Jon Frangipane and His New Song “So I Can Breathe Again”
By Krista Martinelli
I’ve known Jon (John) Frangipane for over twenty years. He and I started the Fort Lauderdale Writers Group together, which still exists today. We have a lot in common. We both play the piano. But let’s be clear – he is MUCH better than I am at the piano. In fact, his finger work is masterful. We both play tennis. We’ve traveled together (in 2001 to see the Williams sisters play tennis and to see the David Letterman Show). I never knew how old he was until this year – when he finally fessed up and invited me to his 90th birthday party. He’s a breath of fresh air and always on point with his political commentary. He is in good shape, physically and mentally, and I would have put him in his 70s.
Recently he wrote a beautiful song, dedicated to George Floyd, “So I Can Breathe Again.” I asked him what motivated him to write it. “The George Floyd murder did it for me. I’m sick and tired of the bad examples of police that we see. More than half of the police need psychiatric help,” he says. Did I mention that Jon likes to speak his mind and is not shy? He went on, “More training is needed, a national standardized training program. They should be psychiactrically tested even before they get their jobs. And when they get fired, they should not be allowed to join another police force in a neighboring community.” He mentions that we’ve seen a number of choke holds on the part of the police, in addition to the George Floyd murder. Choke holds, says Jon, should be outlawed. “And restraining people for just walking down the street is ridiculous.”
Jon has written many songs over the years and has played the piano since he was a young kid. Both of his parents were professional pianists. So yes, he’s a purebred! LOL. “My sister, my mother, my father and I would play with the four of us on two pianos.” They did special performances for Italy relief in the 40’s, donating funds to the Red Cross. He’s Italian, completely Italian and Sicilian. His mother’s parents came from Northern Italy.
Jon Frangipane has played alongside some of music’s greats, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman. He played at the Majestic Theatre in a show called “Purlie Victorious” in New York on Broadway with Melba Moore and Cleavon Little. And Cleavon Little played the role of the Sheriff in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, but that’s another story. Jon played for Linda Hopkins, a famous singer and conducted Leslie Gore, famous for the song “It’s My Party.” He appeared on the Sherman Hemsley Show, a popular TV show at that time. And Sherman Hemsley is best known as the actor who played George Jefferson in The Jeffersons.
Jon worked on a charity concert on a big ship on the Hudson River, a red-carpet charity. He got to shake Babe Ruth’s hand. “I was playing at Greenwood Lake, New York, and he (Babe Ruth) came up on stage.” Jon Frangipane often seemed to be at the right place at the right time.
He’s been writing music since the age of 13. He wrote for a band that he was in – Rod’s Rhythm Rascals, a novelty band.
Jon Frangipane has lived a very musical and very unconventional life. “I left on the day after my high school graduation to go on the road with a 17-piece band, and we broadcast it over the radio.” They traveled and played music from June until December, doing a 6-month tour “until we ran out of jobs,” says Jon.
Jon remembers seeing an advertisement for a metronome. “I got interested in playing 4 notes against 5,” he recalls. He talked with his friend Paul Billotti (who wrote a piano methodology book – Method for Piano Accordion, Elementary Method by Paul Billotti & Bernard Spitzer, Systematically Graded, 1938). At the time, Paul Billotti was living in the Lincoln Center. I didn’t know that was a place people could live, but OK, I digress. “I picked up Paul once a week on Sundays to have spaghetti at my house,” says Jon. “I started writing books. I wrote three short books about the Billotti trinome and how to teach music to young kids. And they were outperforming the seniors at some of the local colleges.”
Jon also conducted a band called The Playmates. One of his favorite memories happened in 1959 at East Rutherford, NJ when Yogi Berra appeared for their musical performance. Yogi Berra, who won ten World Series championships and still holds the record, was famous for funny quotes like this, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”
In 1969, Jon Frangipane did a recording with Atlantic Records. One of his songs appeared in Cashbox Magazine. His band put on a show at Plainfield, New Jersey for an all black audience. We played a song called “Blue on Green.” “When the black audience saw an all-white band, they were not happy. And that was the end of the tour.”
Jon had other talents and started using them when he got activated in the Airforce. He was the editor of a publication for the Northeast Air Command. At that time he also started to write a musical, but it never got produced. “I was mostly doing my playing on the radio station for the Northeast Air Command out of St. John’s Newfoundland.”
Another highlight of Jon’s illustrious musical career was founding a Jazz Crusade to end world hunger in 1986. “We appeared in various theaters. All the musicians donated their time. We did this for the Lutheran Feeding Program,” he says.
Jon Frangipane has never been shy about making his political views known. He worked with the governor of Florida in 1988 to designate November 20th as Humanitarian Day, as put into place by Florida Governor Bob Martinez with a lot of urging from Jon.
From Music to Publishing
“When things got bad at the turn of the century as far as karaoke coming in to play, it put a lot of musicians out of work. I saw the writing on the wall,” says Jon. “I saw this community publication sitting on a table. I picked it up and said to myself, ‘God, they should have something funny in here.’” He says it was very bland. I called the owner and “we quickly became friends. We both liked jazz.” This was publishing guru Steve Kelley in Fort Lauderdale, FL, who owned and operated ten neighborhood news publications. He told me, “As long as you keep North of Fort Lauderdale, go ahead and start one.” So after planning it for about nine months, it became 2002 and Jon decided to start The Lighthouse Point Community News. In 2004 it became Lighthouse Point Magazine, a black and white publication with approximately 50 pages each month. And then in 2005, just like in the magical film the Wizard of Oz, his magazine started coming out in full color. “And it was more like 76 pages each month.”
As a side note, I’ve always looked up to Jon for speaking up against things that are wrong in politics and in the overall government of our country in his Letters from the Editor. He never holds back. The magazine was a great success and Jon Frangipane personally attracted a plethora of advertisers and writers. As another side note, Jon was my mentor in the publishing business. He said to me, making it sound quite pleasant, “Why don’t you just quit your corporate job and start a magazine?” So in February of 2006, I came out with my first hard copy of AroundWellington® Magazine. And no, it was not pleasant. Or easy. So I did not appreciate his getting me into the business. Getting advertisers for a brand new magazine was like pulling teeth. I wore a business suit, carried around my advertising rates sheet in a plastic sheet protector and brought my daughter Stella in a stroller to various businesses around Wellington, trying to get advertising dollars to support my new venture. Stella (just 9 months old) would not always cooperate as we solicited businesses, door to door. And so with Stella in the stroller (sometimes crying), we got kicked out of several shops, even before I had a chance to start in on my sales pitch. Some shop owners were mean and even yelled, “Get Out!” or just, “No!” But after the first magazine came out, it got easier.
Enough about me, Lighthouse Point Magazine was a smashing success. At the end of 2013, Jon sold Lighthouse Point Magazine to local publisher Richard Rosser. Jon celebrated over 11 years of his successful, enlightening and funny magazine at the Lighthouse Point Yacht Club with writers, photographers, sponsors and other supporters to highlight the end of an era. It was a beautiful event!
I asked Jon Frangipane, “Why do you think music can shine a light on a topic in a way that nothing else can?” He answered, “We go through life and music really delineates certain points of our life. Through good memories and bad memories, music is like a historical bookmark.” I thought back on all of the songs that carried me through different parts of my life and thought – he’s right. Jon Frangipane played the piano for us at our wedding in May of 2004. He even played a special song that he composed for my husband Joe and me called “Just a Note,” which was based on a poem written by my friend Carol Lustig. And did the videographer get this song on the wedding video? Nope! He forgot to hit the record button during that part of the beginning of the wedding. Nevertheless, the song lives on in our hearts and in our memories of that day. But that song is based on another story, and I don’t want to get derailed again here.
“So I Can Breathe Again,” Jon Frangipane’s latest song dedicated to George Floyd, will be presented on August 5th at 5pm in a (recorded) Zoom broadcast by the Episcopal Church Women of All Saints in Fort Lauderdale. The Zoom program will feature a book review of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Frangipane’s response to the numerous deaths of black citizens is summed up in his statement, “I was enraged with the murder of George Floyd as everyone else was.” In Frangipane’s lyrics, “I’ll be there for you, in my prayers for you,” there’s a simple call to action, demanding human love so that everyone can breathe again. The song will be performed by Dan Bishop. Meanwhile, Marjory Lyons and Greg Moore will present the book review. Due to limitations on the Zoom capacity, attendance is limited to church members. But the Zoom event will be recorded. For more information, contact the church at (954) 467-6496.
I asked Jon about the song’s take-away message. “The song kind of says it itself. Our circumstances don’t allow us to get to know people of other denominations very easily. It may take a little more effort to find a way to know them better. And love them better. As difficult as it may be, it would be a wonderful feeling for you to get that experience of knowing them better and trying to have them become part of your life. And having played that show Purlie in 1970 was a turning point for me.” This was a black show set in the era of Jim Crow laws in the American South. The whole cast was black. “It was just me at the piano. I played at a funeral for a black person.” “Actually,” recalls Jon, “The plantation owner was the only white person depicted in the show. Everyone else was black.
Jon has five children. He met his first wife when he was just twenty years old. His second wife was a singer in his band. He’s the proud father of John Jr., Paul, Eva, Noelle and Gavin.
As for next steps with the song “So I Can Breathe Again,” I’m working with a music producer in Nashville to see if we can find just the right voice to bring this song to everyone’s attention. We’re also looking for a diverse group of four to eight children to do some speaking parts. It’s in progress. Will it go big? I hope so! Stevie Wonder big? Leslie Odom Jr. big? John Legend big? We shall see. It’s exciting to think about!
Just for a few points of reference, here are a couple of songs Jon Frangipane has previously written. Second Thoughts was written in 1979, and its name has more to do with playing two notes close together than it has to do with “having second thoughts.”
Jon Frangipane wrote “Acrobat” in 1987 and feels that it’s his best song, lyrically and musically. He sings on this track.
For my Letter from the Editor this month, it’s Jon and me goofing around with “Stand By Me” while he plays the piano and I attempt to sing.