DESSY DILAURO introduces us to Neo-Ragtime

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Dessy Dilauro and her band are on the cutting edge. Chances are you’ve never heard of the Montreal native and her throwback sound she’s dubbed ‘neo-ragtime.’ That’s because Dilauro and her band are unsigned like many unique artists who aren’t tethered to the conformity of record labels. Last week, Music Connection Magazine listed her on their annual ‘HOT 100 Live Unsigned Artists and Bands’ list. And 2015 is already shaping up to be a good year for Dilauro and her talented gang of musicians called The Hep Kats.

I first came across DiLauro’s name while I was in the midst of launching the reboot of The Arsenio Hall Show and looking for music acts to fill our 2013 calendar. The show’s social media manager approached me about this fan-based campaign, ‘Get DiLauro on Arsenio.’ The last thing I wanted to do was risk my head and job on an unsigned act, so I put the notion on the shelf. As the universe would have it, one of my close friends knew a couple of the band members from her upbringing in Montreal and urged me to check them out. It took a good three months for my busy schedule to permit an attendance at one of their shows, but when I did commit to it, DiLauro and her Hep Kats super-exceeded my expectations. They absolutely blew my mind!

DiLauro and her husband Ric’key Pageot—the band’s musical director and keyboardist—put on more than a performance. Their shows are an experience. Think the big band sound of Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington layered with the vivacious hip-hop overtones of The Fugees and a Tribe Called Quest. It’s surely everything you’ve seen, but amalgamated into a symphonic gumbo. The essence of the big band is revealed by the props and their attention to detail. They have old-style instruments like a saloon piano, which Pageot plays with a jovial buoyant stride, and the dull brass of the jump n’ jiving horn section. The dancers include tappers possessed by the spirit of The Nicholas Brothers, fire-eaters and lindy hoppers—many of which are members of the audience who frequent DiLauro’s shows. And of course there’s DiLauro, herself. Her vocals conjure the swoon of Billie Holiday and the soulful boastfulness of Tina Marie. She commands the audience and she most certainly caught my attention.

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After experiencing my first Dessy DiLauro performance, I thought to myself “why have I been sleeping on these people? Why has anyone?” Unfortunately, CBS Distribution canceled The Arsenio Hall Show before I got the opportunity to book DiLauro, but I became a devoted fan. I simply needed to know what creative heaven Dilauro and her Hep Kats descended from.

DiLauro grew up a fan of the Harlem Renaissance era and the musicians who sprouted out of that cultural movement, including Calloway, Sir Duke, Ella Fitzgerald and many more. She fell in love with singing after her mother put her in the church choir at the ripe age of 4. Music has always been a passion of hers as long as she can remember, and she calls it her “gift from God.” She eventually became a session singer and even won a part in Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba show out of Orlando, Florida. During this time, DiLauro was involved in an abusive relationship. The dark depths of this affair caused her to turn to the deeper side of music and lyrical writing. Upon returning to Montreal, she met producer/musician Pageot. Their professional relationship eventually flourished into a romantic one (and later a marriage) and the two headed out to Los Angeles with aspirations of exposing the LA scene to their honed neo-ragtime sound.

It’s been a rocky climb to mass exposure, but now Dessy DiLauro and The Hep Kats are set to launch a mini-residency at Las Vegas’ Cosmopolitan Hotel over New Years Eve–an opportunity brought on by winning the adulation of a Cosmo exec after he witnessed a performance of their’s last summer. Now they’ll be sharing the lodging’s entertainment with the likes of Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett and Drake over the celebratory evening. DiLauro and Pageot promise this will be a show like no one has ever seen. I have no doubt in my mind it’ll be a springboard for much bigger things to come. Whenever you make your way out to see them, you’ll be thanking me for it later.

Christopher McDonald is a Senior Producer, Writer, Music Producer, Talent Booker and Photographer. He has produced and written for an array of programming including late-night television, cable news & editorial interviews. Having worked at CNN and PBS, Christopher is experienced in both live and taped formats and has 15 years continuous experience in the fast-paced ever-changing medium of television.Chris helped launch “Tavis Smiley” and “The Arsenio Hall Show” rebooting from the ground up. If you ever need to talk music and lyrical meaning with anyone, Christopher’s your guy. And whether he’s wearing loafers, Oxfords, clogs or sneakers, he’ll pull off the best moonwalk you will ever see.

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