By MIKE CHAIKEN
To paraphrase a song by his older brother Jermaine, the music of the late Michael Jackson gets serious this weekend when the Hartford Symphony Orchestra joins in for a performance of “The Music of Michael Jackson.”
Although a symphony often adds a bit of gravity to a pop music composition, performer Delisco James, who will be singing the songs of the King of Pop, promised that audiences still will be dancing (and moonwalking) in the aisles by the time the curtain falls.
“The Music of Michael Jackson” has toured all over the country, working with symphonies in cities where it has landed.
“Brent Havens (the guest conductor for the evening at The Bushnell)…came up with the concept and… wrote the charts for each instrument that the orchestra plays in the show,” explained Delisco. “After he wrote the show with 19 songs in tow, he went on a search to find a male singer to sing the music of Michael Jackson. In his search he auditioned many and found only a few that could sing the music much less dance to Michael’s music simultaneously,” said Delisco
But, Delisco explained in an email interview with the Observer, “Little did he know that when I auditioned that I could sing in most of the original keys i.e. ‘Got To Be There,’ as I am a counter tenor. At that point, he didn’t know that I could dance like Michael as well. We worked on the order of the show and I fine-tuned the pacing of the show to come up with the show we have now.”
“It’s an amazing opportunity (to work with an orchestra),” said Delisco. “We have been all over the world with this and it is an exciting time each time we do it. I stepped away from this for a while and am happy and honored to return for this performance in Hartford with the symphony.”
The show, said Delisco, “immensely heightens Michael Jackson’s music for an audience member and it gives them a unique glimpse of the man himself through my story and how Michael affected my life.”
“One of the main reasons why I am doing this show is because of Michael’s generosity when he invited me to see him perform live when I was 11 years old,” said Delisco. “That day changed my life and I knew then that I would be doing something of this capacity when I was of age and here I am. Thank you Michael.”
The show is not about Delisco standing up on stage pretending he is Michael Jackson, complete with the rhinestone costumes and Jackson’s trademark single glove.
“I approach the music as myself a fan, and musician with a personal touch as Michael is a big influence in my life,” said Delisco. “This is not an impersonator show. We are simply giving tribute to one of the greatest pop icons in modern history and featuring the Hartford Symphony Orchestra as a backdrop to an amazing night of music. I am trying some new things in this next performance though, but (I’m) not going to give anything away.”
As a performer, Delisco was asked what he found appealing about Jackson. “His vision behind each song, when you see the sequined glove, you think ‘Billie Jean’ or the red zipper jacket, ‘Beat It.’ His music has a visual appeal that not many artists have tapped into on the level that he achieved. His artistry and creativity in his music is very appealing. The beats are extremely danceable and not to mention the countless catchy melodies are a joy to sing. I am grateful that I am a vessel to be able to sing and dance this music.”
The music of the late Michael Jackson continues to hold appeal for fans. It’s still all over the radio. There are impersonators who make a living tapping into his catalogue. And you can still hear his influence on artists such as Justin Timberlake, Usher, and Pharrell.
“I see people from 5 years old to 85 years dancing to MJ’s music,” said Delisco. “I had an audience member come to me after a show once and said that we brought her back to a time when she was in her childhood days and it was a great time going down memory lane. It was as if Michael and his family were her cousins growing up with her, that’s the best way she could describe it. I/we try my best to recreate some moments to help bring back those memories that Michael gave us through his music.”
As someone who gets to sing Jackson’s music, Delisco has the opportunity to understand the compositions inside out.
“We try to stick to the original recordings for the most part, with a few exceptions. i.e. ‘The Way You Make Me Feel,’ which we took the arrangement from the ‘This is It’ movie. Michael had a lot of moving parts in his songs. ‘Billie Jean’ is an interesting one to listen to because of the strings and all the moving parts of the song (adapted) by an orchestra with a rhythm section is quite fascinating,” said Delisco. “The ones to look out for are ‘She’s Out of My Life,’ ‘Man in the Mirror,’ and one of my favorites ‘Earth Song,’ which I believe is meant to be played by an orchestra.”
As for his own favorites in the Michael Jackson catalogue, Delisco said, “That question is so unfair because there are so many to choose from. But I will say that I do love ‘Ben,’ because it was the first song I sang in public at a talent contest when I was 9 years old. As I sang there wasn’t a dry eye in theater.”
Additionally, Delisco said, “I like performing ‘Billie Jean’ because I love the energy and the dancing, of course. ‘Earth Song’ is such a powerful and moving song and it is an adrenaline rush performing it with an orchestra.
As for why the audiences will enjoy the show, Delisco explained, “It’s just a fun time with great music by an amazing artist. I think most people go in thinking they are going to sit down and listen to an orchestra for two hours. What they do not expect is for me to come out singing and dancing and weaving a personal story to connect and bring home for a great memory that will last for a long, long time.”
Hartford Symphony Orchestra Pops! Series presents ‘The Music of Michael Jackson’ on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at Mortensen Hall at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Tickets start at $20 or $10 for students with identification.
For tickets, call (860)987-5900 or or visit www.hartfordsymphony.org