Conventional wisdom says that no one really sings songs more effectively than the songwriters themselves. In the New York City cabaret scene, there have been many songwriters--such as Annie Dinerman, Craig Carnelia, and Tom Anderson--who can move audiences by singing their own music. In Boston's cabaret scene, however, there have been very few, if any, songwriters performing their own music in mainstream venues. But that's about to change as Boston cabaret artist and tunesmith Ernie Lijoi launches a four-month string of national and local appearances that includes a major Boston engagement at Club Café on June 8.
Lijoi has not been much of a household name in Boston, mostly because he was out of the scene for quite a while. Hailing from Dedham, a Boston suburb ("where creativity was illegal"), Lijoi fled home and studied mathematics at Southeastern Massachusetts University. During extracurricular participation in their theater program, Lijoi discovered a love for performing, and shifted gears to focus on a career in acting. As any budding actor might do, he shipped himself off to New York City, sweating it out in small productions, and staying longer than he liked in repetitive roles just to keep up his Equity health insurance policy.
After four years, Lijoi needed a change. "I wanted to get some realism for a while and get some stability. I knew I could get a job in the computer industry in Boston, because I had some friends here who would hire me. So I did that for a few years, stabilized my life, and then decided to go back into the creative side. That's when I started writing," Lijoi explains.
Over the past few years, Lijoi has been very prolific, writing dozens of songs and recording two CDs. His first recording, Romantic Parody was released in November 1998. His second recording, Bliss, released in November 1999, was voted "Album of the Year" by Billboard magazine. But he really entered the cabaret scene in 1999 when John O'Neil, in his cabaret show Songs My Father Never Sang to Me, created a sensation with Lijoi's "Chandler Street," a poignant tale of one gay man's self-made family.
Shortly thereafter, Jan Peters included Lijoi's darkly comic ultimate get-even song, "Your Will," in her show Old Fashioned, Please. O'Neil also commissioned Lijoi to write an opening number for his show Camp Songs. Following suit, several other Boston cabaret performers have commissioned new material; as a songwriter, Lijoi's star is clearly rising.
As a performer, Lijoi started out quietly, but has used his recordings and website to establish an impressive list of upcoming gigs, including opening for Sharon McKnight in a special gay event this July in Guerneville, California. One of the reasons that Lijoi has not been better known as a performer on the cabaret scene is that he has focused mostly on the folk and jazz circuit. That changed recently when he performed at Provincetown's CabaretFest! in May at Steve's Alibi, more a coffee house than a cabaret room. Lijoi spent two hours introducing a cabaret audience and some noisy regulars to his eclectic menagerie of music, and his singular improvisational wit, that combined sharp comic timing with unassuming intelligence. A rowdy room was tamed, and Lijoi had found a new audience.