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20 Questions With Emilio Palame

The Knights Of Swing filmmaker on parrot jokes, magical staircases & Scrabble skills.

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Emilio Palame is one swingin’ cat. A highly regarded pianist, vocalist, producer, composer and arranger for 45 years, he has worked with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Paul Williams, Connie Stevens, Chuck Mangione, Peggy Lee and others, and created music for more than 50 film and TV credits. But his most recent credit might also be his favourite: He directed, produced, co-wrote, scored and even acts in the recent jazz film Knights Of Swing, a nostalgic drama about a high school big band in post-war Southern California. You can read more about the movie HERE — but first, read on as Palame takes a swing at my pointless questions.

 


 

Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and any other details you’d care to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice.
Hi, my name is Emilio Palame, I am a pianist, composer arranger based in Los Angeles. Over the course of the last 10 years I have transitioned to also working as an actor, and eventually now as a film producer and director. All of these gifts I’ve been given came together in the feature film Knights Of Swing, available now on Vimeo on Demand.

What is your musical origin story?
I was born and raised in Buffalo, where in sixth grade I began singing and playing in our rock group called The Magical Staircase. Initially self-taught, I begin taking piano lessons and eventually went on to study music formally at SUNY Fredonia. I was very involved in the jazz ensemble program at the University where I eventually ran the entire program for four years. I received my Bachelor of Music degree and began playing and recording with my own big band in around Buffalo and southern Canada. After the blizzard of ’77, I packed up all my keyboards, musical equipment and charts and moved to sunny Southern California, where I began building my career as a studio musician, composer / arranger, performer, bandleader and actor / producer / director.

What’s your latest project?
After three years of dedicated work as producer, director, composer / arranger, casting director, and actor, I just released the feature film Knights Of Swing.

How will my life improve by listening to your music?
It will put a smile on your face and touch your heart.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played.
The first song I ever wrote was an introspective piano piece called Peace of Mind. My first gig was a YMCA dance with The Magical Staircase in sixth grade.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you have given?
One of my favourite performances was with the Fredonia Jazz Ensemble, where I won Outstanding Composer / Arranger and Outstanding Keyboardist — we performed for over 3,000 of our musical peers who gave us a resounding standing ovation! The band was so tight, our ensemble playing, crisp and dynamic, and our soloists really shined.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen?
One of the best was seeing and hearing the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Big Band live! I couldn’t name a worst, but one of the strangest, and very interesting performances was from harpist Mario Falcao, where he played an original composition of his wearing all black with white gloves on, that under the black light that was projected on his hands, made it appear as if the hands were on their own playing the harp in mid-air… It was mesmerizing.

What living or dead artists would you like to collaborate with?
Thad Jones, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, and Blood, Sweat and Tears to name few.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I really love the orchestral and solo piano works of Debussy.

What words do you hope people use when they describe you?
Compassionate, kind and inspirational.

What useful (or useless) skills do you have outside of music?
I’m pretty darn good at Scrabble.

Who can you do an impression of?
ANY mobster. A surfer dude. An Englishman, and some of my friends.

Tell us a joke.
A man walks into a pet shop and says he’s looking for a singing parrot. The shop owner says, “You’re in luck; not only do I have a singing parrot, but this bird knows all the arias from the major operas and can sing like Plácido Domingo and Pavarotti.” The man responds by saying, “That’s unbelievable; how much is the bird?” The shop owner replies, “$70,000.” The man is astonished at the price tag, but admits, “I’m a very wealthy man. If this bird can do what you say he can do I’ll take him.” With that, the shop owner brings the customer to the back of the store, where we see a bird laying in the corner of the cage in his own excrement with only two feathers left on his body. The customer says, “I’m not gonna pay $70,000 for that bird — he’s disgusting!” The shop owner says, “Oh, he’s not the opera-singing parrot — that’s his arranger.”

What do you collect?
Positive vibes.

If money was no object, where would you live?
Right where I already do.

What would you like to be reincarnated as?
An athlete — baseball, football or ice hockey — without any of the injuries.

What’s your idea of perfect happiness / total misery?
Happiness: True love with my soulmate. For almost 40 years now.
Misery: Getting lost and then being late.

What are your pet peeves?
People who are rude.

What’s your greatest regret?
Some bad choices I’ve made years ago.

What are you afraid of?
Wasps and hornets.

What would the title of your autobiography be?
I’m A Musician And I’m OK.

Who should play you in the movie of your life?
George C. Scott

What’s your motto?
Trust the journey.

What’s always in your refrigerator?
Eggs, butter, bread, cheeses, good deli meats, juice, vegetables and so much more!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Take more time off. I’m kind of an achievement-oriented person, bordering on workaholic.

If you had one day to spend as you please without any consequences, what would you do?
Go on a vacation, or at least take a very, very long nap.

What’s the silliest thing you believed as a child?
My dad was offered a million dollars for me at my birth from a man who always wanted a boy after having four girls.

What was your favourite class in school and why?
English: My teachers were very creative and funny.

What was the worst job you ever had?
Busboy graveyard shift – 11pm to 7am.