John Pinette - spotlight

Pittsburgh: Beloved stand-up comedian John Pinette, 50, widely known for his role in the finale of the TV show "Seinfeld," was found dead in his room Saturday at the Sheraton Station Square hotel.

Pittsburgh Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said Sunday that a relative was concerned after not hearing from Mr. Pinette for an extended period and contacted security at the hotel. Mr. Pinette was in Pittsburgh for a family function, Ms. Toler said. She declined to discuss details of the function.

The hotel's security detail opened Mr. Pinette's room for the relative, where they found him and called city police. The comedian was pronounced dead at the scene around 2:30 p.m.

A supervisor with the Allegheny County medical examiner's office said Mr. Pinette had been suffering liver and heart disease and that his death was due to natural causes. No autopsy was performed, after Mr. Pinette's personal physician signed off on the cause of death. Mr. Pinette, a native of Boston, was known for his impressions and his self-deprecating pokes at his weight. He reportedly had to delay a series of performances in August to undergo treatment in a rehabilitation facility for prescription drug addiction.

Reached in Los Angeles, Larry Schapiro, Mr. Pinette's personal manager for 24 years, described the comedian as "the funniest ... kindest human being that ever lived." Mr. Schapiro said Mr. Pinette had reached more than 400 pounds before beginning a serious weight-loss regimen and that he was almost 200 pounds lighter when he died.

"John had become a sober person," Mr. Schapiro said. "The sadness of this entire event is that for he first time in his life he was healthy, he was alive. He'd just turned 50 and John was on top of his game."

John Pinette - 2

 Mr. Pinette was working on a new one-man show "They Call Me Slim" at the time of his death. Mr. Schapiro described the new material as "groundbreaking," and said Mr. Pinette was maturing as an artist and exploring bringing deeper, more personal issues to the stage.

 The comedian had performed in such films as "Duets," "Dear God," "The Punisher" and "Junior." His most recent hourlong stand-up special "Still Hungry" premiered in 2011.

 In the "Seinfeld" finale Mr. Pinette played the role of Howie, a victim of a carjacking. Characters Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer videotape the carjacking and mock Howie in the process, and end up being charged with violating the Good Samaritan Law.

According to his Facebook page, Mr. Pinette was in the middle of touring, and was scheduled to perform Thursday at a comedy club in Ontario, Calif.



Erv Raible - sitting

Erv Raible

Beloved partner of the late Robert LancasterHoskins. Loving son of the late Erwin and
Dorothy (Nee: Watkins) Raible. Passed away on Feb. 19, 2014 at the age of 68. Visitation
will be held on Monday, March 10th from 5:00 PM until 7:00 PM at the Radel Funeral Home
650 Neeb Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45233. 

Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, March 11th at 10:00 AM at the funeral home.

For further information: (513) 451-8800.

 A memorial In New York City will be announced. 

Orchid - white - purple

Marian McPartland, Jazz Pianist and NPR Radio Staple, Dies at 95


Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Marian McPartland at a celebration of her 90th birthday in New York in 2008.
Marian McPartland, the genteel Englishwoman who became a fixture of the American jazz scene as a pianist and, later in life, as the host of the internationally syndicated radio show “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz,” died on Tuesday at her home in Port Washington, N.Y. She was 95.

Her death was announced by NPR.

Ms. McPartland was a gifted musician but an unlikely candidate for jazz stardom. She recalled in a 1998 interview for National Public Radio that shortly after she arrived in the United States in 1946, the influential jazz critic Leonard Feather, who himself was born in England and who began his career as a pianist, said, “Oh, she’ll never make it: she’s English, white and a woman.”

Mr. Feather, she added, “always used to tell me it was a joke, but I don’t think he meant it as a joke.”

The odds against any woman finding success as a jazz musician in the late 1940s and early ’50s were formidable, but Ms. McPartland overcame them with grace. Listeners were charmed by her Old World stage presence and captivated by her elegant, harmonically lush improvisations, which reflected both her classical training and her fascination with modern jazz.

By 1958, she was well enough known to be included in Art Kane’s famous Esquire magazine group photograph of jazz musicians, the subject of Jean Bachs acclaimed 1994 documentary, “A Great Day in Harlem.” One of the few women in the picture, she stood next to one of the few others, her friend and fellow pianist Mary Lou Williams.

But Ms. McPartland’s contributions to jazz were not limited to her piano playing. An enthusiastic and articulate spokeswoman for the music, she lectured at schools and colleges and wrote for Down Beat, Melody Maker and other publications. (A collection of her essays, “All in Good Time,” was published in 1987 and reissued in 2003.) Most notably, for more than 30 years her “Piano Jazz” was one of the most popular jazz shows ever heard on the radio.

The show made its debut on NPR in 1979, with Mary Lou Williams as the first guest. The format was simple: an informal interview interspersed with extemporaneous duets. “I didn’t have any idea I’d be good at something like this,” she told The Associated Press in 2000. “I certainly never thought people would know me because of my voice.” But she proved a natural.

As its title suggests, “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz” was originally a show about piano players. But the guest list eventually came to include vocalists, among them Mel Tormé, Tony Bennett and even Willie Nelson, and ultimately trumpeters, saxophonists and other instrumentalists.

Jazz pianists remained the focus, however, and over the years Ms. McPartland played host to some of the most famous, from the ragtime pioneer Eubie Blake to the uncompromising avant-gardist Cecil Taylor. She gamely played duets with all of them, even Mr. Taylor, whose aggressively dissonant approach was far removed from Ms. McPartland’s refined melodicism.

“I just did the kind of thing he does,” she said. “Or else I went in the opposite direction, and that sounded fairly interesting too.”

“Piano Jazz” was heard on more than 200 radio stations all over the world. It received a Peabody Award in 1983.

Ms. McPartland recorded her last show in September 2010, although she did not officially step down as host until November 2011; “Piano Jazz” has continued with reruns and guest hosts.

Marian McPartland was born Margaret Marian Turner in Windsor, England, on March 20, 1918. She began picking out melodies on the family piano when she was 3, and at 17 she entered the Guildhall School of Music in London.

In 1938, over her parents’ strong objections, she left school to go on tour with a four-piano vaudeville act. “My mother said, ‘Oh, you’ll come to no good, you’ll marry a musician and live in an attic,’ ” she recalled in 1998. “Of course, that did happen.” While on a U.S.O. tour in 1944 she met the American jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland in Belgium; they married in early 1946, and she moved with him to Chicago later that year.

Ms. McPartland worked for a while in her husband’s group, but he was a tradition-loving Dixieland musician and she was more interested in the harmonically sophisticated new sounds coming from New York City, where the McPartlands moved in 1949.

Encouraged by her husband, she formed a trio and found work at the Embers, an East Side nightclub, in 1950. Two years later she began what was supposed to be a brief engagement at the Hickory House, one of the last surviving jazz rooms on the city’s once-thriving 52nd Street nightclub row. That booking turned into an eight-year residency.

The McPartlands’ marriage ended after two decades, but they remained close friends and continued to work together occasionally. The divorce, she was fond of saying, did not take. She helped take care of him when he was found to have lung cancer, and they remarried shortly before he died in 1991.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

Ms. McPartland recorded for Savoy, Capitol and other labels in the ’50s and ’60s, but in 1969, disenchanted with the business, she formed her own record company, Halcyon. “It was quite a job,” she told one interviewer. “I used to actually go to a record store like Sam Goody and tell them, ’I need that money you owe me.’ ”

Halcyon released 18 albums in 10 years and had a roster that included her fellow pianists Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines as well as Ms. McPartland herself, but her career as an executive ended when she signed with Concord Jazz in 1979. She remained a Concord artist until she stopped recording, just a few years before her death.

The bare-bones accompaniment of bass and drums was always Ms. McPartland’s preferred format, but she also appeared in concert with symphony orchestras, and in 1996 she recorded an album of her own compositions, “Silent Pool,” on which she was accompanied by a string orchestra.

That album provided a rare showcase for an underappreciated aspect of her talent: although she told The New York Times in 1998 that she “never had all that much faith in myself as a composer,” she was a prolific songwriter whose work was recorded by Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan and others.

In her last years, Ms. McPartland received several honors. She was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2000, given a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 2004, inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007 and named a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2010.

And she continued playing almost to the end. Reviewing her appearance at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in Manhattan the night before her 90th birthday in 2008, Nate Chinen of The Times wrote, “Ms. McPartland still has her pellucid touch and her careful yet comfortable style.”

Unlike some jazz musicians of her generation, Ms. McPartland never became set in her ways; her playing grew denser and more complex with time, and even late in life she was experimenting with new harmonic ideas. “I’ve become a bit more — reckless, maybe,” she said in 1998. “I’m getting to the point where I can smash down a chord and not know what it’s going to be, and make it work.”


Mulgrew Miller

May 29:The world of jazz is mourning the passing of a beloved, gentle jazz pianist  who had reached iconic status.

Mulgrew Miller, a beloved jazz pianist whose soulful intelligence, clarity of touch and rhythmic finesse made him a fixture in the postbop mainstream for more than 30 years, died on Wednesday in Allentown, Pa. He was 57. The cause was a stroke, said his longtime manager, Mark Gurley. Mr. Miller had been hospitalized since Friday.

Mr. Miller developed his voice in the 1970s, combining the bright precision of bebop, as exemplified by Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson, with the clattering intrigue of modal jazz, especially as defined by McCoy Tyner. His balanced but assertive style was a model of fluency, lucidity and bounce, and it influenced more than a generation of younger pianists.

He was a widely respected bandleader, working with a trio or with the group he called Wingspan, after the title of his second album. The blend of alto saxophone and vibraphone on that album, released on Landmark Records in 1987, appealed enough to Mr. Miller that he revived it in 2002 on “The Sequel” (MaxJazz), working in both cases with the vibraphonist Steve Ne.lson Among Mr. Miller’s releases in the past decade were an impeccable solo piano album and four live albums featuring his dynamic trio.

Mr. Miller could seem physically imposing on the bandstand — he stood taller than six feet, with a sturdy build — but his temperament was warm and gentlemanly. He was a dedicated mentor: His bands over the past decade included musicians in their 20s, and since 2005 he had been the director of jazz studies at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

If his sideman credentials overshadowed his solo career, it wasn’t hard to see why: he played on hundreds of albums and worked in a series of celebrated bands. His most visible recent work had been with the bassist Ron Carter, whose chamberlike Golden Striker Trio featured Mr. Miller and the guitarist Russell Malone on equal footing; the group released a live album, “San Sebastian” (In+Out), this year.

Born in Greenwood, Miss., on Aug. 13, 1955, Mulgrew Miller grew up immersed in Delta blues and gospel music. After picking out hymns by ear at the family piano, he began taking lessons at age 8. He played the organ in church and worked in soul cover bands, but devoted himself to jazz after seeing Mr. Peterson on television, a moment he later described as pivotal.

At Memphis State University he befriended two pianists, James Williams and Donald Brown, both of whom later preceded him in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Mr. Miller spent several years with that band, just as he did with the trumpeter Woody Shaw, the singer Betty Carter and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, led by Ellington’s son Mercer. Mr. Miller worked in an acclaimed quintet led by the drummer Tony Williams from the mid-1980s until shortly before Williams died in 1997.

 Mr. Miller, who lived in Easton, Pa., is survived by his wife, Tanya; his son, Darnell; his daughter, Leilani; a grandson; three brothers and three sisters.

Though he harbored few resentments, Mr. Miller was clear about the limitations imposed on his career. “Jazz is part progressive art and part folk art,” he said in a 2005 interview with DownBeat magazine, differentiating his own unassuming style from the concept-laden, critically acclaimed fare that he described as “interview music.” He added, “Guys who do what I am doing are viewed as passé.”

But Mr. Miller worked with so many celebrated peers, like the alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett and the tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, that his reputation among musicians was ironclad. And his legacy includes a formative imprint on some leading players of the next wave, including the drummer Karriem Riggins and the bassist Derrick Hodge, who were in one of his trios. The pianist Robert Glasper once recorded an original ballad called “One for ’Grew,” paying homage to a primary influence. On Monday another prominent pianist, Geoffrey Keezer, attested on Twitter that seeing Mr. Miller one evening in 1986 was “what made me want to be a piano player professionally.”

The great jazz singer Paula West commented on Facebook from her some in San Francisco: "I just can't stop thinking about Mulgrew. I had the honor of him accompanying me for a week at the Algonquin, and playing on the show, "Breakfast With The Arts" on A&E , years ago. He was always a class act, a gentleman and a gentle man. Both he and George Mesterhazy spoke at Tony Reedus' coming home ceremony. Now all three of them are gone, all before there time. This is just hard to process."


Editor's note: Excerpts of this obituary by Nate Chinen (NY Times)


Jerry Scott Dies At 67

Jerry Scott 6


Jerry Scott, the extraordinary Manhattan entertainer whose stellar renditions of every genre of music from show tunes to standards to pop to operetta to ragtime, fired up audiences for over 40 years in Manhattan, died peacefully at 1:00 a.m. on April 4 at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx after a valiant struggle with cancer. He was 67 years old and lived on the upper east side of Manhattan.


A nightlife mainstay on the Manhattan scene, Jerry Scott was one of the town's most beloved and popular singer/pianists. On any given night, his repertory might range from versatile interpretations of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin or Gershwin to tearing down the rafters with a raucous sing-along in an over packed, noisy room. He had a repertoire of more than 2500 songs.


Jerry Scott had a following that numbered in the thousands. Many from out of town built their vacations or visits to New York around his schedule. The list of nightspots he performed at in Manhattan is hard to count and goes back to the 1970s where he began at The Candy Store working alongside Huston Alred and Steve Ross. They also include: The Regency Hotel, Nickel's Steak House, The Painted Pony, East Five Three, Waverly/Waverly, Oh Johnny!, Tatou, Rappsody, Rosemarie's, Ruby Fruit, One Potato, Nino's Tuscany, Catarina's, Butler's, Danny's Broadway Bar and Parnell's to name a handful. Jerry also worked at Harrah's Marina in Atlantic City as well as many ports in Europe, the Caribbean and Russia. After performing at a fund raiser for Hillary Clinton, he was invited to perform for President Clinton two weeks later.


Jerry was honored by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs (MAC) 12 times for his excellence in piano bars and rooms. He also received a Bistro Award from Back Stage, a Critic's Choice Award and was twice named entertainer of the year for excellence in piano bar performing by various outlets. His free-spirited, grandiose piano runs had him compared to many greats including Liberace and Peter Allen. He also had a fondness for stride and jazz piano and had a great time when he was able to let loose and swing. His between-song banter was always entertaining and filled with fun. He welcomed everyone like a best friend. And, he was exceptionally gracious to the many visiting singers who wanted to step up to the mic.


Among mainstays in his most requested repertoire were: You've Got A Friend, Always, I'll Catch The Sun, Rhythm Of Life, Neopolitan Song Medley, Nessun Dorma, Could It Be Magic, Mack & Mabel Medley, All That Jazz and Ring Them Bells. His powerful, eclectic style enabled him to comfortably turn any piano or keyboard into a grand orchestra or melt it to a whisper on the quietest ballad. He once said, “ … I love to make people happy – that's my job ... I play the music as I hear it in my head.”


While focusing on Manhattan in New York, Jerry also played around the country as a guest artist early in his career including stints in Texas. Originally from Pennsylvania near Altoona, Jerry also played for local church choirs and was adept at the organ as well. He was the very first to say yes to any benefit that asked. And, he was particularly active with Hearts & Voices at the height of the AIDS crisis.


The late critic Bob Harrington once wrote in Back Stage: “ … an evening with Jerry Scott at the piano is like no other. He's fun and always guarantees a good time … you leave feeling uplifted and happy.”


At this time, funeral and memorial arrangements are incomplete and an invitation only tribute will be announced in New York. Jerry was one of  9 children and also leaves a large family of nieces and nephews who adored him. He will be sorely missed by countless heartbroken friends, loved ones and fans near and far.



Phil Ramone

March 30, 2013:   The music industry is mouring the loss of a legend. Producer and engineer Phil Ramone, a technical innovator and winner of 14 Grammys, died Saturday morning in a New York hospital, his son, Matt announced. The family did not immediately provide a cause of death.

Ramone's collaboration credits are a Who's Who of the music industry: Burt Bacharach, Bono, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder, to name a few.

"Our industry has lost an immense talent and a true visionary and genius," said Neil Portnow, president of The Recording Academy, which had given Ramone a Technical Grammy for his lifetime of innovative contributions to music.

Artists described Ramone, 72, with superlatives.

"This is so shocking. I just performed for his tribute in December," Aretha Franklin said in a statement. "Truly one of the great names in music has gone on, but the melodies will remain."

Said Billy Joel: "I always thought of Phil Ramone as the most talented guy in my band.... The music world lost a giant today."

Ramone was "the star of stars behind the stars," Stevie Wonder said.

"What a great man, what a kind spirit, such an incredible producer," Wonder said. "Truly a tragic loss for us on earth but what a wonderful blessing for heaven."

On Twitter, John Legend ‏called Ramone a "legendary producer."

Singer-songwriter Rob Thomas also tweeted: "we have lost one of music's greatest producers. a true pioneer and a great man."

Ramone made innovations to the compact discs and surround sound technologies, Portnow said.

He worked across all genres of music, and he served as chair of the board of trustees of The Recording Academy. At the time of his death, he was a board member of the Grammy Museum.

Ramone's collaboration with Ray Charles, Billy Joel and Paul Simon won a total of three Album Of The Year awards, and Ramone won Producer Of The Year (Non Classical) in 1980, The Recording Academy said.

Ramone produced songs and entire soundtracks to several films, including "A Star is Born," "Flashdance," "Ghostbusters" and "Midnight Cowboy."

He worked on Broadway and off-Broadway productions, including "Chicago" and "The Wiz."

In television, he produced and supervised music for television specials such as the Oscars, Elton John at Radio City Music Hall, "The Jim Henson Hour" and "The Muppets at Walt Disney World."

According to Ramone's website listing technical innovations, he was the first to use a solid-state console for recording and mastering solid state records; to use a digital live recording for Billy Joel's "Songs in the Attic," "paving the way for the widespread use of the compact disc in the pop music world"; and to use the fiber optics system EDNet to record tracks in "real time" from different locations for Frank Sinatra's Duets I and II.

Credits: AP,CNN

David Berk started out as a folk singer and guitarist.

He worked with so many greats including, Robert Goulet, Robert Morse, John Raitt, Chita Rivera and Julie Wilson and was a local fixture on the cabaret scene receiving two MAC Award nominations and a Back Stage Bistro Award for directing "The Walter Donaldson Songbook." David Berk had a long and eclectic career as a performer, teacher, author, director and humanitarian who was loved by all who knew him. He will be missed. 


Sept. 27: David Berk, a lifelong West Villager and entertainer, died on Aug. 28 at age 80.

Berk was born in the Bronx to Chaim and Frances Berk, and moved to Sheridan Square at the age of 2 1/2. As a youngster, he frequently could be found playing football or stoopball in Washington Square Park or handball at the courts on W. Third St. and Sixth Ave. He went to the Little Red School House, graduating in the same class as Victor Navasky, the former editor of The Nation. After completing his studies at the High School of Music and Art, he briefly studied business at the University of Miami before returning to New York City to complete his bachelor’s and master’s in voice at the Manhattan School of Music.

Berk’s musical career was vast and varied. Though well versed in opera and classical music, he began his profession as a folk singer and guitarist. He teamed up with future wife, Phyllis Berk, née Kallner, as a duo, performing at various clubs and hotels in the Village and Catskills in the 1950s and early ’60s. He also earned his education degree and began teaching music at a Bronx public school, where he produced shows with elementary students, such as “The Sound of Music.” By this time, he was also playing club dates and parties as a bassist. Berk had heard a larger calling, and devoted his future energies to the study of acting and musical theater.

He studied at HB Studio with Uta Hagen and Charles Nelson Reilly, took dance classes with Frank Wagner and TV training with Bill Mahoney. He would begin a stage career spanning three decades. He appeared at Judson Church in “San Francisco’s Burning,” and summer and regional theaters in Lake Placid (CRMD), Philadelphia (Walnut Street Theatre), Ft. Lauderdale (Caldwell Playhouse) and the Theatre of Living Arts. His Off Broadway shows included “June Moon” (Manhattan Punch Line), “Time of the Cuckoo” (Equity Library Theatre), “Anyone Can Whistle” (York Players) and “Applause” (An Evening Dinner Theatre). He would also tour with Robert Goulet in “Kiss Me Kate,” Julius La Rosa in “Guys and Dolls” and Julie Wilson in “Pal Joey.”

David Berk also appeared on Broadway in “So Long 174th Street” with Robert Morse, and in “Carnival” as Grobert. He would later join the National Company tour of  “Zorba,” with John Raitt and Chita Rivera.

As a singer-pianist, Berk was best known for his “composer” reviews. He had performed and/or directed at such cabaret venues as Danny’s Skylight Room, ’88’s, St. Peter’s and Jan Wallman’s. Some of the songwriters he covered in these shows include Ralph Rainger, Walter Donaldson, Revel/Gordon and Johnny Burke. He was nominated for two MAC awards and won the prestigious Bistro Award for his direction of “The Walter Donaldson Songbook.” Later, he would write the musical memoir of his youth, “Back When the Village Was the Village,” which also received critical acclaim.

Berk sang in several languages, and was especially fond of Italian love songs. It is rumored that he appeared at a Queens supper club as “Enzo Rossi” to complete the transformation. In addition to regularly appearing at Village clubs like the Duplex and The Yellow Brick Road, he found time to play at Cafe Cartier in Tel Aviv, Israel, and entertained on Cunard cruises in Alaska and the Caribbean. He would complete his restaurant entertaining well into his 70s at Astoria’s Tutto Bene, where Ray Romano was a regular customer. After retiring, Berk continued to play at open mic nights at Cleopatra’s Needle, Trudie Mann’s and The Path Cafe with fellow singer Debra Skoff. He also performed at nursing homes, including the Jewish Home Lifecare on W. 106th St.

Berk was an avid boxing fan, his letters to the editor on the sport often appearing in New York newspapers. He collected books on the subject, many signed by their writers or subjects. He was a New York Giants baseball fan, but had a sentimental soft spot for Lou Gehrig. He played bridge in Greenwich Village clubs and preferred “pink ball” when playing singles or doubles handball at “The Cage,” with partners with names like “Lefty” or “Stretch.” He was a regular at Li-Lac Chocolates, and knew where to find the city’s best egg creams.

He is survived by his brother, Arthur, his son, Adam, and a granddaughter, Katherine. He will be greatly missed by many. Greenwich Village Funeral Home, 199 Bleecker St., was in charge of arrangements. A memorial took place on Sept. 16.


(Reprinted with permission from The Villager)


New York Daily News Theatre Critic Howard Kissel Dies At 69

For decades, he was a fixture after dark. He was also one of the most respected theatre critics whose insightful and intelligent writings were highly regarded by his peers. Howard Kissel passed away at his home on Friday, February 24, 2012. His death was caused by complications from a liver transplant in 2010. He died just two days after returning from a visit with his sister Anne Kissel Elliott in Palm City, Florida. 

Kissel  Photo Getty Images

With his free-flowing mane of gray curls and a gracious smile, Howard was one of those die-hard New Yorkers who was more well informed than anybody has right to be. He had become a mainstay on the theater scene and popped up at numerous other cultural events as well. As the main theater critic for The New York Daily News for 10 years, his opinions were valued and sought after.

Mr. Kissel wrote about film, music and art as well as theater for four decades. He also made a foray into acting. He appears in an early scene of Woody Allen’s 1980 film, Stardust Memories. It was easy to spot him in his de rigueur owlish eyeglasses and three-piece plaid suit, with a halo of dark curls (which would later turn silver), Mr. Kissel, playing the manager of Allen's character, disputes his client’s decision to stop making comedies and to only deal with human suffering instead. In his role, he intones in a droll voice ... Human suffering doesn't sell tickets in Kansas City!

Howard Kissel knew a lot about selling tickets, as well as a plethora of things about New York, his adopted and beloved home. He lamented what he playfully called the Kiddy Komponent of New York theatergoing, which he said led to a 13-year run for Beauty and the Beast (1994-2007). He praised the … wonderful dizzy quality … of the puppets in Avenue Q (2003), which won the Tony Award for Best Musical (and is still running in an Off Broadway theater.) He wrote that the 1995 Roundabout revival of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company, a quintessential Manhattan show, looked as if ... it had been done by people who had never been here. He thought The Drowsy Chaperone (2006) to be … full of wit and high spirits, so entertaining you can overlook the fact it came from Los Angeles.

Prior to joining the staff at The Daily News in the mid 80s, Mr. Kissell had been an arts editor for Women's Wear Daily and its sister publication W. He also served as chairman of both the New York Film Critics Circle and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. Always level-headed about perspectives, he wisely never overestimated the egomanical power of some theatrical critics - … Many shows have become big hits without us, he said as part of a panel of critics discussing the 2005-6 season on CUNY TV program “Theater Talk.” … I think that’s just fine. Our job is not to make hits. Our job is to make judgments.

Howard Kissel was also the author of “David Merrick: The Abominable Showman,” a steamy biography of the prolific and controversial Broadway producer whose shows included Gypsy and 42nd Street. He turned Stella Adler’s lectures into the book “The Art of Acting” and most recently wrote “New York Theater Walks,” which detailed walking tours based on the city’s theatrical history.

Born in 1942, Howard Kissel came from Milwaukee. He was the son of Leo Kissel, a longtime editor at The Milwaukee Sentinel and his wife, Ruth. After graduating from Shorewood High School in 1960, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and a master’s from Northwestern University. He graduated both with honors.

His wife, Christine, died in 2006. In addition to Ms. Eliot he is survived by another sister, Judy Kissel.

After leaving The NY Daily News in 2008, Mr. Kissel wrote a blog, “The Cultural Tourist,for the newspaper and then for The Huffington Post. His last entry, posted three days before his death, was about a trip last summer that included a high school reunion, … I wish I were one of those people who, as the years go by, continue looking forward, he wrote. …. Alas, I’m not,” he continued … I thank you for your indulgence.

On a personal note, I didn't know Howard very well. Over the years, we had some great talks about cultural doings. My late friend Tom Coviello had an encyclopedic knowledge of opera. Tom and Howard often chatted up a storm and Tom was fascinated to converse with someone who could match his intellect on the complex subject. Our encounters were always full of interesting odds and ends. He was a fascinating man who was overflowing with knowledge and sharp opinions. I once sat next to him at The Algonquin's Oak Room where we saw the late jazz stylist Susannah McCorkle. After the show, I commented on how much I enjoyed her shows even if they tended to be a bit long and chatty at times. He remarked, ... long and chatty has its merits – especially when its good and the chatter is so bright. And, he added, She's quite understated and I'm sure not everyone's cup of tea as opposed to some divas who are over-rated and in your face for an hour. Usually, the departing audience doesn't have a clue as to what they were talking about. Howard will be missed.

John Hoglund

Founded Mabel Mercer Foundation and Produced Cabaret Conventions


Donald Smith - photo: Heather Sullivan

Donald Smith, Founder and Executive Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation passed away peacefully on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. He died at the Jewish Home Lifecare Center in Manhattan. He had been in declining health for several months.

In 1989, he produced the first series of sold out Cabaret Conventions that would be held at Town Hall for many years before moving to Jazz At Lincoln Center. Mr. Smith's goal, through the foundation included perpetuating the memory of his revered, late friend and influential legendary singer Mabel Mercer as well as to preserve all aspects of the American songbook. He had worked for two decades with Ms. Mercer as a close friend, professional manager and publicist.

Donald Smith, a native of Massachusetts, was a part of the cabaret world for over 45 years. And his accomplishments were impressive. Aside from Mabel Mercer, he managed, promoted, and nurtured the careers of several renowned, highly acclaimed artists including: Michael Feinstein, Andrea Marcovicci and Steve Ross. In one capacity or another, he also represented Jeff Harnar, Craig Rubano, Julie Wilson, Margaret Whiting, Sylvia Syms and KT Sullivan. Per his wishes, Ms. Sullivan will take over as Artistic Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation.

With Donald Smith as Executive Director over the years, The Mercer Foundation presented the annual, week-long Cabaret Convention for the past fourteen years, selling out New York’s Town Hall and showcasing well over an unprecedented eleven hundred singers and entertainers since 1989. The 2003 program elicited ticket orders from thirty-seven states and six foreign countries. The fifteenth convention played from October 18-24, 2004; one of its highlights was an event cited simply as “Family,” in which the actual family members and relatives of well-known cabaret performers gathered onstage for a demonstration of their musical heritage across the generations.

Additionally, Mr. Smith oversaw The Mabel Mercer Foundation produce Cabaret Conventions on three occasions in San Francisco, two engagements in Chicago, and events in Palm Springs, Philadelphia, and Washington, D. C. In February 2004, they debuted the premiere London Cabaret Convention at The Greenwich Theatre as the gala finale of a two-week Musical Voices “celebration of the singing voice in all its forms.” Later in the year, they returned to East Hampton for their second annual appearance on Long Island. The signal success of The Foundation recently won them the sobriquet “American song’s best friend” from The San Francisco Chronicle. Other events produced by Mr. Smith through The Mabel Mercer Foundation include, the one-hundredth birthday anniversary celebration of Noel Coward, Mad About the Boy, which jammed New York’s Carnegie Hall to capacity in December, 1999. They also began a Young People’s Series to introduce the great classic popular songbook to new audiences. In recent years, Mr. Smith’s long term goals for the organization focused on the establishment of a Mabel Mercer Foundation Center, which would provide both a permanent home for their activities and free or low-cost rehearsal and varied performance spaces for cabaret entertainers. Such a Center would offer as well a musical library and archive, listening rooms, and exhibition areas. As The Foundation’s Executive Director, Donald Smith also developed a film and series of television programs on the world of cabaret as it exists today. He said, “This music is a part of America’s great heritage,” he proclaims. “It must be heard!”

On a personal note, I had many dealings with Don Smith over the years. Whenever I wrote an article about cabaret, he was one of the first I would call on for a comment to quote, Without missing a beat, he immediately launched into practical, wise words of wisdom that always made sense about his passion for cabaret and preserving its history. He also regaled in many stories of famous friends and their foibles such as the late nightclub impresario Ted Hook who was a colorful restaurateur – and practical joker.

The cabaret world will have to work hard to fill his shoes. While others talked, he did.

John Hoglund

Grammy-nominated jazz musician George Mesterhazy dies at 58.

Worked with Shirley Horn, Les Paul, Bernadette Peters and many jazz greats

Georgw Mesterhazy

George Mesterhazy

He was as beloved as he was revered by his peers.

The Sudden death of renowned jazz pianist and friend to so many leaves the jazz community shocked and deeply saddened.

Mr. Mesterhazy, who was about to celebrate the release of his latest recording with singer Paula West, Live at The Jazz Standard, with four shows at the Manhattan jazz club scheduled with West (May 10 to May 13,) was nominated for a Grammy for his work as a player and arranger on Shirley Horn's 1997 album Loving You.

"It's a huge loss," Nick Regine told Atlantic City Weekly. Mr Regine is president of the Somers Point Jazz Society, and close friend of Mesterhazy. He said he found out around 6:00pm that Mr. Mesterhazy had passed away, just about 24 hours after seeing him perform at Sandi Pointe; "I just saw him last night. I gave him a kiss. Not only from the jazz standpoint is this devastating, but he was just the sweetest individual … "

George Mesterhazy, 58, of Cape May, was a Hungarian-born, Grammy-nominated jazz musician, who died at home in his sleep early Thursday of what longtime life partner Vicki Watson called natural causes. Mr. Mesterhazy's selfless attitude when playing and composing music made him the perfect fit for renowned jazz singers for decades. He translated this musical quality into everyday life, leaving a legacy of generosity on and off the bandstand.

"He is, by far, the most inspirational piano player I've ever worked with," said cabaret and jazz singer Paula Johns, with whom Mesterhazy worked for more than 20 years. "He could hear me breathe and knew where to take the song."

After his family fled Europe because of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, Mesterhazy moved to Hudson, N.Y., and attended high school, Ms. Watson said. Mesterhazy met Watson about 15 years ago, when her Cape May hotel, the Merion Inn, brought him as a pianist to accompany a singer.

His musical career took him across the world and on tour with celebrities such as Broadway singer Bernadette Peters, guitarist Les Paul, and in recent years, jazz singer Paula West. She described playing with Mesterhazy as "the best thing that ever happened to me musically … I'm going to miss hearing him create," said West, who plans to release an album on which Mesterhazy played.

In what Watson called "one of the great honors of his life," Mesterhazy accompanied his longtime mentor, jazz singer and pianist Shirley Horn, up until her death in 2005. The pair had worked on two Grammy-nominated recordings, "Loving You" and "May the Music Never End."

Mesterhazy was not only a musician, but a teacher. He headed the jazz piano program at Rowan University, gave private lessons, and played with friends."George was a very expressive person," said New Jersey musician Matt Hayden, one of Mesterhazy's favorite students. "He was very good at painting a picture with his sound."

Dan Anderson, who owns and operates Sandi Pointe with his wife, is stunned. He told Jeff Schwachter of Atlantic City Weekly: "It's kind of strange for all of us right now, really bizarre," says Anderson, who recalls Mesterhazy as being his "own self - fun-loving, entertaining, joking with the audience in the dining room, telling stories" and playing his powerful brand of piano per usual Wednesday night.

"I've only gotten to know George over the past few years, but he's become part of the family here," adds Anderson.

"There are a lot of musicians who we get to know through events with the Somers Point Jazz Society, and he got to know everybody here and everybody knew him.

"There are some musicians who people get really, really pumped up [to see perform] and he was certainly one of them."

Brilliant jazz pianist Jon Weber said: “George - we just played duets on your piano in Cape May. Man. I can't believe this. Vicki, he was blessed to know you. I just played one of your charts.... sad news. You were one of a kind.”

Commenting in the Atlantic City Weekly on Mr. Schwachter's article, the renowned, Oscar-nominated composer/musician Richard Rodney Bennett said: “The fact that Shirley Horn chose him to play for her when she was incapable of doing so, tells us all we need to know. He was a great, warm, expressive pianist and a lovely man.”

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