Michael Civisca – A Collection of Great Standards

Michael Civisca
A Collection of Great Standards

Once in a great while there comes along an exceptional talent whose vocal gifts and accomplishments not only transcend scattered musical currents but who has the potential to create a common bond among these fragmented interests. Enter vocal stylist Michael Civisca who, with his M]J Music debut,’A Collection of’ Great Standards, (released Nov. ’97), makes new again what once was old.

Civisca’s music, though reminiscent of a very different time when not a household from Harlem to Beverly Hills was without at least a few Sinatra, Shaw, Fitzgerald, Prima or Goodman”78s, also coexists perfectly in today’s eclectic CD collections. Civisca’s is an appeal that’s big, broad and delightful; and the result is what he calls his “cigar and cognac” album.

He carries the torch of an elite lineage of crooners and swooners, using melody, phrasing, tonality, pitch and individuality — the essential tools of a remarkable musician — on A Collection of Great Standards, to tell engaging stories wish’ clever lyrics to which most everyone can relate, erasing polarized musical tastes with a note, a phrase, a song.

Civisca describes his music as “classic pop-swing” and acknowledges, “We were blessed in the early part of this century with some of the greatest songwriters we will ever have, including Cole Porter, the Gershwin Brothers, Hoagy Carmichael. This music has a timeless quality…”

Though A Collection of Great Standards, by its name, implies a nostalgic element that is present and accounted for throughout the disc, imitation is clearly not the sincerest form of flattery to the mind of this one-time cartoonist and computer programmer, and neither is it the key to his success. Instead, Civisca brings this cherished past into the present with a contemporary flair that’s been his trademark all along.

Civisca elaborates’ “I don’t want people to have a preconception when they hear me. Although 1 do great songs from a great era, I stay away from signature tunes of other singers, more out of respect than anything else. It’s not arrogance,” he insists, “I just don’t want to be pigeonholed or for people to think I’m trying to be an imitator.”

To avoid these labels that every artist dreads, Civisca takes airtight precautions, painstakingly selecting material, explaining, “I play with the melodies, keys, feels, and tempos, but not enough to harm the integrity of the lyric. I just like to deliver a good song in a way that seems right.”

And this is precisely what he’s done with tracks like “Nevertheless,” Jerry Livingston’s “Under A Blanket of Blue,” “Too Young,” the popular “Moonglow,” Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” and “Reminiscing,” by George Goble from The Little River Band, all heavy on the vocals, light on the instrumentation, and innovative on the arrangements.

According to one sharp-eared writer, “Civisca brings back the artistry of a more sophisticated era,” who also observed, “Civisca personalized And modernized the classics with a youthful style all his own.” This is how the 33-year-old Civisca puts that new-music feel back into ‘great standards.’

The Niagara Falls, New York, native discovered his passion for swing and jazz soon after becoming an instrumentalist when he was eight, and got in touch with his vocalist side at 15, identifying with the stylings of Dinah Washington, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. After wowing a professional vocal coach with his extraordinary talent, Civisca joined forces with accomplished composer/arranger/pianist Ken Kaufman, resulting in an impressive repertoire, and Buffalo area performances to match.

In a rare case of right placelright time, radio promotion and marketing wizard, Jerry Meyers, attended one of these appearances, and signed Civisca to a recording contract on his independent label, Rhapsody Records. The album sold 10,000 copies — an astounding number considering that a one-man army in the guise of Meyers was doing the production, distribution, marketing, promotion, and publicity of a major label — without the ‘major,’ and in a region that typically turns a cold shoulder to local talent. Civisca, however, received a surprisingly warm welcome with heavy airplay.

He says, “Rhapsody Records thought a lot of ‘golden-agers’ would enjoy the record and that we’d have a tough time breaking into the younger market. But because we’re not approaching the music in that traditional sense, a much younger audience is attracted to it. We’ve added a bit of a twist to it just to give it a little more hipness.”

Mission accomplished, his talent and success grabbed the attention of Jerry Greenberg, president of Michael Jackson’s MJJ Music label, who re-released Civisca’s A Collection of Great Standards — (co-produced by Meyers and Kaufman, who arranged, played piano and wrote), this time with the distribution power of Work Group/Sony Music to fuel it to national acclaim.

Civisca’s recent L.A. performance at The Derby was yet another big time victory, as well as the precursor to his full dance card that includes a mini tour of The Big Apple and appearances in Buffalo at The Curtain Up, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the grand opening of the prestigious Buffalo/Niagara Falls International Airport and the Buffalo Chiidren’s Hospital Telethon.

In the mean time, kick back with A Collection of Great Standards, a cigar and cognac. And if you don’t indulge, the album will make you feel like you do.