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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Singer Sues Owner of Birdland Jazz Club

MANHATTAN (CN) - Singer Hilary Kole says her ex, the owner of the legendary Birdland jazz club, has repeatedly threatened her since their breakup this year, violated a protective order against him, canceled her performances and refuses to release an album they recorded - including tracks with the late jazz great Oscar Peterson.

In her claim in New York County Court, Hilary Kolodin pka Hilary Kole says she began dating John "Gianni" Valenti in September 2003, shortly after she'd performed at Birdland in the Off-Broadway production "Our Sinatra."

By January 2004, she says, they were living together, and from then until May 2011, they lived as husband and wife although they never married.

Kolodin says she has performed with a number of jazz luminaries, including Dave Brubeck, Michel Legrand, John Pizzarelli, David Frishberg, Monty Alexander and Benny Green.

She says she also helped Valenti develop and enhance the business and revenue of the co-defendant Birdland, serving in the role of musical consultant.

"The plaintiff brought in and developed the very successful 'Jim Caruso's Cast Party' and she also started and developed a Sunday night series called 'Jazz Party,' which she hosted," Kolodin says in her complaint.

"In addition to performing those tasks, the plaintiff also performed routine work at Birdland for at least 25 hours a week. In addition, the plaintiff also performed as a vocalist at Birdland.

"In part, due to the efforts and suggestions of the plaintiff, the annual revenues of Birdland increased from approximately two million dollars in 2003 to approximately 4.2 million dollars in 2010."

She claims that during the years while the business flourished, Valenti represented to others that she was his wife. Like any other "married" couple, they pooled their resources and shared a joint bank account, and over the years, they furnished two homes together and established a joint investment portfolio and account, with right of survivorship valued in excess of $500,000, according to the complaint.

In 2005, Kolodin says, she was named executor and primary beneficiary of Valenti's estate.

But apparently there was a darker side to the deal. Kolodin claims that "throughout the period during which the plaintiff and defendant Valenti were a couple, defendant Valenti would tell the plaintiff that he would kill her if she ever tried to leave the relationship."

In May 2011, Kolodin says, their accountant, co-defendant Howard Weiss, advised the couple that it would be in their mutual best interest if the ownership of their various investment funds be transferred solely to Valenti.

Based on promises that he would continue to acknowledge her right to ownership of the assets, and "being that he was holding her out as his wife," Kolodin says, she agreed.

Within days, "through threats and extreme behavior (and fearing for her personal well-being)," Kolodin says, she left Valenti and moved into a new apartment. (Parentheses in complaint.)

She says that since then Valenti has repeatedly threatened and harassed her.

The complaint states: "Since May 2, 2011, defendant Valenti has threatened the plaintiff by informing her that he would make intimate photographs, videos, recordings, and e-mails of her public by releasing them on the Internet.

"Since May 2, 2011, defendant Valenti has stated to the plaintiff, 'I better not

see you walking down the street or you will pay.'

"On June 13, 2011 and on June 20, 2011, the plaintiff received two telephone calls from someone, whom the plaintiff believes was acting at the direction of defendant Valenti, informing her of the exact times and dates of what she had been doing and who she had been with.

"On August 27, 2011, defendant Valenti requested the plaintiff work at Birdland, however, the plaintiff was unavailable to do so. Thereafter, between 9:00 p.m. on

August 27 and 1:30 a.m. on August 28, defendant Valenti called the plaintiff's home

approximately one hundred times during which he left threatening messages."

Kolodin adds: "On October 19, 2011, defendant Valenti telephoned the plaintiff and

informed her that he was intending to show up at her October 22, 2011 performance at Lincoln Center to cause a tumultuous commotion for the sole purpose of embarrassing the plaintiff.

"The foregoing actions of defendant Valenti were willful, intentional, unwarranted, and without legal justification or excuse."

She says she got a protective order against him on Oct. 20, which he violated on Nov. 3.

Kolodin seeks rescission of her recording and management contracts with Valenti, compensatory and punitive damages for assault and labor law violations, an accounting of the couple's joint assets, and certain specific assets, including the original Birdland Yamaha piano, valued at $25,000.

She seeks at least $556,000 from Weiss, claiming accounting malpractice.

The defendants are John R. Valenti aka Gianni Valenti, Jayarvee Inc. dba Birdland, and Howard Weiss.

Kolodin is represented by Lawrence I. Garbuz with Lewis & Garbuz.

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