Tony Ocean knows how to adapt.
Every day he could perform with a different band, sing different songs.
“It could be a duo, could be a trio. Like (this) Saturday, I have a six-piece band,” he recently said. “Or a week, it could be with the Rat Pack. Another day it could be with The Dream Police or Moe Jo’s.
“So I’m like a chameleon. I have to do different parts regardless of location, Ocean said. “I’ve done shows where all three bands played on the same night.”
Chances are anyone who has attended a Chicago-area festival, club, party, or other special occasion in the last three decades has seen Ocean perform. Maybe it was Jilly’s on Rush Street, or Piper’s Alley, where he played Dean Martin in “The Pack is Back.”
Maybe it was in Las Vegas on the Riviera or at the famous San Gennaro festival in New York. It could have been on a cruise or at a concert in a pandemic alley outside the Ocean Elk Grove Village family home.
“That’s what I did for 30 years straight,” Ocean said of her Wednesday-Sunday performance schedule. “I have been very busy and very blessed.”
To celebrate 30 years of entertainment, the Tony Ocean 30th Anniversary Extravaganza will take place at 3 p.m. on May 29 at the Des Plaines Theater in Des Plaines.
“I’ll have a 10-piece band and I’ll have a bunch of different artists joining me,” Ocean said.
Some of the Chicago-area musicians performing at the party include Diva Montell, The Jersey Girls, Daryl Armistead, John Vincent (who sings the Cubs’ national anthem), his sister Tanya, and many more.
“We’re going to put all the best songs on,” Ocean said. “My favorites and fan favorites of the last 30 years.”
Ocean performs the music of Frank Sinatra and hits from the 50s to 80s. He also performs with cover band Cheap Trick, The Dream Police and Moe Jo’s Jukebox, which plays songs from the 60s and 70s.
As news of his birthday extravaganza spread, Ocean said he started hearing from other artists who wanted to help him celebrate.
“I didn’t expect stuff like this, people looking to be on your show,” Ocean said. “I’m very happy and was overwhelmed because it’s Memorial Day weekend…usually people leave, so I was lucky they were able to. I’m just a little at a loss for words sometimes.
“I’m a little humble. Being able to do this five nights a week for all these years. And people are still going out,” he said. “Which is mind-boggling to me. It really is.”
Born Maurizio Carrara, Ocean was drawn to music as a teenager. In high school, he traveled with a youth choir and performed for the Pope in Rome. At 15, he got his first paid job singing in a bar in Stone Park. While working at the Gonnella Baking Company, the 16-year-old spent weekends performing in a rock band.
“I’ve always liked Sinatra-type stuff, but the guys who hung out with me thought the music was a little cheesy,” he said. “They thought it was for old people. So I could never do this music with the guys I was with.
In his twenties, Moe, as his friends then called him, started his own rock band. Although it has changed its name over the years, the group was known as The Big Band Rodeo when it took part in “Star Search” in 1992.
“It was my last ditch effort to get a record deal as a pop star,” Ocean said. “And we lost by a quarter point. And after that, I said ‘that’s it, I’m going to try something different.’
Shortly after impersonating Dean Martin at one of his shows, he found himself playing Martin in “The Pack is Back,” a tribute to Sinatra, Martin, and Davis Jr.
“Once I tried it, the play was a hit,” he said. “And after that, I never looked back. I just continued.
But he realized he needed a new name.
“My real name is Maurizio Carrara. Nice Italian boy,” he laughed. “When I tried to get into the Rat Pack stuff, we obviously couldn’t use that name, because nobody could. pronounce. So I was watching the movie “Ocean’s Eleven,” the ’60s original with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. And Frank Sinatra’s name was Danny Ocean. Well, the team and everyone I was with said “you look more like a Tony than a Danny”. So I used Tony and have been Tony Ocean ever since.
Fast forward to the present day, and Ocean now finds himself nominated for a Josie Music Award as the host of his talk show, “Ocean’s Pit” (tagline: The Little Show about Big Things) on his Facebook “The Tony OceanShow”. page to facebook.com/TonyOceanmusic.net.
Ocean hosts the show at noon Monday through Friday. It started in 2020 during the pandemic “as a fluke,” he said.
“I was in the garden. I wasn’t working, so I started telling my story on the phone, by the fireplace. And the next thing you know, a couple sponsors came out and said ‘hey man, we love what you’re doing.’ And then we built a studio and a professional producer and that’s it,” he said. “A stroke of luck, a door opens and that’s how it works.”
It was another stroke of luck, he said, that he was nominated in the Media Company of the Year category at the Josie Awards, the biggest independent artist awards show. A fan nominated Ocean for the award. According to the Josie Awards, 52,442 nominations were received in its various categories and only 1.8% of submissions selected as nominees. Winners will be announced Oct. 23 at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
“I mean, what the hell am I doing at the Grand Ole Opry?” Ocean asks. “I am honored and humbled. I have a very, very loyal following. I have been very lucky.
I don’t think I’m such a great artist. I just think my audience puts on a show and my audience supports local establishments. They drink, they dine, they have fun. The restaurant does business, the club makes money, we make money. Everybody is happy.
“People want to come to our shows and forget about the problems they have, even if it’s just for a little while,” he said. “It maybe reminds them of old songs when their parents were alive, new songs when they were in high school… That’s all we’re trying to do, keep the memory alive of some good music… It brings you back to a nicer weather, at least for those three hours.
Tony Ocean 30th Anniversary Show
When: 3 p.m. May 29
Or: Des Plaines Theater, 1476 Miner Street, Des Plaines
Information: 630-962-7000; desplainestheatre.com
Kathy Cichon is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.