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March 30, 2011

Gangster a cappella

Chicago Sun-Times

Ask a tourist or a local to imitate the sound they most associate with mythologized underworld thug Al Capone, and you’re far more likely to hear the rat-a-tat-tat of a tommy gun than the lilting strains of “Madonna Mia.”

A love song that was transcribed, or written down, by the musically inclined Capone while he did time in Alcatraz for tax evasion, “Madonna Mia” came to the public’s attention a couple of years ago when New York-based historical documents dealer Kenneth W. Rendell put Capone’s inscribed, handwritten score up for sale.

Not long ago, Rich Larson of the locally rooted caponefanclub.com assembled musicians to record a version that features several instrumentalists and two vocalists. Now it’s been gussied up even more — sans instruments. In concerts Friday through April 10, as part of a program that traces the city’s history through music, Chicago A Cappella will perform a voice-only rendition in nine-part harmony.

“I’m trying to describe this music to people who’ve never heard it, and it sounds to me like early ’50s, late 1940s kind of pop,” says Matt Greenberg, who’ll sing the solo part accompanied by a vocal sinfonietta of sorts, complete with horns and violins. “Think of Perry Como, Vic Damone, Al Martino — kind of the B-level. Not quite Sinatra’s quality. But it’s this kind of croony, sentimental love song.”

A sample: “In a quaint Italian garden/While the stars were all aglow/Once I heard a lover singing/To the one that he loved so.”

Awww. Kind of makes you forget how allegedly handy Big Al was with a baseball bat.

But Chicago A Cappella music director Patrick Sinozich, who arranged the tune, was unfazed by Capone’s shady persona. That aspect, in fact, never occurred to him. The piece, he says, fits perfectly with the program’s other selections, such as a campaign song for Abraham Lincoln and a setting of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Prayers of Steel.”

“My initial opinion was this is very charming, slightly cheesy, but very sincere and very much of the time period.” Read more.

Posted by acapnews at March 30, 2011 8:34 PM

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