Classical musician from Vietnam finds his calling after school brawl

Legally blind since the age of 3, the classical musician arrived in Queens from Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, with his parents and siblings as a teenager in 1982. It wasn't long before Tran - who spoke no English - found himself labeled as a discipline problem in his public grammar school. "That was at a school that had a program for the visually impaired," Tran recalls. "It was still tough. It would have been difficult with the language and the culture for any kid. I didn't even know the words they were insulting me with." Tran finally had enough. "I just took it, until one day I hit another kid. Suddenly, that changed everything." The 38-year-old Tran is sitting in a rehearsal room at Lighthouse International's Music School on the upper East Side, where he was sent in the aftermath of the schoolyard fight. Lighthouse International, a nonprofit organization for those with vision loss, would become a vital part of Tran's success in America. "A visually handicapped individual didn't have opportunities in Saigon," Tran explains. "The schools couldn't accommodate me. They suggested I stay home and do private tutoring. "There was a guitar available in the house, and that's how I developed that interest. I had been playing for three or four years before my family came to America." Today, he's an award-winning musician and composer, and a classical guitarist with a repertoire that covers five centuries. He began his training at Lighthouse 23 years ago with music teacher Anthony Falaro - who continues to work with his longtime student. "I was just a part-time instructor then," says the Lighthouse School's assistant director. "I was told that there was a student from Vietnam coming to us from a grammar school, and that he was destructive. We knew that he had a guitar. "They told me his mother would translate, but she didn't know much English, either. Fortunately, we had a common language in music, and he was an excellent student." Over Continue Reading

CLASSIC AMBASSADOR. A ‘meat and potatoes’ musician brings a new way from Norway

A few weeks ago, the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes opened the season of the St. Louis Symphony. The night before the gala opening, the orchestra gave a concert only for college students, an idea they had first tried a year earlier. Tickets for "Sound Check" were $10. Last year, 400 students attended. This year, the number of attendees shot up to 650. "Why aren't more institutions doing this?" Andsnes asks. "It seems so obvious." At a time when classical music is experimenting as never before to find ways to attract younger audiences, Andsnes' question seems most apt. The 36-year-old musician is an especially good ambassador to young audiences. Born on Karmoy, an island off the coast of Norway, he has boyish good looks and a disarmingly unaffected manner. He also has a sense of fashion - his concert gear is provided by Issey Miyake. His understated personal style is a contrast to his commanding keyboard technique, which enables him to tackle the powerhouse 19th-century repertory - Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Brahms - which he has recorded extensively and for which he has received many awards. He also has a delicacy of touch that gives lighter pieces a breathtaking elegance. Andsnes will open the 116th Carnegie Hall season Wednesday night, performing Mozart's Piano Concerto in G, K. 453, the same piece he played in St. Louis. (The concert, which features the Cleveland Orchestra, will be telecast on PBS Oct. 11.) This week, EMI released his latest album, "Horizons," which is a change of pace for someone best known for his "meat and potatoes" recordings. "Horizons" is a collection of 22 encores, the little pieces concert pianists offer as "dessert" after performing heavier works. Andsnes has wanted to record such an album for years - it includes such chestnuts as Liszt's "Liebestraum" and Debussy's "Clair de Lune," as well as lesser-known pieces, some by Scandinavian composers, and even a song by the French pop singer Charles Trenet. "I Continue Reading


Is Rupert Murdoch taking the "My" in MySpace. com a little too literally? Murdoch's News Corp. owns the popular networking Web site, having paid $580 million last July for MySpace. com's parent company. But now, according to some MySpace. com users, the media giant thinks it also owns anything and everything that's posted there. In recent years, the site has become the online venue for musicians to release their new material. Name-brand bands such as Weezer, Nine Inch Nails - and even aspiring rapper Kevin Federline - have debuted music on their MySpace. com pages. But popular English songwriter Billy Bragg claims the MySpace. com "terms of service" give Murdoch's minions the right to exploit their content as they see fit. Bragg has deleted his tunes from his MySpace. com page, which offers this explanation: "SORRY THERE'S NO MUSIC," because "once an artist posts up any content (including songs), it then belongs to My Space (AKA Rupert Murdoch) and they can do what they want with it, throughout the world without paying the artist. " The troublesome fine print informs users that by posting any content, "you hereby grant to MySpace. com a non-exclusive, fully-paid and royalty-free, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense through unlimited levels of sublicensees) to use, copy, modify, adapt, translate, publicly perform, publicly display, store, reproduce, transmit, and distribute such Content on and through the Services. " Sounds dire. But Myspace. com spokesman Jeff Berman says not to worry. "Because the legalese has caused some confusion, we are at work revising it to make it very clear that MySpace is not seeking a license to do anything with an artist's work other than allow it to be shared in the manner the artist intends," Berman says. "Obviously, we don't own their music or do anything with it that they don't want. " Nice to know. HITCHENS SHIFTS INTOORAL DRIVE. Vanity Fair's resident Brit, Christopher Hitchens - Continue Reading

Poly Prep school official’s alcohol-fueled Cuba trip included unidentified musician’s son, suit says, as reports cite concerts by Jon Bon Jovi

Who needs the three Rs? Two seniors from scandal-scarred Poly Prep shared a hooker, booze and cigars on a school-financed “rite of passage” Cuban getaway hosted by a top school official, a stunning new lawsuit charges. While the 31-page Brooklyn state Supreme Court suit didn’t name the students, one was identified as the son of a famous musician who “became a generous supporter of the school via his charity concerts.” Numerous reports have cited the charity concerts given for Poly Prep Country Day School by rocker Jon Bon Jovi, whose son Jesse Bongiovi graduated from Poly Prep two years ago. A spokesman for the Garden State singer-songwriter declined to address the wild allegations in the lawsuit or confirm that the musician’s son was on the trip. “We never comment on Jon’s family,” said Jon Bon Jovi’s publicist, Ken Sunshine. The suit filed Thursday by Lisa Della Pietra also alleged the debauchery in Cuba was covered up by the school “to protect a ‘high profile’ celebrity parent of a student who attended the Cuba trip.” She’s seeking damages from Poly Prep for retaliating against her for blowing the whistle and for alleged bullying by the school’s development director Steven Andersen — identified as the host of the Cuba trip which she learned about in the summer of 2013. Andersen’s son Sebastian was the second youth on the trip, a source told the Daily News. Bongiovi and Sebastian Andersen are close friends, with Jesse tagging Andersen in a 2012 Facebook post with the word “Cuba” and a map of the island nation. In December 2012, Sebastian posted a gorgeous photo of the Caribbean with the caption “that view from the penthouse in Cuba.” According to the lawsuit, the elder Andersen “paid a prostitute to entertain the students as a ‘rite of passage,’ and drank alcohol to excess and smoked Continue Reading

In the Now: Laser tag battle in the Highline Ballroom; musicians raise funds for an unsung hero of Motown; a cast of 50 goes on ‘Midnight Frolic’

SHOT IN THE DARK Tag! You’re it. Run wild at Lazer Zoo , a booze-filled daytime party/brunch combining DJs, dancing and laser tag. Suit up every Sunday as the massive main floor of the Highline Ballroom in the Meatpacking District transforms into a glow-in-the-dark laser-tag arena. Players can keep track of their scores, which will be displayed on the LED wall on stage. “This new brunch provides an interactive experience like no other in the city,” says said Tsion Bensusan, the owner of the Highline Ballroom. “Guests can play laser tag and enjoy great food and cocktails in an exhilarating environment.” Sunday at 5 p.m. Entry includes one game of laser tag and one drink for $20. This event is for the ages 21 and up. See Jeanette Settembre *** MOTOWN BENEFIT You may not know Eddie Willis’ name, but you know his sound. The electric guitarist from the three-time Grammy Award winning Funk Brothers session band played on almost every single Motown hit. The great songs included: the Temptations’ “My Girl,” Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Funk Brothers played on more No. 1 hits than the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys combined. But like many unsung and underpaid Motown session legends, Willis has fallen on hard financial times, further complicated by his and his wife’s health issues. So local musicians led by Tom DeRenzo are flying Willis up from Mississippi for a “For the Love of Motown” benefit concert at K.J. Farrell’s in Bellmore, L.I., on Saturday from 1-5 p.m. “Motown let me down ... but this amazing thing these people are doing makes me feel blessed,” says Willis, who will share his stories and sign autographs. Live musicians will play Motown hits. Tickets are $20 at the door or Continue Reading

Burberry launches Autumn/Winter 2015 campaign featuring young actors, musicians, models

Burberry is bringing a wide range of talent together for their latest campaign. The British brand launched their Autumn/Winter 2015 campaign Monday and the stunning images feature a group of 12 young actors, musicians and models, according to Burberry. The females of the all British cast , who appear in the photos snapped by Mario Testino at an area in London, include model Ella Richards, granddaughter of Rolling Stones rocker Keith Richards, along with actress Holliday Grainger, model/actress Amber Anderson, actress Clara Paget and model Florence Kosky. While the men in the fashionable shots include musician Tom Odell, actor Harry Treadaway, model Jackson Hale, model Oscar Tuttiet, YAK musician Oliver Burslem and Hidden Charms musicians Ranald McDonald and Oscar Robertson. Both the womanswear and the menswear for Autumn/Winter 2015 line were inspired from a bohemian spirit and feature paisley prints and florals. Buyers should keep their eyes peeled this upcoming season for Burberry’s new poncho, Bucket Bag for women, the Burberry Carryall for men and the Burberry Fringe scarf. Continue Reading

Musician sparks outrage after sarcastically thanking Amtrak for fatal crash, demanding back lost violin

A professional violinist sparked Internet ire after the Amtrak crash survivor sarcastically thanked the train company for the fatal derailment. Jennifer Kim, a member of the Washington National Opera Orchestra, demanded Amtrak retrieve her violin from the second train car on Twitter, just minutes after the Philadelphia crash Tuesday night. CRASHED AMTRAK TRAIN WAS TRAVELING OVER 100MPH "Thanks a lot for derailing my train," Kim tweeted out to Amtrak. "Can I please get my violin back from the 2nd car of train?" Kim soon deleted the tweet — and her twitter account — after people said she should not be complaining about losing a material item when seven people lost their lives and more than 140 were injured. She's not the only one to lose valuables. Other passengers had trouble getting in touch with relatives because their phones got lost in the mangled mess of twisted metal. Some people got stranded in Philadelphia without wallets. AMTRAK PASSENGERS RECALL HORROR OF PHILADELPHIA CRASH Some Twitter users came to Kim's defense, noting that the violin is likely her most prized possession and her lifeblood. Violins for professionals can often cost thousands of dollars, and soaring prices have forced many musicians to borrow instead of own. But critics said Kim probably insured her violin and could get a new one. Kim did not immediately respond to the Daily News' request for comment. The musician has New York ties. She is a substitute for the National Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic and has played chamber music at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, according to her website. FLASHBACK: FRANKFORD JUNCTION TRAIN WRECK KILLS DOZENS IN 1943 She taught at New York City Public School 1 while getting her Master's degree at Julliard. She Continue Reading

SEE IT: British musician becomes one-man orchestra in his own video

An insanely gifted British musician has taken the concept of a one-man band to the next level by becoming his very own orchestra. Ben Morfitt has put together a sensational CGI video in which he appears to play every single instrument in an ensemble. The 24-year-old weaved the footage together so that 75 different versions of himself perform alongside each other. Morfitt used just a green screen and a friend's camera to film the phenomenal show inside his Yorkshire home's bedroom. He was recorded playing nine instruments — including drums, French horn and trumpet — as the 75 people. "I know there are a couple of instruments missing from a FULL orchestra, but I had to work with what I had," he wrote on his YouTube channel, called Squidphysics. "Also I've never tried conducting before, so I'm not 100% sure what I'm doing, I just watched a load of videos of conductors and tried to do something similar to them," he added. He used computer trickery to edit the clip together —  and the results, which came after just one month of hard work, are astounding. Morfitt effortlessly glides through the different sections of the orchestra, before the entire cast flips the finger at the camera at the end. Morfitt also wrote the entire score for his cartoon, "Pegul." The multiinstrumentalist has 100,000 YouTube followers on his channel. ON A MOBILE DEVICE? CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VIDEO. Continue Reading

Stephen Colbert taps jazz musician Jon Batiste as ‘Late Show’ band leader

It's no joke leading the house band for a late night comedy show. Stephen Colbert showed he gets that by announcing on Thursday the hiring of ace musician Jon Batiste as band leader for his upcoming "Late Show." A master keyboardist, Batiste makes a great choice, both for the range of his expertise and the tone of his character. Over the years, he has collaborated with stars from the world of jazz (Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Roy Hargrove), as well as those from rock and pop, including Prince, Derek Trucks, Lenny Kravitz, Harry Connick Jr., and more. Though just 28, Batiste boasts a life-long history in music. He began playing with his family band before puberty. At seven, he showed a talent for percussion and drums. By 12, he switched to the keyboards. He moved to New York to study at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music for his undergraduate and master's degrees. RELATED: COLBERT DOES FIRST SHTICK AS 'LATE SHOW' HOST There he began playing what has become a signature instrument for him, the melodica, an instrument that has a keyboard on top but also a hole to blow through. It sounds like a new-fangled harmonica.  Batiste has used it with his band Stay Human, whose most recent album, "Social Music," hit No. 1 on Billboard's Jazz Album chart.  In 2012, Batiste was named Artistic Director at Large for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.  The most raucous of Batiste's music has just the right party vibe for a late night show. He spent years absorbing the sound, and participating in the raucous scene, of the French Quarter. He has also played the New York subways, where he picked up the grit and freedom of our city. Batiste has the chops to adapt quickly to the needs of artists from nearly every genre — a requirement for a show like Colbert’s. More, he’s good-looking and can act, as proven by his roles in the HBO show "Treme" Continue Reading

Marcus Belgrave, jazz musician, dead at 78

DETROIT — Marcus Belgrave, a jazz trumpeter who graced stages and studios with Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Cocker and Motown artists galore, died Sunday. Belgrave was 78. He died of heart failure at an Ann Arbor, Mich., facility, said Hazelette Crosby-Robinson, a cousin of his wife, Joan. Born into a family of musicians in Chester, Pa., Belgrave started playing professionally at 12 and joined The Ray Charles Band in the late 1950s — what he once described as “the beginning of my musical life.” He became a Motown Records studio musician in 1962 and played on hits like “My Girl” and “Dancing in the Street.” Continue Reading