“Mobsters and Music” is a new type of show being presented at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3 in the Coolidge Theatre at the Deane Center for the Performing Arts at 104 Main St. in Wellsboro.
A mix of the spoken word and jazz, the show explores the intersection of music and the mafia. Veteran Philadelphia journalist George Anastasia recounts tales of organized crime with instrumental music performed by renowned jazz player, baritone saxophonist / flautist Denis DiBlasio and over-the-top guitarist Brian Betz.
“Our show is a chronological overview of the mob in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Chicago, Las Vegas and Havana, Cuba. It looks at the cultural connections between organized crime and the music of the day,” said Anastasia.
“I talk about organized crime during a particular time period in the 20th century and Brian and Denis then play the music popular at that time and provide commentary to put the music into social context,” Anastasia said.
“Our show is somewhat historical but we keep it fun and light,” said Anastasia. “Afterward, we also answer questions from the audience.”
Looking forward to attending the performance at the Deane Center on Aug. 3 is Anastasia and DiBlasio’s cousin, Rick Doganiero, who lives in Wellsboro.
“This will be my first chance to see the show,” said Doganiero, who leads his own jazz band, The X-Ray Big Band, and is a radiologist with the local hospital’s Radiology Department.
Anastasia commented, “Our aunts, uncles and cousins have seen it and told me how good it is. So, I suggested the idea to Kevin Connelly (Deane Center executive director).”
The mob didn’t have a direct impact on music, Anastasia points out. “We show what was happening in music and the underworld in each era and how and why they intersected,” he said, noting that performers like the Rat Pack’s Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. were instrumental in establishing Las Vegas as an entertainment and tourist destination for the mob’s gambling casinos.
Among the selections DiBlasio and Betz will perform are Benny Goodman’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” composed in 1934; Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” composed in 1941; and Frank Sinatra’s version of “Fly Me to the Moon,” composed in 1954.
“Mobsters and Music” came about because of the professional and personal relationships between these three men.
Anastasia and DiBlasio are cousins. “My wife’s grandmother and Denny’s grandmother were sisters,” said Anastasia, a journalist for more than 40 years who wrote about organized and disorganized crime as a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1974 through 2012. Anastasia is also an author who specializes in crime. He has written six books about the mob. Among them are: “Blood and Honor” (1991), “The Last Gangster” (2004), and “Gotti’s Rules” (2015). He currently writes a column, Mob Scene, for JerseyMan / PhillyMan magazine.
DiBlasio joined the big band of legendary trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, serving as musical director for five years in the 1980s. During that time, he honed his virtuosity on the baritone saxophone and flute, his scat-vocal technique and his composing and arranging skills. DiBlasio has performed with Tony Bennett, McCoy Tyner and Clark Terry. His musical scores and several of his books on jazz improvisation and scat singing have been published. His “education as entertainment” style as a clinician for the Yamaha Musical Corporation has taken him across the United States and around the world.
Anastasia, DiBlasio and Betz teach at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. Anastasia is an adjunct professor who teaches a course on organized crime. DiBlasio is director of the Jazz Department and conducts the Jazz Lab Band. Betz holds bachelor and master’s degrees in music from Rowan where he teaches jazz guitar and improvisation.
Betz was a student of DiBlasio; they perform and record music together. Anastasia attends DiBlasio and Betz’s concerts and they attend his talks on organized crime.
Over the course of years of getting together two or three times a month to go out and eat dinner, they inevitably would end up joking about organized crime having an impact on American music and consider putting a show together. It became a reality in 2018 after a librarian encouraged them to do it.
Admission is $15 and free for youth 12 and under when accompanied by a paying adult. This is BYOB. Bring your favorite snacks and beverages. For tickets and to reserve a table free of charge, call (570) 724-6220 or visit www.deanecenter.com.