On Stage: Belardo returns to her Wilmington roots

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Maya Belardo

The live entertainment scene over the last seven or eight months has been similar to flowers growing in outdoor gardens.

Almost nothing has survived over the winter months except for pansies. It’s ironic that the word ‘pansy’ is used as an insult meaning “a weak man’ when, in reality, the pansy is a strong flower that can be buried in snow and two weeks later be flowering again.

When winter starts to fade away, the first round of blooming flowers for the new year includes bulb plants such as crocus, hyacinth, tulip and daffodil.

Over the winter and early spring, the pansies of the local entertainment scene have been the Sellersville Theater and the Philadelphia comedy clubs – Helium Comedy Club and Punch Line Philly.

The early blooming “bulbs” in the realm of live entertainment are The Queen, Jamey’s House of Blues and 118 North.

Last weekend, The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, https://thequeenwilmington.com) sprang to life with a show billed as “Opening Night: Aziza Nailah & Company.”

This weekend, the venue in downtown Wilmington will host a show billed as “A Night of Elegance with Maya Belardo: The Princess of Jazz” on April 9.

“I first started singing when I was real little,” said Belardo, during a phone interview Tuesday evening from her home in Wilmington. “I used to walk around with a broom and pretend it was a guitar.”

A major catalyst happened when Belardo was a pre-teen.

“I watched the movie ‘Moulin Rouge!’ and the opening song was ‘Nature Boy,’” said Belardo. “I was 11 or 12 and I loved that song. I just kept playing it over and over.

“I went to YouTube and watch Nat King Cole singing it. I really like Nat King Cole and then got into singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone. I also like Sarah Vaughn a lot.”

Belardo attended school at the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington as a vocal major and has been singing at various cultural events around Wilmington since she was 10.

“From age 13-16, I was in a jazz group at Cab Calloway and really got into the music of Nancy Wilson,” said Belardo.

“With singers like Ella, Nancy and Nina, at first I was listening more to their voices. It was different to what I was used to hearing in hip hop and R&B. As I get older, I’m listening more to how they phrase things – how they convey messages.”

Having realized her ability to sing jazz after joining the school’s jazz group, “Jazz Chords,” Belardo then traveled around singing at various venues and jazz competitions with the group.

In 2013, Belardo was part of the American High School Honors Performance Choir that performed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. She relocated to New York after graduating high school.

“I went to New York with the intention of studying jazz vocals at The New School,” said Belardo. “Once in Brooklyn, I started to get into the jazz scene there. Experienced singers who heard me suggested that I should forget about school and just go right into the music business.”

As a result, Belardo never continued her education at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.

“Instead of going to school, I got a job at Whole Foods and began singing at nights in jazz clubs around the city,” said Belardo, who now also works as a pre-school teacher. “I also took dance classes, vocal classes and acting classes.

“I spent three years singing in New York from 2016-2019. I moved back to Wilmington right before everything shut down because of COVID-19.”

Belardo had already begun to establish a following in Delaware from her performances at area clubs as well as the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival and the Ladybug Festival.

“I haven’t been able to do many live shows in the last year, but I am grateful for the few I’ve had,” said Belardo. “I did a show in Rockford Park and another with the Delaware Theater Company.

“I don’t have a set band. Instead, I gather together different musicians for every show. For this show, it’s Ronan Ali on drums, Matt Hoening on piano and Ali Richardson on electric bass. I’m doing two 45-minute sets. There are also two openers – Toni Trower and The Naked Trumpeter.”

Video link for Maya Belardo — Facebook Live | Facebook.

The show at The Queen on April 9 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Other upcoming shows at The Queen are Ladyy on April 17, Best Kept Soul on April 23 and Funkitorium on April 30.

Many of today’s top comedians got to where they are now by travelling very different routes.

Leonard Ouzts was a nursing major in college. Ali Siddiq spent years in prison prior to rising to the top in the comedy world. Matthew Broussard studied mechanical engineering and mathematics at Rice University.

TK Kirkland

TK Kirkland, who is headlining at the Helium Comedy Club (2031 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, philadelphia.heliumcomedy.com) now through April 11, has a resume that falls somewhere in between the above comics.

Kirkland got a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and then an MBA from California State University-Northridge.

“I went to Arizona State and studied special communications,” said Kirkland, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from his hotel room in Philadelphia.

“Then, I got my master’s degree in business at Cal-State Northridge. I was going to go into pathology.”

People often confuse the words “fame” and “notoriety.” “Fame” means “widespread reputation, especially of a favorable character,” while “notoriety” means “the state of being famous for something bad.”

Kirkland’s CV features both fame and notoriety.

Kirkland is a well-respected comedian, podcast host, writer, businessman, motivator, and actor with 35-plus years of experience in the entertainment industry.

He was the first comedic opening act for a rap concert when he toured with the legendary group NWA. Since then, Kirkland has shared the stage with stellar performers such as Outcast, Ludacris, Jay-Z, Cash Money Millionaires, Ruff Ryders, DMX, 50 Cent, and TuPac.

“With comedy, people always told me I was funny,” said Kirkland. “I was ahead of my time Def Comedy Jam was created around my style of comedy.

“I was a hip-hop artist before I was a comedian – opening for acts and doing music. I’m a shit-talker and a professional MC. I was able to rock at an 18,000-seater tour with NWA.”

Kirkland is a prolific writer possessing the natural ability to captivate his audience through laughter and real-life experiences. He collaborated with HBO and starred in “Mo’ Funny: Black Comedy in America.”

After his college years, Kirkland immersed himself into opportunities that included writing and producing on projects such as BET ComicView, Laffapolooza and MAD Sports. He also started a management company that launched the careers of Jamie Foxx, DL Hughley, and Mike Epps.

Kirkland later partnered with Tommy Castro and David Clingman to start the Artistry Management Firm. This collaboration allowed TK to work with critically acclaimed actors such as Sandra Bullock, Anthony Michael Hall, and John Leguizamo.

“I’ve shown that you can become a multi-millionaire from standup comedy,” said Kirkland, who grew up in Jersey City (NJ) and was a track star at Henry Snyder High School prior to moving to Compton, California.

“I have a management company that is really successful. I also have a new project called Patron Media, but I can’t really talk about that yet.”

Kirkland’s notoriety comes from ill-advised decisions when he was younger.

“I knew Keenan Wayans and he introduced me to Eddie Murphy and his brother Charlie,” said Kirkland. “I admired their lifestyle. I was at Eddie’s place on Doheny in Beverly Hills, and I stole his brother’s Rolex watch.

“I was a young boy – around 19 – and I took the watch. It was laying on the counter while Charlie was washing his hair. They knew I was the one who did it. I became infamous for being the watch thief.

“The whole thing was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because it gave me street cred. It was a curse because I became associated with being a thief.”

But all’s well that ends well.

“About 30 years later, I was in a club with Eddie,” said Kirkland. “I looked him in the eye and apologized for disrespecting his house. He looked at me and said – you still thinking about that?

“But the story is 30 years old, and people still bring it up. Over time, it got changed to being Eddie’s watch not Charlie’s. I never looked for forgiveness – just show that you move on from it and make better decisions.

“I taught myself lessons – work hard, stay in your lane, get whatever you want and pay for it, move on….be a standup citizen. What’s important today is that I’m one of the best comedians in the country.

“It’s been three years since I played Philly. This is the first time at Helium – and they had to add three shows to the five that were originally scheduled.”

Kirkland’s comedy pulls no punches. There is no room for politically correct routines.

“My style of comedy is in-your-face, raw, and political,” said Kirkland. “It’s social conscience. It’s a blueprint to life.”

Video link for TK Kirkland — https://youtu.be/79kfl2Nikdc.

Shows at the Helium Comedy Club are scheduled for April 9 at 7:15 and 9:30 p.m., April 10 at 5:00, 7:15 and 9:30 p.m., and April 11 at 4:30 and 7:00 p.m.

Tickets, which are not sold individually because of capacity restrictions and social distancing, are $80 for a two-person table or $160 for a four-person table.

MicroCorgi

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, jameyshouseofmusic.com) has come back to life after being closed for way too long because of pandemic shutdowns.

On April 9, the small comfortable club in Delaware County will present a show by MicroCorgi.

MicroCorgi is a trio based in Queens, New York that features pianist Andrew McGowan, guitarist Yuto Kanazawa and drummer Ilya Dynov. The band’s music is an international blend of various styles such as European Jazz, Japanese rock, Afro-beat, and New Orleans brass band music.

“One description we use is futuristic space funk,” said Dynov, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from his home in Queens. “It’s rock, funk, ECM jazz, some New Orleans style, some fusion Afro-beat, jazz organ trio.”

Their unique “organ trio” format has the bass duties handled in turns by McGowan and Kanazawa. The combination of piano, synth bass, guitar, and drums results in a musical relationship akin to that established by Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery.

Their sound has a minimalist aesthetic reminiscent of Philip Glass, combined with a soulful truth indebted to Black American Music.

The band members’ backgrounds are as diverse as the group’s sound.

McGowan is a New Orleans born pianist who played with renowned artists such as Jason Marsalis, Wessel Anderson, Sasha Masakowsi, the Stooges Brass Band and The Session. Since moving to New York City in 2016, McGowan has played at major jazz clubs in NYC such as Blue Note, Minton’s, Dizzy’s, Smalls and Fat Cat.

Kanazawa hails from Tokyo Japan. As a bandleader and guitarist, he has recorded seven full albums and six EPs, including his debut album, “Earthwards,” on Interrobang Records.

He has worked with many renowned musicians including Kurt Elling, Ed Cherry, Don Pate, Randy Jackson, Gregg Errico, Jerry Martini, Kuni Mikami and Lonnie Plaxico. As a composer, Kanazawa won First Place in the Jazz category of International Songwriting Competition in 2013, also he was nominated as a finalist in The John Lennon Songwriting Competition in 2015.

Dynov is a New York based internationally acclaimed drummer, vibraphonist and percussionist. He has performed internationally as a drummer, soloist and ensemble musician at clubs and major festivals such as Bohemia Jazz Festival (Czech Republic), Vilnius Mama Jazz Festival (Lithuania), Internationales Jugend-Musikfestival (Germany), and Sfinks Mixed Festival Antwerpen (Belgium).

The band’s first recorded output was the “MicroCorgi EP,” which was released July 26, 2019. MicroCorgi’s debut album, “Microcosmos,” was recorded at Virtue and Vice Studios in Brooklyn in January 2020 and released on November 20, 2020.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MicroCorgi, which has been together since 2018, has not been able to spend much time touring in support of either disc.

“We didn’t play many live days over the last year,” said Dynov, a Moscow native who grew up in Belgium and lived for a while in Germany. “The pandemic year was a writing and creating year.

“We spent time recording a new album at Voyager Studio in Brooklyn. It’s all recorded and we’re going to start mixing it this month. We plan to release it in the fall.

“We did all the recording in two sessions in July. We also worked on different projects as the rhythm section for some other bands.”

The process for the new album was somewhat different from that on “Microcosmos.”

“With the first album, we played the songs live a lot before we went in to do the recording,” said Dynov. “The second album has a lot of new songs that were never played live. We just rehearsed the songs one or two times before we recorded them.

“We used a lot of synthesizers for the second album. The first album has a lot of variations. The first album was more acoustic.”

This weekend’s show will be the first time for MicroCorgi to perform at Jamey’s.

“For our live show, we have a lot of new sings that haven’t been recorded yet,” said Dynov. “We’ll also play a couple from the first album and a couple songs from the second one.”

The band already has several songs that are proven crowd favorites.

“‘Avocados Every Day’ is catchy,” said McGowan. “It’s like an earworm. The song ‘Corgi’ really rocks out and ‘Cosmosphere’ is another song we play a lot.”

MicroCorgi is an interesting band with a bright future. This weekend is an opportunity for listeners to get in on the ground floor.

Video link for MicroCorgi – https://youtu.be/S2XXAewTXoM.

The show at Jamey’s House of Music on April 9 will start at 8 p.m. and will also be available via Livestream. Tickets are $15 – in house or via Livestream.

Other upcoming shows at Jamey’s are Laura Cheadle Family Band on April 10, The Philly Blues Kings on April 16, Harry Walther Band on April 17, King Solomon Hicks on April 23, Frank Porter on April 24, Jack West on April 30 and Maci Miller on May 1.

Hollis Brown

Hollis Brown is not a cover band. But two of its most ambitious projects in recent years have been playing and recording albums by other artists – Lou Reed’s “Loaded” and the Rolling Stones’ “Aftermath.”

On April 9, Hollis Brown will bring the Stones’ classic “Aftermath” LP to life in a show at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

Like MicroCorgi, Hollis Brown is a band from Queens – but that’s where the similarity ends.

Hollis Brown was founded by singer and guitarist Mike Montali and guitarist Jonathan Bonilla in Queens in 2009. Friends since high school, they collaborated as songwriters before the band was formed.

The band’s name was taken from Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” a song from his 1964 album, “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. The quartet’s current lineup also features Andrew Zehnal on drums and Chris Urriola on bass.

Hollis Brown’s most recent album release is “Ozone Park,” which came out on June 7, 2019 on Mascot Records/Cool Green Recordings.

“We were able to tour ‘Ozone Park’ for a while in the states,” said Bonilla, during a phone interview Wednesday night from his upstate New York home in Richmondville in Schoharie County. “We planned a European tour, but it got cancelled.”

Somehow, Hollis Brown has managed to keep playing live shows during the pandemic.

“We’ve been playing all through COVID-19,” said Bonilla. “We started doing backyard shows.

“Through our Facebook page, we offered to play backyard shows for fans – socially-distanced backyard shows. We also did outdoor shows at The Falcon in Marlborough, New York. We continued playing there and did a residency of nine or 10 shows when they moved indoors.”

Hollis Brown has also been doing some recording.

“We just went in the studio with Byron Isaacs producing,” said Bonilla. “We spent two weeks at Atomic Sound in Brooklyn.

“On our last album, we went a little alternative rock. The album, we wanted to be more in the style of The Band – a little more down to earth. I’ve been writing more Americana rock – more acoustic.”

Hollis Brown’s first venture into the world of recording a tribute album came in 2014.

“We recorded a tribute to the Velvet Underground’s ‘Loaded’ album because it was the 50th anniversary of the album’s release,” said Bonilla. “It was a Record Store Day release that was limited to 1,000 copies. It got good reviews and started selling. So, we decided to make it a real release.”

With “Aftermath,” Hollis Brown has gone back to an album that first saw the light of day in 1966.

“Fans at our backyard shows suggested that we do ‘Aftermath,’” said Bonilla. “We recorded it in the Poconos at Velvet Oak Studio in Pocono Lakes – the same studio where we recorded ‘Loaded.’

“It’s all done. We sent it to Mascot Label Group. The goal is to have it out late summer/early fall. It’s something un for our fans to listen to until our next original album.”

Hollis Brown actually had two different “Aftermath” albums from which to choose – the U.S. release and the U.K release. “Aftermath” was released in the United Kingdom on April 15 1966 by Decca Records and in the United States on July 2 by London Records.

It was the Stones’ fourth British and sixth American studio album. The albums had different covers and the U.K. version had 14 tracks while the American version had 11 songs.

“We’re doing the U.S. version,” said Bonilla. “In the live show, we play the entire album in order front-to-back. We’ll also be playing some originals.”

Video link for Hollis Brown – https://youtu.be/QaM0cmwxk6I.

The show at Sellersville on April 9 will start at 8 p.m. and will also be a Livestream event. Tickets are $25 in house and $10 Livestream.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are Son Little on April 10, the Dawn Drapes on April 13, Paul Hammond on April 15 and 16 and David Broza on April 17.

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