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THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Arts: Who’s on stage at the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art

Zuill Bailey | The Company Men | Barett Baber | Marcus Anderson | John Brown’s Little Big Band | The Doo Wop Project

Zuill Bailey: Cello speaks ‘like a wise storyteller’

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Cellist Zuill Bailey wished for a life filled with classical music and international travel.

“I always wanted to travel, try new foods, share music, meet new people. Be careful what you wish for,” Bailey warned. “I’m on the road 280 days a year.”

He does spend a few weeks in one place each summer in Alaska where he is artistic director of the Sitka Summer Music Festival and conductor of a cello seminar. In the winter he spends some time in El Paso, where he is teaches at the University of Texas. Otherwise he’s never more than two days in one place.

After 20 years, he hasn’t lost his passion, however. Bailey, 44, said he feels as fresh and as strong as ever. “You start off with a check list, you dream of playing in Carnegie Hall, with major orchestras, seeing the world, to make recordings. I’ve done my check list and I still love it. I’ve had an amazing journey.”

Bailey received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Peabody Conservatory and the Juilliard School. He’s been a soloist with symphony orchestras around the world and collaborated with conductors such as Itzhak Perlman, Alan Gilbert and Andrew Litton. He’s performed with such musical luminaries as Leon Fleisher, Jaime Laredo and Lynn Harrell. Bailey’s 2010 recording of the Bach Cello Suites debuted at No. 1 on the Classical Billboard charts. His 2014 recording of Britten’s Cello Symphony and Cello Sonata also reached No. 1.

Bailey’s cello is a “rosette” made by Matteo Gofriller in Venice in 1693. The name comes from a carved design under the fingerboard. The cello was once owned by Mischa Schneider who played for 38 years with the Budapest String Quartet, the ensemble that brought chamber music to prominence in the U.S. in the mid 20th century. The cello chose him, Bailey said.

“It never leaves my side,” he said. “It is remarkable, with such a distinct sound. When I play it’s sound is like a wise storyteller giving a history lesson. I sit wrapped around it and the sound goes straight to my heart.”

Raised in Alexandria, Va., in a family of musicians, Bailey debuted at age 12. “I have music running through my veins all day long. It’s a gift and a curse, but I can’t imagine it any other way,” he said.

His concert performances include audience interaction. “I share a lot of insight on the music and why I spent time to prepare it. I try to make it personal. Classical music is all about expression. I particularly seek out the people who don’t know about classical music. To share its history. They may not realize, but if they listen they hear the cello every day in life. It’s all around us from radio, videos, movies, commercials, everywhere. I try to get them familiar with the cello.

“Cellists are extremely lucky to be able to play the masterpieces of the great composers, their best works. Cello is the most like a human voice in an instrument. It tells a story. Composers wrote for the cello to channel their own life story through the music.”

His program for the festival, with piano accompaniment, will be Russian-inspired featuring works by Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. “It should be quite overwhelming,” he said.

Zuill Bailey | Postponed (to be rescheduled). $45 / $25. pawleysmusic.com

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The Company Men: Giving up the day job for a startup

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

The Company Men, a four-man vocal group, was conjured up in a hot tub.

“The four of us had just finished performing together in a Frankie Valli Four Seasons tribute at the Red Rock Casino outside of Vegas,” said Stuart Ambrose, a member of the Company Men, from his home in Los Angeles. “We were literally in a hot tub and were talking about our hopes and dreams. The four of us all decided we could all do something on our own. At that moment we came up with the name and basic concept.”

Up until then, the gents, in their mid 30s to mid 40s, had “real” jobs to support themselves and their families. They quit those 9 to 5 jobs to form the group, thus their name.

Their first gig was in 2012. “Now we perform largely full time, about 300 performances thus far across the country and internationally,” Ambrose said. “We are currently doing a series of festival tours.”

Their concept: To interweave today’s Top 40 hits with re-imagined classics of the last six decades.

All of the men, “we’re not a boy band,” have extensive performing arts backgrounds that include television, Broadway and national touring theater companies.

“People will hear the songs they love from the 1950s up until the music they hear on the radio today. We put the old and new together in a new way,” Ambrose said. “For example, we blend Ben King’s ‘Stand by Me’ together with U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ the music of Adele with Michael Jackson, and Nick Jonas with Tom Petty.”

Their “Night of Hits” also blends songs by Billy Joel, Prince, Katy Perry, The Four Tops, Bruno Mars and others. Ambrose, Brian Purcell, Terron Brooks and Shawn Perucca perform more than 50 songs in their 90-minute program, with full choreography and a four-piece band. They always include a seven-song segment which they call “The Collection” progressing from Motown to U2 to Sam Smith.

“We appeal to all demographics from daughter to mother to grandmother. They all find songs they love,” Ambrose said.

They’ve opened for Kool & The Gang, Kolby Koloff, and Chaka Khan, a highlight Ambrose said. His dream, he said, would be to have a sit-down stint in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, where they could stay awhile.

“As a group, we’re here for the marathon, not a sprint, and look forward to getting out more and more into the public space,” he said.

The Company Men | Postponed (to be rescheduled). $45 / $35 / $25. pawleysmusic.com

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Barrett Baber: ‘The Voice’ turns singer into a star

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Since placing third on NBC’s “The Voice” last fall, Barrett Baber is drawing crowds. He’s touring the country and can’t believe his dream is becoming a reality.

Blake Shelton of “The Voice” described Baber’s fresh soulful country sounds “like no one else on country radio. He can be a superstar in country music.”

But Baber doesn’t seek fame, he said from his home in Fayetteville, Ark. He seeks to make beautiful music in support of his family, to be a good dad to his two toddlers and to give them the best life he can. He takes his job very seriously. “I don’t have a choice. Music is built into my life, my soul,” he said.

Growing up in Marion, Ark., Baber, 36, was surrounded by music. His father was a Baptist preacher. Baber sang in the church choir and was a natural at playing guitar, singing and writing music. He often visited Memphis, only a few miles from his home, listening to blues, country and rock performers.

To put himself through Ouachita Baptist University, he supported himself by singing in local dives around town. He was known as “that guy with the guitar.” It was during college in 1999, while traveling with the choir, he survived American Airlines Flight 1420, which crashed upon landing at Little Rock National Airport. Eleven people died. The tragedy is etched in Baber’s memory.

After college, pursuing a career in music, he auditioned for “American Idol” and was in the top 40 finalists until he was cut. At 22, he wasn’t ready for Idol. “I hadn’t developed. There’s no substitute for experience, those who make it put in years and years of work,” he said.

After years of having some success at writing songs and singing and recording for fun on the side, he auditioned for “The Voice.”

“‘The Voice’ changed my whole life,” Baber said. “It was a catalyst and allowed me to revisit the idea that maybe music could become my career.” He left his job as a high school teacher and coach and took to the country road.

Career highlights include winning the national CBS Grammy Gig of a Lifetime award in 2014 and touring with Rascal Flatts. “And I love performing in arenas and before massive crowds. Going out on stage and being well received is really a humbling thing for me,” Baber said.

His latest single is “Kiss Me Hello.” His most requested song is Conway Twitty’s “I’d Love to Lay You Down.”

Almost 80 percent of Baber’s performance on stage features songs he’s composed. He’s stunned to hear audiences sing some of the songs he’s written. “They know my original songs word for word,” he said.

Barrett Baber | Postponed (to be rescheduled). $75 / $35 / $25. pawleysmusic.com

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Marcus Anderson: Coffee fuels jazz man’s hot single

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

To stay awake, saxophonist Marcus Anderson took to sipping coffee. “I needed the energy to get through long rehearsals. I’d get so tired. So I started drinking coffee. I’d grab a cup in the different places all over the world where I was playing and I would take notes about the different coffees. Then I started writing songs about it, to see what I could do with music and coffee.”

His latest single “A Cup of Joe” climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard jazz charts. “I’m pretty proud of that,” Anderson, 31, said from his home in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Anderson not only plays a mean sax, he plays the flute, sings, writes, dances, produces and arranges music. He was just 12, the youngest of seven children growing up in Spartanburg, when his father suggested his future career. “We were listening to music and my dad said, ‘Hear that? That could be you. You should learn to play the saxophone and you could travel the world.’ So I said, ‘That’s it then.’ ”

He’s been called a musical prodigy. “Some say that,” Anderson acknowledged. “I thought I would become a singer or choreographer. But my father picked the saxophone.”

Following jazz studies at North Carolina Central University, Anderson’s career kick started in 2005 when he won the Capital Jazz competition. With eight albums since then, he’s performed at the Essence Music Festival, Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival, Seabreeze Jazz Festival, Capital Jazz Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival, Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival and more.

As his father predicted, he has traveled the globe, performing with artists like CeeLo Green, Judith Hill, Sheila E, Liv Warfield and Anthony Hamilton. As the featured saxophonist with the late Prince’s New Power Generation, he played for President Obama. “Can’t do better than play for the president of the United States,” Anderson said.

On stage, Anderson is said to electrify with his traditional smooth jazz infused with R&B, pop, rock and Latin flavorings. “My favorite kind of music is my own,” he said. “It’s every kind of music rolled into one.”

Marcus Anderson: Oct. 13, 7 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. $45 / $25. pawleysmusic.com

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John Brown: A band that’s little in name only

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

As a youngster, John Brown chose the bass to play in his school band.

Smart choice.

“A bass player is needed in most kinds of music situations. It creates many opportunities for work,” Brown said from his home in Durham, N.C.

He and his bass have traveled afar. He recalled his first job at age 21 was in Japan. “It was my first gig, my first train ride, my first plane ride and the first time I went to a foreign land,” he said. “ I was a country boy from Fayetteville who was used to homemade country food. Going to Japan was a real culture shock and a life changing experience.”

Brown, a graduate of the School of Music at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, went on to appear at Carnegie Hall, the Blue Note, the Kennedy Center, the Hollywood Bowl and at major jazz festivals throughout the world. He has shared the stage with artists like Wynton and Ellis Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Elvin Jones, Nnenna Freelon, Cyrus Chestnut, Diahann Carroll and Rosemary Clooney. In 2011, he played for President Obama during his visit to Hawaii. Brown, 45, also serves as director of the jazz program and as associate professor at Duke University.

Raised in a musical family, Brown said he enjoys going out into the community to work with high school students. “People took the time to come to my public school growing up,” he said. “I want to pass along my experience.”

He describes his 11-piece ensemble as “a big band without all the blast. It’s more intimate. Our sound sits on the fence between a small band and a big band.”

The band’s No. 1 request is “Lulu’s Back in Town,” the Al Dubin/Harry Warren song made popular by Fats Waller.

Brown is eager to share his music. “It’s particularly poignant during troubled times like these,” he said. “I want to reach people and make them have a good time while we are on stage. You never know what burden people bring or what got them to our concert. I feel it is our responsibility to give them joy and healing of the soul.”

John Brown’s Little Big Band: Oct. 14, 7 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. $75 / $35 / $25. pawleysmusic.com

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The Doo Wop Project: A Pee Dee native comes full circle

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

The five singers of the Doo Wop Project bring high caliber crooning to the festival’s concluding program. All are major Broadway performers, affiliated with either the cast of “Jersey Boys” or “Motown: the Musical.”

Dwayne Cooper sings bass. He grew up in Florence and has performed in the Broadway casts of “Motown” and “Hairspray” plus several national tours to include “Smokey Joe’s Café” and “Showboat.”

From Florence to Broadway?

“After college and a rather successful run in local theater, the townspeople actually put on a huge benefit to raise money to send me to New York to pursue my dream in theater,” said Cooper, 41, from his current home in Harlem. “Coming back to South Carolina, I feel like I’ve come full circle, bringing my dream back here to share.”

The Doo Wop Project will perform at Francis Marion University in Florence on their way to the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art.

The other doo-woppers are Dominic Nolfi, Charl Brown, Jon Michael Dias and Dominic Scaglione Jr. Music director Sonny Paladino and five musicians travel with the group. They formed their harmonious group in 2011 because of their mutual love of the doo wop genre. Their collaboration traces the evolution of doo-wop from the classics of the mid-20th century to today’s top hits.

Scaglione, “a real good Italian guy,” Cooper said, is the true originator of the Doo Wops. “His father Dominic Sr. is from that era and Dominic Jr. grew up hearing that music in his house. His father advises us, helps us stay true to the music,” Cooper said.

“Although we all come from different backgrounds, we all love traveling together doing what we love to do on our own turf, away from Broadway. It’s a nice business we’ve created. Next month we are performing with the Indiana Symphony. That’s pretty cool singing with a symphony.”

A sampling of the Doo Wop’s vocal journey include street corner a cappella tunes originally performed by groups such as the Crests, Belmonts and Flamingos to the more updated sounds of Smokey Robinson, the Temptations and the Four Seasons, and then on to the more current doo-wop influenced works of One Direction, Bruno Mars, Meghan Trainor and Amy Winehouse. Cooper cites his favorite songs as “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “I Wonder Why.”

“Generally the whole set is a compilation representing the doo-wop genre with a contemporary spin,” Cooper said. “I call it doo-wopified music. People just gravitate to our sound. We seem to get through to people, crossing racial barriers. They dig it.”

The Doo Wop Project: Oct. 15, 7 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. $50 / $30 (table seating, reservations required). pawleysmusic.com

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