and Rent in Canada. On Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Jai used all aspects of his professional training and skills as a performer plus his social charisma to coach straight subjects on everything from how to mix 'n mingle in a social setting, to conversation skills and even being at ease on the dance floor. Jai also appeared in the movie The Producers as Sabu the Houseboy and The New Guy as Jose, the drag queen prisoner. While on hiatus from Queer Eye Jai appeared on Broadway as Carmen Ghia in The Producers. Jai started his singing career performing with his local church choir at Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle. In 2006, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his music career and was among the top finalists in the TV hit series Celebrity Duets. Most recently Jai costarred with Reba McIntyre and Lily Tomlin on television in Malibu Country.
One of the most sought-after jokesmiths in the entertainment industry, Bruce Vilanch has become a recognizable face in his own right, thanks to the feature-length documentary "Get Bruce!" (1999) and his one-time stint as a regular on "Hollywood Squares" (1998 ), for which he also served as head writer.
Mr. Vilanch was born in New York on November 23, 1948, but was adopted by the Vilanch's--his late father, Jonas, an optometrist and his mother, Henne, a former Broadway show girl--and then grew up in Patterson, New Jersey. He has a very special bond with Henne and according to him, gets a lot of his show biz humour from her.
"She's as obsessed with image as famous people," Vilanch says of his mother, his hands making the kind of hyper motions that indicate adoration of the stage veteran. "When I was little, the house had what she called the showcase room. The furniture was all wrapped in plastic and nobody except company could go into it. Of course she took the plastic off then. A few years ago, the dog discovered the room, ripped through the plastic and ruined the upholstery. She called me and said she was going to redecorate it. And when I asked her what excuse she would use, she said, 'I'm telling people it's because Sonny Bono died."
Known for his eclectic eyewear and collection of unique T-shirts, he began as a child model for Lane Bryant, but when his initial efforts as an actor came to naught, he became an entertainment writer for the Chicago Tribune instead. Impressed by his review of her cabaret performance in 1970, Bette Midler hired him to punch up her act where he gave birth to Midler's famed Sophie Tucker jokes. He later moved to Los Angeles where he wrote for variety shows like the original "Donny and Marie" and "The Brady Bunch Hour" (both ABC) and provided material for Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin and Joan Rivers. He has maintained his connection with Midler through the years, working on such projects as the feature "Divine Madness" (1980) and the TV special "Bette Midler--Diva Las Vegas" (HBO, 1997), as well as writing for her short-lived but lively sitcom, "Bette!" (CBS, 2000 ).
He made his feature debut as a dress manufacturer in "Mahogany' (1975), starring Diana Ross, and also contributed material to her live act. Mr. Vilanch put his Muppet-like persona to excellent use as Santa's number one helper in the syndicated TV-movie "It Nearly Wasn't Christmas" (1989). On the heels of "Get Bruce!", Vilanch performed his comedy stylings Off-Broadway in "Bruce Vilanch: Almost Famous" (2000). After a first act reminiscing on his odd path to almost famousness, he opened up the floor to questions in Act II, displaying his amazing ability for off-the-cuff one-liners. As he told US WEEKLY (June 12, 2000), there is a downside to celebrity: "Now, I get knocked if someone tries something that doesn't work. Before it was the fault of these anonymous people, 'the writers.'"
Vilanch began contributing to Academy Awards telecasts in 1989, collaborating with the likes of Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and David Letterman, and graduated to head writer in 2000. He has roasted celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and President Clinton. The Whoopi connection led to his providing the notorious material Ted Danson performed in blackface at a certain 1993 Friars Club roast of his then-girlfriend Goldberg, but his resume also includes "You Made Me Watch You", the touching Emmy-winning valedictory Midler crooned as a send-off to Johnny Carson.
He scripted most of the Academy Awards telecasts over the last decade, two of which won Emmys, including the one featuring Billy Crystal's Hannibal Lecter entrance. Mr. Vilanch has also written for The Tony's, The Grammy's, The Emmy's, and just about every other award show to brighten your television screen. He also participates and volunteers at almost every charity function, especially those dealing with GLBT issues.
Mr. Vilanch just capped off his 14th writing gig for the Oscars in 2003. Currently he is writing for Bette Midler's 2003 Fall Tour and in September he will debut in the popular Broadway hit, "Hairspray". He will be in the touring company which opens in Baltimore, September 9, 2003 at the Mechanics Theatre.
For the part of Edna Turnblad, Mr. Vilanch will have to shave off his famous 30 year old beard. No telling what's lurking in there...but one thing it has never been able to hide....TALENT!!!
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