The word” tenor” usually describes the highest natural adult male singing voice, but another definition is the drift of something spoken or written. It seems fitting then that three premiere voices and talents, each representative of distinct cultures and flavors that flow around the Hudson River—Irish, Puerto Rican, and Italian—should ultimately come together and form The New York Tenors. Or at least that was the feeling of Andy Cooney, the group’s creator and the Irish part of the equation.
“I’ve always been an idea guy and, well, one day, I had the idea to bring together three of the prominent nationalities that make up New York—Italians, Latinos, and Irish.” For Cooney, who considers himself a “dreamer,” it didn’t seem particularly far-fetched. “I couldn’t understand why no one had done it before,” he says.
Tonight (Dec. 9) the New York Tenors are at the Flagler Auditorium with their acclaimed tri-ethnic flair, or flares for that matter, by way of a Christmas show.
The other two members are Daniel Rodriguez and Michael Amante. Rodriguez, who represents the Latino side, was introduced to the world as the “the singing policeman,” the New York cop who soothed the nation’s grief in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks by singing the national anthem at Yankee stadium. Afterward, he went on to receive classical training by Placido Domingo, the famed Spanish tenor and conductor–and did “God Bless America” on Letterman.
The Italian-American of the trio, Amante also has the endorsement of a powerful voice in the business of voices. “Michael’s remarkable range of notes and his ability to sing everything from opera, to Broadway, to contemporary, gives this tenor an intimate connection with anyone who hears him,” said 17-time Grammy award winner, Tony Bennett, also the recipient of a lifetime achievement award. Amante has also earned the honorific title of “the people’s tenor.”
Cooney, termed “Irish America’s favorite son” by the New York Times, has been singing Irish favorites for the past 20 years and has been heard in concert halls internationally, including two sold-out concerts in Carnegie Hall. In 2009, he produced “American Voices,” a show that included Grammy Award winners Larry Gatlin and Crystal Gayle.
When Cooney first approached Amante and Rodriguez, they didn’t know one another personally, but they did by reputation. “We were all well known within our varying nationality’s fan bases. All three of us wanted to reach out to a broader audience, so the idea of forming New York Tenors was welcome.”
“We could’ve put 10 tenors on stage at once, because of course there are many other nationalities to be found in New York, but for now it’s just the three of us,” he says. Naturally, it’s occurred to them to add more, though the Ten Tenors brand is already taken (and on its way back to the Flagler Auditorium later this season). When Cooney got the gang started, not too long ago in April 2011, he didn’t know where it was going to go. So for now, it’s just the three of them.
That said, the Tenors are moving fast, like a Wall Street executive late to the Exchange, and have done over a dozen shows so far. “I predict in about a year’s time, it’s going to really grow,” Cooney says. A record deal is in the works, and the group is on the threshold of making a deal for a PBS special.
In their short time on the map, the New York Tenors have taken their act from East Coast to West and back again, most recently Cerritos, Los Angeles, where they performed to a full house. The Christmas concert that the New York Tenors will bring to the Flagler Auditorium Sunday happens to be the same show that sold out at Carnegie Hall. With that, Cooney simply leaves it as a “feel-good Christmas show that touches on a lot of the favorites.
“We like to bring New York to different cities,” he says. And with them, they bring Broadway songs, ethnic, opera. They don’t want only to bring the music. They want to bring the attitude, too, at least the good part. Attitude is one of New York’s major exports.
“One thing about New York is it’s the biggest city in the world. The New York Tenors have that going for them,” Cooney says. “People will always romanticize about New York, Times Square, Broadway. When I tell people I’m from New York, the first thing they say is, ‘Oh, I have a sister in Queens, or Mom’s from Brooklyn.’” Palm Coast is a natural destination, since a substantial proportion of this city made up almost exclusively immigrants are from the New York area.
One of the New York Tenors’ first performances was on the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks during the Tunnels to Towers run. The marathon honored the life of FDNY firefighter Stephen Siller. After being prohibited from driving through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, he got out of his truck and ran the rest of the two miles in full gear to the burning towers—only to never be found in the wreckage. The run retraces his steps. The touching effect of the run has reached as far as Kabul, Afghanistan, where the United States military (one of the beneficiaries of the New York run’s proceeds) hold their own Tunnels to Towers.
Fifty thousand people participated in the run and hundreds of thousands of people were there, including New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former mayor Rudy Giuliani, in office during the attacks.
“I’m standing next to two great singers and performers—they have a wonderful way with the audience,” Cooney says. “So I really have to step up my game with these guys. That’s what I love most.” He describes his colleagues as family. “We’re three guys from different backgrounds but we all have the same aspirations and we all want to keep learning. That’s the most gratifying part: our show goes beyond nationality, it’s three guys coming together, drawing from what each of us knows, not only to tell a New York story, but to tell an American story as well.”
The New York Tenors: National Tour, in performance for one night only, Sunday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Flagler Auditorium. Tickets are $42 for adults, $28 for youths. Call the Auditorium box office at 437-7547 or visit the auditorium’s website.