Renowned in New York as one of the region’s top restaurateurs (his French restaurant Le Penguin in Greenwich, Connecticut was named among the Top 20 best new eateries in the U.S.), Antoine Bleck has also excelled in music. His sophisticated self-produced recordings of original French pop songs have been sold at New York’s prestigious Rizzoli Bookstore and Bergdorf Goodman. They are beloved not only by the city’s French community but by such English speaking celebrities as Eric Clapton and legendary New York concert promoter Ron Delsener. But until now Bleck has not pursued the music side of his career with the same gusto that has marked his great success in the restaurant industry.
Thanks to the help of one of his restaurant regulars Russ Titelman—better known as the esteemed producer of rock superstars including Clapton, George Harrison and Steve Winwood—he has a new album that is primed to expand his musical fan base. To record ‘Un Temps Pour Tout’, Titelman brought in top New York musicians including drummer Tony Mason (Norah Jones, Joan Osborne, Bernie Worrell), saxophonist Harry Allen (John Pizzarelli, Sheryl Crow, Tony Bennett) and trumpeter Marcus Parsley (The Loston Harris Trio), as well as L.A. bassist Freddie Washington (Patrice Rushen, Elton John, Stevie Wonder). Grammy-winning trumpet player/arranger Michael Leonhart (Steely Dan) contributed horn arrangements. Also appearing are Danish vocalist Annekei, (singing four duets with Antoine and as a soloist on “I Need Nothing”) and New York-based French jazz singer Cyrille Aimee, on the famous European duet “Paroles Paroles”—the only song on ‘Un Temps Pour Tout’ that is not a Bleck original.
Bleck also plays all the keyboard parts—having begun piano lessons at age eight. “My dad was obsessed with classical music, and I showed great ability—but struggled with reading music,” says Bleck, who also recalls “torturing” his little brother by forcing him to listen to his singing while growing up in the small town of Saint Die in northeast France. He later became a ski instructor in the Alps, and also worked in real estate, advertising, and jewelry before moving to New York in 1981 and finding a job as a waiter in the fabulous French bistro Le Relais.
“After six months I moved to Colorado to ski again, then to Los Angeles, where I worked at L’Orangerie–the best French restaurant at the time in L.A.–and then went to work with Wolfgang Puck at the new Spago on Sunset, where I spent two years. After four years in L.A. I moved back East and started to work with my dear friend Philippe Delgrange at his new bistro, Bilboquet.” The restaurant attracted a celebrity crowd of top actors, musicians, models and racecar drivers including Eric Clapton and his producer Russ Titelman. After working at other New York restaurants including Comptoir, Colonial and Orienta, he opened Opia, fatefully, on September 11, 2001. “That opening date made it impossible to get any press to help us launch our new endeavor,” says Bleck, “and this is when I decided to try something new–to sing a few songs with some of the great Brazilian musicians we hired to play there on Monday nights.” He also finished his first CD Principe Favorables—featuring all original material–and launched it at Opia in 2003 with three sold-out dinner shows.
“I then met multi-talented French musical genius Charlelie Couture, who coached me, gave me great lyrics, and helped me record my second album Mes Illusions in 2006, with a couple of great musicians from Paris– Bertrand Lacombes and Antoine Reininger. I was still performing at Opia and at other venues including Feinstein’s and Joe’s Pub.” In 2010, Bleck released an EP, En Confidence. “Once again Charlelie supplied great lyrics,” says Bleck. “Parisian drummer Thierry Arpino played some drum parts, and the prolific Dave Anderson added some great bass lines. Then in 2012, another friend—and regular at the restaurant—the great lyricist Yves Dessca, who wrote for the biggest French stars of the ‘70s, such as Claude Francois, Michel Sardou, Nicole Croisille, and even Elvis Presley, gave me a lyric. He liked the music I wrote for it and we started a great collaboration. Meanwhile, I had given Russ Titelman demos of the songs I had been working on and upon hearing them he immediately offered to produce this album.”
‘Un Temps Pour Tout’, then, is the finished product. “It’s one of those records that evoke French pop stylists like Serge Gainsbourg and Yves Montand,” says Titelman, “But also has the feel of a sophisticated Sade/Hotel Costes lounge record. It gets under your skin.” Perhaps Antoine’s most treasured performance to date came last March at Eric Clapton’s small birthday party in New York City. Melia Clapton asked Antoine to surprise Eric and sing a few songs from the album, which had quickly become a favorite. “As a tribute”, Titelman says, “The performance ended with Antoine singing the French version of Autumn Leaves”, which appeared on Eric’s 2010 album Clapton. “It was a great honor to play for him”, says Bleck, “It doesn’t get any better.”
Buy Antoine’s new album ‘Un Temps Pour Tout’ here.
11/16 @ Capitol Theater – Port Chester, NY