Joan Streit

Live music makes all the difference.

Whatever special event you are planning — a wedding reception, birthday or anniversary party — my piano playing and singing will make the occasion even more unforgettable.

May 26, 2012

Celebrating the Life of Donald Smith

It was May 22, 2012, at Town Hall in New York City. The event was a memorial concert remembering and honoring Donald Smith.

If you’ve been to the Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention, you have Donald Smith to thank. He founded the organization decades ago. Every year he gathered dozens of talented singers to entertain us. He also discovered, and nurtered the careers of, many notable singers, including Michael Feinstein and Andrea Marcovicci.

In addition, Donald was responsible for reopening the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel in 1980 (which has, sadly and ironically, just closed). In 1976, he helped preserve Town Hall by having it declared an historic landmark.

The memorial concert was memorable and inspiring. In addition to the aforementioned Feinstein and Marcovicci, the roster of signers also included Ann Hampton Callaway, Barbara Carroll, Marilyn Maye, Steve Ross, Billy Streitch, KT Sullivan, and Ronny Whyte. They, and many others, shared intimate stores and memories of Donald Smith.

This was truly a night to remember!

Filed under: After Hours — Tags: , , — Joan Streit @ 3:32 am

March 21, 2011

Two lyricists I love

Alan & Marilyn Bergman SongbookIs “The Way We Were” a favorite song of yours?  How about “It Might Be You“, the theme from the movie “Tootsie”?  Did you like the songs Barbra Streisand sang in “Yentl“? Do you remember the theme songs to the TV shows “Maude” and “Good Times“?

What all these songs have in common is that their lyrics were written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman.  It’s unusual for a husband and wife to work together so successfully.  What’s even more unusual is that they’ve been doing it for over 50 years!!

Alan and Marilyn have worked with some of the finest songwriters around, including Michel Legrand, Marvin Hamlisch, Cy Coleman, Henry Mancini, and Quincy Jones. Their songs have been nominated for 16 Academy Awards, and they’ve won three. Some of my favorites are not as well known, but I think the lyrics are brilliant:  “On My Way to You“, “You Must Believe in Spring“, “Summer Me Winter Me.

As a New Jersey pianist and singer, I know that the songs I choose to sing have to move me and  speak to me on an emotional level.  So many of the Bergmans’ lyrics do just that.  They’re clever, witty, and sophisticated, and they often remind me of the lyrics of Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter.

I hope you’ll be inspired to listen to the lyrics I have linked to.  Please let me know what you think.  Enjoy!

March 27, 2010

Ronny Whyte

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Have you heard Ronny Whyte? Have you ever been to Shanghai Jazz Restaurant in Madison, New Jersey? Do you know about the New Jersey Jazz Society? These three wonderful treasures recently came together for a truly memorable and enjoyable afternoon.

Every month, the NJ Jazz Society holds a Sunday afternoon “social” at Shanghai Jazz, a fine Chinese restaurant which also hosts great jazz musicians. Last week the organization invited Ronny Whyte, who has, for decades, been a well-known and respected jazz pianist, singer, composer, and lyricist. (How one person can have so much diverse talent is beyond me!)

In addition to hearing his fabulous music, we also learned some interesting things about him. For example, Ronny performed in “Our Sinatra.” He was good friends with Bobby Short and Mabel Mercer.

He wrote the lyrics for a song recorded by Tony Bennett, “Forget the Woman”  as well as a companion song to “As Time Goes By” made famous in the movie Casablanca. It’s called “Here’s Lookin’ at You.”  To show his versatility, he also wrote a satirical song called “Hampton Blues.” You can hear a sample of these songs here.

If you’re a jazz lover, you should check out Ronny Whyte’s CD’s or see him perform. For more information, see his website. And if you live in the area, consider joining the New Jersey Jazz Society.

Filed under: After Hours — Joan Streit @ 11:02 pm

February 18, 2010

Singing in Sarasota

Mansion at Selby Gardens

Mansion at Selby Gardens

It’s always great to get away from the cold and snow of winter. So for the last few years, my husband and I have taken a short vacation to Sarasota on Florida’s west coast. In addition to the obvious reasons (warmth, sunshine, magnificent Siesta Key beaches) Sarasota is also a cultural mecca – theater, the Ringling Museum of Art, the Selby Botanical Gardens, and great music. In fact, the musical scene runs the gamut from classical to pop and jazz.

One of the highlights of this trip was getting to hear a cocktail pianist at Michael’s on East, a very popular Sarasota restaurant. Since I play and sing at a New Jersey restaurant, it was a treat to listen to another musician do the same. I even got to sing “La Vie en Rose” (en francais) while the pianist accompanied me!

Filed under: Performances — Tags: , — Joan Streit @ 3:41 am

January 13, 2010

Favorite Songs

Broadway“What’s your favorite song?” That’s a question I ask very often. Whether I’m playing the piano and singing at a New Jersey private home, restaurant or country club, I love doing requests. And I know people appreciate being asked.

How do they answer this question? Well, a big favorite for years has been “All I Ask of You” from “Phantom of the Opera.” Others favorites are “Stardust” “Over the Rainbow” “As Time Goes By” songs by Billy Joel and Sinatra, and songs from Broadway — often from specific shows, such as “South Pacific” or “Cabaret.”

Many people don’t have a favorite song, or else they need time to think of one. Others have so many that I need to write them all down! I often need to learn a new song if it’s requested, and I don’t know it. This was the case with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” requested by a couple. By the way, I sometimes don’t remember people’s names, but I always remember their favorite songs!

So many people come up and thank me for playing their favorite songs. I know they appreciate the gesture, and I get great satisfaction from knowing I’ve made them happy.

So…..what IS your favorite song? I’d love to know! And by the way, mine is “Someone to Watch Over Me” written by the Gershwins in 1926.

Filed under: Performances — Tags: , , — Joan Streit @ 2:15 pm

December 24, 2009

Nancy LaMott

Come Rain or Come Shine -- The Songs of Johnny Mercer

Come Rain or Come Shine -- The Songs of Johnny Mercer

If you’ve followed vocalists over the years, you may have heard of Nancy LaMott. And if you listen to Jonathan Schwartz’s weekend radio program on WNYC in New York or on Sirius XM radio, you know that the very last song of each program is sung by Nancy.

Listening to her is always an emotional experience for me. Even though I’ve heard a song interpreted by numerous vocalists, it’s always Nancy’s version that I find the definitive one. When Nancy sings the lyrics, it’s as if I’m really hearing them for the first time. She gave everything she had to a song, both musically and emotionally; she held nothing back.

Another reason to feel emotional about Nancy is that she died at age 43, in 1995, when she was just starting to “make it.” Her last CD was recorded live at Tavern on the Green in New York City, just three weeks before her death.

Choosing my favorite Nancy LaMott songs is a daunting task, but here are a few: “Skylark” from “Beautiful Baby,” her first CD; “My Foolish Heart” from the CD of the same name; “Listen to My Heart” and “Ordinary Miracles” from “Listen to My Heart.”

“Come Rain or Come Shine: Songs of Johnny Mercer” is a particularly notable CD. It’s very timely now because all year we’ve been celebrating the centennial of Mercer’s birth. And the combination of incredible vocals and instrumentals makes this CD especially worthwhile. Listen to “Talk to Me Baby” and “When October Goes”, and you hear vocal/instrumental duets!

I must mention two very important men in Nancy’s musical life. Christopher Marlowe was Nancy’s piano accompanist and arranger. What a perfect duo they made! And David Friedman was crucial on so many levels to Nancy’s career. First of all, he produced all of her CDs; it was David who originally convinced Nancy to record her music. In addition, many of her most famous songs were written by David: “Listen to My Heart”, “We Live on Borrowed Time”, and “I’ll Be Here with You.” Finally, in 2007 David produced a two-disc CD, “Ask Me Again,” which is a compilation of her memorable songs. Many of the songs on this CD were recorded in Atlantic City, New Jersey. David has truly kept Nancy’s music alive.

If you know Nancy and her music, you’ll understand my passion for her. And if you haven’t yet heard her, I hope this will tempt you. To hear some of Nancy’s songs, go to my YouTube channel, and click on the samples.

Enjoy!

Filed under: After Hours — Tags: , , — Joan Streit @ 8:59 am

December 10, 2009

A Montclair Art Museum Soiree

Mont Sainte-Victoire, Seen from the Bibemus Quarry

Mont Sainte-Victoire, Seen from the Bibemus Quarry

Montclair, New Jersey is a special town, not a typical suburb. It’s ethnically and culturally diverse, with many great restaurants and theaters, and also Montclair State University.

Another major cultural institution is the Montclair Art Museum, which is devoted to American Art, including Native American artforms.

Currently (until January 3, 2010) the museum’s “Cézanne and American Modernism,” is an impressive exhibit with 131 works, including 18 significant pieces by the French master that cover a thirty year period of his career. It examines Cézanne’s influence on a diverse group of American artists.

Ten years in the making, the exhibit was organized by the Montclair Art Museum and The Baltimore Museum of Art, which will have the display from February 14, 2010, through May 23, 2010. It will then travel to the Phoenix Art Museum, where it will be on view from July 3, 2010, through Septermber 26, 2010.

Last month, I had the pleasure of playing and singing at the museum for a soiree organized by friends at Bnai Keshet, a local synagogue. The gala fundraiser began with a private lecture and slide show, followed by a tour of the exhibit gallery. Afterwards, attendees enjoyed French wine and hors d’oeuvres while I entertained on the grand piano. Naturally I played and sang French songs, as well as American standards.

Following my music, the audience was treated to a lively performance by “The Loose Canons,” singing in a wide range of styles, including political satire, Doo Wop, and folk music.  It was a rousing performance which capped off a wonderful evening!

To view a video, produced by Reuben Meltzer, of my performance at this event, click here.

Filed under: Performances — Tags: , , — Joan Streit @ 1:00 am

December 2, 2009

Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”

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In a previous post, I mentioned that for one New Jersey Christmas party I play the piano for the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” The guests sing it in four-part harmony, and the results are thrilling.

You can hear a discussion of why this piece of music is so brilliant at the NPR program Performance Today.

Composer-conductor Rob Kapilow analyzes the “Hallelujah Chorus” to explain why the “Hallelujah Chorus” works so well. Going over it note by note, Kapilow explains how the musical simplicity builds and builds to yield an extremely powerful whole.

At the end of the eight minute segment you can hear a wonderful performance by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.

If you want to skip the discussion and go right to the music, click here.

Filed under: Performances — Tags: , — Joan Streit @ 7:00 am

November 23, 2009

Playing Musical Trivia

Ira Gershwin

Ira Gershwin

In my last post, I mentioned one aspect of Michael Feinstein’s performance that so inspired me: not just singing a song but also talking about it, giving the background about songwriters, songs, and singers. Depending on the venue, I now do the same when I perform.

For example, did you know…

As Time Goes By”, one of the most popular songs ever, was written by someone you probably have never heard of, Herman Hupfeld of Montclair, New Jersey. When I play and sing for Montclair-area senior citizens, some of them have heard of Hupfeld and even know on which street he lived.

Our Love Is Here to Stay” was the last melody George Gershwin wrote. Ira wrote the lyrics after his brother’s death. If you listen to them, you might agree with me that it’s a love song from Ira Gershwin to his deceased brother.

Lew Fields was a well-known vaudeville comedian. His daughter Dorothy became the first female lyricist, writing the lyrics to over 400 songs and 15 Broadway shows. Early in her career, she wrote “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern were scheduled to write the songs for “Annie Get Your Gun”, but Kern died suddenly. The project was given to Irving Berlin, who wrote all of the music and lyrics in just 10 days!

When Billy Joel was a boy, his mother often said to him, “Billy, I love you just the way you are.”

Where do I find all this information? Well, I must thank my husband Roger in large part. Every year for my birthday I receive a biography or autobiography of a famous composer, lyricist, or singer, such as George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Dorothy Fields, or Michael Feinstein. I have also learned a great deal reading Jonathan Schwartz’s autobiography, “All In Good Time”, and listening to his weekend radio shows. As the son of composer Arthur Schwartz (“Dancing in the Dark”, “Haunted Heart” etc.), Jonathan grew up knowing many of these musicians personally.

Whether I’m playing the piano and singing at a restaurant or a private event, I know how much my audience enjoys this “musical trivia”, because they tell me how much it enhances the songs.

Filed under: Performances — Tags: , — Joan Streit @ 9:28 pm

November 16, 2009

Meeting Michael

Michael-FeinsteinAccording to today’s New York Times, Michael Feinstein has just been appointed the director of a new popular music series at Jazz at Lincoln Center. He will be creating programs that focus on “the relationship between jazz and songwriting.” How wonderful! The article mentions George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter as “an integral part of the jazz world.” Right on!

Michael Feinstein is the musician who has most influenced my career. I still remember the night I first saw him; it was at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, New York City, over 20 years ago. That night I had no idea just how much of an impact he would have on me.

I was totally mesmerized, listening to him play the piano, sing glorious songs, and interject humorous anecdotes.This was what I wanted to do!  His mission, to keep alive the music of the Great American Songbook, has become my mission as well. Michael sang great Gershwin standards, including my favorite, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” He also performed a song that has become part of my repertoire: Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano.”

At age 20, Michael was introduced to Ira Gershwin, who hired him to catalogue George and Ira’s extensive musical archives, stored at Ira’s home in Beverly Hills. This led to a close friendship with Rosemary Clooney, Ira’s next-door-neighbor. Liza Minnelli, who also became a good friend, introduced Michael to the L.A. cabaret world. The rest, they say, is history.

If you’ve followed Michael’s incredible career, you may have seen him in person, perhaps at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, or at  his very own cabaret spot, Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City. If so, you know what a dynamic performer he is.

If you’d like to learn more about his life, I highly recommend Michael’s autobiography, “Nice Work If You Can Get It: My Life in Rhythm and Rhyme,” published in 1995.

Filed under: After Hours — Tags: , , — Joan Streit @ 9:00 am
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