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Veteran musician Kenny Vance turns documentary filmmaker to honor heroes of the 1950s doo-wop era

If you’re looking for a complete history of rock and roll, ladies and gentlemen, meet Kenny Vance.

The lifelong musician was one of the hitmakers of the ’60s Jay and the Americans, with the Brooklyn band opening shows during the British Invasion for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He helped discover Steely Dan. He worked assembling movie soundtracks, including “Animal House.”

Vance heads to Asbury Park next weekend, where his native son Bruce Springsteen once turned up to see his group play with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, for a screening of his documentary film “Heart and Soul.”

The film celebrates the work of groundbreaking 1950s artists like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Chantels, The Jive Five, and Little Anthony and the Imperials.

“It’s just me,” he explained of the documentary. “No matter what genre you like, you just can’t help but fall in love with these songs. They are so pure and honest in their presentation.”

The film will screen March 25 at Asbury Lanes, and Vance, 79, will receive the “Spirit of New Jersey” award for his efforts to commemorate the music of his youth throughout a time he once described as ” harmony to heartbreak”.

The documentary has received a positive response at festivals across the country, he says. But the entire project all but disappeared during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when the devastating storm surge demolished Vance’s Rockaways home.

“When I came back there was nothing but rubble,” Vance said. “And I had been there for 40 years. The kitchen was somewhat intact and above it was my office, without a roof, without walls, but the floor was still there.

A few other things survived, including his guitar (found under a sofa) and some DVDs, audio tapes, and cassettes recovered from a desk drawer that miraculously stayed closed despite the winds and water.

Jay and the Americans circa 1965.

Vance, after returning with the remnants of the storm to his temporary accommodation at a Staten Island hotel, was astonished to discover that his filmed interviews with stars of the doo-wop era were also remarkably intact, the irreplaceable meetings with the artists. legendaries of the time were somehow saved.

That was just the beginning of his journey.

“Find an investor,” he recalled. “It took three or four years to get enough money to start. And another three or four years to reach the final project”.

Vance enjoyed a fine career with Jay and the Americans, recording classic hits like “Cara Mia,” “She Cried,” and “This Magic Moment.”

“We got lucky with some hits when we were kids,” he said. “And basically, I’ve been doing it for a long time ever since,” including upcoming dates in Florida and Pennsylvania.

But his career really began inside the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn, a life-changing moment where 15-year-old Vance saw performances by Lymon and his group, the Brooklyn Velours, and a guitarist named Chuck Berry.

“All of these groups were our heroes,” said Vance, who heard their music on the late Alan Freed’s WINS-AM radio show. “I took the train from Flatbush Ave. to DeKalb Ave. And when I got out, there were thousands of people waiting to get in.

"Heart and Soul: A Love Story"

“It was the first rock and roll show,” he continued. “I didn’t know what it was. It costs $1.50 to enter. And sitting there when he was a kid, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.”

His busy career in the decades that followed included stints as music supervisor for the films “Eddie and the Cruisers,” “American Hot Wax,” and “Animal House.” Vance also briefly managed the duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker before the pair found a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as Steely Dan.

And he still finds time to release several albums and tour with his own band, Kenny Vance and the Planotones.

Vance described the final product as part labor of love, part miracle, and never too far from his early days singing under streetlights or inside New York City subway stations, where tiled walls provided the background. perfect backdrop for the season.

“It’s already gratifying for me to see, at film festivals, how people respond the way they do to this music,” Vance said. “This music was always very important to me… It’s just been a blessed journey.”

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