Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Jazzy holiday tunes by Frank DiBussolo make the season bright

Long before ring tones came into being, it was the rapidly executed series of notes known as glissando played on the electric guitar during the 1960's TV game show, "Concentration," that connected with the Philadelphia youngster sitting in his living room. He didn't know what he had just heard, but whatever it was, it stirred his curiosity. When he heard the same sound while watching TV variety's "The Perry Como Show," his young mind was made up. He was going to learn the guitar and be what he heard. Over the next five decades, Frank DiBussolo grew to be an eight-time, Grammy-nominated jazz guitarist -- and he said he owes it all to those early notes played on the strings.

"I wanted to play an instrument when I was young, even contemplating the trumpet," recalled DiBussolo, director of jazz and contemporary music studies at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts (LVPA) in Bethlehem. "When I heard that sound (glissando) played again on 'The Perry Como Show' by guitarist Tony Mottola, that said it all for me."

The easy-listening mix of jazz and holiday tunes performed by The Frank DiBussolo Group can be heard on Friday at 7:30 p.m., as part of the Jazz Upstairs series in the Rodale Community Room at Miller (Allentown) Symphony Hall. In addition to DiBussolo on guitar and piano, the group includes Gregory Edwards (woodwinds) , Sean J. Kennedy (drums), and LVPA seniors Phil Bonanni (bass) and Trevor Rogers (percussion). A surprise guest vocalist will join the group that evening, DiBussolo added.

Other slated jazz/holiday music performances include a Winter Concert on Monday and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., at Moravian College's Foy Hall; "Festivus" at LVPA on Friday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m., and the Coca Cola Holiday Caravan on Saturday, Dec. 22, from 2 to 8 p.m., on Main Street in Historic Bethlehem.

DiBussolo started taking guitar lessons and played through his academic years, eventually receiving a degree in biology from Widener University, though he didn't use it, he said. He accepted an invitation to teach guitar at Combs College of Music, where he worked his way up to a doctorate degree. He also served on the faculties of Moravian College, Lehigh University and Swarthmore College.

The master jazz guitarist recorded extensively and performed on TV and in Atlantic City with such greats as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Bucky Pizzarelli and Doc Severinsen, to name some. Add to that, Bob Hope, George Burns, Regis and Kathie Lee, Steve Lawrence, Diana Ross, Rodney Dangerfield, Dizzy Gillespie and Buddy Rich.

"I've been very, very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time," said DiBussolo, who is currently working on a solo CD. His last group recording, "Average White Cats," was released in 2010, and featured original material.

Locally, he's conducted master classes and guitar clinics at the Macungie Institute and Godfrey Daniels, with performances at the Mayfair Festival of the Arts, Musikfest, and the Berks Jazz Festival.

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He knows if you've been naughty or nice -- he's the Belsnickle, and he's one of the most popular Old World ornaments when the Christmas season rolls around. Just ask artist Janet Hunt of Alburtis, who leads workshops on handmade reproduction Victorian cotton batting Belsnickles. She recently led one for adults at Macungie's Kalmbach Memorial Park.

Hunt said the cotton batting ornaments date back to Germany in the 1870's when, according to folklore, the fur-clad figure would solely visit homes a week or two prior to Christmas and carry a switch, or bundle of twigs, to discipline boys and girls who had been naughty. Though the children were not abused, they would be scared into being good so the Santa figure would come to their home bearing gifts. It's a tale which has carried down to the Pennsylvania Dutch in America.

Through the years, Hunt said a cotton batting Santa might also be made to carry a Christmas tree instead of a switch. Original antique cotton batting Santas could fetch hundreds of dollars, she added.

A native of Madison, WI, Hunt worked as a product designer for the Pleasant Company's fictional American heroine doll line, American Girl, in the mid-1980's, when the company was founded by Pleasant Rowland. The company was later sold to Mattel in 1998.

Hunt said she designed original items for the American Girl catalogue's Christmas display, creating a St. Lucia head wreath for the Kirsten doll and Victorian ornaments for the Samantha doll. She also designed a Victorian Valentine's Day kit for Samantha, a Child's Easter Basket and May Day head wreath, and a Halloween costume for the Molly doll.

Hunt is a floral designer and avid antiques collector who enjoys leading workshops and demonstrations in the community. With the New Year just around the corner, she's already contemplating antique Valentines.

"There's probably not a craft I haven't done," she said.

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The Reading Symphony Orchestra and the Berks Ballet Theatre team for the classic story, "The Nutcracker," on Friday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m., at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center. More than 100 dancers from the Berks Ballet Theatre will be performing. The company is led by Kelly Barber, artistic director. The Reading Symphony Orchestra is under the direction of Andrew Constantine.

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Country Gate Players in Belvidere, NJ, continues "Christmas Revue '12," a musical celebration of the holiday season, on Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., at the Country Gate Playhouse, 114 Greenwich St.

The show approaches Christmas from the perspective of the long-standing traditions as are found in almost every family. The original concept and script is by Karri Siena-Reyes of Mansfield, also a co-director with Gina Scurato of Harmony. Musical director is Tierney Jory of Bangor; choreographer is Katie Haugaard of Washington.

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