Call Redialed: NEW Cortés Alexander Interview: Vitello's Residency
I first came to know Cortés Alexander when he was starring on Broadway alongside Liza Minnelli in Liza's at the Palace. He was so great in that show! It has been nine years since our last interview and I'm so excited to catch up with Cortés as he readies to start his open-ended residency at Vitello's in Los Angeles! We really aced things here as we hit a few balls back and forth.
Cortés's residency begins on March 28 and will continue about every 8 to 10 weeks. Vitello's is located at 4349 Tujunga Ave, Studio City, CA. Click here for tickets!
1. This March you are starting an open-ended residency at Vitello's in Los Angeles. How did this residency come to be? I had done a few shows at Vitello's that did well and Brad Roen, the General Manager, had asked me if I'd be interested in a regular gig there. So, not wanting to wear out my welcome, I agreed to do a show every eight to 10 weeks. It's a perfect room for us with amazing food and great sound and the staff is super nice. You go at 7pm, have dinner, then the show begins, so there's a minimum of serving while the show is happening.
2. For this first show, you are performing all original material. What excites you about sharing your own music with fans? What makes you nervous? To have people sit through a set of unknown material is definitely a big ask. I have no delusions about this, so yes it makes me anxious. But, I've peppered each set in the past with some original tunes and now, if I don't do say, "Pilot Bird" for example, people get upset. But songwriting is a big part of what I do, so this will be an interesting test.
3. The very first song you ever wrote was called "Mass Confusion." While the song is about your feelings of being at Juilliard when you were 13 years old, how do you think the song would be written today? Adam, you're killing me with your research skills! Yes, "Mass Confusion" was the first song I ever wrote at 13. I think every 13 year old in life could write that song. In my case, if memory serves (I almost typed "if memory swerves," which is perfect), we had just moved to New York and I had just started Juilliard and it was just miserable. New school, new city, new friends. What isn't confusing? If I were to write it today, I'd find a collaborator. 😀
4. Will you be having any guest artists in this premiere concert? Besides each of my Swell Girls (Melissa Bailey & Lisa Donahey) taking a complete solo and stopping my show dead in its tracks, one of the things I'm most excited about is the appearance of Michael Coughlin and Gene Reed from the Tonics. Gene will be in town and I forced him and Michael to do a tune in my show. Happily they agreed and I can't wait.
5. What do you like about performing in concert? The best thing about performing live is that no two shows are the same. No matter what you do. The vibe of the audience is always different, so you have to figure out how to make adjustments on the fly. It's kind of like traffic on the 405 (or the i95 depending on where you're from).
6. What is the funniest thing to happen to you on stage? What has been the most awkward thing to occur? I was just telling this story to Melissa yesterday. This was years ago with Liza and The Cortés Alexander Trio. We (the guys) had a very cool and sexy entrance to the song “Gently,” a beautiful song written by Lindy Robbins & the genius Billy Stritch. We had these very expensive suits and had to be super suave as we entered walking in time to our places underneath red gels, perfectly lit by Matt Berman. When we got there, I heard the audience snickering and Liza turns around while singing to see what's happening. Everything seemed fine, until I looked down and saw that not only was my fly wide open, but the tail of my white shirt was hanging out by a mile. I looked like the human walk of shame. I just shoved everything in, zipped up and kept going. I do remember thinking "Thank God we're in red gels, because no one can tell how red my face is.” The most awkward thing to occur, happens all the time when you miss a note or go up on a lyric. It's a popular misconception that just because you wrote the song, you must know it. 😀
7. Your debut album & band is called SWELL. It's been 9 years since we did our first interview together. What is the most "swell" thing to happen to you in these 9 years? The most "swell" thing that's happened since SWELL was released? That's a tough one because I think as you get older your priorities change. My tennis team placing 3rd in the country comes to mind. My first sold-out show, the arrival of Horatio and Dolores (my Brussells Griffons). Those are all pretty swell. 😀
8. I first came to know you when you were starring on Broadway in Liza Minnelli's Liza's at the Palace. What is one story about working with Liza Minnelli you can tell us that just makes you laugh out loud every time you think of it? One thing that comes to mind regarding Liza's at the Palace that makes me laugh now, but was SO not funny at the time, is how Jim Caruso and I would wake up early and rehearse at his apartment FOR REHEARSAL. Ron Lewis was not the most easygoing director and his demands were very high and Jim and I bore the brunt of his frustrations. So to preclude this, I'd show up at his apartment an hour before and we'd run everything together. It was perfect because we'd each remember different things. It was like putting together a puzzle. But imagine us flying around his small apartment (beautifully decorated) trying not to knock anything over, singing "Jubilee Time" completely panicked about what's gonna happen in the real rehearsal, is something to remember.
9. Lastly, I know you are a big tennis player. Who are your favorite tennis players today? Secondly, how do you compare the way you prepare for a tennis match to the way you prepare for a concert? Right now my favorite tennis player is a guy named Diego Schwartzman (which is the best name ever) of Brazil. He's #16 in the world and 5'7" and 140 lbs. He's my height and weight and gives me hope for the compact man. On the women's side, I'm all about Serena. Her mental game is just incredible and I hope she passes that provincial Margaret Court in Grand Slam wins. It's funny you asked about concert preparation vs. tennis prep. I hesitate to even say this, but I think one of the best things about my tennis game is probably my mental game, at least according to my teammates. I've come back from 1-4 probably more times than I've been able to hold a lead. And when I'm down and trying to fight my way back into a match, sometimes I do think of the times I've had to stay calm and focused on stage, no matter what's going on. It's the same thing. Being able to perform under pressure. It's what we do. All of us, in some way or another. Sometimes there's 3,000 people watching, sometimes nobody's watching, but the will to win and do my best, always persists.
More on Cortés:
The title of the 1st song that Cortes ever wrote was "Mass Confusion". Clearly, it was in response to his feelings of being at the Juilliard School of Music. His piano riffs on Mozart were unappreciated, & he left after one semester. "They don't get my vision," he said. He was 13. Before he knew it, he was in California supporting himself doing T.V. commercials & voice-overs. One night, while singing at a club, he met fellow singers Gene Reed, Brian Lane Green, & Lindy Robbins. They clicked immediately & formed a pop/jazz vocal group, "The Tonics." They went to New York for what was meant to be a six week visit. It lasted six years. Their intricate harmonies & arrangements, combined with their sold-out shows, won them many awards, & led them to Carnegie Hall where they sang in a tribute to composer Stephen Sondheim which was broadcast on PBS. While the groups diverse musical tastes eventually led to their disbandment, Cortes formed another vocal group, the "Cortes Alexander Trio." They toured the U.S & abroad, & raves followed the guys from the Kremlin in Moscow, to the Sporting Club in Monaco, to the Acropolis in Greece, & along the way, they made guest appearances with several symphony orchestras. They shared the stage with such diverse artists as Sheryl Crow, Elton John, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Melissa Etheridge, & Luciano Pavarotti. With the encouragement from past successes, Cortes was forced to face the inevitable. "I realized that though I loved singing with other people, I was leaning on my band-mates to keep from going at it alone." And so, after months of writing new material, & finding a genius producer in McKay Garner, "Swell" was born. Cortes' solo debut brings a collection of songs that range in influence from Luther Vandross to Keith Urban to Sinatra to Prince to Foo Fighters. "I can't imagine not writing music & singing. It's like breathing to me, & along the way, if I can tell a good story or sing a track that makes people want to move, it's all I can ask. If its fiction or non-fiction, R & B, jazz or country, or pop, I say, if it feels good & sounds good, do it."