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Singer tries for big break in the Big Apple

October 27, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

It was a follow-up call: A talent scout from the New York International Music Festival asked applicant Jonathan Tart when he planned to send in his demo tape to be considered for the festival's annual contest.

Tart had another idea.

"I'll sing for you," he said and put the phone down on his foyer table. Standing a few feet back from the mouthpiece, the Hagerstown businessman belted "Bring 'em Home" from the musical "Les Miserables." A minute and a half later, he picked up the phone.

"You're going to New York," she told him.

Tart, co-owner of H2O, a Hagerstown bar, will sing twice at Madison Square Garden in early November as part of the weeklong festival, which draws nationally-known music producers, record labels and coverage from such magazines as Rolling Stone and Vibe.

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The 28-year-old Pylesville, Md., native said he also will sing at a similar Las Vegas music festival in February, which he described as the short version of television's latest star search show, "American Idol."

"It's one of the most important breaks you could ever get," Tart said of his two upcoming opportunities.

Tart, who calls himself J.T. Russell when he sings, today will record the demo tape that he'll bring with him to the festival. He plans to make many trips to New York with his music between the festival and the February show.

During his time in the Big Apple, Tart will have two 15-minute slots to sing about six songs.

Already he plans to sing "Bring 'em Home," Vince Gill's "One More Last Chance," Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why."

He said he chose a variety of songs because he wants to show off his range, which goes as low as baritone and as high as alto.

"I want them to say 'this guy can sing like a man or he can sing in this key,'" he said.

He said he's really interested in the music labels RCA and MCA because they carry artists from contemporary and country music genres, the styles he plans to sing.

Tart's recent musical spree comes after more than a six-year hiatus from the talent he began to craft at age 7. He performed in dinner theaters as an adolescent and as a singer in occasional shows as an adult, but lately his appearances have been limited to Tuesday night karaoke at his bar.

After being told so many times by friends and customers that his voice was incredible, Tart decided to do something about it.

"I figured, 'well I can sing, why sit here and waste my talent away?'" he said.

Tart said if he makes it big, he probably won't leave the city he now calls home. He lived in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore before settling in Hagerstown, a reminder of the small town in which he grew up.

"I hope I can give Hagerstown something to be proud of," he said.

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