Professor and Maryann

New York's Runaway Favorites

Recently, for Ken Rockwood the literal meaning in most of the songs he has written for his duo Professor and Maryann cryptically represents a struggle.

The duo's latest CD "Runaway Favorite," released in 2003, lyrically walks down many small town and city roads of the United States, while telling the enigmatic stories of many characters to be found on those journeys.

"Lately, over the last five years, I've been more about crime and accidents, it seems," said Rockwood, the duo's guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter. "I am not sure why."

While his song themes tend to be fiction, somewhere inside those crime-inspired tales usually exists a love story.

"It comes from a different place and I am not sure where," Rockwood said. "It's not ripped from the headlines."

Rockwood thinks his songs emerge from some type of struggle, but is not sure how that conflict finds its way in. Rockwood's songs are character-based, with each person having their own special trait, he said.

Rockwood said his lyrics have been inspired by his standard interests or specific moments in his life. His song writing influences include Cole Porter, George Gershwin and modern artists like Tom Waits.

The mysterious and dark voice of Danielle Brancaccio, the duo's lead vocalist, could not be a better fit for Rockwood's dissonant compositions.

The two met in a Staten Island bar about 15 years ago when Brancaccio was asked to be a back-up singer in a pop band Rockwood was in. Eventually, Rockwood decided to start his own project and Brancaccio joined him.

"We've always been from the start basically a duo," he said.

Rockwood writes most of the material, but Brancaccio's poetry is sometimes added to it. On "Runaway Favorite," the music and vocals complement the lyrics, but still tell its own story.

Developing background music comes from constant guitar playing, Rockwood said. "I play all the time and stumble across something I like and it just stays in the memory band," he said. "It could take years before a lyric comes to it."

The arrangement on the latest release, which took about four months to complete, came about by gathering many musicians he knew and seeing what came about.

Professor and Maryann is a New York-based group that has played in the Big Apple for over 10 years. The duo has traveled up and down the east coat and ventured to the mid-west a bit. "But it's mainly the New York City area," Rockwood said.

Professor and Maryann receives steady gigs in New York, Rockwood said. They have played numerous coffee houses and clubs such as the legendary Bottom Line. "We prefer to play cabaret-style bars and lounges," Rockwood said. Those venues have quality lighting and looser crowds, with the serving of alcohol contributing to the latter, he said. "Sometimes in coffee houses everyone intellectualizes too much," he said.

Rockwood said he has seen many changes in the New York music scene over the years. For instance, years ago, Rockwood noticed people were afraid to see a show at the Ludlow Street Café on Ludlow Street, because of the neighborhood it was in. Now that neighborhood is filled with clubs and "is like Disney World," he said.

"All we try to do now is get away from that and try to find a place that is quieter," he said.

The duo continues to search for the right mix of crowd and atmosphere. As for playing live, the best shows are heavy in crowd involvement, Rockwood said. "Crowds tend to run a show, so they just direct us where they want us to go," he said.

Rockwood has seen his toughest crowds in New York. "You have about 30 seconds to win them over and if you don't you never will," he said. In other cities, some fans tend to embrace New York musical groups, while others don't, he said.

As for the future, Rockwood has a large amount of material to that has not found its way on to an album. Professor and Maryann's song total is about 200 and counting.

"In my opinion, you have to develop on making music, so it's always about the next record," he said.

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Josh Davidson

Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.