Tag Archives: Nicole Watson

Stomping at Nick’s: Worcester Bar to Present “The Unknown Ellington” March 22 through 24, 2013

By Matt Robert
Originally appeared in the March 14, 2013 issue of Worcester Magazine.

Local club owners Vincent Hemmeter and Nicole Watson don’t just launch boiler plate ventures. They have singular visions and shoot for high quality. Take Nick’s, for instance. They didn’t just swap the name on the old Stoney O’Brien’s, sweep the floor and hang a few new beer signs. Like Vincent’s, they gutted it and unearthed a structural treasure over which they built a room of character.

The same attention goes to their entertainment. Both present entertainment that may not please all tastes, but each of which is sure to excite audiences of a certain mind. Nick’s has really homed in on their thing: jazz and cabaret, and they’ve assembled a stable of area musicians that turns out quality productions of a variety you would equate with big cities.

Nick’s doesn’t stop with good ideas, though. When they present one of their increasingly popular revues, they shoot for the deep cuts.

On the weekend of March 22-24, Nick’s will stage four performances of their latest idea, “The Unknown Ellington,” featuring works by The Duke’s multi-decade career as a pioneering jazz composer and bandleader.

“If you were to put a few jazz musicians together and just let them jam, I can guarantee you that before the night is out you will always hear a quantity of Duke Ellington songs, such as ‘Take the A Train,’ ‘Satin Doll,’ ‘Perdido,’ etc.,” says Nick’s co-owner Nicole Watson. “But doing a show with such over-exposed material would be way too easy and not much of a challenge for the musicians or the audience.”

Instead, says Watson, the Nick’s “house band” will dig deeper into the Ellington catalogue, making a show that might please a casual jazz fan, but provide something extra for the connoisseur, as well.

Most jazz lovers are familiar with ‘I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good),’ written by Ellington for his 1941 musical ‘Jump for Joy,’” says Watson. “Our concept allows us to bypass that well-known song and, instead, present two lesser-known songs: ‘Just Squeeze Me’ and ‘Brown Skin Gal in the Calico Gown.’”

Additionally, the group will perform other rarities, such as “Take Love Easy,” from Ellington’s ill-fated 1946 Broadway musical “Beggar’s Holiday,” which, Watson says, was crowded out of a season overrun with blockbusters. The piece will be performed “as a duet for Dan Burke and Linda Dagnello,” she says.

Another highlight for Ellington buffs will be Ellington’s “forgotten instrumental recording, ‘Starting With You I’m Through,’” which Watson says “is only known to exist on a single.” This version, which will be performed by Nick’s regular Dan Burke “expressly for this production, is possibly the first public vocal performance anywhere,” she says.

Nick’s commitment to live music has rewarded them with a growing circle of first-rate musicians with an ambitious bent. The personnel for this production is no exception. The return of four-time Nick’s revue musical director, Frank Racette, will be of particular interest, as he knew and worked directly with Ellington at the end of The Duke’s long career.

“Racette was responsible for Ellington being presented with an honorary degree from Berklee College of Music in 1971,” says Watson, and “he continues to maintain ties with the Ellington family,” adding, “in fact, Duke’s grandson, Edward Ellington II, has been very encouraging to us as we have been planning this event.”

“The performers involved in the show have shown themselves to be adventurous and open to trying new things,” says Watson. “Brian Koning, who was such a hit on trumpet in our Chet Baker production, will be using several types of vintage mutes that he has never tried before, and our drummer, Tom Spears … will be adding castanets to his percussion arsenal.”

Heavyweight area jazz vocalist Linda Dagnello will also be featured. “We suspect that she will stop the show with her bluesy version of ‘Rocks in My Bed,’ which was written by Ellington for the legendary Kansas City blues singer Big Joe Turner.”

Asked why they might tackle ambitious productions like this, while other rooms settle for risk-free money makers, Watson says, “Despite the great deal of effort that goes into it, I find it very personally rewarding. Worcester audiences are very savvy music lovers,” who, she says, “have proven it with their attendance to our previous sold-out productions of revues of Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, and Chet Baker.”

The logistics, she says, are daunting. “A production like this requires an enormous amount of planning, coordination and work for everyone involved.” Yet, the result, she says, is “a top-shelf product … with a very theatrical experience for the audience.”

According to Watson, Nick’s has “added extra performances to allow more patrons to attend and to enjoy a great night of music in an intimate venue” where the cover charge is quite reasonable “for the quality of the show, which one would find at such venues as Sculler’s or the Metropolitan Room in New York City.”

“I am confident that the intelligent and curious music lovers of Worcester and beyond will support this ambitious project,” Watson says.

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I’ll Be Homely for Christmas: Dickens’ Punch, Campy Caroling, and Naughty Santa at Nick’s, Thursday, December 13th, 2012

by Matt Robert

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go. There’s a tree in the Worcester Motel, and one on the common, as well.

And there’s a trailer park at Nick’s.

“It’s definitely a departure from the general look of Nick’s,” laughs Nicole Watson as Vincent Hemmeter toils away behind her building—a replica mobile home on the Nick’s stage, usually a demure, warmly lit home for area performers of cabaret jazz, American standards, and assorted other roots music and curiosities. The temporary remodel, which might surprise Nick’s regulars, includes “lots of plastic light-up decorations and things you would never normally see on the Nick’s stage.”

The set will provide the backdrop for Nick’s Very Merry Camped-up Christmas Show, at 9 p.m., on Thursday night, December 13, at Nick’s Bar and Restaurant, 124 Millbury Street in Worcester.

The event, what Watson calls “sort of a John Waters Christmas,” is a holiday revue done Nick’s style. “We just want it really campy and really cheesy, kind of cheap,” she says. “It’ll be a lot of fun.” Besides campy mayhem, the show will feature the usual roster of high quality talent Nick’s is known for. Watson says there will be “countless performers,” including the likes of Clayton Willoughby, Geoffrey Watson-Oehling, Aimee Kewley, Jen Antkowiak, Joan Cleary, Michael Gondeck, Monica Hamilton and Patrice Peris, along with musical directors, singers Lisa Hall and pianist Tom LaMark interspersed with short comedy sets by Shaun Connolly. Watson herself has “a few songs [she’ll] perform with Tom LaMark,” as well.

“We have an overly ambitious schedule for this,” she says of the event, which is more than just an ambitious send-up of Christmas cheer. “We also have a Santa who will be visiting – people can have their pictures taken. He’s a little irreverent. Santa will be handing out some gifts, as well.”

But that’s not all, folks! “There’s going to be some trivia, and we have prizes for the trivia,” she adds.

Prior to the party, Nick’s fixture Cocktail Bob will host a 7 p.m. presentation of a flaming punch, cherished by Charles Dickens and famous during the Victorian era.

“Cocktail Bob has done a couple different presentations for us. What he’s doing right now is a flaming Dickens punch to celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens,” says Watson. “He’s going to do a little demonstration, give the history of it, talk about Dickens for a few minutes and then have a tasting. It’s a 200-year-old – or even older – recipe for Dickens’ favorite punch. That’ll be what the sampling is.”

Once revelers get a little of this in the belly for warmth, “that leads to caroling, which will be at 8 o’clock” on the Nick’s patio.

“I’ve got some singers that I know that are going to get things started,” says Watson. “We’re going to give free cocoa and cookies to carolers out there and that’ll be probably about 45 minutes long. And that’s free to the public. Children could be involved in that, unlike the punch thing and the naughty Christmas show.”

“9 p.m. is when the Camped-up Christmas Show begins,” she says.

“Lisa will be the host” and “she’s performing,” as well, says Watson. The cabaret singer, she says, “sings on a fairly regular basis at Nick’s,” is “sort of a Nick’s favorite and…has a lot of charisma.”

“So, I went to her and asked her if she was interested in sort of organizing the performers and being the host.” The result, says Watson, is that “she’s been doing a lot of the hard work, getting the musical acts together, while I sit around wrapping the presents.”

This year’s event is a first, Watson says, though it has its roots in last year’s Christmas celebration. “Last year when we had a Christmas show, it was just remarkable to me how many people wanted to be involved and sing along. We had a variety show that was similar last year, but not to this epic proportion.”

“I was really encouraged by it, because I wasn’t really sure how well a holiday show would go over,” she says. “You know, during the holiday season people can get kind of burned out, but people seemed to really enjoy it. I think the laid-back, campy theme will be pretty hilarious. I can say this honestly as we’re building a trailer that’s going to live onstage right now.”

According to Watson, they’ve been working on the show for a couple of months. “We’ve been meeting pretty much every week, discussing ideas, what the set lists are, what the songs are.”

And what exactly can we expect to hear at a Nick’s Christmas show? “Anything from ‘Santa Baby’ to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ to pretty much everything in between,” says Watson. “One of the performers is going to be doing ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.’ Clayton Willoughby has a fantastic set of Hawaiian Christmas songs that he’ll be doing.”

“I think a lot of them will be pretty familiar, but there will be some interesting stuff thrown in there as well,” she says. “For example, the Hawaiian songs and some other stuff out of the American songbook – more winter songs are being performed as well,” Watson says, to assure that it won’t, as she says, “necessarily all [be] Christmas songs,” adding, “we’re not [going to] drive everyone crazy with a constant barrage of Christmas music.”

“It’s definitely more of a party atmosphere. It’s not scripted. Obviously the musical numbers are all worked out, but people can sing along.”

“We’re looking forward to it,” says Watson. “Tom LaMark is such a great pianist, and some of the silly and more suggestive numbers – it definitely won’t be like a walk in the mall.”

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