By • Jun 2nd, 2015 •

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On Wednesday, May 20th, Oleg Frish debuted cuts from his new CD, “Duets With My American Idols,” which is being distributed by BDG through RED Distribution, LLC, a division of SONY Music Entertainment. The invitation had hinted at ‘Surprise Guests.’ For me, personally, there were surprises in store that the organizers of this lovely event could not have anticipated.

The building in which the Consulate General of the Russian Federation resides was built on the cusp of the last century – 1902-05. Originally a gift from the Sloane Hammond family to their married daughters, it is ornate inside, with columns, marble stairways, paneled walls with gilded moldings, damask curtains, and massive crystal chandeliers (think PHANTOM OF THE OPERA massive). The music room where we listened to Oleg Frish and his special guests could seat up to 300 people back in the day.

The building came into the hands of the U.S.S.R. in 1975, which planned to convert it into a Consulate, but work stopped when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and then-President Carter barred its opening. The building remained vacant from 1979 to 1992, at which point a much-needed renovation began. Sixteen craftsmen were brought in from Russia to work on the mansion, actually living in it for two years while the restoration took place, alchemizing the interior to a near-replica of its baroque glory.

The Consulate opened officially in 1995. And now, twenty years later, here we were, feted with copious hors d’oeuvres, flowing vodka (of course), and good company, in preparation for the evening’s musical raison d’etre.

Real estate agent Nancy Chung and I were chatting enjoyably with tall, elegant research scientist Annemarie Hamilton, and effervescent PBS newscaster Jim Masters, when suddenly I spotted a man in a red beret across the room. Enlisting Nancy and Annemarie as my advance guard, we made a bee-line for Curtis Sliwa – the founder of the Guardian Angels (back in 1979). Introducing myself, I told him that in 1985 my son, then fourteen, and a female friend, were surrounded in a New York City subway car by a pack of muggers, when suddenly two of the Guardian Angels entered the car. Sensing the problem, they backed the hoods down, told my son and his friend to exit at the next stop, and stayed on the train with the thugs to make sure there would be no pursuit. Today my son is a respected film industry lighting technician, but his story might have been very different if things hadn’t gone the way they did that night. I’d been waiting thirty years to thank Curtis Sliwa for what his angels had done. He was appreciative and told us that managing his indie police force was an uphill battle until Rudy Giuliani was elected. Then the police were told to lay off the Angels and let them do whatever they had to.

FIR’s editor with Nancy Chung, Curtis Sliwa, and Annemarie Hamilton

We took our seats in the music room where an ebullient Oleg Frish took the microphone and explained that his new CD was a true labor of love, since it was composed mainly of duets with the idols of his youth in the USSR, where it wasn’t always easy to have access to this kind of music. And some of his idols were actually there to recreate the songs from the CD. First up was Gary US Bonds, accompanying Frish with ‘You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.’ Next up was the great Lou Christie, who may have been the most under-utilized of the batch, but would Oleg really have been able to follow him if he started jumping octaves like Yma Sumac? Instead, and wisely, they performed a simple standard, ‘When You’re Smiling.’ The last guest singer at the Consulate was Bobby Rydell, who belted ‘Volare’ out of the park. Rydell was the first to record the classic swing song in English.

Oleg (left) sings with Gary US. Bonds

The CD itself has these selections plus several more, all retro in spirit and arrangement. Melissa Manchester does some impressive things with her voice interpreting Jerome Kern’s ‘A Fine Romance.’. Bobby Rydell infuses the same power into ‘Volare’ as he did at the Consulate. Laine Kazan throws some Yiddish into the grab bag. Others on the CD are Ben E. King, Tony Orlando, B.J. Thomas, Peggy March and Chris Montez, all preceded by an introduction from Connie Francis in a tremulous voice. Clearly Oleg Frish is amongst friends.

Later I chatted with ubiquitous radio personality Andrew Martin. And then the party slowly broke up and we drifted out into the dusk, having had one of the loveliest times of the season at 9 East 91st Street.

FIR editor, Andrew Martin, Gary U.S. Bonds, Lou Christie

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