Danny Kapilian: The Art of Presenting Live Music

July 13, 2017 by
Danny Kapilian with Moneypenny

Danny Kapilian with Moneypenny / photo by Howard B. Leibowitz / courtesy of B.L.Howard Productions

Not all artists on the music scene perform on stage. Some work their magic behind the scenes – flying under the radar, as it were. One such person is Park Slope-based producer and programmer Danny Kapilian, who is currently presiding over the 23rd edition of the annual outdoor BAM R&B Festival at Metrotech, Thursdays at noon through August 10th.

He is not a promoter, he quickly points out, which is why “I am freer to devise and execute much more creative projects,” Kapilian tells Brooklyn Roads. “That means more to me, because I almost never simply book an artist – there’s always rhyme and reason. Bill Graham was a real hero to me growing up, in how he paired remarkable artists from different genres on the same bill for the same audience – such as having Miles Davis’ electric Bitches Brew group on the same bill with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, or Muddy Waters with Jethro Tull, or Laura Nyro with Nina Simone. That was and still is a major inspiration to me.”

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Wilson Pickett at BAM R & B Festival-Summer 2002 / photo by Danny Kapilian

Kapilian, a NYC native, grew up on Top 40 ’60s radio and later progressive FM. A cousin turned him on to early hard rock, psychedelia, “and most important the blues,” he recalled to Brooklyn Roads. A watershed moment came in 1986, when he received copies of Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and Thelonius Monk’s Underground for his 30th birthday. “Both LPs changed my life – expanding my musical and cultural world exponentially.”

Flash forward to 1994 when BAM asked Kapilian if he’d be interested in running outdoor concerts at the then brand new Metrotech. “There was a summer concert series there … featuring avant-garde jazz and world music. It was on Fridays at 5 p.m. and was was very creative and high quality , but not drawing,” he tells us. So he suggested changing it to Thursdays at lunchtime, and shifting the focus to popular artists in such genres as doo-wop, early rock and soul. Percy Sledge was the first performer of the revamped series and “It was a hit from the start.”

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Bobby Rush – BAM R&B Festival – Summer 2015 / photo by Arnie Goodman

“By 1998 it was clear that black American music in all of its forms was attracting the biggest and most enthusiastic crowds,” Kapilian explained to Brooklyn Roads, “so the BAM R&B Festival was officially born in 1998 with an incredible season that featured Rufus and Carla Thomas, Ruth Brown, the Stylistics, the Chi-Lites, Clarence Gatemouth Brown and more. We’ve now presented over 250 different artists .” Repeat appearances are very rare, he says, simply because “there’s just too much great music to showcase.”

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Third World at BAM R & B Festival-Summer 2014 / photo by Danny Kapilian

Among the few repeaters were Booker T and the MGs, whose second time around was made especially memorable for Kapilian because, “I brought in Sharon Jones to sing with them.” Among other performers who stand out in his memory was Wilson Pickett “who just returned from open heart surgery and wrote in his contract 60 minutes max on stage – and then I couldn’t get him to stop after more than two hours.” He also fondly recalls “Phoebe Snow, who cried thanking me for presenting her before a black audience [and] Richie Havens who said the same thing.”

Then there were P-Funk, Ashford & Simpson, Burning Spear, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John and … “too many more to remember,” he says. Which may be why he has it all archived on his website, kapilian.com.