Saturday, February 10, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich — Short Take on James Biondolillo, Music Coordinator

by G. Jack Urso

There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.
— Albert Maltz, The Naked City.

The above line from the classic movie and TV series The Naked City symbolizes the aspirations and dreams of the many people drawn to New York City. Some are lifelong citizens, some are transients, some are homeless, but whether we land in Peoria or Paris, everyone has a story. Hot Hero Sandwich was produced by a mix of talented people from across the nation drawn to New York City by its opportunities. Their stories help define both an industry and an era. 

Jimmy Biondolillo and the Godfather of Soul James Brown (photo Stereo City).


Mr. Conductor, If You Please . . .

James “Jimmy” Biondolillo was one of the music coordinators for Hot Hero Sandwich (the other being Tony Fiore). Jimmy was brought to my attention by series writer Marianne Meyer. In the Hot Hero Sandwich Project’s ongoing effort to shine a little light on those behind the scenes, I now turn the spotlight on Jimmy and his role as a music coordinator.

A music coordinator serves as a sort of liaison between the producers and musicians. According to Hot Hero band drummer Mike Ratti, the music coordinator for the show was “the one up that will put the music together and the musicians that had to be hired . . .  he [Biondolillo] was known for that. He was on that circuit.”

According to Marianne Meyer, at the time of Hot Hero Sandwich, Biondolillo lived in a studio apartment across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater. Surprisingly, he only had a “crappy little stereo,” not a high-end, high-tech classic 1970s audio set-up she expected him to have. Biondolillo replied, and paraphrasing him here, “I work in studios with the greatest equipment but, when I come home, if it sounds good on this, I know it’s a great track."

Meyer reported Biondolillo worked on a solo album with Roger Daltry (Parting Should Be Painless) and on a project with Frank Sinatra — and had Frank’s coffee cup as a souvenir to prove it! He also worked on albums with The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Bronski Beat, the Communards, Bobby Day, Frankie Vallie, Tatsuro Yamashita, Odyssey, and many more.

Biondolillo hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, where, in an interview with Mike Thorne of the NYC-based Stereo Society, Oct. 16, 2001, he notes that his early experience included playing, and by his own admission “poorly,” in wedding bands, working his way through college. While he spent time in London, LA, and Nashville, he preferred the fast pace of New York City.

In the interview, Biondolillo describes his job as knowing not only how the music for a project should be arranged, but who can deliver the performances needed for the right sound. Beyond just technical musical knowledge, the music coordinator needs to have an extensive working knowledge of the musicians available and how they play. Additionally, Jimmy wrote arrangements, usually on the spot, and the musicians typically were expected to nail it in one take.

Jimmy Biondolillo apparently was very pleased to meet Nancy Sinatra (Getty Images).


Changing Times

Biondolillo acknowledges in the interview that the advance of technology has led to a new generation of musicians who don’t understand how a good music coordinator contributes to the success of a project. This is compounded by a steadily shrinking Rolodex of colleagues who know the importance of his work, but who have since left the business or have been sidelined themselves. Nevertheless, review of his later work on the website Discogs reveals a focus on arrangement and conducting, suggesting he segued to more specialized work.

Hot Hero’s Mike Ratti, having worked through that era, conceded the industry has changed since the Hot Hero days and the duties of the music coordinator have been divided between individual specialists rather than lumped together with the music coordinator.

“The business had changed,” Ratti noted, “and they didn’t really need people like that anymore. They were bringing in arrangers, people that were writing the music for the session so that [the music coordinator] wasn’t needed. It wasn’t the animal that was needed anymore so people like just kind of faded away, and that part of the industry.”

In some respects, I can relate. In the 1980s, my audio and video skills were pretty sharp and honed on state-of-the-art equipment. When I tried to reenter the business in the mid-1990s after a five-year gap working in education, I found that the digital revolution had made most of the equipment I trained on obsolete. I took up a few brief part-time radio jobs as an announcer now and then. When I would explain to my younger co-workers how I used to edit audio with a crayon, razor blade, and tape, they looked at me like an obsolescent curiosity straight out of the Stone Age.

As noted above, Biondolillo continued his work long after Hot Hero Sandwich. When trying to track him down, I found the Stereo City interview and an email address for Jimmy hosted through the website. I reached out, but instead got a response from the interviewer, Mike Thorne, who administrates the website and reported that he hadn’t heard from Jimmy in quite a while and a quick survey of other Stereo City NYC-based audio professionals revealed the same. No one has heard of his current whereabouts. Likewise, my own research efforts have turned up nothing. 

Biondolillo and Marianne Meyer collaborated on a script, Under the Lights, about the true story of a pair of high school football players Jimmy brought to her attention, but nothing developed from it. On a visit to New York City a few years after the show, Meyer stopped at the front desk of his apartment building across from the Ed Sullivan Theater to inquire if Jimmy was still there, but he was long gone and the concierge did not recall him.

The Ed Sullivan Theater, left; Jimmy Biondolillo’s apartment building, right (Google Maps).

Concluding Thoughts

I recently read a review of the Twilight Zone episode, “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” where a commercial airliner gets caught in a powerful jet stream that takes it to different points in the past. The episode ends with the jet trying to get back to its own time and running out fuel. The journey continues, but the episode ends. We never learn what happens to the passengers. Somewhere out there, Flight 33 is still trying to get home. The reviewer didn’t like the episode because there was no conclusion, no resolution, to the story, and all good stories must have a conclusion, right?

Well, I’m not sure where Jimmy Biondolillo ended up, but I like to think that, as with Flight 33, he is still out there somewhere — if only in the worn-out grooves of old records and on wonky cassettes and discarded CDs or riding some radio waves still traveling far out through space . . . or even in a wedding band in Cleveland, Ohio.

I hope Jimmy found his way home because, in a way, we’re all on the same path.


UPDATE April 2024: Jimmy Biondolilio has turned up! He is scheduled to appear at the Wickliffe (Ohio) Public Library, May 8, 2024, to discuss his career. Looks like Jimmy made it home after all.

Recent picture of Jimmy Biondolillo (Wickliffe Public Library).

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1 comment:

  1. Your concluding thoughts are always spot on and often very moving with much insight, such as this one. Thanks for posting.