One of our favorite people, Phat Man Dee, is hosting a fete to celebrate the roaring 20’s. It looks like a lot of fun so we asked her to answer a few questions and that led to this Q&A.
Phat Man Dee’s Roaring 2020’s * Friday January 31, 2020 * The Oaks Theater
Your Name: Phat Man Dee
Your Age: 44
Your Pronouns: she / her
How do you describe your identity? I identify as a phat woman of power, a yinzer Jew, who uses music to connect people and concepts.
Please tell us about your very first impression of Pittsburgh. I was 14 when I arrived and coming from Altoona, PA, a small city in Central PA, it seemed like a land of limitless possibilities. There was so much art, so many cool people, so much more music, so many more “things to do”.
I have always identified as bisexual, and though I married a man, I still have lady loves.
What Pittsburgh creators – writers, musicians, poets, etc – have influenced your work? Is there anyone with whom you’d like to collaborate? The most influential creators in Pittsburgh that have impressed me and helped me explore what art and music mean to me are Madame Christiane Dolores, Miguel Sague Jr, my vocal coach Beth Claussen, Dr James Johnson and Mrs Pamela Johnson of the Afro American Music Institute, Christina Springer, Liz Berlin, Geña Musica, Rick Sebak, Lynn Cullen, Rob Rogers,
Your upcoming event celebrates the Roaring (Ninteen) Twenties. What about the time period speaks to you both as a musician and as an activist? It actually celebrates the Roaring 2020’s, not necessarily the 1920s. We are doing a lot of music from the 1920’s but there were alot of things I don’t like about the 1920’s, like Jim Crow, and the inability for women to vote, and homosexuality being illegal, and prohibition…. I would not happily go back to that time for anything. I appreciate the era as the birth of the Jazz Age, but I like living now much more. Jazz is an organic and thoughtful expression of one’s soul as it communicates to others speaking in a musical language. It’s a conversation, so in that sense I celebrate the 1920’s because it gave us a means to share our cultures and our songs in a creatively powerful way that we had not had in popular culture before.
What are your predictions for the New 20s? I predict that we will mobilize the vote and get rid of 45. If we don’t, if we allow this administration to continue as it has been doing, if we allow racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and anti worker madness to rule while violent white nationalism continues unchecked, then I believe we face a further rise of the fourth reich. I also predict phabulousity, of beauty and a resurgence of creativity, for it is times like these, when so much is at stake, that creatives must rise up and make bold statements in art, culture, and music, for if we refuse to stand up and speak the truth and process the painful reality of what is happening for our fans and our communities, than who will?
What can we expect at your event? You may expect a wonderful set list of music by some of Pittsburgh’s finest jazz artists, Howie Alexander (keys), Lars Swanson (bass), Dennis Garner (drums), Miguel Sague III (conga/vocals), Steven Irwin (accordion) and Reggie Watkins (trombone). Dancers Sundae Service and Christine Andrews will delight us with their beautiful movements as we play for them. Sundae Service will also be making her vocal debut with my jazz band, so I am pretty excited about that! Some of the songs I intend to sing include “Pirate Jenny”, “Paper Moon”, “La Rosa Enflorece”, “La Vie En Rose”, “Miss Celies Blues”, and special guest Liz Berlin will be joining us for a song as well!
Artist Edward Pinto will be bringing stage props for us to showcase on stage, and he is also bringing a beautiful big Venus style Shell that I will set up near the merch table. The Shell will be the “shellfie” station I mentioned earlier. I will have photographer Zos Xavius there to shoot photos of guests and email them their photos for a suggested donation of $5. All monies raised at the Shellfie station will be donated to support Puerto Rican earthquake victims. The Shell was actually created by Edward Pinto for Viva Valezz and she is kind to loan it to us for this purpose.
However, it has recently come to my attention that the restrooms are only accessible by stairs to the basement. I didn’t know this before I booked the event. I am really sorry about it and I have encouraged the theater to work on becoming more accessible. I hope they will do so soon.
Why an accordion? I always had an accordionist in my band back in the day, I used to travel with a circus side show and my first accordion love was Mary Go Round, a fire dancing hula hooping accordionist from the wilds of Maine…. when I recorded my first album “Life Just Goes On” jazz artist Korel Tunador recorded with me, and I had Mike Murray record with me on my 3rd album “Torch of Blue”. Mary lives up north, Korel moved to California, and Mike passed away, so when I played a gig in November at a private party in Squirrel Hill the host mentioned he used to play in a klezmer band back in the day, so I asked him on, I am excited to see how he works out.
Is period attire mandatory? Can I show up in jeans and a sweater? Nothing about any of my shows is mandatory, except respect for one another. The costume contest is just for fun, to encourage people to show up and enjoy themselves, but jeans and sweaters are comfortable, and I perform to help my audience have a good time. I am in service to the people who come to enjoy the night, and if you enjoy casual clothing, that’s 1000% fine by me. If someone gives you guff, ,visit me at the merch table or shellfie station so we can take a picture and I can demonstrate that I find you fabulous just the way you are!
Hollywood often lifts up slender white women with short hair as the epitome of 20s fashion, especially flappers. Did this time period constrict or expand body positivity? I actually am more influenced by Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey than I am the typical slender women known as flappers…. I look up to how both women, who were not heterosexual, managed to be themselves so beautifully and so powerfully even as everything in society tried to tell them they were wrong for existing as larger, non hertero, Black women, and Ma Rainey ran her own show and was a business woman as well as a musician.
If I wanted to learn more about the music of the 1920’s, where would you direct me? I would say to start by listening to Duke Ellington Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.
Please tell us about the first LGBTQ person that you knew and what impact they had on your life.
Besides myself? I would say the first LBGTQIA person I met was my grade school best friend Annie. We got into trouble because I liked rubbing her back. We are still friends, and that experience changed how I felt about myself and I never opened up again to her when I was a kid. Recently I told her I had a crush on her through junior high (when I left Altoona) and she said she didn’t know that at all! I have always identified as bisexual, and though I married a man, I still have lady loves.
I also predict phabulousity, of beauty and a resurgence of creativity, for it is times like these, when so much is at stake, that creatives must rise up and make bold statements in art, culture, and music, for if we refuse to stand up and speak the truth and process the painful reality of what is happening for our fans and our communities, than who will?
What is your love song for LGBTQ youth? My favorite song for LBGTQIA youth is True Colors. I sing it with Miguel Sague III in harmony.
Who are some of the openly LGBTQ artists that our readers should be listening to, but might not know about? I like Baby Dee,
Where can readers find you on social media?
Instagram and twitter @phatmandee Facebook as facebook.com/phatmandee and my website is www.PhatManDeeMusic.com I am also on spotify
What else would you like to share? After my big beautiful Roaring 2020’s Extravaganza, I will be singing a at Blue Moon Bar on Butler Street on Sunday Feb 9, and then I will be doing a full show with Social Justice Disco at Mr Smalls Friday Feb 28.
Lastly, I have new Phat Man Dee t shirts and necklaces for the first time in years, and I will have them available at the shows!
Thank you, Phat Man Dee!
Ledcat and I are planning to be there. I find it almost prophetic that this weekend, Ledcat’s mother told us that she has a perfectly preserved flapper dress from her own mother’s youth. I can’t wait to see it on our next visit. But I will likely wear jeans and a sweater to this party.
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