Happy with the Blues

Lauren Chiodini, an undergraduate at Cal State Northridge, made her way toward the office of the Dean of Arts in search of help for a class project in the year 1988. Upon entering the room, she noticed a guitar leaning against the wall.
“You play guitar?” Chiodini asked. “My dad plays guitar, the two of you should get together and jam sometime.”

The Dean of Arts, Joseph Lewis III, acknowledged her suggestion with a nod that was equal parts bemusement and skepticism before proceeding to review her class project. The very next day, Chiodini showed up at his office again to ask if he was available for dinner with her family later that week.

Courtesy of Joseph Lewis

Courtesy of Joseph Lewis

While he was wary of the fact that Chiodini had only seen his guitar but never actually witnessed him play, Lewis still accepted her invitation.

Upon arriving at the household, Lewis was impressed to find the hallways adorned with a plethora of albums certified gold and platinum, cassette tapes, and CD’s. As it turned out, Lauren Chiodini’s father, John Chiodini, was a rather well known studio musician who had played alongside big names such as Natalie Cole, Frank Sinatra and Paul McCartney.

With his nerves making it near impossible to eat, Lewis spent the rest of dinner wondering what had gotten himself into. Following dinner, John Chiodini proceeded to pull out his guitar and began playing, with Lewis admittedly stumbling in his wake as he tried to follow along.When Chiodini finished playing, he asked Lewis to play his own music, seamlessly following after as if he composed the songs himself. Upon finishing, both men quietly sat in silence.

“You should record that stuff,” Chiodini said.

So marked the beginnings of the blues album, “Three Black Bungalows,” but unbeknownst to both men at that time, the album would take them on a 15 year journey to completion.

Courtesy of Joseph Lewis

Courtesy of Joseph Lewis

Considering the background of the current Dean of the Claire Trevor School of Arts, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Lewis would one day be recording the blues.

A third generation artist, Lewis’s mother was a painter while his father was a vocalist with Harry Belafonte. His grandfather, a chef, also specialized in creating ice sculptures that were displayed in hotels. Growing up alongside the vocals of his dad and folk singer, Belafonte, Lewis was profoundly influenced by folk songs and the blues.

However, despite his upbringing, Lewis never possessed an inclination to venture into the music recording industry. Rather than create something that was tangible and permanent, Lewis channeled his creative energies into using art as a medium to bring together people of varying backgrounds and artistic endeavors together.

“What dawned on me was that when you brought all those different kinds of people into a space, especially people who wouldn’t normally mix with each other, their ideas about each other changed,” Lewis said.

“Their view of the world changed. That was my artwork, bringing people together.”

As both men held jobs at the time, Lewis and Chiodini lacked the time and funds necessary to fully record an album on the spot. The duo carefully set aside money until they accumulated enough for a recording session at the studio, and planned to repeat the process until the album’s completion.

After a couple of years passed, Lewis received an offer to work as the Dean of the School of Art and Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Following three years at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Lewis found employment elsewhere at Alfred University, where he juggled the dual responsibilities of being Dean and a tenured professor at the School of Art and Design.

Despite their best efforts to continue producing content, the two men were unable to overcome the drawback of living on opposite ends of the country, and the album was put on hold. Nevertheless, Lewis remained steadfast in his desire to finish the album.

The decision to move back to California was easy for Lewis when he received a call to come serve as the Dean of Claire Trevor School of Arts at UC Irvine. Upon his return to California in March 2010, Lewis contacted Chiodini and the two set about finally completing their project, with their last recording session taking place in October 2013.

Throughout the album’s 10 tracks, Chiodini and Lewis are accompanied by a talented array of individuals, each with their own varied musical footprint.

For example, Alexis Kelly, the background vocalist, normally sings as a back up to artists playing in the alternative music scene. Jimmie Woods, the album’s harmonicist, has played alongside several well-known acts, most notably American thrash metal band, Megadeth.

Nicole Mitchell, UC Irvine’s very own music professor, lent the album her skills on the flute that earned her several distinctions from Down Beat Magazine. Lastly, accordion player Ed Vodicka, who was once the official organist for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, is a music producer in high demand.

After the blues duo produced the album that represented an array of musical talent, all that was left was a title, one that would make listeners curious, when in reality, he chose the name because he liked the way it sounded: Three Black Bungalows.

Three Black Bungalows is available on iTunes, Spotify, and cdbaby.com.