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Carlo Chappelle, born to sing
by Ana Serna

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"Carlo is somebody who loves to sing with every ounce of his body," said Beckie Menzie. "There are people who sing because they want to be heard—and he's certainly somebody who wants to share his music—or they want to be stars. Carlo loves to sing. He wants to sing."

Menzie, a longtime Chicago jazz performer, described her friend and colleague Carlo Chapelle passionately. Her enthusiasm is matched only by way in which Chapelle speaks of his musical career since arriving in the United States from the Philippines almost 30 years ago.

"I was just 15 years old," said Chapelle. "My first professional performance was when I was 14 years old … in the Philippines. I joined this professional group called PPF [People Precious and Few Choir] … an established community choir. The year when I joined [1989], I was lucky because that was the time they decided to get into recording. So I was able to experience recording an album for the first time."

Then, at just 14, Chapelle also toured for the first time. According to Chapelle, he knew he was meant to be a singer since he was 10 years old and watching variety shows on television. It was a dream come true.

"From 1989 to 1991, [PPF toured] to come out with an album," he said. "That's when we got approved to live in the States. So May 14, 1991, is when we first landed here." Chapelle has been singing jazz all over Chicago ever since, including as a regular at the once iconic venue, The Gentry.

"I worked at [the gay bar] The Gentry for 19 years. One of the things that I did there for one week short of 19 years was host a Sunday night open mic," said Menzie. "The Gentry was predominantly a gay bar, and yet, people came in for the music and for the fun of it. There was an enormous sense of community and inclusion there despite what label you chose for yourself."

"That opportunity has been great for me because I've met hundreds and thousands of singers," said Menzie. "I met Carlo from that Gentry open mic."

The Gentry eventually closed its doors. Menzie, however, continues to host open-mic nights both at Davenport's and Petterino's, which Chapelle still attends on occasion. Menzie also still accompanies Chapelle on the piano during his performances from time to time. The two musical colleagues frequently perform, together and individually, at Davenport's Piano Bar.

Chapelle's most recent show, at Uncommon Ground on Sept. 29, was reflective of the niche but dedicated audience that Chicago jazz still holds today. Chapelle was joined onstage by one of his childhood idols, Tillie Moreno, the R&B vocalist known as "Manila's Queen of Soul." According to the Uncommon Ground Music and Programming Coordinator Rebecca Baruc, it was, by all analytical accounts, a successful show.

"On average, we have about 25-30 folks," said Baruc. The night of Chapelle and Moreno's performance, the Music Room at Uncommon Ground had substantially more attendees.

"I think it's really easy in our spaces to connect with the audience in our intimate spaces," said Baruc. Doing more with less, the Music Room at Uncommon Ground's small size and mostly wooden interior allow the acoustics to manipulate the cozy space in a unique way. Obviously aside from a piano and cabaret bar, it was the best setting for Chapelle's warm tone and high register. "It's a real, high-production concert but the performer gets to connect with the audience in a different way."

Chapelle has been passionate about singing since he was four years old, a trait he inherited from his mother, Cleotilde Centeno Quidlat. With over three decades of experiences, he is an act worth catching in any setting.

Carlo Chapelle will be performing a special holiday show at Davenport's Piano Bar on Sunday, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 each, and will be available for purchase at the door.

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