A cappella euphoria

Jan Detanna grew up singing along with his brother’s 1950s records and came to love the doo-wop sound.

“It was embedded in me at a young age — at probably 6, 7 or 8,” he said.

Little did the La Crescenta resident know he’d be performing it years later, and at a major concert venue.

Detanna will join the other members of the a cappella group Deke & the Blazers on Saturday night at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City. They are part of “The Ultimate Doo-Wop Show” produced by Canterbury Productions that showcases 11 groups and travels to various concert venues throughout the country. The have been invited by the producer to join the tour, Detanna said.

“This is a dream come true — to go from nothing to seven shows,” he said. “It’s mind-boggling for us.”

This is Deke & the Blazers’ third show in the circuit, Detanna said.

“We were at the Segerstrom Hall in the Orange County Performing Center in February,” he said. “That was our first show on a main stage. That was a big deal for us.”

But appearing at the Gibson Amphitheatre is bigger, he added.

“It’s an amphitheater that everybody in Los Angeles knows,” he said. “All of the major artists have performed there.”

It will be a chance for the group to get a lot of exposure and, Detanna said, they hope to pick up additional performing possibilities.

The producer, Henry Farag, brought them into the fold after hearing them warming up the crowd at a concert in Detroit in 2008.

The group is the epitome of the caliber of talent for the show, Farag said.

“They personify the idea behind ‘The Ultimate Doo-Wop Show’ — the a cappella street corner harmony,” Farag said. “We keep inviting them back because first and foremost it’s their singing. Singing a cappella is difficult. There are no musical instruments to back you up.”

The second reason, he said, is they have a passion for the music.

The doo-wop sound comes from what is known as the street corner harmony, Detanna said. During the late 1950s and early ’60s in the major cities — New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles — singers would gather on a street corner and sing without musical accompaniment, he said. The four-part harmony is created by a lead singer, bass, tenor and baritone and sometimes a fifth called falsetto.

Detanna sings lead in Deke & the Blazers and others in the group are Rick Budd, tenor, of Portland, Ore.; Larry D’Angelo, bass, of Detroit; and Len Blasso, baritone, of Baltimore.

Detanna has known Budd since high school when they performed in a rock ’n’ roll band together. They met the others when they attended a doo-wop convention in November 2007 in Las Vegas, Detanna said. Detanna and Budd came as a duo and later teamed up with D’Angelo and Blasso, competing as a quartet. They won second place, he said.

Blasso grew up singing on the street corners in Queens, N.Y., but after high school, he went to college and got a job.

Performing became just a dream, he said.

Getting the chance to perform at this stage in life is rock ’n’ roll nirvana, he said.

“It’s a natural high to hear that blend — that ring,” he said. “It’s a feeling of euphoria. You forget your troubles and enjoy the sound that is coming out and at the same time making other people happy.”

Living so far from each other, the group planned a mini singing vacation in July 2008, Detanna said

The interesting thing is, they only have been together singing for an equivalent of 3 1/2 weeks, but they get compliments, even from the pros, Detanna said.

“The legends in the show say we sound like we’ve been together 10 years,” he said.

The group will get the opportunity to do their own songs and serve as backup harmony for legend Cleve Duncan when he sings songs like “Earth Angel,” a huge hit in the 1950s, Detanna said.

Detanna’s group performed with Duncan when they performed in Seattle with the show and he requested they be his Penguins for this show, Detanna said.

“When we were on stage with him in Seattle it was like ‘are we really here?’” he said. “We are singing with a legend. He got several standing ovations, and to be a part of that is unbelievable.”


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