Neighborhood Allies Grantee Spotlight 2019

Grantee Spotlight | Creating Community with the support of a Love My Neighbor! Grant at Tune It! Tuesdays

January 3, 2019 4:36 pm Leave a Comment

Love My Neighbor! Grantee Phat Man Dee hosts monthly jam sessions at Black Forge Coffee House, located in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood. These sessions serve as a space for creating intergenerational, cross-genre connections and building community among general attendees and performing artists alike.

Phat Man Dee performs her set with back up from her jazz ensemble.

Eric Dowdell Sr. plays some improvisational jazz.

A two-year Love My Neighbor! Grantee, Phat Man Dee is a cosmic jazz cabaret vocalist, bandleader, events producer, videographer, poet and part time sideshow marvel all in one.  Mandee performs live at a wide range of spaces accross Pittsburgh and boasts four independently produced CDs. In addition, she appears with her jazz group, The Cultural District, other jazz musicians, the sideshow and burlesque troupe Kabarett Vulgare, and The Lemington Gospel Chorale. Mandee also teaches students at the Afro American Music Institute in Homewood. Phat Man Dee has been hosting Tune It! Tuesdays on the 3rd Tuesday of every month for over a year now with support from our Love My Neighbor! Grant Program.

Mandee begins each jam session with a live performance featuring world-class jazz musicians before opening the stage up to artists of all ages and skill level. December 18th, the final Tune It! Tuesday of 2018, was no different. As an ode to the season, Phat Man Dee, guitarist Henry Shultz, bassist Eric Dowdell Jr., and conga player and band leader of Guaracha Latin Dance Band Miguel Sague III performed selections from Mandee’s album titled “Merry ChristmaChannaKwanza Vol. 1.1” in addition to classic seasonal tunes. After their set, Phat Man Dee invited artists on stage, giving them a chance to perform for a full house.

15-year-old artist Windafire and Phat Man Dee perform a duet.

Performers of all genres, skillsets, and ages are encouraged to sit in and share two or three selections of their choosing during the open jam session. Community members and diverse groups of musicians come together to perform poetry, original compositions, cover songs, hip hop, jazz compositions, and experimental or improvisational work, often collaborating with one another and sharing unique talents. The open, welcoming, and non-judgemental space builds trust and confidence among aspiring professional musicians and gives the community a chance to witness and engage in a vibrant part of Pittsburgh Neighborhoods.

Among the performers who sat in on December 18th’s jam session were 15-year-old artist Windafire and 14-year-old artist Gabriella Salvucci, who both performed original works.

14-year-old Gabriella Salvucci performs an original work.

“There aren’t many all-age opportunities for young people, elders, and in-betweens to gather around something as positive as making art,” said Christina Springer, artist and mother to Winston Nunley. “Tune It! Tuesdays allow for the cross-generational sharing of knowledge. Elders benefit from the vision of young people while young people benefit from the experience and years of mastery their elders have worked so hard to achieve.”

“Tune It! Tuesdays allow for the cross-generational sharing of knowledge.” – Christina Springer

To learn more about Tune It! Tuesdays, check out the Facebook event. The next Tune It! Tuesday will be on January 15th at Black Forge Coffee House from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The cost is $3 at the door. Participating musicians get in free.

 

Jewish Chronicle

SHINE THE LIGHT JCC HOSTS SOCIAL JUSTICE DISCO WITH TWO LOCAL MUSICIANS

Chanukah, social justice go hand-in-hand for these local musicians

Pittsburgh jazz artist Phat Man Dee, foreground, performs with local musician Liz Berlin at the Jewish Community Center. The duo collaborated on a social justice-themed album that was officially released Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh)
Pittsburgh jazz artist Phat Man Dee, foreground, performs with local musician Liz Berlin at the Jewish Community Center. The duo collaborated on a social justice-themed album that was officially released Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh)

Spanning the decades, from the civil rights movement in the 1960s to the disco era in the 1980s to activism today, two local Jewish artists are using music to tackles issues of social justice at home.

Liz Berlin, a musician with the Pittsburgh rock band Rusted Root, and Phat Man Dee, a local jazz artist, teamed up to create a collection of social justice themed songs, focusing on issues from the Black Lives Matter movement and the Dakota Access Pipeline to fascism and activism at large. 

With a combination of original songs and covers of classic activism anthems — including “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield — the duo, with several guest performers, aimed to create an album that would address how they felt about the times in which we are living. 

“It’s 60 Pittsburgh musicians coming together to protest what is happening in the world,” Mandee said. “This was a way we could use our art to go, ‘Hey, we’re not OK with this.’” 

For Berlin, the music, and the creative way of thinking about protest and activism, helped her to “clarify how I feel about things.” 

The artists debuted their collection of music at the Shine the Light with Social Justice Disco at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh on Dec. 14.

Miss Thea Trix performed alongside Phat Man Dee and Liz Berlin at the “Shine the Light with Social Justice Disco concert” on Thursday, Dec. 14. (Photo courtesy of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh)
The event, sponsored by the American Jewish Museum and the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement, featured Berlin and Mandee’s entire album as well as performances by several of the local musicians who collaborated with them — including the Sague family, the Coe family, Pastor Deryck Tines and the Lemington Gospel Chorale and two poets, Ezra Smith and Christina Springer. 

 

Springer, who grew up in Squirrel Hill and participated in an original arrangement of the song “I Can’t Breathe” for the album, said Berlin and Mandee allowed the artists to have their own voice in the project and “took responsibility as allies to every community.”

For her individual performance, Springer focused on battling racism from within.

“If you’re not careful, it doesn’t matter who you are, white supremacy will sneak up on you and crawl inside,” she told the audience. “And it is our job every day to sort of clean house and look inside.”

Racism and inequality was a central tenant of the concert — Mandee wrote the original song ‘Jim Crow is Alive and Well’ about police brutality and other injustices against people of color, and Berlin rewrote the lyrics of the Bee Gees’ ‘Stayin Alive’ to replace the traditional “ha ha ha ha” with “black lives mat-ter.” 

“We’re not in a post-racial society. Racism is happening right now,” Mandee said. 

The artists also focused on unequal treatment for immigrants. The social justice disco was in collaboration with the art series “Out of Many: Stories of Migration” that is currently on display at the JCC. The exhibit highlights the American immigrant and migrant experience through photographs and essays, focusing on Pittsburgh’s particular immigration stories. 

After meditating at the exhibit, Mandee wrote the original song ‘How Far We Have Come’ about the immigrant experience as a “beacon of hope” for themselves and more, but also as a journey that has just begun.

Social Justice Disco performers posed for a photograph after their concert. Sixty local musicians are included on the album. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)
Mandee said she already had several social justice-themed songs that didn’t fit in to her normal jazz routine but didn’t plan to compile them into an album until April Fool’s Day a year and a half ago.

 

She jokingly posted a Facebook status about a collaboration with Berlin, whom she has known for several years and works with at the Afro American Music Institute teaching music to children.

At first, fans were excited about the prospect — and then angry to learn it had only been a joke. 

In response, Berlin, who co-owns Mr. Smalls Theatre and Funhouse in Lawrenceville, told Mandee they would be performing at the opening of a new section of their club. A year and a half later, they have recorded their album and are preparing to release it in the spring. 

The JCC concert, which served as the debut performance of their collection, fell on the third night of Chanukah.

At the event, Rabbi Ron Symons, senior director of Jewish Life at the JCC, had each performer light a candle and answer the question, “What lights your light?” The responses ranged from watching future generations learn and follow traditional practices to friends and family supporting them. 

By the end of the night, they had lit eight candles.

“The message of Chanukah is that each light can light many and that nothing gets diminished,” Symons said. “The light just keeps shining brighter and brighter in all its diverse glory.” PJC

 

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

PROTEST FUNK: Phat Man Dee and Liz Berlin take the next step in April Fools' joke with Social Justice Disco album!

Pittsburgh cabaret singer Phat Man Dee posted a couple of different April Fools’ Day jokes on Facebook in 2016, one being that she was going to wrestle Wendy Bell in chipped ham at the Three Rivers Arts Festival and the other that she was doing an album with Rusted Root’s Liz Berlin of Woody Guthrie songs with a disco beat.

“Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Wendy Bell is not as open-minded as Liz Berlin,” Man Dee says.

So, no chipped ham, but by October of that year, the two singers, adopting the name Social Justice Disco, did in fact release the funk single “Fourth Reich Arising” and played a show inaugurating The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls, the Millvale venue co-owned by Ms. Berlin.

“It was the week before Trump was elected,” says the flamboyant Man Dee (whose real name is Mandy Kivowitz-Delfaver). “We meant it as a warning, but we didn’t get it out far enough or fast enough.”

Social Justice Disco includes Pastor Deryk Tines & The Lemington Gospel Chorale, Christina Springer, Leslie Ezra Smith, HollyHood, Big Jus, Miguel Sague Jr., Johnny Creed Coe & Family, Ms. Thea Trix.

“After the first gig,” Ms. Berlin says, “it was apparent that we had to make the record, and since then we jumped into the studio at Mr. Smalls on the North Side whenever we could find an opening.”

Two years later, they follow through on the April Fools’ joke with a full-length album featuring a cast of Pittsburgh all-stars called “Social Justice Disco: Songs to Fight Fascists By.”

It opens in high-energy and horn-powered fashion with a cover of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” and proceeds with a jazzy, funky mix of five originals and seven covers that moves from jam rock to hip-hop to, of course, disco.

They inject Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and They Might Be Giants’ “Your Racist Friend” with a Caribbean flair, slow Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” down into a spacey jam and honor their longtime activist friend and Pittsburgh folk legend Anne Feeney (“She’s just an inspiration to us both,” Man Dee says) with “Have You Been to Jail for Justice,” a song that was covered by Peter, Paul and Mary. 

The biggest production is on “I Can’t Breathe,” a song by New York City hip-hop collective The Peace Poets about Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man who died in 2014 during an arrest at the hands of police in Staten Island, N.Y. It is reworked here with an arrangement by local pastor Deryck Tines with The Lemington Gospel Chorale and poetry by Christina Springer and Leslie Ezra Smith.

“It literally gives me chills every time I hear it,” Man Dee says.

As promised, Guthrie goes disco, in near Clash style, courtesy of Justin Sane of punk-rock legends Anti-Flag, taking the lead vocal on “All You Fascists Bound to Lose.”

They add a few of their topical songs, including “#BigBrotherIsTrending” and the psychedelic jam of “Jim Crow Is Alive and Well.”

“When we first conceived of the project,” Man Dee says, “Liz asked me if I actually had songs when I made that Facebook post on April Fools’ Day. I had been writing poems for years about various struggles for equity and justice and freedom, to read at my gigs and at protests. So basically, I gave her all my songs, and she put them through her magical Liz Berlin brain and creative machine that is her mind and voice.”

Between the two of them, they are connected to just about every musician in town, so that was no problem.

“Everyone we asked was extremely psyched to be a part of it,” Ms. Berlin says, “and also extremely gracious with their time and their talents.”

The core players came from their own solo bands, including guitarist Mike Speranzo (Ms. Berlin’s husband and Mr. Smalls co-owner), Carlos Pena, Mark F. Strickland, Jeremy Papay, Miguel Sague III, Howard Alexander, Megan Williams, Christiane Dolores, Gena, Katie Berlin (Liz’s sister) and the Steeltown Horns (Reggie Watkins, J.D. Chaisson and Rick Matt).

The guests also include rapper HollyHood, cellist Nicole Myers, guitarist Korel Tunador, Johnny Creed Coe, SunBear Coe, Arlynna Evans and Miguel Sague Jr. For the live shows, Lita D’Vargas and Miss Thea Trix serve as the Social Justice Disco dancers.

SJD is yet another project for the two frontwomen, who are everywhere on the local scene.

Ms. Berlin, on hiatus from Rusted Root, has her solo band, plays in jam-rock group Drowning Clowns with Mr. Speranzo and has been collaborating with the EDM group Table Syndicate. She also runs Creative Life Support, the nonprofit educational arm of Mr. Smalls and the Real Life Music Camp (later in July) and is an an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Man Dee also has her jazz band Phat Man Dee and the Cultural District, sings with the Lemington Gospel Chorale and teaches at the Afro-American Music Institute.

“At the festivals we have gone to and the summits,” Man Dee says, “she and I have been presenting a workshop on the importance of music in the struggles for civil rights, justice and freedom.

“A lot of these issues are not new,” she says of the album. “These are long-standing struggles that have been building for a very long time. I wish this album was not relevant. I wish we could all just make albums about lollipops and sunbeams. But responsible artists see what is happening around them and try to tell stories. It is an artist’s sacred duty to be the first one to speak — we have to give courage to others so that they can speak their truth to power as well.”

Whirl Magazine

Two Local Music Legends Bring a Call to Action With Social Justice Disco!

“The record, Social Justice Disco, has more than 60 artists on it, jazz, pop, indigenous, hip hop and gospel artists all working together to stand for equity and justice through music.” – Phat Man Dee

When Liz Berlin takes the stage, she grabs the mic and her powerful voice rings out, giving new meaning to the phrase “bona fide rock star!” In addition to being one of Pittsburgh’s favorite vocalists and producers, founding member of triple-platinum selling Pittsburgh band Rusted Root, and owner-operator of both Mr. Smalls Theater, which houses three separate music venues, and Mr. Small’s Recording and Mastering Studio in the Northside, she also runs a music program for foster youth with Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services called “We Rock Workshop” through her non-profit, Creative.Life.Support.

You may remember we did a wonderful interview with jazz song stylist and music educator, Phat Man Dee, last April in 2017. She had just been voted “Best Local Jazz Act” in the Pittsburgh City Paper’s readers’ poll and we dubbed this delightful jazz sensation a “ray of sparkles”! We are thrilled to give you the scoop on these two fabulous power divas’ newest collaboration “Social Justice Disco: Songs to Fight Fascists By!”

Throughout their careers, both Liz and Man Dee have been relentless in their missions to shine the light of love, light, truth, and justice through music. While this new project “Social Justice Disco” may have started as an April Fool’s Day prank back in 2016, these serious musicians consider the fight for social justice and equity no laughing matter. On April 1st of 2016, Man Dee tagged Liz in a Facebook post about their “new record” “Social Justice Disco”. The post became somewhat viral and when Liz awoke and checked her feed, she had no idea what Man Dee was talking about. But upon realizing it was an April Fool’s joke, the seed was planted and it became apparent that this must be a reality. Since then the concept has blossomed into a phenomenal album, 13 songs of both original and disco classics, such as “I Will Survive”, “#BigBrotherIsTrending”, and “Black Lives Matter” sung to the tune of Stayin Alive. 

With a mix of Liz Berlin’s pop musicians and Phat Man Dee’s jazz band members and the combined power of 60 committed Pittsburgh artists, this undertaking has become a movement with a sound that cannot be denied! Guest artists featured on this record include Pastor Deryck Tines and The Lemington Gospel Choir, poets Christina Springer and Leslie Ezra Smith, rappers Big Jus and HollyHood, Justin Sane of Anti-Flag, Reggie Watkins and the Steeltown Horns, Johnny Creed Coe and family, and Miguel Sague Jr. There will be disco dancers and drag queens and all together they shall make a righteous noise for freedom and justice for all!

Whirl Magazine

One Last WHIRL: Local Singer Phat Man Dee Is The Star Of The Show!

When local singer Phat Man Dee walks into a room, she brings a ray of sunshine. Well, it’s more like a ray of sparkles! From the rhinestones punctuating her eye makeup to the ones that bedeck her fab boa, the jazz sensation — who the City Paper’s 2016 Best of Pittsburgh Readers’ Poll voted as the No. 1 Best Local Jazz Act! — exudes a fun energy that radiates on stage and in person. We chatted with Phat Man Dee to see how she found her voice and how she’s using it to make a difference.

How did you first get into jazz?
When I moved to Pittsburgh, I was blessed to attend the Center for Musically Talented, which is a public school program that does not exist anymore. We would learn musical theater, choir, musical ensemble. I got exposed at a young and formidable age to an extremely high-end musical education. Now, I teach voice with Liz Berlin [of Rusted Root] at the We Rock Workshop, which is a program we do with foster and homeless youth, through the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. We help them record an album of their own songs and then put on a concert. I also teach voice at the Afro-American Music Institute (AAMI). They focus on music in the African-American tradition, so jazz, R&B, blues, gospel, some rock. I’ve been blessed to learn from the greats, like Mr. Roger Humphries’ jam sessions and my voice teacher Beth Claussen; from musicians like Dr. James Johnson at AAMI and Chizmo Charles; hearing the late greats Sandy Staley, Gene Ludwig, Gerald Haymon; and playing with Donna Davis — may she rest in power. We have such an amazing legacy of musicians in our city. I’ve learned things from them that you can’t learn in any school. 

Who are some of your musical influences?
The first record I ever gravitated to was Louis Armstrong’s best hits. I’ve always been pulled towards that jazz sound — the African poly rhythms and harmonies mixed with the European instruments. I love the organic cultural fusion that happens in jazz. It’s an intelligent music — you have to know the theory, the sound — but once you learn those things, then you can put your own spin on it. It also allows and encourages individual expression and improvisation. 

What inspired your individual sound?
In the ‘90s, I dropped out of college because I didn’t want to spent $20,000 a year partying; I wanted to focus on my art. I came home and formed a local poetry troupe called the Bull Seal! Collective. We did a lot of shows with a local sideshow troupe called Circus Apocalypse. I spent much of the mid-90s traveling with another troupe called Circus Ridiculous. It was basically a circus in name and desire only. In truth, it was an asylum of punk rock children who wanted to see America. Also, when I was in high school, I had been a part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the King’s Court Theater. I was exposed to drag queens, fishnets, and boas when I was like 16, and I was like, ‘Yes!’ So while my look comes from drag queens and circus sideshows, my music is inspired by Pittsburgh’s rich jazz history. 

In addition to teaching and performing, how do you stay involved in the community?
I’ve been a social justice activist since before we knew what those words were. Back in high school, I was lobbying for the environment and I was against the first time we went to Iraq. Since then, I’ve been very supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rights of Indigenous people who have had their lands decimated by pipelines. I demonstrated for LBGTQIA rights and women’s rights, and organized multiple fundraisers. Pretty much anything that is for the rights of people to live free and pursue life, liberty, and happiness. I’m always down for helping a cause. 

What projects are you currently working on?
In addition to my own jazz group, ‘Phat Man Dee and The Cultual District,’ which includes Carlos Peña, Miguel Sague III, and Howard Alexander, I’m also working with Liz Berlin to create an album called Social Justice Disco: Songs to Fight Fascists By. It’s half my band, half her band. I sing in The Lemington Gospel Chorale, too, and I brought them on the album for a beautiful rendition of ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ Our last song is called ‘Water is Sacred,’ and we’re doing that with my friends Johnny Cree Coe and his son, SunBear. I’m also in a new post menopausal punk funk band called ‘Qlitterati,’ with Christiane D, Geña Música, Tom Emmerling, and Izzy Arlet.

How do you hope to inspire your fans?
I would like my fans to learn how to be happy being themselves in the grandest, most beautiful style they can conceive. There’s so much in this world that’s trying to cut you down and box you in. Just say, ‘No, I’m going to just be me.’ And enjoy it! Support good works, be community-minded, and be the freak you want to see in the world.

Pittsburgh City Paper

Phat Man Dee and Tommy Amoeba celebrate twin albums 

The two have been married over a decade and are basically local music-and-performance legends

 

Phat Man Dee and Tommy Amoeba celebrate twin albums 

The two have been married over a decade and are basically local music-and-performance legends

I got you, babe: Tommy Amoeba and Phat Man Dee
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • I got you, babe: Tommy Amoeba and Phat Man Dee

It was a classic tale of boy-who-dresses-up-as-a-caterpillar-and-yells meets girl-who-swallows-glass, that day back in 2000 when Phat Man Dee first encountered Tommy Amoeba. 

"It was a Thanksgiving Infectious Variety Show, at the Oakland Beehive," Man Dee recalls. "Tommy was actually dressed in a pilgrim costume, and his friend was dressed in a turkey costume. The pilgrim costume covered the front half of him, and only to mid-thigh. He was marching back and forth like a Greek-chorus kind of thing in between acts for no apparent reason. He had a fake rifle and he and the turkey guy walked back and forth.

"Later, he came back out and he had divested himself of most of the pilgrim outfit, but he still had the American-flag Speedo on, and he had the guy with the turkey costume with him, and he was engaged in the act of faux-copulation. And I was like, ‘Who's that guy? Wow!'" 

Now, 14 years later, Man Dee (born Mandy Kivowitz) and Tommy (Thomas Delfaver) have been married over a decade and are basically local music-and-performance legends: She's well-known as a jazz singer and general personality, and he's known equally for his band, Amoeba Knievel, and for being that guy who goes to rock shows and yells "Aaaaahhhhhh!" instead of applauding. Man Dee has two albums under her belt and is preparing for the release, on Wed., Sept. 24, of her latest, Hey Phat Chick, with her band, The Cultural District. Tommy has a new album, too — his first, after over a decade with Amoeba Knievel. 

Amoeba Knievel had recorded a handful of songs over a period of a few years, but none of those have yet seen the light of day. The batch of tunes on This Is Only A Test, though, came out of a session at Mr. Small's studios, which Tommy booked as part of a deal with Small's in which Man Dee had helped put together a New Year's show and was compensated with studio time. (Both artists' new albums were recorded there, with engineer Larry Luther.)

"This [recording session] kind of leapfrogged over [the older one] because this one was ready and mastered more quickly," Tommy notes. That explains some of the surprises inherent — like the absence of "The Ballad of Tommy Amoeba," an Amoeba Knievel classic that serves as Tommy's de facto theme song, and explains the story of "the lowest form of life," as he refers to himself. (After he developed the nickname, which came before his music career started, he says he told his mother, who responded, "Great — my son, the lowest form of life!")

Amoeba Knievel's music is generally relatively simple punk and New Wave-style rock, infused with a barrage of pop-culture and sci-fi references and a healthy dose of absurd humor. Tommy put together a page on the Amoeba Knievel website on which references are hyperlinked to their antecedents — everything from the Wikipedia page for James T. Kirk to a YouTube video of an Indigo Girls song, and information on plenty of science-fiction stories. It's a sort of annotated Amoeba.

While Man Dee has been a musician since her early days growing up around the area (spending time in Meadville, Altoona and Squirrel Hill, among other locales), Tommy came to music late — he never studied an instrument as a kid, and simply writes words and melodies off the top of his head. He doesn't play an instrument in Amoeba Knievel, but then, if he did, how would he cram himself into his signature caterpillar suit, or wear puppets on both hands, or wrap the audience in caution tape, as he's wont to do?

Man Dee, for her part, grew up playing cello (she still plays) and always sang, though it wasn't always her primary art. She dropped out of Allegheny College after a couple of years. ("I was partying too much in college. I knew enough French to get by. I knew enough art to make some art. I knew enough music to make some music. Why I am I paying $25,000 a year to just party?" she says.) She toured the country in the late '90s with two alternative-circus acts, the Bindlestiff Family Roadshow and Circus Redickuless. 

"I was so enthralled by this idea of variety entertainment," she says. "It wasn't just music, it wasn't just spoken-word, and it wasn't pretentious performance art. It was just some real whacked-out stuff.

"I had Zoe Collins from Threadneedle Street make me a half-man, half-woman costume, and I learned little songs to sing to myself, and I had to have a skill, so [Dave Apocalypse] taught me how to eat glass. And he also made me change my name, because apparently The Sister-Master of the Fist-Masticating Arts, which used to be my performance name, has no stick-to-it-iveness. You can't remember Sister-Mister of the Fist-Masticating Arts as easily as Mista Sista Phat Man Dee, so that became my name."

Man Dee became a jazz singer in the early 2000s, at the same time her relationship with Tommy was developing. (They married in the summer of 2002 atop a huge pink-elephant float on Carson Street and, six months or so later, ended up on Judge Joe Brown, suing some friends who were supposed to deliver the elephant to them later, at Burning Man, but couldn't find them and burned it instead.)

In 2002, she also released her first album, Life Just Goes On, with a number of songs written by collaborators (including Tommy Amoeba), and a few standards. In 2007 came her second full-length, Torch of Blue, with a few she wrote herself, and a few written by locals like Christiane D., Colter Harper and John Purse. 

The new album, Hey Phat Chick, features tunes like the title track, which has become her theme song, and "Why Wait?" — which she says she wrote because she found herself writing too many songs for friends after they passed away. There are also some interpretations: "You Are Special," the Mr. Rogers song, for example, and a couple of French-language songs, taking advantage of her major at Allegheny. 

The choice to release the two albums with a joint show came partly out of convenience: Both albums were coming out around the same time anyway, and Man Dee was reserving Mr. Small's through the Creative Life Support program, which, among other things, runs regular "Revival Series" shows in which local bands play the Small's stage without charging admission. But it's also somewhat sentimental: The two have rarely shared the stage for full sets by both of their bands on one night. 

"We are married, people keep calling us some kind of weirdo iconic couple," says Man Dee, "because we got married on the pink elephant. Yeah, it's true: We want to be Pittsburgh's freaky-deaky Sonny and Cher!"

 

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Music Preview: Phat Man Dee's 'Torch' songs strike 'blue gold'

 

Once you get beyond the awe of Phat Man Dee, you quickly realize she has a positive personality and can really sing. Really.

Image by Margaret Stanley
Phat Man Dee knows how to carry a torch.


Phat Man Dee 'Torch of Blue' CD Release Party

Where: Rex Theatre, South Side.
When: Tonight. Doors open at 8 p.m.
Admission: $20 and $10 for students and starving artists. 412-481-6681.

Listen In:

Hear song excerpts from the Phat Man Dee CD "Torch of Blue":

 "Gandhi Lives"

 "King of the Flower Men"

 "Jones Beach"

 "Poly Resin Icon"

Hear Phat Man Dee discussing "Torch of Blue" with the PG's Nate Guidry:

 The inspiration for the CD

 On "King of the Flower Men" and "Gandhi Lives," both written by her husband Tommy Amoeba


All you need to do is check out "Jones Beach" and "T.G.I.D.K.U," two songs from "Torch of Blue," her latest recording.

It combines elements of jazz with Middle Eastern hooked rhythms, electronic music and mandolin guitar, poetry and improvisation. Eclectic to say the least, but Man Dee keeps it interesting and funny. She sings of Gandhi being alive and living in a hotel and raps about lies and propaganda.

"Ah, for crying out loud, Peaches," she screams on the song "Polly Resin Icon."

The album features mostly original material, with the exception of "Ay Linda Amiga" and "Dona Nobis Pacem," two songs that were written in the 15th century.

"I really wanted this CD to focus on musicians from Pittsburgh playing music from Pittsburgh," said Man Dee, who was in New York attending the Coney Island Mermaid parade. "There are musicians in my immediate community that I really respect. Tony Depaolis assembled some of the best musicians in Pittsburgh, and his touch on the recording turned it into blue gold."

South Sider Man Dee said she, her husband, Tommy Amoeba, and friends marched in the Coney Island parade as bottom-feeders. She said Amoeba was dressed as a giant squid while she donned a vampire-spider queen costume.

"It was fun," she said. "We walked and sang calypso tunes."

"Torch of the Blue," which consists of 16 songs, was supposed to be the title of Man Dee's 2001 recording, but she said the band wasn't feeling the music when they entered the studio.

"We recorded the day after 9/11, and we were all in a terrible head space," she said. "We could barely function. We wouldn't have gone into the studio but I had already paid for it."

Six-years later, the band is feeling the music, and "Torch of Blue" is a wonderful document for a musician who is not so quietly carving out her own musical territory.

Recorded at George Heid studio in Aspinwall, the album features Colter Harper, Chris Parker, Kenny Peagler, Mike Murray, Jacob Yoffee, Paul Leech and Simon Jaeger. Man Dee said she has worked before with many of the musicians selected to perform on the recording.

And that's obvious, because the chemistry is great throughout, particularly on "Gandhi Lives!," which is a combination of jazz and bluegrass.

"I try to make a point of performing original material," she said. "As much as I love the standards, and I don't know as many standards as I should, but people seem to enjoy my music."

Man Dee said she performed "Gandhi Lives!" at a roller rink in Harmarville last week and more than a 1,000 people were there enjoying the music. "They were clapping and having a good time," she said.

Another fan favorite is "Two Tone Tattoo,"' a song Man Dee performed a decade ago with Big Daddy Bull Seal.

"He and I had a performed in a troupe a decade ago where we would do weird performance poetry with lots of drumming, and I played cello. That was one of our popular tunes but it was never recorded."

Anyone who has followed the career of Man Dee knows she's a little different.

But she's also a charismatic artist with a clear sense of musical purpose.

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