Jimmy Vivino and the Black Italians
Black Italians.... I guess it all started with my father coming home from a hard day's work and unwinding on the couch, cigarette, drink and trumpet in hand, playing along with his Louis Armstrong records. Every night. Remarkable how he copped Satchmo's style and soul. Then along came Barry Jackson, my buddy from 4th grade till his death after we graduated high school. My drummer, my pal, my Brother from another Mother. His Mom fed us greens and sweet potato pie. My Mom served up Barry's favorite eggplant parmigiana... Black Italians.
I discovered this "thing" in the musicians I idolized that later became band mates and soul mates of mine, too. Dion DiMucci, Felix Cavaliere, Laura Nyro, honorary Italian Al Kooper and surprisingly John Sebastian (Puglese) who speaks Italian better than my Mom! All we ever wanted was to sing and play like Ray Charles, Muddy Waters or Little Willie John.
Finally, 20 plus years ago when I put this band together to play a weekly gig at the now legendary music bar "Downtime" the name was attached to this wild bunch of characters. The perfect mix of Italians, Cubans, Jews and Afro Americans... But all Black Italians.
-- Jimmy V., Woodstock, NY 2013
Jimmy Vivino, Music Director and leader of the house band for Conan O'Brien's show on TBS, brought together the "Black Italians" band for a memorable concert /recording session at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY. Featuring Catherine Russell (vocals), Felix Cabrera (harmonica, vocals), Danny Louis (keyboards, trombone, vocals), Mike Merritt (bass), James Wormworth (drums), Mike Jacobson (congas, percussion), Fred Walcott (timbales, percussion), and Jimmy on guitar, vocals and piano, The Black Italians were originally formed twenty years ago around a residency at the legendary Downtime Music Bar on W. 30th Street in New York City. Vivino, Merritt and Wormworth, who had been serving as the band for the legendary pianist Johnnie Johnson, started attracting local and national touring musicians to their shows eager to participate in impromptu jams of what Vivino describes as "Third World blues with New Orleans swagger." Vivino jokingly dubbed the communal group of musicians of various ethnicities "The Black Italians," which he says was really "about being soulful cats." The aggregation lasted about two years, until Vivino became too busy with his television gig.
On November 30, 2012, the reunited Black Italians hosted a public rehearsal followed by a live recorded concert the next night at Levon Helm's beautiful barn studio in Woodstock NY. The group had performed together only sporadically in the last several years, but one would never have guessed that once the lights came on and they hit the stage. Interspersing Jimmy's original songs with covers of tunes by the likes of Bob Dylan, James Brown, Traffic and Johnny Winter, the Black Italians immediately fell into a soulful, joyous groove, enlivening the audience. A night of truly inspired music making was capped off by "Song For Levon," written by Jimmy for the occasion, and a rousing version of The Band's "Shape I'm In."
Vivino has been a consistent element in Conan O'Brien's late night TV career, starting with the first episode of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" in September 1993. For the past two years, guitarist, singer, songwriter and bandleader Vivino has enjoyed a high-visibility gig as the musical director for Jimmy Vivino and The Basic Cable Band, the house band for the TBS late night program "Conan." When not appearing weeknights on TBS, Vivino divides his time between recording sessions and live gigs throughout the country. In addition to his solo work, Vivino plays with the wildly successful Beatles tribute band, The Fab Faux.
A multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger and songwriter par excellence, the list of artists Vivino has worked with reads like a Who's Who of rock, blues, pop and soul music: Johnnie Johnson, Levon Helm, Al Kooper, Phoebe Snow, Laura Nyro, John Sebastian, Shemekia Copeland, Donald Fagen, Hubert Sumlin, Son Seals, Frankie Valli, Darlene Love, Ronnie Spector, Dion, Wilson Pickett, Garth Hudson and Johnny Rivers, to name but a few. Prior to landing in television, Vivino also worked on Broadway and in film. In 1984 he directed an Off-Broadway show entitled "Leader of the Pack" at The Bottom Line, where he first got acquainted with Paul Shaffer of "Late Night With David Letterman." His film credits include "Sister Act," "Sister Act 2," "The First Wives Club," "Heart & Soul," "Night In The City" and "George of the Jungle." Jimmy was the music director and arranger for Cinemax's "A Soul Session With James Brown," and HBO's "Legendary Ladies Of Rock and Roll," which featured Brenda Lee, Lesley Gore, Freda Payne and Martha Reeves.
Despite his busy TV schedule, Vivinio has continued to appear regularly as a leader or member of a variety of bands and as a valued guest performer for many groups. In addition to his Conan show duties, Jimmy performs live over 50 nights per year. In 2012, he appeared with the Prisoners of 2nd Avenue, Al Kooper, Felix Cabrera, Rick Reed, James Wormworth, Scott Healy, the Fab Faux, a Paul Butterfield tribute with Paul's son Gabriel, the Vivino Brothers, the New Rekooperators, John Sebastian, Garth Hudson, Jim Weider, Johnny Rivers, Barry Goldberg and with Jimmy Vivino and the Black Italians.
Says Jimmy about the experience of recording the Black Italians in front of a live audience:
Bringing the Black Italians to Levon's barn completes the circle and caps off a fitting history to that chapter in my musical journey. The notes we played on those two magical nights are now ingrained in the wood and still bounce around in the rafters, mixing and blending with all the once and future vibrations that grace this musical shrine.
There is no road to happiness. Happiness is the road. Keep it going.