Last time I spoke to T. Oliver Reid he was getting ready to release his debut CD "Do I Love You." Since that time, "Do I Love You" has made its way into the world, delighting fans. He also enjoyed a run in Broadway's "Sister Act" alongside Raven Simone and Carolee Carmello.
Now, T. Oliver is starring in "Cotton Club Parade" at City Center from November 14-18 and making his Feinstein's debut with his new show "Drop Me Off In Harlem" from November 28-December 9 at 10:30pm (for just $20 and one drink, you'll get an hour of excellence). Click here for tickets to "Drop Me Off In Harlem!"
1. Last time we spoke, you were getting to release your debut CD "Do I Love You." What is it like now that the CD is out? It's kind of the same. When I was working on the CD that took up all of my time and now that I'm done with it, I'm really happy with the result and people have listened to it and love a lot of the songs and I apparently have a huge following in Korea. I'm working on putting a tour together there.
When I work on a project, I focus on it for as long as it takes to get it done and then once I'm done with it, I move onto the next project. Looking back, I do wish I got to spend a little more time on it, mainly with me getting to record the song a few times before making it the final cut, but I'm happy with what I have. The CD is doing well.
2. What has the reaction from fans and the industry been like for you? I have my 15,000 Korean followers. Overall, people have been very happy with the CD, especially my musical choices.
3. You also were in the Broadway production of "Sister Act." What was the best part about being in that the show? There were a lot of great parts. For me, since I was off-stage most nights, it gave me time to work on other projects. It was a wonderful cast. I really enjoyed working with Raven Simone. She's brilliant and amazingly talented and funny. She's everything you hope that generation of Hollywood/young starlet would be...she was hardworking and respectful. The cast was great. We had a really fun time! I love the message the show gave out.
4. Now, you are getting ready to perform in the Cotton Club Parade at City Center as part of an evening of Duke Ellington music and other great jazz composers. What excites you about these upcoming shows? I love this music. You get these amazing Duke Ellington songs as well as some Harold Arlen songs, which are some of the most beautiful music you'll ever hear, like "The Devil in Deep Blue Sea" plus we'll have the jazz band from Lincoln Center, so it's going to be quite an evening. The show is at that point in American history where the popular standard was really coming into its own and all these wonderful writers were writing music for The Cotton Club and Broadway so you get a lot of what was going on in New York at that time. It's going to be an amazing evening, a fast 90 minutes of great music.
5. In late November, you will also be making your Feinstein's debut with "Drop Me Off in Harlem," an evening of music by Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington and Andy Razaf. What is it about this music and time in history that resonates with you? It's a time when so much was going on, a lot of good and still a lot strife in different places, so it's a point in New York, especially Harlem, where there was this entire renaissance of this black community and what was going on and integrating downtown NY and white NY into what they were doing, so again we had these white club owners who were bringing in the Dorothy Fields and Harold Arlen and the Gershwins were coming up to Harlem and doing music for all these clubs and putting their amazing songs on these black orchestras and performers for their audiences. They were just doing amazing things. While this was happening, let us not forget on Long Island there was an influx of white supremacy and they were standing up for what they believed, but in this little town in New York, especially in Harlem, most people looked at it as we're enjoying our lives, listening to jazz and it was one of the few times you'd get any number of races in one club and it was no longer considered downtown. It was very integrated and just about the music.
I was so fortunate to have so much free time during "Sister Act" to put this show together. I had the time to read a lot of novelists from the late 20s and early 30s and read many of the African American poets to see what they were doing and from there the show started to take shape. The original idea for the show was to an evening of Harold Arlen music at The Cotton Club, but, the more I read and the more I listened to the music of that time, it made want to do a broader show, so I decided to bring in Dorothy Fields and the Gershwins, and Duke Ellington.
I wanted to do a show that is racially based and it would still be a show about The Cotton Club, but the music each group would sing would be because of the color of their skin. So there would be very fair skinned women who would sing certain songs and darker skinned men would sing other songs and the funny guys would do certain things and divide it that way and show what each performer could do, not necessarily because of talent, but because of the color of their skin. Then I thought that would be off-putting to some people, so I kept thinking about what to do.
Then one day I found this picture about what Harlem was and I think it was 1933 and all the clubs were on the different streets, and I could make my show about a night of club hopping and what you'd hear and what you'd see and what you'd eat and drink and what time things would happen at the various clubs and then you would go from one club to the next and get a full evening of music. The show is really about a Saturday night in Harlem in 1934 and the journey you would take from the start of your evening to the end, early Sunday morning and where you go from there.
6. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing your show? I think with every show, I want them to come away with knowing a little bit more about me. This show is a lot more theatrical than my last show. My last show had a lot of humor and you get a lot of who I am as just Tim, but with this show you get that plus many more theatrical moments because of what the music is. Everything in the show is defined by the music to evolve. There will be a lot more me, a lot more fun, and a lot of songs that people don't know. There are also going to be a lot of songs that when the first note is played, you'll know it. It's a great mix of your favorites and some things that people should know.
7. What are you looking forward to about making your Feinstein's debut? Everything. When I got the idea for this show it was like somebody slapped me in the face. The more I worked on it and put it together, it's everything I want a show to be. It has the perfect arc and everything makes sense from the grouping of the songs to how we want them to flow. I'm adding a horns section, which will be fun.
The fact that I get to debut at Feinstein's before they close is really wonderful. I think I will be the last person to debut at Feinstein's. This show is a great venture to have right after coming off of The Cotton Club at City Center. There is so much great music!
8. You have also started your own blog Soapbox Doozies. What made you want to start your own blog? What do you like about this venture? Earlier this year I started writing a screenplay and after I finished that, I realized how much I liked writing. You know, I clearly have a lot of opinions on things, so I just started writing here and there and decided to post it on my website and if people want to read it that's fine. The first one was kind of hard-hitting and I wasn't sure if that's how I wanted to start things off, but I had the ideas on my mind, so I did it. As I told people, some will be very funny and others will be serious. The second entry was very funny, so it's a way for me to get stuff off of my chest and be creative in certain ways, even when I'm working on other things. I work best when I have like 6 projects happening at once.
Me: Can you talk about the screenplay at all?
T. Oliver: It's a friendship of 5 people, but one of them has died, so the story is told through flashbacks on what their lives were living in New York in the early 50s and how their friendships developed and how they all took care of each other over the years. It's based upon a friend of mine who died last year and he always had these great stories. I just thought somebody has to do a documentary because he knows so much about New York and was everywhere like at Judy Garland's Carnegie Hall concert. So I decided to write a story that was loosely based on him.
The film is about these socialite women and the gay men that were with them the whole time. At that time they would have been known as their escorts, but they were far more than just that, they were their friends and knew things about them their husbands or other women didn't know. To them, the gays were their true friends. That's the main storyline, but there are some side stories and lots of cameos.
9. In addition to your blog, upcoming show "Drop Me Off In Harlem" at Feinstein's, and the screenplay, are there other projects you'd like to talk about? I don't have anything set in stone, but I would like to start teaching master classes and teaching younger kids song preparation that focuses on the American Songbook.
10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? To freeze time. I've definitely had moments I've wanted to hold on to for longer, from a few seconds more to hours. It would allow me to savior moments I've really enjoyed or it would allow me to take a stupid moment, say hold please, let it sink in and then press play and move on from there because I've allowed the moment to pass.