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WITF Music: Cathy Chemi and Steve Rudolph

How two musicians from different parts of the country came together in Central Pennyslvania.

  • Joe Ulrich
Steve Rudolph and Cathi Chemi performing.

 Joe Ulrich / WITF

Steve Rudolph and Cathi Chemi performing.

WITF Music has teamed up with The Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz, an organization devoted to embracing jazz and helping to move it forward, to highlight midstate jazz artists.

witf · WITF Music: Cathy Chemi and Steve Rudolph

How did a singer from New York and a pianist from Indiana end up in Central Pennsylvania?

Cathy Chemi was born in New York and began her singing career in her late teens, traveling around the country. Eventually she would land a gig with jazz trumpeter Harry James and his orchestra. It was in that ensemble that Cathy met her future husband, trumpeter Skip Stine. Stine was from Lebanon County and after touring with James the two of them ultimately ended up settling there.

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“I was working with a piano player by the name Reuel Ryman who was very well known in this area for years and years,” Cathy recalls.

“I guess he told Steve Rudolph about me … And then Steve put a big band together and my husband was playing lead in it. One night Steve said, ‘Do you think Cathy’d like to sing with the big band?’ Of course that’s where I come from, the big band stuff. Therein began with Steve and I a relationship that’s lasted over forty years.”

Cathy Chemi singing.

Joe Ulrich / WITF

Cathi Chemi.

Steve Rudolph was already performing in the area when Cathy moved to Lititz. Born in Indiana, his work as a pianist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra back in the 70’s brought him through Harrisburg. He spent the night at the Holiday Inn Town, now called the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and he found a piano there he could use to practice. The hotel’s manager heard him and asked if he could sing a song with him. That encounter resulted in a gig at the hotel six nights a week and the beginning of Steve’s role in the Central PA jazz scene.

“Someone mentioned the singer from the Harry James band had moved to Lititz,” Steve remembers. “Oh really?” he laughs. “Well maybe I’ll call her up. So I gave her a call and asked if she’d come over and she came over and we didn’t have a lot of tunes in common because most of the stuff I’d been playing had been more hardcore jazz and she sings from the American Songbook. So the first few times we played together…it was a limited repertoire, let’s say that. But she’s a fantastic singer, really swings, great pitch, everything. So after I heard her then I got inspired to learn her tunes.”

When Steve moved to the area, he realized that there were good jazz musicians in the area but not a lot of work. Advertisements for his nightly performances and out-of-town guest musicians helped gin up more interest in local jazz. But around 1980, Steve says, a more concerted effort got underway to help cultivate Central PA’s jazz scene.

Steve Rudolph at the piano.

Joe Ulrich / WITF

Steve Rudolph

“There was one guy that would come by the club almost always named Jack Snavely who was an amateur sax player. One night he decided that we should put together a group and throw concerts. So he and Lee Swartz who was an attorney in town, and a radio disc jockey who had a jazz show named Russ Neff and myself, we formed the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz.”

The Friends of Jazz is important to Cathy. “I can tell you CPFJ cultivated the excitement and the interest in jazz which made many of us able to get jobs and it was always live music.”

“This area had enough really wonderful musicians locally,” Steve says. “And we’re close enough to Baltimore, Philly, New York, Pittsburgh; guys would come in for a night or two, play a couple gigs and go back home. So you really got a total east coast exposure here almost to the art form.”

In 1990 Steve began a new gig at the Harrisburg Hilton that would last the next 22 years. He and Cathy would often find themselves performing together, usually at least once a month. Overall, the two of them have been performing together for over forty years.

“She’s great,” Steve says. “She’s just a loving adorable woman who’s quite gregarious and really loves the music. She’s centered most of her life around it. Although she’s as much a family person as she is a musician.”

Cathy says, “We’ve had a very long, good relationship. The music has been wonderful, but the friendship even better.”

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