There are people who live in their neighborhood and there are people who make their neighborhood what it is. Musician Jill Fiore falls squarely into the latter category. On Saturday night she will be rocking out on her fire escape, performing the third in a series of free concerts that she has been giving for neighbors and friends, hoping to give something to the community that they can use in a time of closed clubs and canceled concerts.
It all started in 8th grade when she sang a solo at the school graduation and continued through to college, where she went from waitress to performer, singing in cover bands and discovering along the way that she loved performing. “I loved the crowds, the way the mic felt in my hand, the way that the music brought the room together,” Fiore muses. “In my mid-20’s I wanted to form a band.”
Despite the guy that informed her, “you don’t have what it takes,” or possibly because of him, Fiore resolved to go full speed ahead. “That’s when I learned that people are going to put you down and you have to be thick-skinned,” she recalls. “Instead of answering ads to be in other people’s groups, I put out ads for my own band.”
Partnering with Holly Grosse resulted in ‘Ready Jane’, a three-woman / two-man collective that played original tunes at fondly remembered (and sadly defunct) places like CBGB’s, the Continental, Don Hill’s and Brownies. They managed to record some demos and open for the Lunachicks and then break up after two years. Defying conventional logic Fiore moved into the city from her native NJ shortly after 9/11 and joined the ‘Damned Dirty Apes ‘, playing one night to an audience that includes Gene Simmons. “Me and 4 dudes! ” Fiore relates. “It was more screaming than singing. “
Eventually, Fiore bought her first guitar – a Fender Strat – from a friend, learned a few chords and had the revelation that she had everything she needed to write songs. While working a series of jobs – she’s been a bartender, personal assistant, website manager for Clear Channel, DJ and graphic designer – she continued to hone her craft in a series of bands. Two-piece combos like ‘Miss Jilly and Cici’, three-piece outfits such as the all-girl ‘The Lovely’ as well as solo stints gave her the confidence to continue, especially when she was alone on stage. “I got a solo gig at a Roller Derby party in Las Vegas,” she says. “I was nervous, but I realized that it makes you a badass just getting up on a stage and playing your own music.”
Back in NYC, bandmate Russell Zambito got her a gig doing graphic design for Sesame Street, despite the fact that he only had seen the fliers that she had created for her gigs and knew nothing of her multiple years of design experience. Fiore walked away from that job with an Emmy nomination for her work. “I’ve reinvented myself multiple times in NYC,” she admits.
Around 2019 the guitarist got more serious about her playing, put together a new backup band and headed into 2020 with a feeling of purpose – and then got COVID. “Everything changed,” she recalls. “One day when I was still sick, but strong enough to crawl through the window, I went out on my fire escape and decided that I wanted to do a show out there. There was life outside – there was a connection to people.”
The nightlife that we took for granted – music in clubs and theaters – was non-existent when Fiore put together the first show in October of 2020 dubbed the ‘Fiore Escape’. “It was a simple production,” she recalls, “but it was so well received and joyful.”
“The first show was about bolstering our spirits,” she states. “The next one was to champion resilience and the means to rebuild our community, while being aware of the struggle of our clubs to survive.” The response to the shows was tremendous, bringing her television exposure on All Access, ABC News and NY1. That, in turn, brought messages from strangers whom she had inspired: a woman suffering from COVID wrote from the hospital, a neighbor she had never met labeled her a rock star and musicians wrote to thank her for her inspiration.
The upcoming – and possibly last – fire escape show is, according to Fiore, about “life and love. It’s a celebration of pride and a recognition of what we’ve lost. ” One of the people lost this year was Fiore’s beloved dad ( although not to COVID). “It was a challenge after my dad died,” Fiore confesses. “I was ready to throw in the towel, but my mom told me how proud he was to see me on TV. I’m doing this show for everyone, but especially for my mom and dad. June 12th is their wedding anniversary.”
Fiore is celebrating the release of two new songs on Saturday as well, produced by East Village rocker Jesse Malin. With the blessing of the neighboring businesses, Fiore plans to give it her all on the second floor of 29 Essex St. at 8:30 pm with Jason Taylor (bass), Derek Cruz (guitar) and Dave Spinley (saxophone). And, she wants you to know, ” it’s not just live music, it’s a very New York Experience.”
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.