Over the years I have been lucky enough to perform in hundreds of hotels, restaurants, lounges, nightclubs, concert halls, theaters, and even an occasional parking lot. And let's not forget two times in our Nations Capital for two different Presidents.
I also got to sing in a major motion picture, and made an appearance on "Entertainment Tonight" a few short years ago. The movie and TV show were made possible through the efforts of Mary Ann Cricchio in Baltimore.
As you can imagine, there are a thousand stories, but this page is dedicated to some of the wonderful people that have owned and managed some of the places I have performed in.
And, as time goes on, I might even tell you about some of the 'not so wonderful people' I have worked for. My lawyer is standing by.
At the top of the list is Mimmo and Mary Ann Cricchio of "DaMimmo Restaurant" in Baltimore. Mimmo and Mary Ann knew how important it is to let the musician and singer express himself freely. Sadly, Mimmo is no longer with us, but Mary Ann is continuing the great tradition of this fabulous Italian restaurant. As the years have past, I miss Mimmo more and more. Happily, Mary Ann has kept "DaMimmo" Restaurant number one in Baltimore, and perhaps the entire state of Maryland. She has always been a friend to all musicians, and continues to have live music six nights a week. Thanks, Mary Ann, for all your support.
One of my very first gigs as a professional singer/musician came to me when I was still a teenager. It was a beautiful resort hotel in the Catskill Mountains in New York State. Still young and not a lot of experience, Lowell and Grace Lewis gave me a shot. I performed for them every summer for the next six years. On my very first night, right after I sang a song, Grace came up to the piano and said, "Tommy, always watch your audience. If the people at their tables are leaning over to talk to each other, you are too loud." There is not a week that goes by that I don't put that advise to good use.
When it comes to people with great foresight and vision, my good friend Angelo Piazza comes to mind. Angelo was managing a wonderful jazz club in Tampa, Florida a few years back. One day he called me and said, "Tommy, I want to do one night every week of jazz standards in the tradition of Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra, and you are my man." Well, I thought he was crazy. Only high energy fusion groups were performing there, and I didn't think I was the right one for this club. He said, "Good music is good music, and you will start in two days!" I called the best jazz players I could think of, and we were on that bandstand on Monday night. For the next 18 months there was standing room only. This might be the only time that I beat out Monday Night Football. I also feel like I did some of my best singing with this band. Great jazz musicians bring out the best in me. Angelo had a splendid idea, and I'm grateful to have been a part of it. Thank you, Angelo.
One of the pleasures, and I might add privileges, of being in the entertainment business, is meeting and performing with truly talented musicians.
Living in Tampa, Florida was a unique and wonderful time. Great jazz players and entertainers were everywhere performing in the bay area. Dale Mabry Highway had dozens of hotels and clubs, all with live music. And that's just one street! Music was everywhere.
I was performing six nights a week, and almost every night, after my last show, I was driving somewhere to hear some of these performers.
Many names come to mind. Dick Rumore, Phil Provenzano, Junie Ferrell, Artie DeVita, Belinda Womack, Merv Stone, Theo Valintin, Joe Stagi. The list is virtually endless.
Dick Rumore is unique among the great musicians in Tampa. He had a successful band, owns and operates Florida's largest music store, (still going strong after 43 years), and for 10 years, owned and performed in his jazz club in Tampa's Latin Quarter, Ybor City. Dick, a really great sax player, put together a stellar big band for "The Jazz Cellar". You can imagine my delight, when he called me and asked if I would sing a couple tunes for opening night festivities. He booked many world famous jazz artists to perform there, too. It was truly the place to be! During those ten years, I sang with this wonderful band dozens of times. I'll never forget sharing the stage with the great Phil Provenzano. Phil, (Dick's cousin), is perhaps the finest trumpet and fluglehorn player EVER. One of my fondest musical memories involved Phil. One night, while I was singing with the band, I asked Phil to come and join me on center stage and play the solo on the great American classic, "I Can't Get Started". He was taken by surprise, but didn't hesitate. It was one of my favorite impromptu moments. That was the most beautiful, heartwarming performance of that song I ever heard. I was so mesmerized by his playing, that I almost forgot to come back in and finish the song. He received one of the longest and loudest ovations I can remember. Well deserved. Thanks, Phil, and thanks Dick Rumore for all your help and guidance. As I have heard you say, many times, "Keep on Swingin' ".
If you are ever in the Tampa area, and want to be thrilled by a fabulous jazz singer, check out Belinda Womack. She has become legendary in the area, and there is a reason. She is one of the most solid performers of all time. Blessed with a great voice, great beauty, and impeccable taste in her songs and musicians, she is one of the most intelligent entertainers I've ever known. No one has managed their own career better than Belinda. All that, and raising two great kids. We have sung together many times, all over the country, and every time was like New Year's Eve. Amazing Lady! Thanks, Belinda. Let's do it again, soon.
I have logged well over 2 million miles driving across America singing the music that is dear to me. One of the benefits of my work, is that I've had the chance to meet famous and interesting people along the way. I've actually spent time, and had some memorable conversations with people from the world of politics, sports, and entertainment.
I will always remember the night in Jamestown, N.Y., that Johnny Cash came up to the bandstand and announced to the audience how much he enjoyed my performance. He was in town for a concert, and just happened to come by for dinner. Or Billy Joel in Baltimore, Elton John in Columbia, S.C., Paul Newman in Charlotte, N.C., Johnny Depp in Baltimore. Almost too many to name. For a brief moment, I got to meet and talk with so many wonderful performers, and they were all fantastic in their own way.
Two people quickly come to mind. Micky Mantle and Sarah Vaughan.
One warm Sunday afternoon, I decided to do some minor repair on my keyboards at the Tampa Airport Resort. It only took me a few minutes to finish my work, so I thought I might test it out. There were two gentlemen at the bar ordering lunch, so I kept my volume down. As I was turning off switches and was preparing to leave, one of them turned around and asked if I would sing, "These Foolish Things". It was Micky Mantle! And the man next to him was Billy Martin. I almost fainted. I said that I would be happy to, and really gave it my all. They were very appreciative, and invited me to have lunch with them. I was so dazed, that for the next forty five minutes, I barely remember what we talked about. I do remember that they seemed interested in my singing career, and I was stunned! Here I was, sitting with the most beloved athlete since Babe Ruth, and Micky Mantle was asking me about MY life. As I was driving back home, I experienced a moment of regret. I wanted to thank him for all the thrills he gave us for so many years. I just couldn't find the words. I only hoped he knew how I felt. I think he did.
When I opened up my first set in a nice little jazz club in Annapolis, MD., little did I know that I would meet one of the greatest singers of all time, Sarah Vaughan. Despite the fact that she was singing right down the street in one of the big showrooms, I knew I would not have the chance to hear her. There wasn't a ticket to be found. We had a pretty good crowd, considering that a great jazz star was practically next door. They probably couldn't get tickets, either. After finishing my last song, I decided to personally thank the ten or eleven people still in the club. At about that time, there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned around. You guessed it. The "Divine One". I asked her how long she was in the club, and she told me she heard the last five songs. I'm glad I didn't know she was there, because I probably could not have sung a note. She was so wonderful and encouraging. She told me that I should never change a thing that I'm doing, and even suggested a song that she thought was right for me. I've been doing it ever since. That song was, "How Do You Keep the Music Playing". She was so right. Thanks, Sarah, for everything!
Photo By Marcus Dagan
Tommy Joy uses NO pre-recorded music in his performances.