By Tammy Scileppi
If you strolled along Austin Street during the recent Festival of the Arts pre-summer street fair in Forest Hills, you probably heard Jukebox Jive band’s rockin’ sounds down 71st Road — also known as “Restaurant Row.”
Despite the rain, locals gathered under a large tent to enjoy a lively three-hour concert. You could tell that the crowd — made up of teens, older folks, moms with strollers and some hipsters — was digging the music.
That experience turned a rainy Saturday afternoon into a special event.
“The Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce is proud to present the festival each June,” Chamber of Commerce president Leslie Brown said. “As the founder of the event, I am pleased that we attract thousands of people and can showcase all that Forest Hills has to offer. This year, I was able to work with musicians, all from Forest Hills. Band leader Rod Caccavale and vocalist Syd Livingston brought the Jukebox Jive band to life and I look forward to having the band back again. My mission is the 3 C’s: commerce, community and culture.”
While a few uninhibited music lovers were grooving to the band near the stage, others were boogying to the beat from their seats and singing along with the two female vocalists who performed a medley of catchy tunes.
Those talented performers happen to be longtime neighborhood friends. Linda Kurtis and Sydne Livingston, who have lived across the street from each other for many years, share a captivating history as seasoned entertainers. Recently, the two singing partners decided to team up with a bunch of super-talented musicians who would become their band members.
It wasn’t long before Jukebox Jive took its show ‘on the road.’
Concerts — no matter how large or intimate — create a community through music and bring people together. And isn’t it easy to forget your troubles when you hear the lyrics and beat of your favorite songs performed in such an exciting setting?
“We had a blast and the audience was very receptive,” said Kurtis, a single parent with two grown daughters who watched their mother on stage during the show. “They’re used to seeing my performances for many years, but this one was different due to a lot of rock music. They were surprised. My daughter, Melissa, giggled to a friend, ‘My mom the rock star!’”
There were several memorable moments as the band played their repertoire of hits from the ‘60s to the present. “Last Dance” and “Blue Bayou” were Kurtis’ favorites and Livingston said she loved singing “Moondance” and “How Sweet It Is.” Justin Lewis, the male lead singer on keyboards, belted out tunes from Journey, Fleetwood Mac, and the Eagles among others. At one point, Caccavale (Livingston’s son), sang “One Love,” as Tom Pottast played bass guitar.
Kurtis — a pop, jazz, blues, and opera singer — has always loved performing.
“It fulfills my soul. When I sing a song I love, I feel so lifted up and I thank God for the gifts he has given me,” she said.“I feel blessed to be working with such talented singers and musicians. They are all great friends. I love them.”
Band members rehearse at a friend’s house in Queens — someone who has a sound studio in his basement, according to Kurtis, who said the band is planning on working a lot together in the future.
The charming singer said she’s done a little bit of everything: theater, TV, commercials, modeling, movies and nightclubs, and has been teaching ballroom dancing and singing in her spare time. She and Livingston had even hosted their own TV variety talk show for three years on Manhattan cable access a while back.
“Syd and I met singing and working in a club in Manhattan,” Kurtis said. “Through her son, I met all the other guys,”
The performer was eager to share highlights from her entertainment career. At one time, she appeared in an off-Broadway show at the Plaza Hotel, called “Look Me Up,” and recalled that several celebs, including Gregory Hines, were also there, performing upstairs in the Persian Room.
“Then John Davidson put the spotlight on us while we were watching his show, and a bevy of stars all came down to see our show,” she said.
Livingston, a jazz and blues singer, also shared some juicy tidbits.
“My sister and I began singing professionally when we were eight and performed at Army and Air Force bases in Oklahoma and Texas, eventually doing gigs with an orchestra in Oklahoma City,” she said. “We moved to Los Angeles where we joined a vocal group and worked all over the (Los Angeles) area, in Vegas at the Tropicana and the Star Dust hotels, and in New Orleans at the Blue Room in the Roosevelt Hotel, and other venues.”
After jumpstarting her singing career, Livingston had occasional club dates and gigs with bands. Eventually, she would meet Livingston and the ladies joined musical forces. It was a match made in heaven. As a duo, they both specialized in harmony and according to Kurtis, it was meant to be.
You can say that show business is tough. But the fierce competition didn’t stop Linda and Syd from pursuing their passions and reaching for the stars as they both struggled to pay their bills. And though the road was a rocky one — which is often the case for rising performers — the gals never gave up and threw themselves into every role and gig they were offered, so they could prove to each other and their audiences that yeah, they were that good.
In that vein, Kurtis recounted an interesting story from back in the day. There were so many she felt she and Livingston could write a book, she said.
The singer recalled that she and Syd had gone out on the town one night in Manhattan in late ‘70s or early ‘80s and ended up at one of their favorite haunts, a popular after hours spot called Jilly’s.
There was a small stage with a microphone, and the owner who knew them well asked the duo to perform. While they were singing, Kurtis said she spotted someone familiar sitting in a dark corner of the club. It turned out to be none other than Frank Sinatra, who was enjoying the show with his wife, Barbara.
“Sinatra came over and was introduced to me by Jilly.
“You done good kid,” he said, according to Kurtis. “Keep up the good work.”