Billy Colucci & John Leonard
Tickets: $15/$10 full-time students with ID
Master jazz pianist and composer Billy Colucci has worked with everyone from Anita O’Day to Steve Allen and Andy Warhol. The South Philly native and long-time Fells Point resident is known for his intelligent, lyrical jazz. Tonight he shares new and classic compositions in the tradition of Bill Evans. Accompanying tonight's concert is John Leonard on bass.
Billy Colucci was born and raised in South Philly, the town closest to his heart. He grew up with such musical and showbiz names as Jim Croce, Lew Tabackin (sax), Fabian, Gus Rosse (guitar), Pat Martino (guitar), and Frank Leone (Red Skelton’s pianist and arranger). When he was seven, Billy started to take classical piano lessons. Since his family didn’t own a piano, he drew piano keys on the kitchen table and moved his fingers to the music he would hear in his head. (He grew adept at drawing, too, since he had to erase the keys before each meal.) While he was performing Come Back to Sorrento at the Broadway Theater after winning a radio contest, the kids in the audience threw tomatoes at him. His dad, an upholsterer, said, “Don’t worry, William. They’ll be in jail while you’ll be making money playing the piano.” His cousin Charlie Ventura (who became famous in the jazz world playing sax with Gene Krupa) encouraged him to play music professionally, but advised him to drop his Italian surname. From then until he moved to NYC in the 80s, he performed as Billy Cole.
Colucci learned to improvise while playing at late-50s record hops with Frankie Avalon and other soon-to-be-famous rockers.
In 1962, Andy Warhol asked him to play piano live during the first screening of Warhol’s silent movies, ‘Kiss’, ‘Sleep’, and ‘Haircut’.
Soon thereafter, Billy hit the road, eventually landing at Charlie Byrd’s Showboat in D.C., where he played with the likes of Anita O’Day and June Christie.
Then onto Las Vegas with the Milt Treiner/Micki Lynn review, the 500 Club and Le Bistro in Atlantic City with Freddie Cole (Nat King Cole’s brother) and Arthur Prysock (singer), and stints at the Living Room in NYC, Grossingers in the Catskills, and the Steve Allen Show.
Finding his own voice, Billy formed a trio, performing his own tunes, plus a few choice covers.
In the early 70s, while living in Baltimore, he joined the Scott Cunningham band, the first band to play the Marble Bar in Mount Vernon.
Colucci moved to NYC in the 80s, working as a rehearsal pianist for Broadway singers, and laying the Ginger Man & O’Neals with Eliot Zigmund and Joe La Berbera (Bill Evans’ drummers), Paul Langosh (bassist, now with Tony Bennett), and Tony Scott (clarinet).
In the early 90s, after returning to Baltimore, Billy was able to indulge his other passion – old movies – when he and George Figgs opened the Orpheum Theater in Fells Point, while playing piano all over town. These days, he lives on the third floor of a house in Fells Point, ringing true his mother’s prophecy: “You should marry the girl next door and get a job in a bank. Otherwise, you’ll end up living on the third floor of someone else’s house.” Fortunately for his select and avid fans, he ventures out once in a while to play the piano at the Creative Alliance, Germano’s and Bertha’s.
A dry sense of humor accompanies Billy’s musical talent. His advice to those considering a career in the arts: “Marry the girl next door and get a job in a bank!”